Santa Fe, New Mexico

My wife and I visited Santa Fe over Memorial Day weekend in 2021. Below is a report on our trip, in the event someone else may find it helpful in planning their own visit.

The main reason for this trip was to visit the original Meow Wolf immersive art experience. It was everything we hoped it would be and more. I won’t spoil anything, but you should definitely go. We visited for a solid 2.5 hours and were mentally exhausted by that time—in the best way. We can’t wait to make a return visit, nor to check out the two new properties in Las Vegas (opened Spring 2021) and Denver (opening Fall 2021). We’ll be visiting the Vegas Omega Mart property in November!

In downtown Santa Fe it’s easy to just wander around and check out the various galleries, shops, museums, and cathedrals, including the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, Loretto Chapel (home of famous wooden staircase featured on an episode of Unsolved Mysteries in 1990—we watched it later that night on YouTube), and San Miguel Chapel. The one downtown activity we really wanted to do, but weren’t able to, was the Georgia O’Keefe Museum. Due to COVID, they were on a reservations-only system, and we failed to make one in time.

There’s also plenty to see and do outside of downtown, but you’ll definitely need a car. We went to the Prescott Gallery and Sculpture Garden, La Cienequilla petroglyphs, Bandelier National Monument, and Camel Rock. If you go to Bandelier (about an hour drive), plan to leave early, as the parking area by the main visitor center is small and fills up quickly. The Monument itself has many hiking trails and areas, but if you just want to spend a morning or afternoon, take the main 1.4 mile loop trail which takes you by many of the cliff dwellings, even allowing you to climb sturdy wooden ladders to see and experience them from inside. If you have time and aren’t deathly afraid of heights, take the half-mile spur up to Frijoles Canyon to climb the four ladder segments to The Alcove. The views are nice, but it’s really something else to climb 140 feet by way of wooden ladder.

The Alcove, Bandelier National Monument, 2021. Copyright Caleb Trotter.

Many of the pueblos surrounding the Santa Fe area were closed to non-residents due to COVID concerns, so those will have to wait for another time. Also, on our way back to the airport in Albuquerque, we made a stop at Petroglyph National Monument. Petroglyph is pretty spread out and has a few distinct areas, so we chose the Piedras Marcadas Canyon location due to the substantial number of petroglyphs in a relatively small area. The small parking lot is in the middle of a suburban housing development, which was weird, but the petroglyphs were numerous and awesome.

Assorted Petroglyphs, Petroglyph National Monument, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 2021. Copyright Caleb Trotter.

Food and drink: I’m not sure if it was due to COVID, or if it’s just the nature of this small city, but we quickly learned that many (most?) restaurants closed around 8PM. Making reservations ahead of time is strongly recommended. The notable places where we dined and drank are:

Tumbleroot Brewery and Distillery: As the name suggests, this is a small local brewery. We arrived too late to order food from the on-site food truck, but enjoyed our drinks in the sizeable outside courtyard with lovely mountain views and evening temperatures. In addition to beer and spirits, they also make their own kombucha.

Five and Dime General Store: Thanks to Anthony Bourdain, we knew we could find Frito Chili Pie served in a bag of Fritos here. Just as Tony said, it definitely feels like a warm bag of poo. Located on the southwest corner of the plaza, you too can get your very own for just a few dollars!

The Pantry: We went for dinner, but when we passed by at brunchtime, the line was around the corner. Either way, both traditional New Mexican entrees we had were excellent, and we’d definitely return.

Santacafe: White linen dining in a lovely outdoor courtyard. There was a mix-up with our reservation for four, which had us waiting a while for our table, but management took it upon themselves to provide us with drinks and appetizers while we waited. It was an unnecessary but very appreciated gesture that reset the tone for an excellent meal.

Paloma: A very lively, modern Mexican food restaurant. It has a smaller dining room and patio, so definitely plan ahead. Solid food and drink menu.

Logistics: We flew Southwest in and out of Albuquerque (ABQ), where we rented a car for the roughly hour drive to/from Santa Fe. The rental car facility is a few minutes away from the terminal by shuttle bus. In Santa Fe, we stayed four nights at the Doubletree. Located about 15 minutes away from the downtown Plaza, this hotel was the most reasonable points option, given that I had a stash of Hilton points. I booked the four nights for 96,000 points, and if memory serves, it worked out to a respectable redemption value even though I don’t recall what the cash rates were for that holiday weekend. A good way to load up on Hilton points is through a credit card signup bonus. American Express typically has some pretty good bonus offers, which you can find through this referral link.*

If you don’t mind driving, and want to be close to a lot of restaurants and shopping centers, staying outside of the downtown area is the way to go. If you’d rather get around everywhere by foot, and plan on sticking to downtown, then you’ll most likely want to stay in that area. However, I did note that the Doubletree apparently had a shuttle bus with a few stops, including the Hilton property downtown and Meow Wolf. We didn’t use it, so I can’t attest to the cost, hours, or reliability, but it could be an option worth looking into.

Overall, we had a lovely time and will certainly go back. The food was amazing, and there’s plenty of art we didn’t have time to see. I know the main busy time of year in Santa Fe centers around Indian Market every August, but you can avoid the heat, and crowds, with a late spring trip like we made.

*Using this link could result in me receiving a referral bonus of points.

Petroglyph National Monument, 2021. Copyright Caleb Trotter.