By Steven Horak
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- Flexible itineraries for art-lovers, outdoors enthusiasts, families, and more, including weekend getaways to each of the three cities
- Year-round outdoor adventures: Race down the slopes of Taos Ski Valley or mountain bike through stands of piñon and juniper near Santa Fe. Hike through thick alpine forests, raft the wild rapids of the Rio Grande Gorge, or capture the best view in New Mexico from a hot air balloon. Wander around the archeological sites and cave apartments of Bandelier National Monument, spot elk in Valles Caldera National Preserve, or trek alongside ancient rock carvings at Petroglyph National Monument
- Top experiences and unique activities: Mingle with local artists in the vibrant galleries of Santa Fe, visit Georgia O'Keefe's studio at Ghost Ranch, and experience peak relaxation at a world-class spa. Observe a traditional dance ceremony at a pueblo, admire handmade art and jewelry at the Santa Fe Indian Market, and learn about Native American history at one of the region's many cultural museums
- Tastes of the Southwest: Dive into traditional New Mexican dishes drenched in spicy red and green chile sauces or indulge in a juicy green chile cheeseburger. Sip on a sunset margarita at a mellow open-air bar or taste local spirits in a trendy cocktail lounge. Take a culinary tour of Santa Fe's growing food truck scene or explore Albuquerque's lively beer culture
- Expert insight from Santa Fe local Steven Horak
- Helpful resources on COVID-19 and traveling in New Mexico
- Vibrant full-color photos and detailed maps throughout
- Background information on the landscape, wildlife, climate, and local culture
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DISCOVER Santa Fe, Taos & Albuquerque
10 TOP EXPERIENCES
Planning Your Trip
IF YOU HAVE . . .
The Best of Santa Fe, Taos & Albuquerque
LIFE IMITATES ART
HIGH DESERT ADVENTURE
American Indian Heritage
NEW MEXICO’S CULTURAL MIX
Best Mountain Biking
THE BEST OF NEW MEXICAN CUISINE
Breathtakingly beautiful, culturally rich, and heaving with history, this landscape holds an unmistakable cinematic quality. It’s easy to feel as if you’re stepping onto a grand stage, about to be swept up into a timeless epic—a feeling not lost on New Mexico’s burgeoning film industry. There are good reasons for this, of course, not the least of which are the numerous Native American pueblos, cliff dwellings, and petroglyphs that speak to an unbroken heritage that dates back hundreds of years.
With its signature adobe buildings and dusty lanes set against the imposing backdrop of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Santa Fe looks every bit the country’s oldest state capital. Its identity, like much of New Mexico, is shaped in equal measure by centuries’ long Spanish American and Native American influences, yet this is also a city that has been forged by the artists who continue to be drawn to and inspired by its elemental and otherworldly beauty. Taos, too, is a mecca for creative types, yet its greater isolation makes it feel off the grid; its free-spirited residents are proudly self-reliant. Far to the south, the old Route 66 slices through the physical heart of Albuquerque, in some ways a literal reminder of the city’s strong connection to its past, as its forward-thinking efforts to attract tech startups continue apace.
Make no mistake: This is the high desert, and forgiveness is not in its nature. That said, come prepared for outdoor adventures and you’ll be rewarded. From Class IV rafting trips buoyed by snowmelt in the spring to perspective-shifting balloon rides in the fall, and hair-raising black diamond ski runs in the winter, the choices before you could occupy a lifetime.
It’s this boundlessness—be it in terms of time, vistas, or options—that is perhaps this region’s greatest appeal. It’s not a place easily contained or defined and it’s all the better for it. So, settle back and sample what you can at your own pace. Chances are you will be back for more.
10 TOP EXPERIENCES
1 Appreciate Art in Santa Fe: Art is life in Santa Fe—and Canyon Road is its beating heart.
2 Explore Taos Pueblo: Seemingly rising organically from the earth, these stepped adobe buildings make up the oldest continually inhabited community in the United States.
3 Visit Ghost Ranch: See the house where Georgia O’Keeffe created her art—and the surrounding landscape that inspired it.
4 Feast on New Mexican Cuisine: The food here is as creative as the art and as distinctive as the landscape.
5 Raft the Rio Grande Gorge: Experience massive scale on an intimate level from the water.
6 Go Ballooning: Take a colorful trip into New Mexico’s endless blue sky.
7 Tour Acoma Pueblo: Built atop a windswept mesa, the Sky City has persevered for centuries.
8 Seek Out Native American Culture: The historic culture of the pueblos can be awe inspiring, but the living culture is just as memorable.
9 Take a Hike: Pull on a pair of hiking boots and you can have this natural splendor all to yourself.
10 Head Out on a Mountain Bike: Adventure begins with a set of wheels.
Planning Your Trip
Where to Go
Marked by winding streets and thick-walled adobe homes, New Mexico’s picturesque capital is intimate in scale and exudes a golden glow. Scores of galleries—including those lining fabled Canyon Road—are a major draw, as are museums for state history, Native American and folk art, and more. Scenic hiking trails are just a few minutes’ drive—not far beyond are the cliff dwellings at Bandelier National Monument, as well as the landscape that inspired painter Georgia O’Keeffe at Abiquiu, and the birthplace of the atomic bomb at Los Alamos.
A small town of about 6,000, Taos is home to artists, trust-fund hippies, spiritual seekers, and ski bums—in addition to the Spanish and American Indian families who’ve called the place home for centuries. There’s some sightseeing, at the ancient Taos Pueblo, an iconic church, and a handful of small museums, while the Taos Ski Valley continues to cement its world-class status. But its atmosphere, cultivated in mellow coffee shops, understated but exceptional restaurants, and hidden hot springs, is the real attraction. Make a day drive around the Enchanted Circle, a loop of two-lane roads through high valleys and historic wilderness gateways.
A modern Western city, and the state’s biggest, Albuquerque sprawls at the base of the Sandia Mountains. It’s proud of its Route 66 heritage, but it’s also preserving farmland along the Rio Grande and redesigning its downtown core. To the west, the breathtaking Acoma Pueblo sits atop a monolithic mesa, while the wetlands of the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge to the south attract thousands of birds. Head north to Santa Fe through the former ghost towns of the Turquoise Trail or alongside the red rocks of the Jemez Mountains.
Know Before You Go
About 300 days of sunshine annually mean just about anytime is the right time to visit. High season for tourism is mid-May to mid-September, but the early summer can be hot, windy, and dry, with a risk of forest fires. The weather is far more pleasant from July on, when the day’s heat is usually tamed with a strong, brief rainstorm in the afternoon, and the landscape is shrouded in green hues. Summer is the only time to hike at higher elevations, as many trails are still snow covered as late as May. If you want to go rafting, plan on late May-early June, when the snowmelt makes the rivers run high and wild. Winter sees a surge of visitors heading straight to the slopes, and traditional celebrations preceding Christmas are wonderful; many sights are closed or have limited hours, however.
The shoulder seasons have their own appeal and can be cheaper, particularly in April, when ski season has wound down, and in November, when it hasn’t gotten started. Note that Taos Pueblo closes to visitors for about 10 weeks February-April. Spring weather brings the most variables, with chances of snowfall or ceaseless hot winds—and roads can be bogged down with mud. In the fall, the crowds disperse, leaving crisp temperatures and generally clear skies through late October—great hiking weather, especially among the aspen trees, which turn a brilliant yellow.
New Mexico is a just-show-up kind of place, but a few special events and activities require some forethought.
If you’re planning a visit between Christmas and New Year’s, during Santa Fe’s Spanish Market (July) and Indian Market (August), or for Albuquerque’s Balloon Fiesta (October), book a hotel 6-8 months in advance.
Attending a ceremonial dance is worth planning a trip around. They occur several times a year at every pueblo, on village feast days, Catholic holidays, and around seasonal turning points. Check the schedules for Taos Pueblo, as well as pueblos around Santa Fe and Albuquerque.
The Georgia O’Keeffe Home in Abiquiu is open to guided tours mid-March through November; book at least a month in advance.
Online ticket sales for the Santa Fe Opera start in October for the July and August summer season. Book in the winter for the best seat selection.
Accommodations in the Taos Ski Valley can be hard to come by during the winter months. Reserve your stay a couple of months out if you plan on hitting the slopes.
The Best of Santa Fe, Taos & Albuquerque
While you could conceivably explore Santa Fe, Taos, and Albuquerque for months on end, seeking out ever more remote hiking trails and sweeping vistas, six days gives just enough time to appreciate the distinct character of each community.
Arrive at Albuquerque’s Sunport airport; make your way directly to Santa Fe. For old-school style, stay at La Fonda—it’s a short stroll to The Shed for dinner, and you can cap the evening with a margarita in the lively hotel lobby bar.
Start with a breakfast burrito at Tia Sophia’s, then stroll around the plaza. Depending on your interests, visit the history museum at the Palace of the Governors or the New Mexico Museum of Art. Pop in to see the winding staircase at the Loretto Chapel, then cruise the galleries on Canyon Road, finishing up with drinks and tapas, and maybe even dancing at El Farol.
Get an early start to Bandelier National Monument, followed by lunch at La Cocina in Española. In midafternoon, return to Santa Fe to explore the House of Eternal Return at the Meow Wolf Art Complex, followed by happy hour drinks in the Railyard at Cowgirl BBQ. Settle in for dinner at Joseph’s or Bouche Bistro.
Drive to Taos via the low road, detouring to the pilgrimage site of Chimayó. Stop for lunch at Zuly’s in Dixon. In Taos, head straight to Taos Pueblo. Admire the sunset at the Rio Grande Gorge, then stop at the Adobe Bar at the Taos Inn for a margarita and head up the road for dinner at The Love Apple or Orlando’s.
In the morning, have breakfast at Gutiz or Michael’s Kitchen, and, on your way out of town, stop by San Francisco de Asis Church. Drive back to Albuquerque via the high road past Truchas and Las Trampas, then along the Turquoise Trail, stopping for lunch in Cerrillos or Madrid before visiting the Tinkertown Museum. In Albuquerque, take a sunset ride up the Sandia Peak Tramway. Enjoy dinner and drinks downtown.
Have a big breakfast at The Frontier and, if time allows, stroll around Nob Hill before catching your plane out of the Albuquerque airport.
Just an hour from the Albuquerque airport, Santa Fe lends itself perfectly to a romantic weekend. Settle in at one of the many remarkable hotels and make reservations at a couple of the city’s best restaurants (those mentioned here are just a few possibilities). With planning, you could also spend an evening at the Santa Fe Opera in the summer. Isolated, countercultural Taos is worth the extra 90-minute drive if you’re really looking to get off the map and off the grid, while Albuquerque offers a fun and funky city break, along with great outdoor activities.
Fly into Albuquerque. Head to Santa Fe via the scenic Turquoise Trail and check in to your hotel: La Fonda for a touch of history or Inn of the Governors. If it’s summertime, head to Canyon Road for the gallery crawl, which gets started around 5pm. In winter, have a cocktail at Secreto Lounge, then walk over to dinner at Joseph’s.
Grab breakfast in a booth at the Plaza Café. Traditionalists can spend the morning at the New Mexico Museum of Art and Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Quirkier tastes? Head for the House of Eternal Return and Museum of International Folk Art. In the afternoon, soak in a private hot tub at Ten Thousand Waves, followed by a massage then dinner at the spa’s restaurant, Izanami. Hit the late-night movie at Violet Crown.
Take an early morning stroll around the Santa Fe Canyon Preserve. Treat yourself to brunch at Harry’s Roadhouse or Café Fina, a little south of town, for high-end diner-style goodies and one last great view, then drive back down I-25 to catch your flight out.
Fly into Albuquerque. Head to Taos via I-25 and the low road. Pick a prime plaza-view room at Hotel La Fonda de Taos or luxuriate in a suite at Palacio de Marquesa. Stroll the plaza and visit the E. L. Blumenschein Home and the galleries on Ledoux Street. Have a gourmet burger for dinner at The Burger Stand, then check out The Alley Cantina.
Visit Taos Pueblo in the morning. In the afternoon, tour the Taos Art Museum at Fechin House and the Millicent Rogers Museum. If you’d rather hike, head for Williams Lake in the Taos Ski Valley—it’s a steep hike, but fairly short. Be dazzled by dinner at Medley in Arroyo Seco.
Drop by San Francisco de Asis Church in the morning, then prepare for the drive back south with breakfast at Old Martina’s Hall. Head out along the high road to Santa Fe and then I-25 to the airport, which takes about four hours without much dawdling; a straight shot back down the low road will shave about 40 minutes off the trip.
Arrive at Albuquerque airport and transfer to your hotel: Try Los Poblanos Historic Inn for rural quiet, or the Hotel Andaluz downtown if you want to be in the middle of the action. Stroll around downtown and peek in the KiMo Theatre, then have sunset drinks at the Apothecary Lounge, followed by dinner down the street at Farina Pizzeria.
Stroll around Old Town and take the ABQ Trolley Co. tour. Have lunch at Duran Central Pharmacy, then check out the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. Spend the evening in Nob Hill with dinner at Frenchish.
Get up early (again) for a hot-air balloon ride, overlooking the city from the Rio Grande to the mountains. Head to The Grove for a late breakfast, then cruise Route 66 and up to the East Mountains to see the Tinkertown Museum and Madrid. Optional: Cut west on dirt roads to Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument and get a last dose of chile at the Pueblo Restaurant.
American Indian Heritage
The culture that developed before the Spanish conquest in the 16th century is visible in the pueblos (both ruined and inhabited) and in excellent museums that hold some of the region’s finest works. Even if you’re visiting only one city on your trip, there’s a lot of Native history to see in and around each place—but definitely try to schedule a visit around a dance ceremony, as this will give you the most memorable impression of the living culture.
If you’re serious about buying art and jewelry, you could time your visit with the Santa Fe Indian Market in August, which showcases more than 1,200 Native American artisans. Otherwise, visit the gift shops at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe or the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque to get an idea of prices and quality; you can also buy directly from craftspeople at the pueblos.
On Museum Hill, visit the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian and the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, two fascinating exhibitions of arts and crafts. Then see what current work is on display at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, perhaps picking up some craftwork at the gift shop or from the vendors at the Palace of the Governors. Even Hotel Santa Fe, co-owned by Picurís Pueblo, showcases tribal art.
The pueblos north of the city offer more in the way of casinos than they do in traditional sightseeing, but the Poeh Museum at Pojoaque is worth a stop, and collectors will want to make the drive to San Ildefonso Pueblo for its stunning black-on-black pottery. Finally, visit the Puyé Cliff Dwellings or Bandelier National Monument to see the homes inhabited by the ancestors of today’s Pueblo people.
- On Sale
- Sep 21, 2021
- Page Count
- 272 pages
- Moon Travel