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A Weekend Guide to Santa Fe: The Local’s Edition

Get tips from a local on what to eat and what to do when you visit Santa Fe, New Mexico on a weekend trip!
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So I actually have this list I keep in the notes in my phone of all the people I want to visit around the country/world. My college roommate and bff Morgan has been on the list for a while and I FINALLY made it to Santa Fe, where she’s been living for two years.

As it turns out, Santa Fe is beautiful, wonderful, creative, a little bit weird, and feels unlike any other place I’ve been to the in States quite frankly. It’s a lot smaller than I expected but packs a lot of flavor – literally and figuratively. (I ate so much good food!)

In Morgan’s own words, she has mastered the weekend trip to Santa Fe. If you’re heading in that direction, here are some top recommendations from the local herself:

 

Where to stay

Even though Morgan actually lives within walking distance to the “downtown” area, we ended up staying most nights at her boss’s house out in El Dorado to housesit while her boss was out of town.

I mean I don’t know what kind of weekend trip you’re going for, but being out there was sooooo relaxing and beautiful and quiet. Anyway, you’ll probably want to check out Airbnb for some good places to stay.

In El Dorado, New Mexico near Santa Fe
Views in El Dorado while going for a little walk near the place we stayed at

What to eat

For my first meal, Morgan took me to La Choza (see reviews on the La Choza TripAdvisor page), a popular New Mexican style restaurant. We started with the margaritas which I highly recommend ALTHOUGH word of warning: you ARE at altitude (about 2200 meters please don’t ask me in feet) so be careful with alcohol and make sure to hydrate.

Then I ordered the chicken enchiladas with both red and green chile sauces (“Christmas”). We also got free sopapillas with our meal. It’s like a bread/dough thing and you drizzle it with honey apparently. Delicious dinner.

Chicken enchiladas at La Choza in Santa Fe
This picture sucks but the food didn’t – it was DELICIOUS. Chicken enchiladas at La Choza.

For our next meal out, we went to La Boca (see reviews on the La Boca TripAdvisor page), which is a tapas place in town. GET THE STEAK WITH SALTED CARAMEL SAUCE. It’s sweet and meaty and salty…I can’t describe it in words. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever tasted. Get it.

We also had a decadent Japanese feast at Izanami (Izanami on TripAdvisor), the restaurant that accompanies the Ten Thousand Waves Japanese baths up “on the mountain”. If you’re thinking sushi, this isn’t that. It’s izakaya style, which basically means Japanese tapas. Things we ate that I recommend:

  • The miso soup with pork (this was so good, you could just get like 3 of these and call it a day)
  • The sweet potato plate
  • The gyoza
  • The sorbet sampler
  • The sake. We just got the cheapest one. I usually don’t like sake but this one was watery and refreshing – yes, I think I prefer my sake watery ha

Apparently, they also have ramen but only at lunchtime.

Okay one more!! We went to this sunshiney bustling little cafe for brunch one morning called Tune-Up Cafe (Tune-Up reviews on TripAdvisor) and it was so yummy. It seems like it can get really busy on the weekend and is a little disorienting because it’s in such a small space, but the food is worth it.

It’s Salvadorean food – I think with a New Mexican twist? I had something delicious on the specials menu but pretty much anything with eggs and beans and avocado sounded good to me. Or pupusas.

Where to eat in Santa Fe during weekend trip: Tune Up Cafe for brunch
Something yummy I ate at Tune-Up Cafe

 

What to do during a weekend in Santa Fe

I’m all about the rocks, so anytime I’m in a place where there are interesting geological features, I focus on that (see my I F*cking Love Turkey post). This means I didn’t end up with any time to explore the galleries and art like I think most people do when they visit Santa Fe.

Morgan and I wandered around the main plaza in downtown Sante Fe and peeked in some windows but that was the extent of it.

I’m okay with that because instead, we got to experience these absolutely epic natural landscape moments:

 

Plaza Blanca day trip from Santa Fe

I had heard/seen that there were some fairy chimneys a la Cappadoccia epic-ness that could be seen near Santa Fe. Morgan suggested Plaza Blanca and it was beautiful.

Our hiking crew in Plaza Blanca during my Sante Fe Weekend trip
Our hiking crew in Plaza Blanca
Hiking through the crevasses in Plaza Blanca, Santa Fe
You hike through the crevasses as you explore the area

It’s about an hour’s drive from Santa Fe and you could actually hit up the Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu (made famous by Georgia’ O’Keeffe) on the same day if you’re feeling ambitious.

Once you get to Plaza Blanca, you just walk on in and climb around in the rocks really.

I tried to read up on the geological history of the formation but there’s almost nothing out there unless you understand geologic academic journal articles (but I don’t). Here’s what I got:

  • Plaza Blanca is pretty old. Not the oldest but tens of millions of years old. Late Oligocene to Early Miocene (See timescale below). For reference, some of the deepest layers of the Grand Canyon were laid 2 billion years ago (OLD!!)
  • The story *I think* is that the white rocks are layers of sandstone made out of igneous volcanic ash that had hardened into something called tuff. Rivers then eroded the relatively soft rocks into their amazing shapes. (I believe it’s the same idea as Turkey’s Cappadocia, hence why they look similar)
Geological timescale to understand the history of Plaza Blanca
For your reference (P.S. Dinosaurs were around in the Mesozoic and became extinct after the Cretaceous) | Source

 

Soak at Ten Thousand Waves, a Japanese-style bathhouse

After we got back from hiking, we headed over to Ten Thousand Waves, a Japanese style bathhouse, to soak in some hot tubs under the stars. I believe they have a whole suite of spa services on offer, but we just did the public tub soak.

They have a mixed gender tub where you have to wear a bathing suit and a women’s only tub where you can go naked if you want. There are also saunas you can use before/after you soak, as well as cold pools to dip in when you get too hot.

We also spent some time in the meditation room listening to music and meditating. Then we ate dinner at their restaurant, as I mentioned above. The whole night was super luxurious and relaxing and perfect.

 

Great Sand Dunes National Park day trip from Santa Fe (technically in Colorado)

Honestly, I would say Great Sand Dunes National Park is unmissable if you’ve never been to a sandy desert before (and I hadn’t). This day trip is a bit of a longer drive – about 3 hours each way – but the landscape is unreal and totally worth it.

The view from the bottom of Great Sand Dunes National Park during a weekend trip to Santa Fe
Did I mention the landscape is unreal?? This was from the bottom, on our way to climb up the dunes.

We got there pretty late in the day so were a bit worried about losing sunlight and hustled our way up the dunes. You probably want to get there with enough time to spare so you don’t feel you have to rush at all.

Also, hiking straight up sand dunes for an hour is one hell of a workout.

Hiking up the sand dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Park
If you think walking on the beach is hard…

I also tried to read up on the history of the dunes. Here’s what I gleaned:

  • They’re a lot younger than what you see at Plaza Blanca. Scientists hypothesize they’ve only been around a few ten thousand years (young in geological time), likely beginning to form sometime during the last Ice Age.
  • There are two nearby mountain ranges: one is volcanic and one was thrust upwards during a mountain-forming event (orogeny). There is a valley between the mountains that was once home to a large lake. Sediments from both mountain ranges eroded into the valley/lakebed. The lake eventually flowed away into a river, leaving the eroded sand in the valley. Prevailing (normal) winds blow the sands towards the towering uplifted mountain range (Sangre de Cristo mountains) but these winds are opposed by storm winds that go the opposite direction. So the sand builds up vertically into dunes at the base of the mountains. (Summarized from this explanation from the NPS)

I recommend choosing a path up a ridge so you stay on the harder sand and it’s easier to climb. As for going down, you can just run right down in like five minutes.

Prepare for lots of sand in your shoes and bring layers because it can be really windy and cold at the top.

Photoshoot at the top of the Great Sand Dunes National Park
Photoshoots at the top

*BONUS* If you do go to the sand dunes, I highly recommend stopping at Calvillo’s Mexican Restaurant in Alamosa on your way to or from Santa Fe. They have an $11 all-you-can-eat Mexican buffet. It’s just incredible bang for your buck. The tacos bar and desserts were my personal favorites.

 

Visit the weird and completely wonderful Meow Wolf during your weekend trip to Santa Fe

The grand finale of my weekend was visiting Meow Wolf (TripAdvisor reviews), an immersive and interactive art installation inside a repurposed bowling alley.

I had heard a lot about Meow Wolf from Morgan since she actually works for them. (She’s directing a documentary about how Meow Wolf came to be – look out for it soon!) But I still didn’t understand what it was until experiencing it for myself.

I’ll try to explain it…It’s a collection of rooms and secret passageways decorated with colors, lights, shapes, fabrics, found objects, music, sounds…I’ve never done psychedelic drugs but I would bet it’s like going on a great trip.

As if the breathtaking rock formations and sand dunes weren’t enough, i got to explore this ✨wondrous✨ place in Santa Fe just before leaving for my flight home. . i was truly perplexed as to what exactly Meow Wolf was until seeing it for myself: Basically it’s an interactive art installation where you can play and explore through different rooms and realms of art. Unlike much of the “high art” in Santa Fe, it’s meant to be enjoyed by all. . There are pieces built out of found items like cereal boxes and car parts; doors that open into glowing themed rooms draped in lights and tree moss; and even a giant neon mammoth whose rib cage “bones” each play a different tone when you tap them. . it was beautiful to see children and adults alike just there to play. No political arguments and drama like what we see on social media but just everyone coming together in wonderment at the beauty and curiosity of creation.

A post shared by Michelle | Mishvo in Motion (@mishvoinmotion) on

Anyway, I LOVED it and highly recommend blocking off a solid 2 or 3 hours for exploring, especially if you have kids. The kids in there were having an absolute blast.

 

Have a Breaking Bad moment in Albuquerque

With literally minutes to spare before needing to get to the airport for my flight home out of ABQ, Morgan and I raced through some suburban neighborhood in Albuquerque to snap a photo at Walter White’s IRL house.

It was a whole saga…

As it turns out, the people who live there have not only put up a fence and a Do Not Disturb sign, but also sit outside in their open garage waiting for people to come by so they can ruin their fun with mean stares!!

The Breaking Bad house in Albuquerque
The only shot I got of the house. I really wanted one of me in the hat and sunglasses in front of it but it was too awkward with them sitting in the garage just waiting.

I had read about this on Reddit but still thought we might be able to get a photo somehow. It was too uncomfortable in the end so we settled for this one (weird) photo outside the Albuquerque airport.

If you want to have a Breaking Bad moment yourself, I recommend visiting a different landmark. It will just be more fun because you won’t have these lame folks sitting around waiting to make you feel guilty for enjoying the outside of their home.

Here’s a link to a DIY Breaking Bad tour from the good Breaking Bad Stans of the internet.

By the way, if you need to get from ABQ to Santa Fe or vice versa, there’s a super easy and super affordable train that runs between them, and there’s a free shuttle from the Albuquerque airport to the train station as well.


Honorable mentions

Of course, I didn’t get to do, see, or taste everything in Santa Fe. Here are some things I’m curious about for next time:

The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

The Shed for more New Mexican food

Cafe Pasqual’s

The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta in October

Kakawa Chocolate House

Another hot springs location

 

Some other takes on the weekend trip to Santa Fe

Santa Fe, New Mexico Travel Guide from a Couple Cooks

What to Do When Visiting Santa Fe, New Mexico from Finding the Universe

 

Other weekend trip ideas

A Weekend Guide to Baltimore


Have you ever been to Santa Fe? Did I miss anything major you loved??

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