After living here for over 10 years and working for several years in the restaurant industry downtown, I have seen many frustrated tourists because they failed to arm themselves with any knowledge about where they were visiting. First, there are a few basic things that people need to know about this beautiful and historic city. The elevation of Santa Fe is 7,000 ft above sea level. To give you an idea, that is 1,500 ft higher in elevation than Denver the "mile high" city. If you are not used to the elevation you may become dizzy, dehydrated, and even nauseous from the altitude.
My advice for handling the high altitude is to drink plenty of water and take it slow your first day in town. Another thing that high altitude can affect is your tolerance to alcohol. The elevation in Santa Fe can turn you into a lightweight. Your best bet when visiting is to stick to one drink at happy hour or with dinner until you acclimate to the high elevation environment.
One important insight into the city is that things tend to close early. Even the bars and restaurants have an earlier standard of wrapping things up for the evening. If you plan on eating dinner before 10pm, you should still be able to find something delicious to nosh on. In addition to Santa Fe's early bedtime, galleries and other attractions tend to be closed on Monday's. Lastly, parking is extremely limited downtown. It's a nightmare at times and could in fact tarnish your image of the city. Don't let the parking situation stress you out during your vacation. If your hotel provides shuttle service, take advantage of it. Also, there are a few lots in the downtown area that almost always have spaces that you don't have to parallel park into.
Now that you are an informed traveler; I'd like to present you with the best ever 3-Day itinerary for visiting Santa Fe. These trip suggestion are tried and tested across the board. From teenagers to seniors and business associates to mothers'-in-law, everyone is guaranteed to have a great time on this tour filled with iconic southwest beauty. These Santa Fe gems represent the best of why our city is so different and special. Prepare to experience special moments that will make you want to spend every vacation in Santa Fe.
Day 1- Wake up leisurely with no alarm.
Head over to Pasqual's for brunch. Eating the yummy organic food and local chile sauce here will help you acclimate to the environment and fuel your activities for the rest of the afternoon. I always eat the griddled polenta with chorizo and red chile. I want to explore the menu more but it is seriously one of my top 3 all-time favorite breakfast dishes of my life so I can't help myself. Not ready to try the chile? You should ask for a side of red or green and dip your tortilla or toast in it. You have to! Are you a tourist or a traveler?
Now that you have eaten at one of the most iconic downtown restaurants, it's time to burn a few calories and head over to another iconic Santa Fe attraction, The Georgia O'Keeffe museum. I could easily spend an entire day there. Whatever your level of familiarity with the artist is, you will always learn something new and intriguing about her. Also, the museum is a non-profit so the gift shop has great prices on prints and other things that you will want to buy for everyone you know.
Next, it's time to see the Miraculous Staircase in the Loretto Chapel. The spiritual feeling you get from the staircase can be appreciated by anyone of any religion. It is a wonderful story and even if you don't believe it, you can at least appreciate the craftsmanship of the spiral staircase. The architecture inside the chapel is worth the $3 admission to see, including the antique Italian confession booth which looks almost Gothic.
By this time in your day, you will be ready for a pick me up. I have got just the place for you to go. I literally shriek with joy whenever my husband surprises me with a trip here. It's the Kakawa Chocolate House. This will be a truly memorable part of your vacation in Santa Fe. This is not ordinary chocolate. They have diligently researched chocolate in order to provide anthropologically and historically correct representations of chocolate recipes through the ages. Sample some elixirs and chose one to brighten up your day and change your frickin' life! Then pick up some truffles to bring back to your friends (or gorge on late night in your hotel room.)
End your first perfect day in Santa Fe with a stroll down Canyon road. Some of the best local art can be found in these whimsical and imaginative galleries. When you get hungry head over to El Farol for delicious Spanish wine and tapas. If you have a bigger appetite share the paella for two. It's a local favorite and super delicious. Most nights at El Farol end with live music or Flamenco. If you have just one day to spend in Santa Fe, use this Day 1 plan to highlight and experience the best of what this enchanted land has to offer.
Day 2- coming soon!