Vacation destination
December 7, 2017 9:43 AM   Subscribe

We're considering taking a vacation next year somewhere in the "southwest" (of the United States, to be clear). Where should we go?

My wife and I were talking and realized that neither of us have ever spent any time in the southwest, however it is that you want to define that area. We said, "Well then let's go there on our next vacation." The time is vague but let's just assume 2018. I realize your recommendation might vary based on the time of year but the best I can tell you is probably between March and September.

We would likely want to visit a more cosmopolitan city than a tiny town but of course we're willing to be seduced by your description of the perfect middle-of-nowhere getaway. We're from New Orleans so we have (probably irrationally) high standards for food and drink, and on vacation we definitely seek out the best dining experiences we can find. Part of the whole point of going to the southwest is to see some natural beauty unlike our neverending flat swampland so proximity to a good park would be nice, I guess? We'd love to get in some easy day hikes, no backpacking/camping, will also be content with a nice drive with scenic stops.

Past those admittedly vague requirements we're pretty flexible. Good food, something natural to look at and / or walk around in, and ... and I don't know the rest, but you do, so I'm all ears.
posted by komara to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
It's been 15 years so I can't make any specific recommendations about lodging or restaurants, but I'd say Albuquerque/Santa Fe would be a good fit. Excellent food, and the drive up Sandia Crest is lovely. The altitude change from home will be dramatic, to say the least. Eat posole and carne adovada, bring home a ristra.
posted by pupsocket at 9:49 AM on December 7, 2017

On the perfect middle-of-nowhere getaway front, there's west Texas. The attractions might be too spread out, though. Marfa has galleries and surprisingly great food, and it's a couple of hours to Big Bend which is extremely beautiful. (And I say this as a pretty indoorsy person who prefers cities.)

Austin is marginally southwestern but has terrific food these days and is near some pretty nature (like Hamilton Pool, about which the main thing you need to know if you go is that you need a reservation) and is just a wonderful town.

Santa Fe, mentioned above, also seconded.
posted by Smearcase at 10:00 AM on December 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

Santa Fe is amazing, you could definitely do a great trip there.

Alternatively, you could fly into Phoenix and make a great trip out of Arizona. The drive down to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument will blow your mind when you see saguaro cacti for the first time. I've never been to Phoenix and personally don't feel much of a need to spend time in that particular city, but I've heard good things about Sedona and you can see some great landscapes around there. Flagstaff is quite a charming university town, and Williams is fun for some Old West feels. From Flagstaff, the south rim of the Grand Canyon is an easy drive and that's pretty much the gold standard for natural beauty. As far as dining experiences, I'd imagine the Scottsdale area would be your best bet.
posted by shornco at 10:04 AM on December 7, 2017

Southern Utah. 5 National Parks and lots of national monuments. Great food is definitely available, but, takes a little more searching. You could road trip from Zion to Arches to Canyonlands. More day hikes than you can handle. So many sweeping vistas and geologic wonders your eyes will melt. You could even hit the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, which is so much more chill than the South Rim. Ideally come in the spring (March or April) or fall (September or October) for the best temps and lower crowds. If you get off the grid and head to Escalante, Hell's Backbone Grill is not to be missed.
posted by trbrts at 10:04 AM on December 7, 2017 [5 favorites]

I loved New Mexico. I did a road trip from that started and ended in Albuquerque. I went out to Four Corners area then through southern Colorado (Mesa Verde National PArk is out of this world), to Taos, the High Road to Santa Fe. Chimayo was magnificient. From a SF base I did Bandelier and a two name national park whose named I can't find at the moment. Had the most spectacular hoodoos.

I enjoyed the green chili of New Mexico as the cuisine was totally new to me. Also, salted pine nuts in Chimayo.
posted by TravellingCari at 10:05 AM on December 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

For your stated preferences there is no better place than Santa Fe. It's a small, easy-to-navigate city with absolutely world class dining and culture. Many options for day hikes and outdoor adventures, but you'll be based in a charming, walkable urban center that's aesthetically unique in the U.S. and has a culture and style all its own. The landscape, even just around town, is gorgeous and incredibly different than where you're from. The weather is great any time of year (even in the heat of summer there is no humidity). Enjoy!
posted by TrixieRamble at 10:10 AM on December 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

Santa Fe! Go to Meow Wolf while in town, and if you're not opposed to extra driving, check out White Sands National Monument, which is a few hours away.
posted by too bad you're not me at 10:19 AM on December 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

Sedona and surrounding area is nice. V-Bar-V has petroglyphs that are a short hike from the parking area. The hike is near a stream and has plenty of interpretive nature signs. Moab is right in the heart of Utah and convenient to two of the 5 big parks, almost 3 because of the two sections of Canyonlands. Both towns will have nice restaurants and also more casual places that are still good.

Does your Southwest include Southern California? If it does, both Santa Barbara and San Diego would be nice.
posted by soelo at 10:35 AM on December 7, 2017

Early in the year, stay south.
Mid-summer into fall, consider western Colorado. The weather is tolerable, the scenery is incredible, and every little town has a microbrewery. Micro brew almost always equals good food.
posted by notsnot at 10:44 AM on December 7, 2017

Yeah, Santa Fe. Fly to Albuquerque and rent a car. Many interesting places to visit within an hour or two's drive. Taos, Los Alamos, Bandelier National Monument, Tent Rocks, hikes in the Sangres just above Santa Fe. Or hell just stay in town and enjoy it.

The best scenery in the Southwest is in southern Utah, but St. George is not exactly a cosmopolitan city. Salt Lake City is, so maybe that's a second option. Las Vegas is also interesting but its own crazy thing and the landscape right around it is not beautiful. Phoenix is gross IMHO. Tucson's alright, so is Sedona.
posted by Nelson at 10:59 AM on December 7, 2017

Fly into Las Vegas and then rent a car to drive to Southern Utah. You will be overwhelmed with the natural beauty of Zion and Bryce Canyon. The area around the main entrance of Zion has some charming places to stay and you can find quality dining if you are halfway decent at decoding Yelp reviews. As for cosmopolitan-ness, I grant you this isn't it but the people you meet here will be. You'll easily meet Brits and Germans and other Europeans. There will likely be lots of people from Japan and China as well. If you at all like to talk to different people this isn't to be missed.

Lastly, on your way back to Las Vegas stay in a hotel for a day or two and get pampered in their day spa and eat at great restaurants, etc.
posted by mmascolino at 12:24 PM on December 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Another vote for Santa Fe… but I live here. In the Spring, it can be very windy. Our monsoons (regular afternoon thunderstorms) usually don’t start until after mid-July so it can be quite hot before then. This is also when the potential for forest fires is high. I really like it here in the Fall when the aspens are changing color (and the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is happening in early Oct.).

There’s plenty of hiking here. We have the Ski Basin, the Dale Ball Trail which is closer to town and also the Pecos National Wilderness area if your up for a drive. The local Sierra club has a great book listing all the local trails.

The High Road to Taos will take you through the smaller communities where you can stop in Chimayo to see the Sanctuario with its holy dirt or try some Northern New Mexico cuisine at Rancho de Chimayó. Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is located in the Cochiti Pueblo and is a beautiful hike. There are 8 Northern Pueblos from Santa Fe to Colorado you can visit that may offer events while you are here. Remember to be respectful and follow tribal guidelines on dress, photography, etc.

South of town, you can drive along Hwy 14 to Madrid; an old coal mining town with the Mine Shaft Tavern and a mix of hippies and upscale bikers. In town you have the Plaza along with great museums and old churches. Accommodations will be more expensive the closer you are to the Plaza but you wont experience as much charm if you are staying along the busy Cerrillos Road. Other nice spots are the Railyard area and Museum Hill. Oh and Meow Wolf is great.

FYI, keep in mind that we are at about 7000 ft above sea level and it is very, very low humidity. You will need to avoid alcohol until you have acclimated in a day or so and remember to drink lots of water while you are here. Finally, you can memail me if you want any more info.
posted by jabo at 12:37 PM on December 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

It's twenty years since I was there, but I'll be heading back to Marfa the moment I can.
posted by mumimor at 12:42 PM on December 7, 2017

From what I know about you, I think part of what you would like to do is tour a little bit of Route 66. Can not guarantee great food but there is some really interesting scenery. This part, in particular includes the Painted Desert which is a totally different ecosystem than where you are. Alternately you can drive around part of it in Albuquerque which is also great for visiting. I've been to Phoenix a few times recently and I'm shruggo on it but I've enjoyed the Musical Instrument Museum in Scottsdale if you get out that way.
posted by jessamyn at 1:27 PM on December 7, 2017

Nthing southern Utah. I did a Las Vegas-> Bryce -> Zion -> North Rim -> South Rim -> Las Vegas loop last year and it was one of the top experiences of my life. Nothing was a big city outside of Las Vegas, but Zion in particularly was an overwhelmingly beautiful experience and the drive to Bryce and Zion from Las Vegas was like driving across Mars. The different landscapes and altitudes you pass through are just extraordinary. Both of those parks also have sufficient development to support tourist comfort (too much demand, though, so definitely PLAN AND BOOK EARLY if you want to stay anywhere nearby and not deal with traffic), have activities to support a range of physical abilities, and are just astounding places to exist in. I will remember the handful of days we spent in the lodge at the bottom of Zion Canyon for the rest of my life. We did some beautiful short family hikes and one bigger day hike, sat on the lodge restaurant patio with wine and watched the deer and wild turkeys wander around at dusk, and caught some amazing scenery. In Bryce Canyon we did some scenic drives, rode horses from the amphitheater rim to the floor and back up, and looked at stars in one of the darkest places in America. It was extraordinary.

Also, if I can dis-recommend something, I wouldn't bother with Phoenix (my least favorite city), and the Grand Canyon. The South Rim is not a pleasant place unless you love giant tour buses. The North Rim is incredible, but very isolated, and there really isn't anything there except for a small lodge and accompanying campground for hours in every direction. And winter there lasts for a long time - we were there over Memorial Day weekend and had a snowstorm.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 2:14 PM on December 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

We did a loop around Arizona last summer and thoroughly enjoyed it.

We stayed in Sedona and took a pink jeep ride in the wilderness, went hiking, ate a lot of excellent food, and explored some cool art galleries.

We took the fam up to Flagstaff to see the Lowell Observatory and listen to a talk from an astronomer. We also saw the antique telescopes. This was WAY COOL and a highlight of the trip for the kids.

We went to Monument Valley and stayed in the Navajo-run hotel. We explored Monument Valley and took a tour over to the Navajo-only section of the park. You HAVE to sign up with a Navajo-run tour operator to see this part of the park. It was truly an amazing experience as we got to learn all about Navajo culture and traditions from our guide. She even played a Navajo flute for is. Truly magical. Navajo food is only "ok" though.

There's just such an amazing amount of things to do and the scenery is simply gorgeous.
posted by Ostara at 2:51 PM on December 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

I loved the Grand Canyon, but I was there in the off season. It's stunningly beautiful. There are many amazing National Parks in the Southwest. I ended up not getting to go to Santa Fe, and would like to visit soonish. I live in Maine; the distances in the west are bigger, and that affected my planing.
posted by theora55 at 4:04 PM on December 7, 2017

The areas around Las Vegas and Albuquerque are some of the most scenic that I've visited. They are just blazing hot in the zummer, and sometimes in the fall as well. One tour with amazing scenery and history is the Nevada Test Site, though they fill up a year in advance. Albuquerque itself is a hole, a huge sprawling thing with no downtown to speak of, but there's no other airport with reasonably priced flights. Santa Fe is nice, but small. You can take a leisurely walk across the historic core in an hour. There are excellent restaurants, to be sure.
posted by wnissen at 4:24 PM on December 7, 2017

Hit the Enchanted Circle for hikes, and Albuquerque and Santa Fe for food.

New Mexican food is not the same as Mexican, and definitely not available in New Orleans. Lots of other great restaurants as you will want other cuisines as well.
posted by yohko at 8:25 PM on December 7, 2017

If you are going between Albuquerque and Santa Fe taking the back road on the other side of the mountains is gorgeous, especially in the spring.
posted by yohko at 8:27 PM on December 7, 2017

Nelson: Yeah, Santa Fe. Fly to Albuquerque and rent a car. Many interesting places to visit within an hour or two's drive. Taos, Los Alamos, Bandelier National Monument, Tent Rocks, hikes in the Sangres just above Santa Fe. Or hell just stay in town and enjoy it.

Yes - Tent Rocks was the name of the other park I couldn't recall.
posted by TravellingCari at 6:43 AM on December 8, 2017

You can hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and have steak dinner.
posted by WeekendJen at 8:11 AM on December 8, 2017

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