Peaks and valleys, hiking and biking, views and brews: You can find it all in the City Different.
By Jonanna Widner
Grab a table on the patio, and order one of the many English-style ales on tap, fresh from Second Street Brewery (Second Street district, secondstreetbrewery.com). Try the kicky IPA, which leans toward fruity but with a sharp undercurrent of hops. Other standouts include a thick stout and the popular ESB. Home of the potent Chicken Killer Barley Wine and several other beers brewed on the spot just south of town, Santa Fe Brewing Company (South Side, santafebrewingcompany.com) is closer to the State Pen than it is to the crowded Plaza, and it’s a popular destination for locals. Oddly, even though it is out of the way, dusty and relatively low-key, it has grown into a music mecca; recently, it has hosted bands like the English Beat, Brightblack Morning Light and legendary punk band X. Something about the exquisitely sparse Northern New Mexico landscape inspires spiritual introspection, so it’s no surprise one of the area’s best new beers comes from the joined forces of two local abbeys forming Abbey Beverage Company. Monastery of Christ in the Desert and the Pecos Benedictine Monastery paired up to create Monk’s Ale (available at bars and groceries around the city), which is so crisp, subtle and balanced, it must have been touched by a divine hand. At the Blue Corn Café & Brewery (Downtown/South Side, bluecorncafe.com) we implore you: Try Blue Corn & Brewery’s Roadrunner IPA. It is a truly special beer; deftly balanced, with a fruity layer that drifts toward the palate like a feather, accompanied by a serious but pleasing hop kick throughout.
Located in an old rail complex right up against the Rio Grande is Embudo Station (Embudo, embudostation.com), New Mexico’s first brewpub. It hosts a mix of in-the-know townies and inhabitants of the lonely land between Santa Fe and Taos. Some of the families of the latter have lived in this valley for hundreds of years—you’ll learn more about the area talking to a local over a green chile beer than reading 100 guide books.
The bar at Rio Chama (Downtown, riochamasteakhouse.com) is dimly lit and heavy on the dark wood/ leather/cowhide ambiance, which is fitting for a cigar bar that often hosts politicos like Governor Bill Richardson. The bar menu evokes classic ’70s man-food: It’s savory, hearty and carnivore-centric, pairing perfectly with the selection of regional drafts. The Cowgirl BBQ (Guadalupe District, cowgirlsantafe.com) is a rootin’, tootin’, raucous hangout, The Cowgirl’s adobe walls, amazing collection of cowgirl memorabilia, and inundation of live music has always attracted locals. However, it’s the abundance of brews on tap that keep ’em coming back—especially to the storied front patio during spring and summer. Lore has it that El Farol’s (Canyon Road, elfarolsf.com) dark, centuries-old adobe structure in the heart of historic Canyon Road has bullet holes in the walls and ghosts in the back rooms. No matter where legend ends and truth begins, El Farol’s sangria, flamenco shows and bohemian atmosphere make it a must-visit. Mine Shaft Tavern (Madrid, themineshafttavern.com) is a famous old dive, populated by bikers, hikers and hippies in the old mining town of Madrid, a 30-minute drive from Santa Fe. Stay on alert for bar fights, rattlesnakes and extra-hot green chili. Housed in an old adobe on a storied street, the Dragon Room Lounge at the Pink Adobe (Downtown, www.thepinkadobe.com) has a giant tree growing in the middle of its festive environs and a happy mix of the young, the beautiful and the drunk.
It’s difficult to choose between the city’s dozens of fine dining spots offering savory dishes and piñon-infused desserts, but you can never go wrong with Aqua Santa (Downtown, 505.982.6297). Chef/owner Brian Knox is extraordinarily conscientious about choosing only the best of locally produced goods, be they meats, beets or greens. Even though it’s located just off the Plaza, this cozy little tapas spot sports a buzzy New York feel. At La Boca (Downtown, 505.982-3433) the tapas are a touch more sophisticated than most around town—there’s a stunning bruschetta that features truffle oil, fancy mushrooms and fried egg—and they all live up to their ambitions. Simple but not simplistic, the well-thought menu at Café Café (Guadalupe District, cafecafesantafe.com) centers on co-owner Donalee Goodbrod’s toothsome pizzas but expands to dynamic, inventive and comforting Italian cuisine. Goodbrod and partner Kirstin Griffin insist on high-quality ingredients, and it shows. There’s nothing pretentious or affected at this busy diner, The Pantry Restaurant (South Side, santafestation.com). It’s the perfect place to grab a morning-after breakfast burrito with extra green chile—the stuff’s the best hangover cure you’ll find. There’s no better spot for authentic New Mexican food than Tia Sophia’s (Downtown, 505.983.9880), which, sadly, is open only for breakfast and lunch. Try the popular Carne Adovada Burrito, gorgeously overstuffed and packing a wallop of smoky red chile.
If you’re going to spring for high-end digs in town, you might as well get the most character for your buck. La Posada Resort & Spa’s (Downtown, laposada.rockresorts.com) Staab House is known for its wood paneling, old-school charm and a certain female ghost who graciously floats about. A landmark on the Plaza, La Fonda Hotel (Downtown, lafondasantafe.com), is the ultimate Santa Fe hotel, from the exquisite La Plazuela restaurant (whose menu honors locally grown ingredients) down to the Spanish tile and gleaming vigas. Check out the rooftop belltower bar at sunset. Just off the Plaza, the Hotel St. Francis (Downtown, hotelstfrancis.com) less resembles a pueblo than it does an upper-end, traditional European hotel. The dark, publike bar is popular, but the real treat is the inn’s back patio restaurant, dappled with sunlight, lush with ivy, and available for afternoon teas or one of the best breakfasts in town. Don Gaspar Inn (South Capitol, dongaspar.com) is a bed-and-breakfast in the adorable South Capitol residential neighborhood. it’s one of the most relaxing spots you’ll find so close to the Plaza. Each room features jetted tubs, unique traditional art (a must for the true tourist Santa Fe experience) and fireplaces. The flower-laden, garden grounds are luscious environs in which to eat your communal breakfast, but they’re equally delightful covered in a late-season snow.
Put off your après-hike pint and stop by Ten Thousand Waves (Ski Basin Road, tenthousandwaves.com).
This enchanting Japanese spa is set amid intensely fragrant piñon and juniper trees. You’ll feel like a VIP whether you choose a moderately priced soak in the communal tub or a splash in a private one, and any number of spa treatments. FYI: Bathing suits are optional in the tubs, and for Santa Feans, that usually means naked as a jaybird. Around the Plaza/Canyon Road (Downtown) is historic, picturesque and tourist-heavy. The Plaza itself is, well, pretty boring, but its environs offer a varied and entertaining array of destinations: the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts and the beautiful St. Francis Cathedral, just for starters. Similarly, Canyon Road serves up dozens of art galleries and hundreds of tourists, but don’t feel the need to walk its entire length; instead, grab a drink at El Farol, then stroll down to your dinner destination, and you’ll get the idea. Never has high culture and the jeans-and-boots aesthetic met in a more beautiful setting. The sunsets and mountain views at the magnificent, outdoor Santa Fe Opera (santafeopera.org) provide as much backdrop as you need for the world-class offerings here, where locals usually tailgate in the parking lot before the show. Finally, pick up a copy of “Day Hikes in the Santa Fe Area” (said to be the best-selling book in the city), and choose from the hundreds of options that will send you soaring up scrabbly switchbacks to windy mountaintops, or on a simple scenic loop. For shady spring and summer hikes, the Winsor trails and Dale Ball trails, both easily accessible off Ski Basin Road, provide endless variety as they wind through conifer-laden forests and alpine meadows.
Get behind the wheel and wind your way through some of the country’s most scenic stretches of road.
Driving through Rio Arriba County (North on U.S. 84/275) is a study in the extremes of northern New Mexico: One minute you’re in dry, dusty Española (reportedly the low-rider capital of the world); the next, you’re cresting a hill that reveals pastel-painted vistas. These are the mesas that inspired Georgia O’Keeffe, and they’ll inspire you, too, as you sample the area’s offerings: Ojo Caliente hot springs, Ghost Ranch, Lake Abiquiu and the Santuario de Chimayó, a pilgrimage destination for Catholics seeking its sacred, healing soil. Madrid/Turquoise Trail (South on State Highway 14) is a former mining town now home to an unlikely population of hippies and rough-and-tumble types, all living in harmony amidst the art galleries, antique shops and spectacular rolling hills. Part of a larger scenic highway called the Turquoise Trail, the road into town is flanked by volcanic cones and dramatic landscapes just as colorful as the town itself. The High Road to Taos (North on U.S. 84/285, east on State Highway 503, north on State Highway 98/520; east on State Highway 76; east on State Highway 75; north on State Highway 518) isn’t so much “high” as in adrenaline-inducing mountain passes and edgy cliffs; it’s high as in gorgeous views and valleys, folk art and wineries, rivers and desert, all in the shadow of majestic Wheeler Peak. Of the many dazzling landscapes northern New Mexico has to offer, none is more striking than Tent Rocks National Monument (south on State Highway 14, east on State Highway 57 to State Highway 22), a superb hiking spot where sandy cones of tuff, banded with color, jut out of the canyon. To get there, skip the boring Interstate 25 route; instead, take vista-laden Highway 14 as it snakes through old mine country.