Weekend Excursion: 72 Hours in Santa Fe, New Mexico
They call it the “Land of Enchantment” for a reason.
Sure, as a teenager I didn't always get it, but New Mexico is a place I'm proud to call home. With its blue skies, amazing food, incredible art, and more outdoor adventures than you can shake a cholla cactus at, I’ll keep calling Santa Fe home no matter how long I’ve been a PNW transplant. Since I'm clearly biased, I'll tell you to spend as much time down there as you can, but if you only have a few days these are your must-dos and must-eats. But for starters – two things:
First, to really understand New Mexicans and embrace your time in Santa Fe, you need to know that we're the only state in the US with an official state question, and that this question is a big deal to us (we also have a state bolo tie, but we don't need to go there now...). "Red or green?" will be thrown your way any time the ordering of food is involved, which is our way of asking what type of chile you want deliciously smothered over your meal. Feeling adventurous? Order "Christmas" so that you can try both.
Second, it’s important to keep in mind that, unless you’re coming from certain parts of Colorado, Santa Fe is likely going to be a big gain in elevation for you. The city itself sits at over 7,000ft and many nearby mountain adventures can get you over 12,000ft. Altitude issues can hit even if you’re in great shape, so be sure to drink much more water than you normally would throughout your time here and pay attention to your body when you’re out on the trail (and don’t be surprised if that post-trail beer hits you much faster).
Now let’s get to it!
Start your day off with your first New Mexican meal at The Pantry and try out your answer to our state question. From there, head south out of town to hit the trail at Tent Rocks. This is a great hike for your first day, as it's only three miles round trip and at a lower elevation than Santa Fe, giving your body a little more time to adjust to the altitude. You'll wander through awesome desert hoodoos formed over the past 6 million years following massive explosions in the nearby Jemez volcanic field and get some 360 views from the mesa top of the Sangre de Cristo, Jemez, and Sandia mountains as well as the Rio Grande Valley.
Once you're back in town, head downtown and wander around the historic Santa Fe Plaza. Get a sense of the amazing art and culture of the area by stopping in at the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, or by walking the famous Canyon Rd. Want to try some delicious New Mexican brew with the added bonus of a rooftop view over the plaza? (Obviously the answer is “yes, yes I do”). Stop off at the Draft Station and try your pick of many local breweries before moving on to The Shed for a tasty dinner (I’d get the red here!). Still have energy? Head over to El Meson for their Friday jazz night and enjoy some live music. As an added bonus, all of these places are within easy walking distance from each other so no need to worry about driving!
Stuff your face with breakfast at Tia Sophia’s. Let go of your coffee expectations, you’re here for the amazing food. While they pretty regularly get voted best breakfast burrito in Santa Fe, I’m always a sucker for their heuvos rancheros (Christmas here). Once you’re stuffed, head on up to the Santa Fe Ski Basin parking lot to meet the Lake Peak trailhead. At just under seven miles round trip with 2,600ft of elevation gain, this is one of the friendlier 12er summits with huge rewards and awesome views, topping out at 12,409ft. If you’re feeling the altitude, however, best to stick with some lower-down adventures. Head out to Bandelier National Monument and explore the region’s history at Alcove House and Tsankawi. If you’re looking for more of a wheeled adventure and have a bike with you, hit the Dale Ball trail network for some awesome mountain biking trails just outside of Santa Fe.
You’re clearly in need of some relaxing now, so on your way back down to Santa Fe from the Ski Basin stop off at Ten Thousand Waves, a superb Japanese spa nestled in the foothills of the mountains, for a soak with a view. Once you’ve taken care of those tired muscles, head down to Tomasita’s for dinner where you need (yes need) tamales and a margarita. If you’re up for more, the Cowgirl is a good spot to catch some local live music after dinner.
Did I mention how much I love breakfast in Santa Fe? It’s time for Tecolote now, and be sure you get the bread basket with your meal. After you finish, it’s time for one more adventure - this time to the north. Head up to Ghost Ranch and, depending on your energy level and schedule, hike the shorter and easier Chimney Rock trail or the longer and slightly trickier Kitchen Mesa trail (a personal favorite). They both end with stellar views of the Piedra Lumbre basin, Abiquiu (pronounced A-bih-cue) Lake, and Pedernal – the heart of Georgia O’Keeffe country and what inspired many of her paintings. When you’re back in Santa Fe, top off your trip with a rooftop drink at the Coyote Cantina and soak up the warmth of the sunset on the city’s adobe buildings. If you have time to squeeze in one more meal, you can’t go wrong with a green chile cheeseburger and a pint from Second Street Brewery.
Hopefully by the end of your trip you’ll already be planning to come back again – we’ve only scratched the surface on good trails and good eats in the area!
Pro tip: Since you’re obviously addicted to green chile now, you’ll want to bring some back with you. TSA allows frozen chile only for carry on, so stop off at any grocery store to pick some up before you go!
Cover photo: Gemina Garland-Lewis
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Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.
Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More
Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.
Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.