As a child, I did not understand why my parents were so in love with New Mexico. We visited the Albuquerque area almost every summer to visit friends, and they were always ecstatic to trade the New Jersey humidity for clear blue skies and hikes in the dry countryside. Meanwhile, my dream was to live surrounded by green fields, grey skies, and to fall asleep listening to the sound of rain against the windows. New Mexico felt as far from that fantasy as one could get.
But something changed abruptly one summer. I remember arriving in Albuquerque as a teenager and suddenly seeing the area through new eyes. The drama of the flat land suddenly giving way to flat topped mountains. The rich colors of the earth, and the timeless vastness of it all. It felt like freedom.
It had been a decade since I’d visited when I went back last summer. After living in New York for four years, that sense of freedom came rushing back stronger than ever – surrounded by bright colors and sunshine and an open landscape, I felt like I could breathe properly for the first time in a long time.
Nicknamed ‘The Land of Enchantment’, New Mexico can feel like it doesn’t belong entirely to our modern reality. Staring out at the somewhat otherworldly landscape, you could imagine yourself in any era in history. The striking nature and the prevalence of Native American culture is a powerful reminder of an America we don’t often see on the East Coast. Every town has their own ghost legends or stories of alien abductions. And for travelers who love art, there are few places better to visit.
Arriving in Albuquerque, the city was deserted. Wandering the main streets, we chose a diner as our lunch stop. Lindy’s Diner turned out to be one of the oldest restaurants in the city, opened in 1929 and popular ever since as a stop off of Route 66. Post-travel famished, we proceeded to order far too much classic American diner food, including the strongly recommended strawberry milkshake with whipped cream and a cherry on top.
With a bit more time to kill before our train to Santa Fe, we went next door for coffee, served in perfect eggshell blue mugs.
The train ride to Santa Fe gave us our first glimpse of mountains, and little else except for a cloud filled sky and some roaming cattle.
Santa Fe is a city known for art. Like most New Mexican cities, the heart of Santa Fe is its central plaza, and the surrounding architecture is made up of adobe structures.
Most store fronts in Santa Fe are either art galleries, custom furniture shops, or fine jewelry sellers. It’s all fairly high end and pricey. For those who are content with simply observing art, the Georgia O’Keeffe museum is one of several options. Every August since 1922, the city swells with visitors for their annual Indian Market. Over 100 tribes are represented and 100,000 people attend. Along with the market itself, there is an awards ceremony and various Native performances.
We stayed in the central Hotel St Francis, a beautiful and historic hotel with a dramatic entranceway and a lovely wine bar, and spent our one day in the city window-shopping, browsing the smaller Indian Market that is set up every weekend, and of course – eating.
The Famous Plaza Cafe is the oldest restaurant in Santa Fe, opened in 1905. Family owned, the menu is comprised of largely traditional New Mexican recipes, but you can also find Greek and American diner favorites. Right off the historic Santa Fe Plaza, this is a perfect place to start the day.
The city itself is small and can be easily explored in a day, and if you aren’t in the market for buying art, Santa Fe is best as a home base for exploring nearby areas. There are eight pueblos just north of Santa Fe that are easy to visit, great mountain biking and hiking in the region, and other attractions such as Meow Wolf. That experience was actually our main reason for staying in Santa Fe on this trip. It really deserves its own blog post, so all I will say for now is that New Mexico is the perfect place for something like this – a blend of art, imagination, fantasy and mystery that makes visitors feel as if they have stepped through a portal into another world.
Back in Albuquerque that night, we settled into our Airbnb for the night and then got picked up the next morning and driven the hour or so to Acoma for a morning tour of the pueblo. (You can read more about that visit on an earlier blog post).
The first stop on the drive back was a fast food spot called Laguna Burger off Route 66, where they are known for their green chile cheeseburgers.
Our final dinner in New Mexico was at a charming and popular place with a large courtyard space called Church Street Cafe. Menus in New Mexico tend to be predictable – enchiladas, red or green chile, squash, beans, sopaipillas… – but delicious, and very satisfying.
The largest city in the state, Albuquerque is divided into Old Town and the more modern downtown. We spent most of our short visit in Old Town, aimlessly wandering the narrow streets, listening to live music and visiting art galleries in between meals. The city is a great place for tourists interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the history and culture of New Mexico, home to places like the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History and the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.
The next morning, our final stop before the airport was to the Bristol Doughnut Co., a bit of a hidden gem in an office park. A perfect way to fuel the journey onwards!