72 Hours in New Mexico

Inn and Spa at Loretto in Santa Fe, New Mexico (courtesy)

As my spring break approached, my sister and I knew we wanted to do a trip that would shake us out of our comfort zones. I needed a spot that would force me out of the Santa Barbara bubble but still included my favorite parts of travel – art, nature, music, and of course, great food.

What better place than Santa Fe? Nicknamed “The City Different,” the oldest Capital in the U.S. holds over 250 galleries, and its vibrant combination of Native American, Anglo, and Hispanic culture infuses the food, music, and architecture with a rich history just begging to be explored.

With less than 72 hours, we wondered: Would it be possible to visit both Santa Fe and Albuquerque and actually feel like we got to experience it? The answer is yes. Are we already planning our next trip back because we want more? Also, yes. Whether you have mere hours or a whole week, here are the spots to hit.

Just an hour’s drive from the Albuquerque Airport, our first stop was Santa Fe’s Dolina Bakery & Cafe. Chef Annamaria Brezna O’Brien sources her produce from a friend’s nearby farm, and the place was packed with fans of her handmade ethos. We made fast friends with the ladies next to us, applauding each other’s orders as they arrived at the tightly-knit tables. My sister’s Morning Soup, inspired by Brezna O’Brien’s Slovakian roots, featuring lamb bone broth and wild rice got much attention, while I focused on my farm-fresh salad and tender housemade lemon poppyseed loaf, and a matcha latte for good measure.

Inn and Spa at Loretto in Santa Fe, New Mexico (courtesy)

Fueled up, we were ready for the Georgia O’Keefe Museum. This humble treasure trove is the perfect doable size. O’Keefe’s variety of work sings of the places she lived and adventured, including New York, and of course, Santa Fe. From her works depicting bright flowers, to delicate cascading mountains, I couldn’t help but be inspired to start our trip in celebration of a painter who so authentically embodies the artistic possibilities of a life well-traveled.

However, traveling can take it out of you, so we treated ourselves to a post-flight massage. Although I’d never actually had a spa massage in my life, after one treatment with the goddess-like masseuses at the award-winning Spa at Loretto, I might have to make this a new ritual. After tea and a relaxing foot bath, each masseuse tended to our bodies with such care, warming pressure, and thoughtful intention, we were convinced they never thought about clocking in or out. It truly felt like a work of artistry, compassion, and love.

My sister testing out her pottery skills at the Tumbleroot Pottery Pub

Walking on clouds, we blissfully stumbled our way to the room to get ready for the evening. We continued with the theme of relaxation and artistry at the Tumbleroot Pottery Pub. Upon arrival, we were given a slab of clay, a drink, and the permission to get creative. As I took a sip of my sister’s margarita, I was nearly knocked off my stool. Sure you could blame the flight, the elevation, or my overly-packed itinerary, but I’ll give credit to the fact that the folks at Tumblewood Brewery & Distillery are truly outstanding at their craft. They hand-distill their own “agave spirits” (can’t call it tequila unless it’s from Mexico), and they win the award for best marg in town – a perfectly balanced elixir of life.

Packing up our handmade souvenirs, we moseyed our way to the vibrant dining room of Sazon. Fresh off his 2022 James Beard Award for “Best Chef of the Southwest,” Chef Fernando Olea treated us to a once in a lifetime tasting experience.

My sister started with a beautiful Diego Rivera mezcal cocktail graced with a purple orchid, and I went with my celebratory standby – Cava. A rainbow of moles and tiny tortillas signaled the start of our meal, and the wild ride of tasting began. And I mean wild in the best way. For example, our first course was an avocado and jalapeno ice cream concoction dotted with pine nuts and a variety of other ingredients, textures and flavors.

Chef Olea came out to guide us throughout the meal, sharing his inspirations and illuminating the different tasting notes. Another highlight included the “Cholula” – Chef’s interpretation of the Mexican specialty – Chile en nogada, featuring a tower of chile poblano, ground lamb, pork and beef, nuts, dried fruits and spices over a cold creamy walnut sauce dotted with pomegranate seeds and a jalapeno reduction.

Chef Fernando Olea’s “Cholula” specialty

The large, colorful art on the walls complemented Chef’s bold flavors, while the warm service and calm elegance highlighted his thoughtful attention to detail and graceful hospitality. After a meal full of surprises, we were comforted with cups of rich hot chocolate with whipped cream for dessert.

After a deep night’s sleep in the Loretto’s cozy beds, we were off for a morning hike at Sun Mountain, just six minutes away. Given that it was the end of March, we were nervous about the threat of snow, but the little flurries along the way just made things more exciting and the fresh air, native plants, and stunning views put a pep in my step.

My sister and I hiking Sun Mountain in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Post-hike we ended up at the coziest brunch spot – Modern General Feed and Seed. Part general store, juice bar, bakery, and restaurant, this bright, airy, and charming spot truly satisfied body and spirit. The BLT on their naturally leavened homemade sourdough had my sister proclaiming it the best ever, and the Pumpernickel and Lox toast with chive dill cream cheese and Avocado Toast had me in a happy toasty trance.

Tasty spread at Modern General Feed and Seed

Fueled and relaxed, we were ready for the Santa Fe sensation – Meo Wolf. I don’t want to say too much about this experiential immersive art museum other than the words from our wonderful Loretto bellman: “Check the mailbox.” This “House of Eternal Returns” is an interactive experience where you can open a refrigerator door or jump down a washing machine to enter a new portal. It’s also a mystery – given the time, one could spend a full day exploring new dimensions in one of their 70 rooms, solving the mystery, and maybe finding the meaning of life?! I won’t go too far, but this fantasyland is the perfect place to get out of your head and (quite literally) into art.

The fantastical Meow Wolf in Santa Fe

After all of that novelty, it was nice to come back to a staple we knew – Mexican food. Posting up at Paloma’s stand-up bar, my sister sipped a pretty, pink and smoky Mezcal marg, and I clinked her glass with a crisp Spanish Albarino. The highlight for us in this meal of New Mexican creations were the mushroom sopecitos – two crispy masa cakes with black bean, adobo roasted mushrooms and almond salsa.

The Loretto’s glowing bar and communal fireplace enticed us to extend the night with a shared espresso martini nightcap and we laughed, lounged, and soaked in what felt like our new home for one last night.

Adjacent to the Hotel is the lovely little Loretto Chapel. For $5 you can get a short tour and marvel at the tale of the Miraculous Staircase – a structure that defies the rules of carpentry and exemplifies the power of faith.

We strolled and shopped our way through the plaza on our way to the delicious La Mama for brunchy-fuel. This hipster haven set in a little craftsman bungalow features coffee drinks, house-baked goods, natural wines, artisanal foodie gifts and an evening menu we’d be first in line for given the luxury of another night.

La Mama

The grain bowl topped with a jammy egg and feta was the perfect nourishing start to the day, and the sesame tahini cookie topped with fleur de sel enlightened my tastebuds. Service was contagiously relaxed and the nourishing atmosphere was the perfect antidote to a busy itinerary. We actually visited this spot twice in our two-night visit in Santa Fe – that’s how much we love La Mama.

Arriving in Albuquerque we took a full-body exhale as we entered the elegant and modern Hotel Chaco. Nearing the end of our trip, it felt rejuvenating to enter this shiningly clean, new, and tranquil oasis, complete with a stunning spa and rooftop restaurant.

However, it was our mission to explore this sweet little town, and we headed out to Bow & Arrow Brewing Company, the first Native American, woman-owned brewery in the U.S. This beautifully-designed community hub incorporates local and indigenous ingredients into their brews, such as the yeast which is cultivated for their wild and sour beers from the estate peach tree growing on the patio and a neighboring lavender farm. In addition to being enamored of their vision and friendly clientele, we were particularly pleased with the refreshing Denim Tux Pilsner.

Bow & Arrow Brewing Company in Albuquerque, New Mexico

After that we drove over to the vibrant Nob Hill neighborhood for our favorite meal of the trip – dinner at Gather, a small plates bar and restaurant run by food and beverage pro Dustin Darnell and Michelin-trained chef, Joe Anguiano.

It’s often the people who make a place for me, and this spot truly defined warmth and hospitality, from the locals who started easy conversation at the bar, to the magic-makers behind this intimate and modern neighborhood lighthouse. No matter their title, the staff truly worked as a team. After being seated by the charismatic Darnell, we were greeted by the skilled and friendly mixologist Timmie, who made us a pandan cocktail with lemongrass syrup, ginger, fresh squeezed lime juice and coconut milk. This clarified milk punch is dairy free, and you’d think it was vodka-free as well by its tastiness.

Chef Joe Anguiano and Rebecca Horrigan at Gather

Other highlights included a beautiful risotto complete with potato pesto, black trumpet mushrooms, English peas, pepitas, fennel and arugula. Perhaps the most stunning dish was the Chef’s Catch of the Day, a mouth-wateringly tender sturgeon served atop succulent sweet potatoes and drizzled in an addictive sweet, spicy and citrus-y olive oil.

Chef Anguiano exuded true passion and professionalism as he generously came out to talk us through each dish. Anguiano has worked at the Bacara in Santa Barbara and for Chef Jose Andres; his excitement for the future of Albuquerque and the freedom and potential of this special little space was as effervescent as my sparkling Spanish Cava rosé.

Oysters served at Gather

The meal’s end had us pining for a Gather in our own hometowns, but we also knew it just wouldn’t be the same. The sense of place, authenticity, and creativity embodied in that Albuquerque space couldn’t be transferred.

As we boarded our flights the next day, I said a little note of thanks to the people, places, sights and tastes we experienced in Albuquerque and “The City Different.” Thank you, New Mexico, for leaving me a little different, a little more open, and a whole lot more inspired.

Rebecca Horrigan

Written by Rebecca Horrigan

Rebecca is a teacher, writer, and lover of food & wine. She enjoys sharing her travel experiences with the Santa Barbara community.

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