An Insider's Guide to Travel: News, Tips, Information & Inspiration

Travel News / Destinations / Culture / Mexico & Central America / Museums / Spain & Portugal / USA / West

Barcelona, Mexico City & Santa Fe: Museums, Restaurants & Art in Latin Cultural Capitals

Share on: Share on Google+

Boqueria - Places With Ole! - photo by Leslie WestbrookLooking for a winter getaway with a little sizzle?

Leslie A. Westbrook reports on some of her top picks for destinations that are packed with art, culinary surprises, and a little side of olé!

Some like it hot; I like travel that sizzles. Salsa me, piquante me, surprise me. Just don’t bore me.

I’ve gone head over heels for Barcelona, been mesmerized by Mexico and swooned over Santa Fe.

Here are the Cliffs Notes on a trio of those muy caliente destinations to satisfy those with an appetite for art and cuisine.


Art at Rancho de San Juan - photo by Leslie WestbrookThere’s no shortage of art or good food to be found in the oldest capital city in North America.

For a primer on Santa Fe’s artistic history, a visit should include the new, very interactive History of New Mexico Museum and the charming Spanish Colonial Arts Museum.

Seek out SITE Santa Fe art space for cutting-edge contemporary works and the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum which exhibits not only O’Keeffe’s paintings, but also showcases contemporary artists such as Susan Rothenberg (the first woman artist besides O’Keeffe to be shown at the downtown museum).

For an experience that not many people know about or have access to, head about 35 minutes north of the city to a special and secluded retreat, Rancho de San Juan.

Here, totem sculptures by über-cool resident artist Doug Coffin welcome visitors to the private 225-acre retreat overlooking the Ojo Caliente River Valley.

Guests get access to a special experience: a sand cathedral commissioned by the owners is accessible via a short hike along an arroyo and into the foothills nestled below Black Mesa. Unlock it with the key given to guests of the inn for a private art experience.

Sandstone Shrine near Rancho de San Juan, Santa Fe - photo by Leslie WestbrookThe owners can also arrange visits to local artists’ studios, including Coffin’s cool abode (I highly recommend this) and tours of Georgia O’Keeffe’s amazing house and studio in Abiqui.

Santa Feans eat well, thus it’s hard to find a bad meal in these parts. Top picks for hungry gourmands include the romantic garden at The Compound (if money is no object); the smoky roasted poblano relleno stuffed with three mushroom quinoa at SantaCaféLa Boca for tapas and a great happy-hour deal; arugula salad, Tasmanian salmon and cheddar chive biscuits at Terra inside Encantado Resort; maple-glazed duck at Three Forks Restaurant at Rancho de San Juan.

You can also linger with the locals for finger-licking good African and Caribbean dishes atJambo Café, tucked in a strip mall.

Don’t miss our section devoted to travel in the American West.


Gaudi - photo courtesy Spanish Govt Tourism BoardFor countless visitors, the allure of Barcelona resides in the stunning legacy of architect Antoni Gaudí whose creations dot the Spanish port city that predates the Roman Empire.

One may take respite on the broken-tiled, curving benches in Gaudí’s famous El Park Güell, named for his patron, and gaze across the gingerbread gatehouses at the park entrance, beyond Sagrada Familia(Gaudí’s famously unfinished and breathtaking Holy Family church) past the sprawling metropolis that leads to the sea.

Barcelona Bus Turistic, a double-decker open-top bus offers three driving tours and four walking tours (the Gothic District, Picasso’s bohemian, Modernisme architecture and a gourmet food tour). Each provides a great overview of the city and help you figure out what areas you might like to explore at your leisure.

Jump off at Montjuic Park where the purity and simplicity of the Mies van der Roe pavilion outside Catalonia’s national art museum, Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC), provides an oasis of calm in this happening metropolis.

Barcelona’s equivalent of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is recognized for the world’s finest collection of Romanesque frescoes, altar pieces and wood carvings (most of them rescued from chapels in the Pyrenees during the 1920s to save them from deterioration, theft, and art dealers).

Learn more with our Spain & Portugal travel section.

Temporary Salvador Dali exhibition - photo via https://art.mnac.catBut the 19th- and 20th-century Catalan impressionist and Moderniste painters are the real turn-on. An upscale restaurant offers magnificent views in an elegant atmosphere.

Then there is the food outside the museum halls. Within walking distance of the national art museum on Poeta Cabanves, don’t miss Quimet & Quimet for tapas and wines by the glass in a tiny bodega. See what amazing combos can be done with foods that come out of a can.

For fine dining, try COMERÇ 24. Plan on spending several hours, and plenty of euros at this trendy, upscale restaurant where diners need an explanation of what they are eating. Go for the tasting menu and let Chef Carles Abellan “wow” or, in some cases, mystify, you.

Be sure to allow plenty to time to stroll through colorful food markets that display every animal part in glass cases (including snouts, hooves and heads) and shop along the elegant Paseo Gracia … and don’t forget to try a cup of hot chocolate: pure pudding-like pleasure in a cup!

Want more travel information on Barcelona? Check out:


Forget about all the fear tactics. Yes, Mexico City can be dangerous. Don’t be flashy (i.e., leave your jewelry at home) and don’t miss out on this metropolitan capital that has everything from incredible pyramids on the outskirts of the 571-square mile metropolis to panoply of museums in the heart of the city.

Painting of Frida Kahlo via the Casa Azul/Blue House Web siteMexico City boasts iconic art havens from Frida Kahlo’s blue house to the murals of the Mexican masters, Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siquieros and Jose Clemente Orozco at thePalacio Bella Artes.

Their works and other 20th century artists such as Rufino Tamayo are also on display at theMuseó Tamayo Arte Contemporaneo on Paseo de la Reforma Avenue and Gandhi Street.

Somewhat lesser known is the spectacular home and gardens replete with roaming peacocks at Museo Dolores Olmedo. Set in a peaceful 16th-century hacienda, the Olmedo museum contains perhaps the biggest and most important Diego Rivera collection of all. Dolores Olmedo, a wealthy socialite, was a patron and lover of Rivera, and amassed a large collection of his art including his lesser-known Acapulco sunset paintings.

From the street carts that sell freshly made potato chips drizzled with hot sauce to the trendy gastronomic cathedrals of modern cooking, Mexico City doesn’t disappoint. A trio of current happening restaurants include: BikoOca; and Les Moustaches. Be sure to seek outhuitlacoche (corn mold) crepes, a favorite delicacy not found anywhere else in the world … and don’t forget the margaritas!

By Leslie A. Westbrook for Photos by Leslie Westbrook except as indicated. Leslie is a veteran print and broadcast journalist based in California. Visit her on the Web at

Related articles on