Santa Fe ~ The City Different
Love Affair Spans 50 Visits for Writer
I had no idea in 1970 that I would fall in love with Santa Fe, New Mexico. I went there on a lark, mostly at the urging of an artist friend, who called it “an irresistible place.”
At that time, I was traveling often to New York, London and Paris to cover the seasonal fashion shows as an intrepid newspaper reporter. Other travels were focused on the Netherlands, where my husband at that time, had ancestral ties.
My friend suggested I stay at La Fonda, the oldest hotel in the oldest capital city in the country.
“It’s right on the Plaza, a Santa Fe landmark,” she said. “It’s close to great shopping, historic sites and restaurants. It will give you a real feel for the city.”
Since I was a novice about touring this city so foreign to me, I followed all of her suggestions precisely. Her well-crafted instructions were a great replacement for a personal tour guide.
“Be sure to see the Cathedral near La Fonda. Tour the Palace of the Governors for a sense of history,” she urged. “And you must visit with the Native Americans selling their hand-crafted jewelry in front of the Palace. They’re very interesting people.”
She reminded me to enjoy the weather – chilly in the mornings, warm and sunny in the afternoons with an occasional rain shower coupled with cool, crisp evenings.
She told me to look often at the Sangre de Cristo Mountains – her favorite painting subject – and to savor the incomparable beauty of the New Mexico sky with its voluminous clouds and spectacular sunsets.
On my first day there, I was thoroughly enchanted with the city. I was the child in the candy store. By the end of my five-day visit, I was hopelessly in love with Santa Fe. My affection has never wavered in the past 45 years and 50 visits.
Santa Fe residents call this town “the city different.” It only took one trip to discover why. There’s no place else like it in America.
Now, on annual trips to Santa Fe, I’m my own best tour guide. Sometimes I go just to relax. Most of the time I’m on the trail of a story, often about Santa Fe artists; some are now good friends.
The La Fonda Hotel, where I’ve stayed many times since that 1970 visit, is the perfect lodging to get acclimated to Santa Fe style. Its décor is a blend of southwestern and Mexican and the elegant hotel dining room, La Plazuela, is hard to beat for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
I’ve stayed at a variety of places – bed and breakfasts, boutique hotels, a 1950s upscale motor court, elegant spas, lodges and chain hotels. For almost a decade, I enjoyed house-sitting for friends with second homes in Santa Fe or Santa Fe residents who vacationed in Europe.
For the past 15 years, I’ve stayed in a lovely residence owned by a family member in a Canyon Road compound. It’s a perfect place for entertaining the friends I’ve collected through the years. I consider them my souvenirs.
Dining out is a major part of Santa Fe’s charm. Restaurants are incredibly plentiful in this city, representing just about any nationality or ethnic fare your palate savors. It is a fluid scene, restaurants come and go. Old favorites thrive.
After all these years, I’m quite partial to the Compound on Canyon Road for a leisurely lunch, Pink Adobe’s outdoor café for an early dinner, and Bishop’s Lodge for a spectacular Sunday brunch.
If I don’t have breakfast at LaFonda or the Inn at Loretto, I enjoy the pastries and coffee at the French Bakery Shop, located within the La Fonda. I was there as a reporter to cover its festive opening day about 35 years ago.
Pasqual’s, near the Plaza, serves family style – a delightful way to meet new people and make new friends. They even let my well-mannered dog dine quietly under the table.
Attending classes at several of the Santa Fe culinary schools improved my cooking skills and sharpened my interest in authentic southwestern/Mexican fare.
Art is a passion for many of Santa Fe’s residents. If they aren’t creating it, they’re collecting or selling it. Canyon Road, once a dusty path a few blocks from town, is now home to some of the country’s most famous artists. You can wander to your heart’s delight on this winding narrow street, with six blocks filled with a delightful variety of art. Don’t miss the little shops tucked in alleys or behind other galleries. Sometimes they feature the most unusual surprises.
The city is considered one of the three premier art markets in the world so you will find galleries in the heart of downtown, as well as the numerous shopping venues throughout the city. Aficionados of Indian art never miss the annual Indian Market, when the town’s population swells overnight. This year’s world-class event is scheduled August 22-23.
For 18 years, I was the publications director for the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City so museums are always on my Santa Fe agenda. Museum Hill wasn’t developed when I first started visiting. Now it’s a great place to spend a day, have lunch and enjoy the mountain views.
You can tour the Wheelwright for Indian artifacts, the International Folk Art Museum for a global look at toys and ethnic celebrations, the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture and the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art. Exhibits change frequently, making return visits compelling.
Downtown, the small Georgia O’Keeffe Museum is a jewel. O’Keeffe’s was truly an iconoclast. In this small museum, visitors learn her fascinating story and marvel at her art, which was inspired by New Mexico’s awesome landscape.
Nearby, the Allan Houser Gallery shows the work of this preeminent late Native American artist, whose 100th birthday was celebrated by numerous museums last year, honoring his vast artistic achievements.
The renovated rail yards area is a relative newcomer to the tourist scene with restaurants, shops, galleries and a museum. A commuter train now shuttles between the rail yards and Albuquerque, offering tourists there an opportunity for a day trip to Santa Fe.
By strolling – the best way to get in the spirit of Santa Fe – will introduce you to many of the 200 art galleries in the city. Shops selling fashion, jewelry, home furnishings and all manner of souvenirs are abundant and enticing.
I love that Santa Fe is 405 years old this year and that it still keeps changing and evolving. It’s grown considerably since 1970 so I find something new to see every time I visit. I’ve learned that exploring in Santa Fe is like a great treasure hunt. On my 50th visit, I was determined to see something new and different every day, an itinerary that yielded numerous pleasant experiences.
In many ways, the city has been like a touchstone for me. It’s provided a place of solace when life seemed troubling. It’s been a place of rejoicing when life events called for celebrations. On each visit, I’ve learned more about the city, and in some ways, more about myself.
In the course of 50 visits, I’ve also made some fabulous friends – so easy to do in Santa Fe if you’re open to new acquaintances, especially those who love sharing diverse cultural experiences with visitors.
I often marvel that I never moved to Santa Fe. I thought about it often enough. And once, I almost bought a condo in the southwest area of the city. But the reality check of two mortgages squelched that idea.
And what if I had moved to Santa Fe?
Where would I go now to enjoy the renewing experiences I’ve always discovered in this fascinating city, so rich with its heritage and grand melting pot of multi-cultural opportunities?
I love foreign travel. France, Italy, Mexico, Germany, Austria, Ireland and Holland have been favorites on my roster of international destinations. But Santa Fe is the closest you can come to being in a foreign country, right here in the United States, without needing a visa or a passport.
One of my favorite singers, Tony Bennett, may have left his heart in San Francisco. Mine has been in Santa Fe for almost 50 years.
M. J. Van Deventer has been a newspaper reporter and magazine editor for 45 years. She is the co-author of three books on French Country design with Charles Faudree, and the author of Western Design, Modern Country and Native American Style, written with Elmo Baca, a former Santa Fe resident.Share story on Facebook Share story on Twitter Email a Friend.