Since the early 1980s, Santa Fe has ranked among the chic-est destinations in the US, regularly voted the country’s most popular city by upmarket travelers. That appeal rests on a very solid basis: it’s one of America’s oldest and most beautiful cities, founded by Spanish missionaries as their northernmost colonial capital in 1609, a full ten years before the Pilgrims reached Plymouth Rock. Spread across a high plateau at the foot of the stunning Sangre de Cristo Mountains, New Mexico’s capital still glories in the adobe houses and baroque churches of its original architects, while its newer museums and galleries attract art-lovers from all over the world.
As upward of a million and a half tourists every year descend upon a town of just sixty thousand inhabitants, Santa Fe has inevitably grown somewhat overblown; long-term residents bemoan what’s been lost, while first-time visitors are inclined to wonder what all the fuss is about. The urban sprawl as you approach from the interstate makes for a lousy introduction, while the rigorous insistence that every downtown building should look like a seventeenth-century Spanish colonial palace takes a bit of getting used to. This is the only city in the world where what at first glance appears to be a perfectly preserved ancient adobe turns out to be a high-rise parking lot, and it would be illegal to build a gas station that didn’t resemble an Indian prayer chamber.
There’s still a lot to like about Santa Fe, however, with its compact, peaceful downtown and walkable streets. Though Santa Fe style may have become something of a cliché, that cliché is changing; the pastel-painted, wooden coyotes that were the obligatory souvenir ten years ago have, for example, been replaced by cast-iron sculptures of Kokopelli, the hunch-backed Ancestral Puebloan flute-player. In a town where the Yellow Pages list over 250 art galleries, you’ll get plenty of opportunities to buy one.
Top Hotels in Santa Fe
The Inn of The Five Graces
(866-992-0957; 992-0957; $$$$, above and left) is one of America’s most unusual and unique luxury hotels. It is a delightful and surprising compound of one- and two-story adobe and river-rock buildings, with 22 suites and tranquil garden courtyards. Room doors open to a warren of walkways and patios under the Santa Fe sky. Every corner of the property is resplendent with surprises and inspired touches. The exteriors are some of the oldest in Santa Fe and the interiors are lushly adorned with oriental rugs and tapestries, as well as woodcarvings from central Asia. Only steps from Santa Fe’s major restaurants, sights, and shopping, the atmosphere is magical and embraces each visitor with a unique subtle luxury that soothes all five senses. A walking tour of Santa Fe is given each afternoon at 4 p.m. and guests gather to enjoy wine and cheese and meet each other between 5:30 and 7 p.m. Depending on the other guests, the experience is different with every visit. Unlike most luxury establishments, there are no additional minibar fees; local calls, parking, and breakfast are included and no tipping is allowed.
The way they make them now is across the Plaza from La Fonda. The Inn of the Anasazi (800-688-8100; 988-3030; $$$–$$$$) is the politically correct place to stay. The hotel’s restaurants use vegetables grown by local organic farmers. Leftovers are given to a homeless shelter and everything is recycled. The Southwestern decor and furnishings are immaculate. The dining room is very pleasant and the menu selections enjoyable; however, this is also a very expensive place to stay.
La Posada de Santa Fe Resort and Spa
(800-727-5276; 986-0000; $$–$$$), built around the old Staab House, creates its own six-acre world in the middle of old Santa Fe. None of the 157 rooms are identical and the hotel has excellent meeting facilities. A curving pool, the gourmet El Fuego restaurant and the Avanyu Spa add an opportunity to refresh both your body and soul.
La Posada de Santa Fe Resort & Spa features authentic adobe architecture on six beautifully landscaped acres. Steps from the Historic Plaza and Canyon Road, this historic resort is within easy walking distance of galleries, shopping, and dining. Their curated gallery features work by Southwest-inspired artists. Facilities include a rejuvenating spa, an outdoor saline pool, a hot tub, and a fitness center. Enjoy fireside and patio dining in Fuego, and drinks and live music in the historic Staab House. The resort comprises 157 guest rooms and suites reminiscent of the adobe art colony that occupied the site over 75 years ago. Many of the charming rooms feature traditional viga and latilla ceilings, Southwestern artwork, kiva fireplaces, and patios.
La Fonda Hotel
(800-523-5002; 982-5511; $$$–$$$$; left) is the historic place to stay. An inn of one sort or another has been on this site for 300 years (Billy the Kid worked in the kitchen here washing dishes). The current La Fonda incarnation was built in the 1920s. If you don’t stay, at least stroll through and take a look—they don’t make them like this anymore.
Inn and Spa at Loretto
(800-727-5531; 988-5531; $$$; right) is Santa Fe’s ultimate pueblo-style hotel. It was completely restored in 1998 and provides fabulous rooms only steps from the Plaza. Spacious rooms have traditional New Mexican decor with carved wood furnishings and authentic Native American art.
Eldorado Hotel & Spa Santa Fe
(800-955-4455; 988-4455; $$–$$$$) is the city’s largest hotel with 219 rooms. It has just undergone an extensive renovation, has opened a new spa and rates right up there with best in town.
The Eldorado Hotel & Spa is a stately landmark just off the historic Plaza and in the very heart of town. Spacious guest rooms, reflecting New Mexico’s celebrated Pueblo Revival style, feature handcrafted Southwestern furniture and balconies, plus suites with kiva fireplaces. The resort offers a wide range of upscale amenities including a full-service spa, meeting and banquet space, a restaurant and lounge, a business center, a rooftop pool and hot tub, a fitness center and pet-friendly guest rooms.
The Hotel Plaza Real
(877-901-7666; 988-4900; $$$)
Hotel Plaza Real is convenient and comfortable. Of the 56 hotel units, 44 are suites with fireplaces. An ample continental breakfast is included. We also enjoyed the adobe Inn on the Alameda (888-984-2124; 984-2121; $$$), which is handy to Canyon Road and offers a continental breakfast. In a village of adobe cottages, most featuring their own Indian kiva fireplaces.
Resort at Santa Fe
505-946-6700 138 Park Ave | Santa Fe, NM | 87501
Located near Santa Fe Plaza, this boutique-style resort features Pueblo architecture, traditional elements like Kiva fireplaces along with modern conveniences like flat-screen televisions. The property offers a lobby lounge, barbecue and picnic areas, grocery service and a 24-hour front desk.
Santa Fe Bed & Breakfasts
Excellent B&Bs are Adobe Abode (983-3133; $$$–$$$$), Alexander’s Inn (888-321-5123; 986-1431; $$–$$$), the spacious Dancing Ground of the Sun (800-745-9910; 986-9797; $–$$$), the Grant Corner Inn (800-964-9003; 983-6678; $$) and the classy Water Street Inn (800-646-6752; 984-1193; $$–$$$). The B&B Association of New Mexico does not have a Web site, but they can be reached at 982-3332.
Other Places to Stay in Santa Fe
Other accommodations to consider are the historic Hotel St. Francis (800-529-5700; 983-5700; $$), the Hilton of Santa Fe (800-336-3676; 988-2811; $$$; right) and the Hotel Santa Fe (800-825-9876; 982-1200; $–$$$), partly owned by the Picuris Pueblo.
Families should try the El Rey Inn (800-521-1349; 982-1931; $$–$$$), Garrett’s Desert Inn (800-888-2145; 982-1851; $$), the Campanilla Compound condominiums (800-828-9700; 988-7585; $$$), and the Otra Vez condos (988-2244; $$–$$$).
The closest lodging to the ski area is Fort Marcy Hotel Suites (800-745-9910; $–$$), just off the ski area road. They have 80 condominiums from one to three rooms and are only four blocks from the Plaza.
Many of the chain hotels, such as Comfort Inn ($$), Days Inn ($), Holiday Inn ($$) and Hampton Inn ($), have adopted the local adobe architectural style and are a little less expensive. They are conveniently located on Cerrillos Road, which makes them handy for getting to the ski area, but out of walking range for downtown.
Accommodations Legend: (double room) $$$$–$200+; $$$–$141–$200; $$–$81–$140; $–$80 and less