Road School

Road School Results: Why Visit Santa Fe

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Santa Fe continues to be recognized as one of the top US cities to visit–like in this article, right here.  Or this one.  But–even when reading those articles–I could not figure out exactly why that is.  What is it about Santa Fe that is so enthralling, so worthy-of-being-on-a-list?

So, of course, at the very first opportunity, I went there to find out.  I spent three nights at the beautiful Inn on the Alameda in Santa Fe (detailed post coming soon) earlier this month–after a business trip to Albuquerque, my first-ever visit to New Mexico–and here’s what I found out:

Why Santa Fe is a Top-10-List-Worthy Travel Destination

There are five things you need to visit Santa Fe–sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing.  Ok maybe six–you probably need a few bucks, so perhaps take your wallet, too.

The Climate

That would be snow around a cactus. In October. Yeah.

That would be snow around a cactus. Yeah.

Practically all of my Northeastern friends said the same thing when I told them I was in New Mexico (in late October)–oh, it must be nice to be somewhere warm!  They hear New Mexico, they think desert, they think warm.  Nope.  Not true at all.  Santa Fe is about 7,000 feet above sea level.  It’s cool–to downright cold–there in late October.  Which means that Santa Fe has seasons.  And seasons in the desert are stunning and, often, baffling.  I saw my first snow of the season in the Santa Fe area–granted, it was lying on the ground, not falling from the sky, and also another good thousand feet above sea level at the end of a hike.  But still.  It’s not hot.  But if you want to be hot, you can simply drive an hour or two away for a proper desert experience.  Or you can drive less than an hour in the other direction and go skiing.  Or, better, you can do both.

The Flavors

Two words: green chilies. They put them in everything.  And they are amazing.  Even as a cocktail garnish.  Really.

And yes, Santa Fe has non New Mexican restaurants.  I just didn’t go to any of them.  Because I was in New Mexico.  And I was going to eat New Mexican food, damnit.  And I’m glad I did.  My stomach may disagree, but hey, my pants still fit.  And that’s more than I can say for my visits to New Orleans or Chicago.  (Or San Francisco.  Or…Mobile, Alabama?  Coming soon–a blog post on how travel has made me fat, apparently.)

My calamari salad and green chile garnished cocktail at Table de los Santos.

My calamari salad and green chile garnished cocktail at Table de los Santos.

While in town, I dined at:

La Plazuela at the Hotel La Fonda:  A gorgeous space with light-strewn trees, a fountain, and painted glass windows.  A great spot to have a quiet meal post sunset-watching from the rooftop bar, the Bell Tower.

Table de los Santos at the Hotel St. Francis:  Yes, another hotel restaurant.  But one that came highly recommended, and for good reason.  The cocktail menu is reason enough to visit, as is the understated elegance of the dining area (with giant fireplace, roaring).  And my calamari salad was great.  But the ring bologna sandwich was incredible.  That’s right, I said ring bologna sandwich.  On a challah roll.  With the ever-present green chilies, cheese, and onions.  It was an actual party in my mouth.  No, a fiesta.  A hybrid PA-Dutch/Mexican fiesta.  Just get it.  Trust me.

Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen:  Before visiting Santa Fe, I did a bit of restaurant research.  My notes for Maria’s read: Cheap dinner, great reviews.  Green chili stew.  Margaritas.  I figured I could not go wrong.  And, in fact, the margarita list resembled the phone book of a small midwestern town.  However, in keeping with the spirit of full disclosure, the service was possibly the worst service I’ve ever received in a restaurant . Ever.  I won’t get into it–just trust me.  It was bad.  I don’t know what I did to piss off that waitress, but I must have done it before she ever spoke to me.  Because it took her a good thirty minutes to speak to me at all, and she was pissed off when she started.  Also–the proper response to ‘this chicken is raw’ should not be ‘…and?’

The Shed:  Hands down my favorite meal in Santa Fe, and conveniently located right on the main drag, half a block from the town square (er, plaza.  Sorry.  I was in New Mexico, not New England.)  The smell–that is, every good cooking smell that ever lived–will hit you as soon as you walk into this cozy restaurant.  The waitress was chipper and helpful, and the food was everything New Mexican food should be.  I had the pollo adobo.  Just order it.  I promise.

The Light

The backside of the sunset in Santa Fe.

The backside of the sunset in Santa Fe.

Oh dear god, the light.  Santa Fe–and this part of New Mexico in general–has been a mecca for artists for the past century (and, I’m assuming, beyond, as people have lived here for thousands of years and those people created art).  I understand why.  The light is unbelievable.  And the colors.  Oh the colors.  I’ve never visited anywhere like it–where the architecture blends with and accents the natural surroundings.  New England is quaint, all leafy and clapboard-sided.  Chicago is stunning, skyscrapers rising on the edge of Lake Michigan.  And we all know how I feel about the (ironically) Spanish architecture of the French Quarter in New Orleans.  But man oh man, Santa Fe is something else.  Add to that the yellow of the cottonwood trees in autumn, and you’ve got the most beautiful color palate I’ve ever seen.

The Sounds

Church bells ring every fifteen minutes.  Leaves rustle in the wind.  Soothing drum and flute music greets you in every shop and restaurant.  And no one honks their horn.  The perfect peace is broken only by sounds which are soothing.

The Smell

There’s no other way to put this–Santa Fe smells really good.  At least in mid-autumn, when all of the fireplaces are burning pinion pine.  There’s only one other place on earth where I enjoyed the smell more–Yosemite.  But Santa Fe is a close, close second.  Especially when you add the layer of food smells into the mix.  Do know what smells better than burning log of pinion pine?  Burning logs of pinion pine and melted cheese.

Clearly, I have a thing for places which appeal to the senses.  And Santa Fe is right up at the top of my sensory-bliss destination list.

There are other reasons to visit, of course.  The beautiful hotels.  The host of outdoor activities.  The shopping (yes, even I, a self-professed non-shopper, spent some time browsing in Santa Fe.  I did not, however, purchase anything.  I’m poor.  But if anyone wants to buy and send me one of those silver feather cuff bracelets I saw everywhere, please feel free.  I’ll publicly thank you.) And the art–oh the art.  You could spend a week in Santa Fe and eat nothing, smell nothing, and see nothing other than the galleries and still be happy.  But really, you should eat things.  And smell them.  And enjoy the weather and the serenity.  You should do so as soon as possible.

Disclosure: While I was hosted by The Inn at the Alameda, this post is not about the Inn at the Alameda–that (glowing) review is coming soon.  I designed and paid for all elements of this trip other than lodging.  And I’ll do it again.  

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