It’s the first month of the year and one of the most affordable times to travel. If you want to start the new year with history, art, culture and, of course, spa and wellness activities, take a closer at look Santa Fe. Contributor Lilit Marcus shares why you should consider this New Mexico city for your first trip of the year.
It seems like every place you go in Santa Fe is the first something. First church in America? Check. First government building in the country? Check again. Oldest house in the United States? They have that too. And although New Mexico was the 47th state to enter the union, its capital Santa Fe is – you see where this is going – the oldest capital in the US. This place is swimming in history, but it’s also surprisingly modern.
There are several good hotels in Santa Fe, but the La Fonda on the Plaza is a cultural artifact in addition to a place to lay your head. Although the rooms were recently overhauled here, the original 1920s vibe lingers on through careful attention to detail. The hotel displays paintings from native artists and every design detail has been intricately considered. There’s Spanish-style embroidery on the curtains, native-inspired tile work in the bathroom, and even the radiators are painted the color of adobe. If you don’t stay here, at least stop by the La Plazuela restaurant in the lobby to take in some of the beautiful architecture and check out the hand-painted glass panes on the walls.
La Fonda is located on the original main plaza in Santa Fe, which makes it an excellent starting point for a walking tour of the town. Within just a few minutes, you can reach some of Santa Fe’s most iconic spots – the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, The Loretto Chapel with its famous Miraculous Stair, and the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, which served as the inspiration for Willa Cather’s novel Death Comes for the Archbishop.
There’s also the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, which happens to be one of the only museums in town open on a Monday. The collection focuses on modern work by Native American artists, including avant-garde audio and video installations, and the gift shop features handmade jewelry and a wide range of books by Native authors.
There’s also plenty of great shopping to be had here in Santa Fe. You can’t go five feet without bumping into a souvenir shop, but there are some true treasures among all the tourist bait, including the well-curated kid (and adult kid) Moon Rabbit Toys shop and the city’s best independent bookstore, Collected Works.
Once you’re ready to leave the main plaza behind, you have several directions to choose from. Museum Hill is a well-organized group of four of the city’s best museums, including The Museum of Indian Art & Culture and the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art. On a nice day, take advantage of the open outdoor seating between the buildings and bring a lunch or simply take in the fresh air.
If it’s art you’re after, Santa Fe’s legendary scene does not fail to deliver. About a third of the town’s roughly 300 galleries are located along Canyon Road, with shops selling everything from folk art to turquoise jewelry to rugs imported from Indonesia. Take a break by stopping into the adorable The Teahouse, where the tea menu is nearly as thick as a phone book and the fire’s always cozy. There’s also nosh – get the famous black oatmeal, which will help you detox from all the blue corn breakfast tacos you’ve hopefully been eating.
After you’ve crammed in plenty of art and culture, it’s time for a detox. Ten Thousand Waves is a Japanese-style onsen and a bona fide New Mexico institution. This spa offers treatments like massages, facials, and full-body wraps, but you should arrive at least an hour early to take advantage of some of the other amenities, like the sauna and the hot tub, which is traditionally enjoyed naked. Santa Fe comes by its hippie reputation naturally, and when in Rome – or New Mexico – you should do as the locals do. So dive in headfirst. You’ll be glad that you did.
By Lilit Marcus for PeterGreenberg.com. Lilit is a freelance writer who lives on the Lower East Side and tries to get out of Manhattan as much as possible. Her work has also appeared in Glamour, The Daily, and Jaunted.com. Follow her on twitter at @LilitMarcus.