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February 12, 2007 3:36 PM   Subscribe

My teenaged son and I leave for Albuquerque/Santa Fe in a few days. Anything cultural, archaeological, culinary we absolutely should not miss? Thanks!
posted by DawnSimulator to Travel & Transportation around Santa Fe, NM (19 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
If you can travel, and have the time, get thee to Antelope canyon, just east of the city limits of Page, Arizona. Quite simply, the most fantastic thing I've ever seen.

If you're into ruins, Chaco Canyon is nice, or for a little longer drive, Hovenweep.
posted by notsnot at 4:10 PM on February 12, 2007

I had an awesome time at the National Atomic Mueseum. It's so bloody cool.
posted by phrontist at 4:32 PM on February 12, 2007

The downtown plaza area has an interesting soutwest flavor that should not be missed. It can be kind of touristy, but the architecture keeps the experience real.

While in the plaza, make sure to visit a restaurant called Pasquales that serves some of the best breakfast that I've ever had, albeit some of the priciest. It is a tiny place with a few tables so get there early.

There is also a cigar shop near there where the owner is very friendly...he let me into the "members only" bar next door so that I could have a beer with my stogey. Ask around, I think it is the only cigar shop around the plaza area.

I've only been to SF a couple of times, but I loved it. The best idea, of course, is to see the beautiful country around New Mexico. If you are up for a bit of a drive, you might try to find the Christ in the Desert Monastery. Look it up a for directions. There is a beautiful drive to an offbeat working monastery where you can get a room for a couple of nights. You have to make reservations in advance on the website, but it is cool. Enjoy!
posted by boots77 at 4:58 PM on February 12, 2007

I can tell you a lot about Santa Fe, at least. I lived there for seven of the best years of my life. I never spent much time in Albuquerque, for some reason; it never really attracted me, so I can only tell you about Saint Francis' city. Here, then, are some notes from a man who left Santa Fe three years ago, and is still a bit heartsick over it:

1. Food: Green Chile is New Mexico's specialty. As in, the New Mexico Green Chile, preferably grown in a little town in the south called Hatch. The local cuisine therefore tends to revolve around it, and features an interesting blend of american diner, mexican home-food, and its own special spice. Make no mistake, though-- those who come to New Mexico expecting the food to be some kind of "Mexican" or "Tex-Mex" kind of thing will be surprised. It's very different from both of them.

Santa Fe has a vast diversity of people, and the restaurants match it. However, you should know going in that anything within close proximity to the plaza is probably going to veer away from 'authentic' and toward 'rustic upscale.' That's just how it gets near the art district.

The best (and often the hottest) green chile I've ever had in my ever-lovin' life was at an awesome little place next door to a gas station outside of Santa Fe called Horseman's Haven. Though there are many excellent and incredible restaurants in Santa Fe (more per capita than anywhere else I've ever lived), this is, to my tongue, the best example of New Mexican cuisine that I've ever been able to find. Until a few years ago, it was actually in the same building as the gas station; they've now built their own structure, but the walls are still covered with great stuff (wresting trophies from the proprietors' childrens' early years, velvet paintings of eagles and cowboys, et cetera).

If you don't want to go to the edge of town, or if you prefer breakfast, I suggest the wonderful Tecolote Cafe, where you'll find incredible breads, pancakes, waffles, chilaquiles, and other breakfast fare in the New Mexican vein. Just be prepared to wait a little-- there's often a line, although the ten-minute wait is worth it-- and don't ever ask for toast. They won't do it.

Other restaurants of note are Maria's, which has been there for generations and prides itself on a huge margarita list, although their special distinction should probably be that they have the best New Mexican ribs and the best chile rellenos in town; and La Choza, the newcomer of the bunch, a restaurant which has quickly become a great purveyor of the traditional New Mexican cuisine. Also, there's some controversy about the best burger in town, but those whose tongues aren't too chile-singed to taste anything and who still don't think that Horseman's huge eat-it-with-a-fork green chile burger isn't the top dog are those who say that Bobcat Bite, another little place on another edge of town, is the best around. (My feeling: Bobcat's burger is better, but Horseman's has the better chile. I'm therefore prejudiced in favor of Horseman's.)

2. What to see: Santa Fe is full of great sights. First of all, it's a very interesting place culturally. It's been there for at least more than four hundred years, although nobody knows exactly how long, and is the oldest capital city in the United States.

The best place to start with this fine old town is the very heart of the city: the Plaza, which has been a center of cultural activity in the southwest for many generations. It's a nice square with trees and grass, and it's a good center for walkable excursions around the downtown area. (This is a supremely great town for walking.) On one side of the plaza, you'll find the Palace of the Governors, the oldest still-functional government building in the United States. Embedded in the sidewalk nearby are pictures of all the governors; out front, you'll see the local indians who still come to sell handmade jewelry; and inside is a fairly interesting museum relating to the history of the town. When the Texas Rangers tried to invade the New Mexico territory in the 1830s, the current governor fought them off brutally and had some of their ears nailed to the side of this building. (That's one thing they won't tell you. It was a pretty rugged place.)

Around the plaza are some good restaurants which are usually too pricey to be worth it, although the remarkably fine Plaza Diner, adjacent to the Palace of the Governors, is a really great place to catch a bite, having good food at normal prices and walls decorated with maps of the southwest. (Thought I'd finished the food section, didn't you?) There are also a myriad of shops that feed Santa Fe's tourist industry. They're sort of a mixed bag, but it's undeniably fun to walk around on the ancient, tiny streets and get a feel for what it must have been like two or three hundred years ago. You can see lots of interesting buildings around the downtown area: the St. Francis Cathedral, for example, and the Loretto Chapel are two justly famed attractions.

After you've seen the Plaza, there are several directions you can go. Lots of guidebooks will tell you to check out Canyon Road, which is home to the second-largest art market in the country (right behind New York). There is a huge array of art there, many, many galleries who have paid top dollar for some of the best art real estate in the world. There's also a lot of really bad art. I think it's best to skip it. It's not really what Santa Fe's about.

Standing in the Plaza and looking southeast, you'll see a hill rising up. At the top of that hill, which is generally referred to as "Museum Hill," are... well, museums. Some really great ones, that is, relating to local culture and history. I'd recommend setting aside an afternoon, if you can, to check them out. They're endlessly interesting. There's a great bus that will take you up there, too, that starts just a few blocks from the Plaza.

In the area around Santa Fe are a lot of other interesting things to see. One of my own personal favorites is Bandalier National Monument, a site where some very ancient ruins are preserved. There's a fun little trail there you can walk around the ruins. I found this place very evocative of the sort of ancient mystery that tends to surround the area.

If you'd like a good nature trail that's very accessible, try the one that leads out of the parking lot just inside the entrance to St. John's College. It heads southeast up toward the top of Atalaya mountain. You can get to the top, and a spectacular view of the town, in a couple of hours; otherwise, the hike is lots of fun and exposes one to a lot of beautiful sights even if you turn around after a little while and come back.

Good lord god, this has got to be the longest comment I've ever posted here. And there are still things I'm leaving out, I'm certain. If you have any questions, any at all, please feel free to email me-- my email's in my profile.
posted by koeselitz at 5:17 PM on February 12, 2007 [5 favorites]

Oh, and one of the things you should feel free to ask me about is accommodations. I worked for three years at one of the finer hotels in the downtown area, a little place called La Posada, although I'd say that it's a little overpriced. (They paid me well.) I can tell you anything you want to know about places to stay in Santa Fe, if you'd like.
posted by koeselitz at 5:25 PM on February 12, 2007

A wealth of info from koeselitz...If driving north of SF, gert directions to Rancho de Chimayo, a wonderful restaurant out in the country east of Espanola and NE of Tesuque.
posted by Pressed Rat at 5:25 PM on February 12, 2007

Or just google the it up!
posted by Pressed Rat at 5:27 PM on February 12, 2007

If you can get out of Santa Fe - I'd recommend the Chimayo area. Eat at Rancho de Chimayo, visit the Chimayo Museum and the Santuario de Chimayo ("the Lourdes of America"), watch the weavers at Ortega's.
posted by candyland at 5:30 PM on February 12, 2007 [2 favorites]

Yes. ChimayĆ³ is really worth seeing. Seconded and thirded.
posted by koeselitz at 5:37 PM on February 12, 2007

Sometimes I wake up dreaming of a cheeseburger with Hatch chiles on it. Blake's Lotaburger, baby.
posted by padraigin at 5:48 PM on February 12, 2007 [2 favorites]

If your trip takes you a little bit away from that area, the best night we had on our move across the country trip was when we ended up in Cuba, NM. The Cuban Cafe might have been the best part. Not worth it to make a special trip, but if you're there, stop in. I hear it's getting shut down soon.
posted by nadawi at 7:16 PM on February 12, 2007

My husband and I spent a long weekend in Santa Fe several years ago and we both loved the Folk Art Museum.
posted by BluGnu at 7:30 PM on February 12, 2007

Have everything and anything with Green/Red Chile. And remember, the green one's the hotter (I discovered this the hard way). I still fondly remember the Chile burger I had 7 years ago in a random diner on the outskirts of Santa Fe.

The food and the mountains is what I remember most from my trip.
posted by slimepuppy at 2:13 AM on February 13, 2007

I heartily suggest visiting any and all of the area pueblos. I especially like the Puye Pueblo near SantaFe. It's not as well-traveled as the more popular pueblos, and the view from the top is breathtaking.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:48 AM on February 13, 2007

Oh man, Blake's Lottaburger - how soon they forget (it has been 18 years). Thanks for that memory, padraigin
posted by Pressed Rat at 6:32 AM on February 13, 2007

Blake's Lotaburger is fast food at its finest. Great fries, great burgers, great shakes/malts, good green chile.

I want Blake's right now. I can just almost taste it. I sincerely think I might begin to cry.
posted by koeselitz at 9:03 AM on February 13, 2007

I visited Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks (see also here) about five years ago and loved it. It's not crowded (or at least it wasn't back then), and the rocks are beautiful in an unusual way.

I second the Museum of International Folk Art. I spent an afternoon there and enjoyed it immensely.
posted by amf at 9:58 AM on February 13, 2007

Take the 'turquoise trail', hwy 14 on the backside of the mountains between Albuquerque and Santa Fe -- from Abq take I-40 east to the Tjeras exit, then head north. A very pretty drive with some interesting towns.

For archaeological attractions, see the petroglyphs on the west side of Albuquerque.

Check out the plaza area in both Santa Fe and Albuquerque. The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albquerque is good, and Santa Fe has more museums than you can shake a stick at.

And of course you must try as much New Mexican food as you can while you are here. Don't get hung up on the green chile being from Hatch, and try the red chile too. Which is hotter varies, ask your server. Be sure to try chile rellenos and a green chile cheeseburger (probably not at the same meal though).
posted by yohko at 1:33 PM on February 13, 2007

There's a blog called Duke City Fix about Albuquerque.

I thought the botanical garden in Albuquerque was nice. Very pleasant to stroll around. There is a really neat heritage farm with some friendly animals. It's to show what farming was like in the early 1900s. There is also a miniature train display in the garden, which your son may enjoy. I'm not a teen-ager, but I thought it was pretty cool!
posted by FergieBelle at 5:43 AM on February 14, 2007

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