Santa Fe: The City Different Shopping, art, museums, food, opera make for unique experience

Santa fe downtownBe careful when you go to Santa Fe. She is an enchantress – easy to love and hard to leave.

I made my first trek there in 1985, just as the area was invaded by New Yorkers and Californians. I quickly learned the importance of manners and being nice. Several natives took me under their wings and taught me the ropes. Having them show me around paved the way for many additional, intimate and up-close visits.

The city can be intimidating due to its overwhelming options. Hopefully, the following suggestions will help you blend right in and get the most out of your visit to the City Different.


Santa Fe - Garretts - 9-1-16
Garrett’s Desert In is my favorite place to stay. I’ve tried others, but keep coming back to Garrett’s.

Where to stay: Over the past three decades, I’ve stayed in hotels/motels/bed and breakfasts/rental homes at almost every price range.

For my money, Garrett’s Desert Inn at 311 Old Santa Fe Trail offers the best. It’s an older property and could use a facelift, but for convenience and safety, it’s hard to beat. Located just a block away from the Plaza, you can park right at your doorway. Parking in the historical district is at a premium, so the $8 daily fee for a guaranteed spot seems uber-reasonable.

The rooms are spacious and so is the closet/dressing room space. They’ve added small refrigerators to some rooms, so remember to ask.

You are only a few blocks from Paseo de Peralta, the loop that circles the historic district.

Fine dining is just steps away from your door. The Pink Adobe, Rio Chama (where Morgan Freeman, Tommy Lee Jones and Rene Russo were shooting a film) and the Upper Crust are in the same block.

Staff is friendly and helpful, despite the property being booked to capacity while we were there. I found you get a better rate if you book directly. Contact information: 800-888-2145.

If Bed and Breakfast is your thing, you’re in luck. Since I started going to Santa Fe in the 1980s dozens of B&Bs have sprung up, some located in or near the historic district. Just be advised that most B&B rooms are tiny.

I haven’t tried Airbnb, but found lots of attractive listings here.

Santa Fe - plaza - 9-1-16.jpgThe Plaza. Visit the stores, eat at the famous Plaza Cafe, sit on a bench and people watch. Notice I said visit the stores. Shop elsewhere. The Plaza price tags will give you serious sticker shock.

Santa Fe - staircase - 9-1-18The Miraculous Staircase at Loretto Chapel: If you stay at Garrett’s, you’re just across the street from the chapel, which houses a winding staircase constructed without one nail. It’s well worth the $3 admission fee.












Santa Fe - Canyon-RoadCanyon Road: Plan a morning walking up through the galleries, have lunch at Celebrations or El Farol (reservations for 4 or more suggested) and make your way back down. You’ll see every kind of art imaginable. I’ve purchased pillows and small items on Canyon Road, but most of the art is priced out of my league. Parking is scarce, so take a taxi to and from the bottom of the hill.

Santa Fe - pasatiempoGuidebooks: There are several to choose from, but I favor Pasatiempo. You’ll not find a more comprehensive list of what’s happening in the city. The free magazine breaks down the week’s events, offers interesting interviews with movers and shakers and features beautiful ad layouts.

On this trip, we found an advertisement for a one-woman play based on the life of Mabel Dodge Luhan (of Ghost Ranch). We attended the Sunday matinee in a small theater in an industrial district and had a delightful time, thanks to Pasatiempo.

A tip on using guidebooks: don’t let the choices overwhelm you. If you see something that interests you, circle it. Make a list of what you’d like to see, complete with times and dates and whittle it down. Remember that getting around takes a while if you drive and finding a parking space nearby is never guaranteed, so allow time on the front end.

Santa Fe - Museum HillMuseum Hill: Four world-class museums just outside of the city with plenty of parking. Check their website for current exhibits. Click here for hours, more information.

Dining: You have many options. Some are tried and true. Some are overpriced tourist traps. My perennial favorites are Cafe Sena, The Pink Adobe (though it has been hit and miss lately), The Shed, Tomasita’s and Cowgirl BBQ (a recent addition). You’ll find tourists all over each of these places and reservations are usually recommended. I also love Vanessie’s (try the onion loaf) near the Plaza and

Santa Fe - Tortilla Flats - 9-1-16
Tortilla Flats on Cerrilllos Road might be quite a drive, but the locals flock there for great Northern New Mexico food at reasonable prices. Check out their pinto beans. Some of the best I’ve ever had. Soapapillas come with every meal. Do not miss them.

Tortilla Flats (see photo at right) on Cerrillos Road. Locals flock to these places. Vanessie’s is a little more upscale. Tortilla Flats is a neighborhood joint serving breakfast, lunch and dinner and has added a full bar since my last visit. Their posole and pinto beans are some of the best I’ve ever had. And, they offer sopapillas with every entree. You can’t beat their prices, either, which are a welcome relief from those around the historic district.

We also love Pasqual’s and Plaza Cafe, but found both crowded with long waits.

Santa Fe - Kakawa Chocolate 2Kakawa Chocolate House is not to be missed. They’re very popular on tours, so timing is critical. We found the best time was about 2 … They’re located right on Paseo del Peralta near the state buildings. I’ve never had anything I didn’t care for here. Their ice cream is heavenly.  Click here for more information.

Santa Fe - Harry's Road House
We found Harry’s after a morning at Museum Hill. Locals love it. Food is yummy and prices are so reasonable.

This trip, we found Harry’s Road House on the Old Las Vegas highway. It was a delightful change of pace, offering fresh local fare, along with traditional New Mexico dishes. We ate on the patio during a perfect Santa Fe afternoon. It’s located on the old Las Vegas highway. We understand they have lobsters on Thursday, but you need to call ahead. Click here to learn more.


If you go to Taos or Abiquiu, JoAnne’s in Espanola or the James Beard award-winning Rancho de Chimayo offer delicious northern New Mexico cuisine. JoAnne’s is a local diner with the most wonderful breakfast. Rancho de Chimayo offers great al fresco dining for lunch and dinner.

Santa Fe - Kaune's.jpg
If you have a fridge in your room, stop by Kaune’s (at the corner of Old Santa Fe Trail and Paseo del Peralta) and stock up on goodies for pre and post opera snacks. Kaune’s has been around for years. They offer some of the best meats, cheeses, crackers, wine and the absolute best grape leaves (dolmades) I’ve ever eaten. In fact, we brought several containers (5 per order for $2.08) for the trip home.

We had a refrigerator in our room so we made several trips to Kaune’s Local Market on Old Santa Fe Trail just across Paseo de Peralta. We loaded up on deli food and some of the best grape leaves ever. In fact, we used selections from the little store for our opera tailgate and several of our pre-opera suppers.

Next to Kaune’s is Capitol Coffee Company. We stopped there every morning for vanilla lattes and pastries. It’s a locals place, so we did our best to fit in.

O'Keeffe museum - 9-1-16The O’Keeffe: No trip to Santa Fe is complete without a stop at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum (see photo below). It’s such a well-laid-out building, complete with special displays and an ever-changing collection of the great artist’s works. Even if you’re not a fan, there’s no denying her impact on the world of art. The Tate Modern in London is hosting their first O’Keeffe exhibit this summer, with more than one million visitors attending during its opening month.

Admission is $20 and includes an app for your phone that will walk you through their current exhibit, “Georgia O’Keeffe’s Far Wide Texas,” (ends in October) along with information on pieces in the permanent collection. To learn more click here.

O'Keeffe house from the bottom of the hill - 9-1-16

O’Keeffee’s home from the road to Abiquiu.

The O’Keeffe Home and Studio Tour: If you’re into O’Keeffe, a trip to her home in Abiquiu (about an hour north and west of Santa Fe), is certainly in order, but book your tour early. They only take a certain number of visitors each day and the slots fill up quickly.

Cost is $45 for the hour-long, guided tour. Call 505-982-0092 and ask for Frances. (She’s one of the best front desk staff I’ve ever met. She’s a former school secretary, so she’s ready for anything, including my brief bout with altitude sickness.)To book a tour, click here.

Santa Fe - ortegas 2
Not much has changed in Ortega’s over the past 100 years. They have a shop on the plaza in Santa Fe, but we found the best prices and friendly service at their original shop in Chimao.

Ortega’s Weaving: If you’re looking for beautiful woven goods at reasonable prices, it’s hard to beat Ortega’s in Chimayo – on the high road to Taos.

I’ve been shopping there since my first visit and recommend it over any store in the area. They have a location on the Plaza, but the experience in Chimayo is much more personal. They are located at CR 98 at NM 76 in Chimayo, NM. Phone: 877-351-4215; email:; 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Saturday; Closed on Sunday

Santa Fe Opera House - USE THIS ONE - 6-30-16The Santa Fe Opera: Yes, I know opera isn’t for everyone, but do not miss a chance to see at least one production during the season. The venue alone is worth the trip. It’s set on a high mesa just north of the city. It faces west, so you can watch a glorious sunset and see a storm coming in from the north. This year, they left the backdrop up during “Don Giovanni,” so guests could see the twinkling lights of Los Alamos during the production.

While all seats now have a roof, the sides are open to the elements. It can get really chilly if a storm is brewing, so take a wrap and a light blanket.

Translation screens are on the back of each seat for your convenience. There are bars open during intermissions, but powder your nose first as the lines can be really long.

The company offered five operas and two apprentice series performances from July 1 through Aug. 27. We saw, “La Fanciulla del West,” “Don Giovanni,” “Romeo et Juliette” and the apprentice series, which is always a treat. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the opera, which began in a modest hall on a high mesa north of the city. The facility is now one of the most stunning anywhere, with seating for 2,100, and features some of opera’s brightest stars.

The Dallas Opera’s musical director, Emmanuel Villaume, was at the podium for Puccini’s “La Fanciulla del West” (“Girl of the Golden West,” or as some critics call it, “Mimi Get Your Gun.”)

Santa Fe - Mimi Get Your Gun
Mimi fights back against the boys in the camp to save her lover during the Santa Fe Opera’s production of “La Fanciulla de West.” (Santa Fe Opera Photo by Ken Howard)

Patricia Racette sang the lead role of Mimi, the singular female in a mining camp full of lonely men who adore her. Racette, who had just the right combination of innocence and determination, sang the role well despite some cracks in the higher ranges early on. Considering there was a blustering storm and lingering winds from the north, it’s a wonder the singers ever made the transition from the warm-up room to a stage open to the elements.

Gwyn Hughes Jones sang opposite Racette in the role of Dick Johnson, bad guy trying to go good for the sake of love. Also of note were Mark Delavan as Johnson’s rival Jack Rance and Raymond Aceto, the Wells Fargo agent tasked with bringing Johnson to justice.

Aceto made every moment count and was also formidable as Frere Laurent in “Romeo et Juliette.” He became one of my favorites after singing the role of the villain Scarpia in TDO’s recent production of “Tosca.” There’s nothing like a solid bass voice to fill a hall, even one as wide open as SFO.

The male chorus in “Girl” is to be commended. They provided the perfect backdrop to all the action. They were in full voice and their a cappella moments were a revelation.

Santa Fe - Maestro
Emmanuel Villaume, maestro of the Dallas Opera, led the Santa Fe Opera in a passionate rendering of “La Fanciulla del West,” Puccini’s lively visit to the old west. (Courtesy Photo)

Maestro Villaume led the SFO orchestra and singers with such vigor and passion that, at times, I thought he would levitate right off the podium. He was in constant contact with his singers, never missing a cue … the orchestra seemed invigorated by his leadership, too.

Of course, I would watch him conduct the phone book. His passion for his craft is contagious, as evidenced by the warm ovation he received when he took his bows. Dallas is lucky to have him at the helm.

The stark, open stage of the SFO was the perfect setting for “Don Giovanni,” Mozart’s sobering tale of hedonism gone wild.

Riccardo Hernandez’ stage design was the talk of the season, with its hooded skull looming over every scene.

Santa Fe - Don Giovanni - 9-1-16
A hooded skull provided the backdrop for “Don Giovanni,” a constant reminder of the fate awaiting opera’s bad boy. Note the beautiful desert and mountain background. (Santa Fe Opera Photo by Ken Howard)

Daniel Okulitch was every inch opera’s bad boy, strutting around in leather pants, pitching woo to everything in a skirt, always looking for the next conquest, oblivious to the heartache left in his wake.

Kyle Ketelsen handled the role of Don Giovanni’s servant and wing man with much aplomb. His comedic timing provided much-needed relief at just the right moments.

Leah Crocetto sang the role of Donna Anna with a nice balance of rage and indignation, while Keri Alkema offered a heart-breaking portrait of a woman scorned. Both women were, for the most part, in great voice.

When the fiery end came, Okulitch and Soloman Howard, as the Commendatore, sang their hearts out, moving everyone to the edge of their seats.

Romeo et Juliette - 9-1-16
Ailyn Perez and Stephen Costello played Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers in “Romeo et Juliette.” (Santa Fe Opera Photo by Ken Howard)

Ailyn Perez and Stephen Costello, once opera’s golden couple, sang the title roles in Gounod’s “Romeo et Juliette,” which was making its first appearance on the SFO stage.

Much has been made of this production’s set design, with its crypt backdrop and Civil War-era costumes, but I came to hear Perez and Costello, who had sung “Manon” at TDO earlier this year.  They did not disappoint.

Perez, winner of the Richard Tucker and Beverly Sills awards,  is at the height of her powers, both vocally and dramatically. Born in 1979, she easily made the transition to the teenaged Juliette, full of wide-eyed innocence.

Tenor Costello, also a Tucker award winner, made a handsome Romeo who seemed comfortable with the role’s rigorous vocal and physical requirements.

No spoilers here, as we all know how the story ends. Gounod adds a twist, however, in that Juliette awakens before Romeo dies. Otherwise, how could they have their final dramatic moment in the family crypt? Bravi!

If you don’t think you can sit through a complete opera, opt for the two apprentice performances toward on the end of each season. The talented group does vignettes from several operas. This year’s selections including “La Traviata,” “Alcina,” “Armida,” “The Marriage of Figaro” and “Boris Godunov.” Tickets are just $15.

Click here for information on the 2016-2017 SFO season.

If you go: Get to the opera early for best parking. Tailgating is fun. People watching is a riot, as patrons come in all manner of dress.

Please do not leave the venue until final curtain call is over. The artists, orchestra and staff have worked so hard to bring you a show. Don’t walk out without letting them know they are appreciated. The parking lot is a tangle, anyway, so clap during all the bows and then browse in the lovely gift shop while the rest of the crowd fights their way back to town.

There are canteen, buffet and light supper options. Check out the SFO website for more information.

Outlet Mall: We planned to make a trek to the outlet mall, but construction on Cerrillos Road prevented that. It was a nightmare just to get to Tortilla Flats one time. We didn’t want to waste our vacation time in traffic. But, if you’re coming in from Albuquerque, a stop there sure is fun.

Santa Fe - Purple Adobe Lavender FarmWe took a side trip on Tuesday afternoon to visit a lavender farm near Abiquiu. The Purple Adobe Lavender Farm is located on Highway 84 between the 210 and 211 mile marker. The road is rutted, but the prize at the end of the bumps is a lovely field is a lovely farm, shop and tea room. Click here for more information.

The Railyard in Santa Fe is a brand new shopping/tourist attraction. Click here for directions, directory and more information.

You can find just about anything you want … out of the madness of the Plaza. We discovered The Ark, a most delightful metaphysical bookstore with a peaceful courtyard (see photo at right above), there.

10,000 wavesBook a massage at The Inn of 10,000 Waves. After your appointment, you can have lunch. They’ve expanded quite a bit and added accommodations since I visited them last. It’s located north of town off Bishop Lodge Road … quiet, peaceful. The perfect place for a spa.

Try to save a “free day” to wander the back streets and neighborhoods. If you can’t do a whole day, try to set aside a morning or afternoon of just “being” in Santa Fe. This time, we saw a lot of beautifully landscaped yards. It’s been an unusually cool and wet summer, so everything was lush and green. Lavender was the plant of choice it seems, because it was in abundance at almost every house we saw.

Beware: It’s hard to leave the city different.

She’s a temptress who will capture your heart and soul and never let go. Happy traveling.

One thought on “Santa Fe: The City Different Shopping, art, museums, food, opera make for unique experience

  1. Reading your words about Santa Fe is like being there! You described everything perfectly, I could feel that mountain air, almost taste those grape leaves and lattes. Great description of the operas and the opera venue, hard to condense it , beautifully done. Best New Mexico trip ever, thank you for this excellent record. The photos are wonderful!


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