The Land of Enchantment: Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Taos
Just a few states over and a short jaunt via airplane is the state of New Mexico—the “Land of Enchantment” and the fifth largest state in the U.S. Popular for its vast amounts of mineral stone turquoise, it’s a hidden gem to many Californians. The terrain can be rugged, filled with mountains, high plains, and desert. I sought out to explore a part of the northern region covering three uniquely different cities, all full of rich heritage and culture, amazing food, and endless amounts of activities.
Day 1My flight from Sacramento landed upon the largest of the three cities: Albuquerque (visitalbuquerque.org) or “Burqe” as the locals call it. The terrain is a sprawling, urban vibe tucked into the backdrop of Sandia Peak on the east side (I recommend taking the tramway up to check out the views). But “Burque” would have to wait, as my adventure started by jumping into a rental car, grabbing some coffee, and heading an hour up Interstate 25 to the capital of New Mexico: Santa Fe (santafe.org). Along this route there are several offshoots worth exploring, such as Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, known for its “tent-like” rock formations, and Bandelier National Monument.
After pulling into town, I checked into Hotel Chimayó (hotelchimayo.com), part of the Heritage Hotels & Resorts Inc. group of hotels. Inspired by and celebrating the history of the Village of Chimayó—located about 30 minutes north and famous for their woven textiles and the Chimayó pepper (of which large clusters hang throughout the hotel)—the property is charming and oozing with authenticity. The Milagro Junior Presidential Suite featured warm rustic tones, custom woodwork, a fireplace, and separate mini kitchen area.
What better way to cruise around town and get to know some of the history than in a lowrider? Yes, Hotel Chimayó offers guests lowrider tours that take you around the Santa Fe Plaza and other nearby notable sights such as the 19th-century-built Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi and the State Capitol. You’re guaranteed to get a lot of stares (good ones) and waves on this 30-minute tour. For a perfect ending to a perfect day, walk a half block to the plaza for margaritas on the balcony of Thunderbird Bar & Grill.
Santa Fe is incredibly rich in the arts and culture scene. With an abundance of mini theater plays, opera performances, and other live shows, the creative energy is off the charts. But if you really want to have your mind blown, check out Meow Wolf Santa Fe (meowwolf.com/visit/santa-fe). A little off the beaten path, you could seriously spend an entire day wandering through this interactive, immersive art installation. With mind-bending multimedia elements and a mysterious narrative throughout, everyone has their own unique experience at this destination that doubles as a music venue and also boasts a full bar.
All that art makes one hungry. If you’re in the mood for some New Mexican fare, the most notable dish is anything chili verde. I warmed my belly up with some green chile pork posole on the rooftop of Coyote Cantina
(coyotecafe.com/cantina), followed by a nightcap at The Pink Adobe’s Dragon Room Lounge (thepinkadobe.com). If you have room, and the energy, Hotel Chimayo’s Low ‘n Slow Lowrider Bar Featuring HAWT Pizza isn’t only hip but known for their cocktails and, of course, pizza.
The short walk to Café Pasqual’s (pasquals.com) is worth the wait for breakfast. Luckily, I barely made it for the first wave of seating. Stuffed from a breakfast burrito, it was off for the hour drive to Ghost Ranch (ghostranch.org) for a horseback tour of the inspirational landscape of many of Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings. Wrangler and tour guide Daniel didn’t “horse” around on catching our group of six up to speed on horseback riding basics. Bishop (my horse) and I quickly bonded, and he made it a smooth 90-minute ride. The landscape was spectacular, and we even saddle-backed by Georgia O’Keeffe’s home. Once back at the Ghost Ranch Visitor’s Center, you can enjoy lunch at the onsite café—or stop for food at Bode’s General Store (bodes.com), known for their delicious sandwiches and local beer on tap.
After, I drove to Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort (ojosparesorts.com) to relax and soak away in the pure geothermal mineral waters. There are several public baths to choose from, or you can take advantage of a private spa for an hour. Totally relaxed and rejuvenated, you’ll rest easy at one of the resort’s myriad lodging options, including a cozy retrofitted Airstream trailer that features a comfy bed and all the amenities of a standard hotel room. They also have a sister resort, Ojo Sante Fe.
After one last morning soak, it was off to Taos (taos.org), a small artist-centric city amongst the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Along the way, I checked out the 10th highest bridge in the U.S.: the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, which spans nearly 600 feet over the Rio Grande River.
The quaint historic downtown of Taos delivers many cute shops, galleries, and restaurants—including Tony Whitecrow’s (full of vintage western wear and handcrafted jewelery), Manzanita Market (a popular café for lunch), Chokolá (a small-batch, organically crafted bean-to-bar chocolate maker), and artist galleries in the Bent Street District—along with a plaza in which a farmers’ market is held Saturdays from May-October.
For a late lunch, a local artist recommended Lambert’s of Taos Restaurant & Bar (lambertsoftaos.com), and I’m so glad they did. Sitting in the treehouse bar filled with artisan furniture and a low-key vibe, I noshed some of my favorite bites the whole trip: fried chicken deviled eggs and crispy Brussels sprouts with bacon.
Next order of business was checking into the hotel: El Monte Sagrado Taos (elmontesagrado.com). Set on landscaped grounds with fountains and waterfall features, this tranquil, adobe-style resort is a short walk back into town and includes the award-winning De La Tierra Restaurant and Anaconda Bar where locals come for the lively atmosphere, signature drinks, and creative cuisine. My room, one of the luxuriously spacious Native American Suites, featured a Kiva-style fireplace, handcrafted stone tile work, and a private patio overseeing the pond.
The hotel’s complimentary car service takes you into town, which I took full advantage of to enjoy drinks at the vibrant Historic Taos Inn’s Adobe Bar (taosinn.com/restaurant/adobebar), a historic landmark due to its traditional adobe-like structure. Dinner was at The Love Apple (theloveapple.net)—a romantic, dimly lit space (formerly a chapel) emphasizing local, organic New Mexican home cooking with an elevated twist. The waitstaff was friendly, and the food was made with lots of love!
In the morning, from the hotel concierge, I purchased a pass to tour Taos Pueblo (taospueblo.com), a UNESCO Heritage Site located just a few miles north of town. One of the Eight Northern Pueblos, the Taos Pueblo is famous for its multi-storied residential complex of reddish-brown adobe, in which around 150 people still live. The knowledgeable tour guide and pueblo resident walked me through the village where there are shops and cafés (I grabbed a piece of delicious fry bread from one of the native woman and purchased some turquoise from a vendor) as I admired the architecture and all its history.
After the tour, it was back to the road (the High Road to Taos, but I was going back to Santa Fe). It was a beautiful drive, with an array of fall colors painting the mountainsides. Along the way, Sugar Nymphs Bistro (sugarnymphs.com) is a recommended stop to fill up. I opted to stop in the historic town of Chimayó for lunch and a Chimayó Cocktail (prickly pear margarita) at Rancho de Chimayó (ranchodechimayo.com). This area also know for woven textiles, and Trujillo’s Weaving Shop has some of the most exquisite. Just down the road was Santuario de Chimayó—a Colonial-style 1816 adobe church and popular Catholic pilgrimage site known for its “healing dirt.”
I made it to Santa Fe just in time to see the spectacular sunset from the rooftop of LaFonda Hotel (lafondasantafe.com) before enjoying dinner at El Farol (elfarolsantafe.com), known for their tapas and live Flamenco shows. Lodging that night was at an Airbnb located near the trendy Santa Fe Railyard Arts District (railyardsantafe.com).
All aboard, I headed to the Railyard Arts District’s farmers’ market—held year-round on Saturdays and chock-full of local artisans, fresh produce, and food venders. Just a short walk down the street I indulged in a breakfast burrito at Tune-Up Café (tuneupsantafe.com) and pint at Second Street Brewery (secondstreetbrewery.com).
Heading back to Albuquerque, it was time for the massive, world-renowned Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (balloonfiesta.com). For nine days in October, this event creates an enchanted world of special-shaped balloon rodeos, twilight balloon glows, and vibrant balloon-filled skies. Brisk autumn mornings in the Rio Grande Valley create an otherworldly backdrop for the breathtaking majesty of the most popular event: Mass Ascension of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
Before checking into the event, I checked into the retrofitted El Vado Motel (elvadoabq.com). With its unique blend of historic character and charm, combined with modern comforts and amenities, the El Vado plaza boasts a taproom, a changing lineup of seven different dining options, and local artisan shops. It’s also home to live entertainment throughout the year.
After getting settled in, I headed to the balloon fiesta to watch the night ascension. It didn’t fall short one bit of spectacular. Once all the balloons fired up, they hovered above the grounds and lit up the night sky like fireflies. A truly magical experience.
I woke before sunrise to catch the morning Mass Ascension. This time the balloons—once up in the air would—glide throughout the whole Albuquerque area. Throughout the entire nine days, over 500 balloons and 850,000 patrons from all over the world participate in this event.
The trip couldn’t end without brunch at Campo located within Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm (lospoblanos.com). The Bloody Mary and chilaquiles tasted so fresh, using all locally sourced ingredients. With outstanding service and atmosphere, calling ahead for reservations is a must.
Before heading to the airport, I grabbed a quick bite at El Pinto Restaurant & Cantina (elpinto.com), known for having some of the city’s best New Mexican food.
Leaving for the airport, I couldn’t help but think about everything I’d seen but all that was left to discover in this region of New Mexico. From its rich history, inspirational landscape, and authentic cuisine, there’s something for everyone in the Land of Enchantment.
Special thanks to Allie Byers and Giant Noise: Public Relations, Social Media & Events; Maya Sarin and Jive PR+DIGITAL; Didi Bethurum of Meow Wolf; Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta Media Relations Team, The Garrity Group; James Walker and Kathy Kuchta of Ojo Spa Resorts; Brenna Moore and Visit Albuquerque; Anna Maria Gonzales of Ghost Ranch Education & Retreat Center; and Jen Graening for all the recommendations.
by GARY ZSIGO
Top El Monte Sagrado photo courtesy of Giant Noise. Far left Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort photo courtesy of Ojo Spa Resorts. Other photos by Gary Zsigo.
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