Two European friends are visiting in October, and I’d like to take them someplace different, authentic, and uniquely American. They don’t want marble sinks, solid-gold taps, or kale soufflés. Any suggestions for a long weekend outside of the big cities?
A Weekender in Search of the Real Thing
I know exactly what will knock the espadrilles off your wide-eyed visitors. Years back, Santa Fe was one of the hottest destinations around: a sophisticated, sage-and-piñon-scented landscape of Hispanic culture, Native American history, and high-desert chic. And now, with the ripple effect from Netflix’s new movie studio, an hour away in Albuquerque, the town is again ready for its close-up. Three days in the fall against the backdrop of piñon trees, adobes, and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains? It’s perfect, and the Euromates will have never seen anything like it.
Book a Thursday-night flight to Albuquerque on JetBlue (the only direct flights to Santa Fe originate in Phoenix, Denver, and Dallas) and pick up, say, a great little yellow Mustang convertible like I did not too long ago. Check into Rosewood’s Inn of the Anasazi or the more fanciful Inn of the Five Graces, with its Tibetan-inspired spa and elaborate Morocco-meets-American-Southwest décor. Both are located in the downtown historic district. Further away, on 70 lush, landscaped acres, is the Sunrise Springs Spa Resort, with its 20 adobe-style casitas. It’s ideal for those wishing for 24-7 immersion in wellness everything, from outdoor soaking pools to a Native American sweat lodge. F.Y.I.: Santa Fe has always had, and still does, a boho hippie vibe. More than 35 years old (and, perhaps, over-touristed), Ten Thousand Waves Spa was inspired by Japanese mountain springs, and it remains a religious experience for many, especially the tie-dye crowd.
Your first day can be spent entirely in town, starting with the galleries and shops along Canyon Road—Santa Kilim being my favorite—after a breakfast at the Teahouse, also on Canyon Road. From there, head to the Plaza, the heart and soul of Santa Fe, where, at Shiprock, your two Euro buddies will be tempted to mortgage the family villas for a Navajo blanket or rug. For lunch, sit in the courtyard of the completely revamped Santacafé or at the Shed for blue enchiladas, green-chile stew, and the like. After that, check out designer Alexander Girard’s collection at the Museum of International Folk Art and the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, which has a modest but valuable collection of the painter’s work. Then head to Double Take, with its classic Southwestern vintage cowboy boots, Indian jewelry, and even Fiestaware. Have a cocktail in the lobby of the historic Hotel Posada, but reserve for dinner at Sassella, the hot new Italian restaurant from chef Fernando Olea.
On day two, you’ll need the convertible. Head north on Route 285 and drive for about an hour and a half until you reach Taos. Along the way, you might stop at the San Francisco de Asis Mission Church, on State Road 68, which was famously painted by Georgia O’Keeffe and photographed by Ansel Adams. In the fall, it shouldn’t be overrun with tourists. The very atmospheric but somewhat shabby Taos Inn is perfect for a late breakfast or lunch. The greatest shop of them all may be El Rincon, whose wildly eccentric and scholarly owner specializes in contemporary and antique jewelry, as well as Native American and Spanish Colonial artifacts. Further on is the magnificent small museum of fashionista Millicent Rogers, and beyond that, the remarkable salon and hotel of early-20th-century literary benefactress Mabel Dodge Luhan, who entertained everyone here from D. H. Lawrence to the Taos Pueblo Indian man she would later marry. After that, it’s back to town for drinks and dinner at the Compound.
On day three, relax. You’ll be leaving on a late-afternoon flight. Walk the Plaza. Indulge in a massage at Ten Thousand Waves. Decompress. If you’re feeling ambitious, an hour-and-a-half drive will take you to Ghost Ranch in Abiquiú, the 20,000-acre property where O’Keeffe lived after the death of her husband, Alfred Stieglitz. The property is now owned by the Presbyterian Church; forget the tacky tours, workshops, and lunchroom. The drive through desert and canyons is what it’s all about. Or, as O’Keeffe once put it, “I wish so much to go that I almost wish I had never been there.”
Richard David Story is a veteran travel writer and editor based in New York