The last time I was in New Mexico, I gave a Ted Talk.
Well, not really. Alaska Airlines was beginning new service to Albuquerque and the “Sunport” needed a high level dignitary to offer the ribbon cutting speech. A General Manager at the time, I was about all that could be mustered to make the appearance.
I spoke about the abundance of sun in the area and the hot air balloons. A bunch of hot air indeed and not my best moment. So I returned this time to Santa Fe to redeem myself with a more meaningful experience in New Mexico.
Just an hour away
Picked up my “manger’s surprise” from EZ Car rental and immediately headed north on Interstate 25. The roads in New Mexico seem very good, and it took about an hour to reach Santa Fe and my motor inn, the El Rey Court.
Get your kicks on Route 66
The El Rey Court was established in 1936 and harkens back to the Route 66 era of long road trips with motor inns lining the main highway. The original route went through Santa Fe and right by the El Rey Court until 1937 when a bypass skipped the area all together. So it’s a yes/no as whether you really got your kicks here.
I have a love for nostalgia from that era, so I opted for this newly renovated motor inn verses my second choice, the La Fonda on the Plaza Hotel downtown that is central and more of a full service hotel. It seems to have the best location and the lobby bar, shops and French bakery on the premises feel like there’s always something going on.
Margaritas for a queen
The el Rey has an up and coming feel but no full restaurant on the grounds. However, they do boast a fantastic craft cocktail bar, La Reina, with tasty margaritas that you can get in a plastic to-go cup to take back to your room or stay and chat up the locals. Worthy of a visit even if you don’t stay at the lodge.
The local talent
I moseyed up to the bar and chatted with a local woman who gave me all kinds of nuggets of local knowledge and we shared a bag of fancy popcorn sold at the bar and sipped classic Margaritas, with salt. Thanks to her, I was able to experience the Tsankawi Village at the Bandelier National Monument and view the Rio Grande from atop a bird’s eye peak from Overlook Park. There are other ruins in the area as well.
But I need my food and the El Rey’s suggestions for local eats are great. Here are all of their suggestions with bold locations where I actually ate.
- Izanami. Adjacent to 10,000 waves, which also comes highly recommended although I didn’t have the chance to go.
- Bar at the compound. A more low key version of the fancy restaurant.
- Opunita. Greenhouse meets tea house meets industrial arts meets avocado scramables.
- Pantry. Friendly and efficient staff serve up tasty diner food with a zing. Be sure to try both the red and green sauce on whatever you have. The perfect breakfast for me to start my day of hiking.
- La Choza. Famous establishment that’s always hopping. I made my way to the bar and got in after about 20 minutes. The margaritas flow fast and the local chilies spiced up my fish tacos.
- Paper Dosa. Comes highly recommend but I didn’t get the chance to experience this fresh South Indian cuisine.
- Paloma. My favorite dinner of my time in Santa Fe. Delicious everything.
Uber is alive and well
On two different nights there were police blockades pulling over all drivers for sobriety tests, so if you’re going out on the town I’d say just take Uber around the town – just in case you have too many margaritas.
Take a hike
I love getting outdoors and breathing the high desert air, so the first day I took a hike that started just on the edge of town at St. Johns college. This was easy access and a straight forward urban hiking trail, and I loved it.
There are a ton of other hikes to suit your adventure level and fitness, and I used the All Trails site and app for finding mine.
The hike went up to 9,200 feet in elevation, give or take a few boulders, which surprised me until I remembered that Santa Fe stands at about 7,200 feet in elevation. Be careful right out the gate if you’re from a sea-level-ish place and take plenty of water and sunscreen. Aside from some huffs and puffs, my spirits were definitely lifted and I have another post coming about this specific hike.
Take it downtown
Downtown Santa Fe is cute and can be done in a few hours, aside from the museums, which you need to gauge based on your shelf life for reading little placards and examining turquoise. Depending on this, you can decide how much tine to allocate to learning about the history of the area, or checking out poppies by Georgia O’Keeffe.
Poppies as far as the eye can see
Actually, I’ve never been a super fan, but the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, located in the downtown area converted me. Not too large or too much information. Interesting stories about her life and connection to New Mexico. Not too many poppies.
Back at the ranch
Speaking of Georgia O’Keeffe and her poppies, a couple I met in the spa of the el Rey were locals returning for a family visit. They highly recommended I make an appointment to visit the artist’s Abiquiu Home & Studio, near the famous Ghost Ranch which is about an hour north on highway 84. Unfortunately they were closed due to Holy Week. It seems to be a tight ticket to get in town, so probably want to book ahead.
Gem amongst fringe
Downtown scene has a ton of galleries and many stores where you can get a jacket with fringe akin to a Stevie Nicks outfit.
I ran into a fascinating disheveled gallery that works with Indian art drawn on official government documents, like old stock certificates and survey maps. It is considered illegal to defame such documents, and the art represents disobedience in defiance of the the troubled history of the US government with the Indian people.
The owner of the gallery had a rotary phone and no business card, so this is an Easter egg for you to find that’s worth a little searching and asking around. It’s near the Starbucks on W San Francisco street. Quirky and fun.
Speaking of quirky and fun, my final rave is around the phenomenon of Meow Wolf, located just a few miles from the downtown area. Have Meow-garitas at the hopping bar area before blowing your mind inside.
This collaboration amongst an edgy group of artists is difficult to describe and the other-worldly experience has something for all ages. Elizabeth at the rental car counter in Albuquerque suggested it to me and I’m so glad she did.
I went during a peak time for families with kids (3-5pm) because I needed to return to Albuquerque that evening, but for adults I suggest going around 5-6pm and having drinks before enjoying the exhibit.
There are also concerts in the evening and other actives you can research as well. A few food trucks out front but eat options appear somewhat limited. No problem, you can find somewhere yummy afterward for dinner.
Full of hot air
I had an early morning flight so I drove the hour, returned my car and stayed at a simple airpot hotel my last night.
The morning I departed Albuquerque was beautiful and in the distance I could see several hot air balloons dancing on the horizon, as if reminding me that it wasn’t just all hot air after all.