A Travel Guide for Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe, New Mexico: A Southwestern Gem Unveiled - My Experience & Your Ultimate Travel Guide

Few people move to a place sight unseen, without a job waiting for them, a place to stay, or someone they know. I’ve made that move three times in my life. Three times moving to a place where nothing and no one was waiting for me. I've made several more moves with either a job or a house or both waiting for me when I arrived wherever I ended up. It's a source of personal pride, for several reasons, not least knowing that I can.

The first time I saw Santa Fe, New Mexico, was through a backseat window of a shuttle bus that left the Albuquerque International Sunport one late afternoon in the middle of February 2011. I was coming to Santa Fe by way of New York City and the two couldn’t be more different despite a kinship between the two cities. The tallest building in Santa Fe was four stories, a notable difference from the New York City skyline I had become familiar with. As the shuttle came around the mountain and the city of Santa Fe came into view, misknown to my expectations, I wondered, “Where’s the city?”

I stayed at Las Palomas Hotel on W. San Francisco Street for the time being while I was both house and job hunting. The hotel was several short blocks from the city plaza, and, after settling in the room, I started walking toward the plaza. It was around six in the evening. I walked past boutiques and art galleries, bars, and restaurants, everything seemed rustic and artsy; however, I couldn’t know for certain because everything was closed, except for the Starbucks right off the plaza. As I was walking back to the hotel after briefly exploring the downtown area, I caught myself seriously considering a move back to New York.

I told myself I'd wait at least a month and revisit my doubts, assuming I still had doubts. I had never been to Santa Fe before moving here, and I’d barely even heard of it. Before I moved to New Mexico while living in New York City, it seemed as if I couldn’t escape what came across as signs pushing me toward Santa Fe: everyone seemed to be talking about this diamond in the rough, an art community out in the middle of nowhere, I saw signs on the subways, photographs, and paintings in museums, it was surreal. But I got the message.

I had been in Santa Fe for a week learning the city, meeting people, listening, and I suddenly found myself working as the marketing manager for an art gallery on Canyon Road, and I was getting ready to move into a small apartment just a few blocks from Las Palomas and, even better, a few blocks from the plaza. My casita was at the intersection of San Francisco and Guadalupe Streets, it was sought after, there was a waiting list, and I wasn’t on it. I reached the property manager at the right moment and he “…got a good vibe from [me].” Santa Fe did want me here, and it was quickly growing on me.

Meow Wolf, which has become one of, if not the largest art collective in the country, was well known in the community but was still a small organization. They had just completed the biggest art project the collective had ever attempted, The Due Return, and were starting to make waves as artists, at the time though, they considered themselves more of a welcoming committee to Santa Fe newcomers, such as myself. I have always thought that mission was such a cool endeavor, and they actively sought out people new to the community blows my mind. The art collective Meow Wolf introduced me to my favorite places, such as Kakawa Chocolate House and their chocolate elixirs, many of which derived from Aztec and Mayan recipes.

I would sit outside under the shade of the trees, watching the cars pass on Paseo, and the people waiting as the line spiraled outside the door and toward the shaded patio where I sat. At the Secreto Lounge, inside the Loretto Inn, I would sit by the fireplace with a cocktail and get lost staring into the fire in downtown Santa Fe. Ecco Coffeehouse was the first real coffeehouse I discovered walking around the downtown area, my neighbor worked there, and I wasn’t too impressed by the coffee, but their gelato was great, especially when mixed with coffee. Iconik Coffee, one of my five favorite coffeehouses in the country, was where I learned to appreciate coffee.

Café Pasquals served one of the best breakfast menus, I’d get the Breakfast Burrito and every bite was more phenomenal than the last. Rooftop Pizza made one of the best pizzas I’ve had (unfortunately, Rooftop Pizza Restaurant has since closed its doors, and I can't help but feel a loss). I would often wait as long as I had to for a table on the balcony overlooking the plaza and I’d order a pizza and a margarita and watch people from all over the world sitting back and enjoying life.

La Choza Restaurant, Cowgirl Restaurant, 2nd Street Brewery, Marble Brewery, the Pantry, the Teahouse, El Farol, Backroad Pizza, Clafoutis, Aztec Café, Op. Cit. Books, and, of course, the Jean Cocteau (actually the Meow Wolf had little to do with my relationship with the Jean Cocteau, but Meow Wolf introduced me to Santa Fe, so…) Santa Fe has so much to enjoy and to do, and the couple of years that followed were among the best of my life.

I would often drive to Taos and stop, on the way, in Abiquiu, New Mexico, the most beautiful place in the southwest. It’s a place where you could find a perch and sit there all day and time would pass like water through your fingers, a vista that affirms your belief in God. There are times too when I have started driving toward Abiquiu and made a last-minute detour to, and through Los Alamos, New Mexico, and into the Valles Caldera National Preserve on my way to the not-so-secret—anymore—Spence Hot Springs, my favorite hot springs anywhere, to date, where I would end up spending all day soaking, and waiting for the opportunity to crawl inside the pent cavern, the mouth of the springs and lay there on my hands while burrowing into the sand with my fingers.

The building that I was living in was, at one point, a popular brothel. It’s a fuchsia brick that stands out among the adobe. The brothel was renovated and fragmented into nine or ten different casitas, I can’t remember the number exactly because the main house was like a maze of rooms and odd layouts. My casita was one of three in the rear of the main house in a building that used to be a cold storage, like a historic refrigerator. My first and one of my best friends in Santa Fe was one of my neighbors, Mattie, an artist who, to this day, creates some of the most unique art I’ve ever seen.

Mattie introduced me to many amazing people who found their way to Santa Fe in the typical style (I’ll get to that in a minute). Another neighbor was Alex De Vore, one of the most well-known journalists in town, he wrote the music column for the Santa Fe Recorder, a kind of the local rag. Michael, another of my favorite neighbors, is a sculptor and has developed a name for himself in the art community. The life I was leading, and the life I imagined I would lead the first evening when I wandered around the Santa Fe’s plaza were nothing alike. I’m grateful that I challenged myself to stay beyond that afternoon when only Starbucks was open to greet me.

There’s a local legend in Santa Fe that if the city wants you, even if you’re trying to pass through, it won’t let you leave. Countless people have told me the same story about driving through town or coming for a visit, and their car broke down, and they stayed, forever, “…that was five—ten, twenty—years ago.” Santa Fe wanted me. It was obvious with the job that the city offered, and the casita the city opened up for me. Santa Fe seemed to make sure that I was always in the right place at the right time to meet extraordinary people I've met and to experience the incredible things I've witnessed.

I happened to meet someone, I can’t recall where exactly, but through that interaction, I was asked to help organize Santa Fe’s first TED event (TEDx, independent TED events), I met and got to know George R. R. Martin, Vince Kadlubek, the founder of Meow Wolf, Sam Shephard, Willem Defoe (in a manner of speaking), and it’s where I met Samayya, someone who would ultimately flip my life completely upside down, changing the course of my life entirely.

I was lucky to follow the signs and opportunities that I had. Unfortunately, Santa Fe is not the same place that it once was. I enjoyed working at the art gallery. The pleasure of working at one of the best bookstores I’ve ever seen. To have worked on an excursion train touring between Santa Fe and Lamy, New Mexico. I left the city under unfortunate circumstances, but I came to believe I needed to leave for my well-being. Santa Fe tried to make my leaving difficult. I was offered my dream job at the Santa Fe Reporter the same week I decided to leave, and it was almost enough to convince me to stay--almost.

Santa Fe, New Mexico will always have a place in my heart and will remain with me, one way or another, for the remainder of my life, being a place that offered me both the best and the worst experiences of my life, and as someone visiting the City Different, it will provide you the experience that you allow yourself to have, nothing more and nothing less. It can be the most memorable and defining experience of your life or one of little consequence, you’ll have to mute whatever conditioned authority that might normally propel you and rediscover that higher self you have unconsciously stifled to guide you.

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