A First Time Visit to Santa Fe

When you think of Santa Fe, what comes to mind? For me, it’s always been the shade of turquoise or the song of the same name from Newsies. While I was excited to at last arrive in New Mexico’s capital and attend the 2019 IFWTWA conference, little did I know just how much I’d fall in-love with the artistic, colorful city of Santa Fe.

From shopping you won’t find anywhere else, over 200 art galleries, incredible history and delicious food and wine, read on to discover why I left a piece of my heart in Santa Fe.

Santa Fe’s Art and the Eccentric, Unique Meow Wolf

Being the third largest art market in the USA and largest in the world for Native American arts, Santa Fe certainly knows a thing or two on the subject.  While the early 1900’s found several East Coast artists heading to nearby Taos, some chose to head South to Santa Fe. Thus, beginning to put the city on the artistic map.

What struck me as a first time visitor to Santa Fe was the vast variety of creation all around. One cannot say they “don’t like art” after a visit to Santa Fe. From the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, with its pristine Roman architecture, to the Georgia O’Keeffe museum, art means many things in Santa Fe. Not even to mention the Southwestern and Spanish inspired colors as you walk historic avenues like San Francisco street. No matter where I turned as I walked these brisk streets, I was in awe.

With nearly 250 art galleries in town, there’s truly an art median for anyone who visits. At Museum Hill, explore four museums in the heart of Santa Fe in addition to a botanical garden and cafe. While this is still on my bucket list, I was thrilled to make it to Meow Wolf and see exactly what the heck Meow Wolf is. While I loved it, I still don’t think I entirely know what it is.

Meow Wolf opened its doors in 2015. A former bowling alley, the unusual, at times, weird, art collective boasts 20,000 square feet of dark rooms, neon, Christmas lights, even the opportunity to walk through a kitchen refrigerator and slide down the drying machine. Think Stranger Things meets Fellini’s 8½. All exhibits and art is created and curated by local New Mexico artists and there’s even a concert venue in the middle of the bright mayhem.  Game of Thrones fans will turn their heads that George R.R. Martin is an investor of Meow Wolf.

Enter the Multiverse of Meow Wolf. (c) Mary Farah
One of the many neon lit forests in Meow Wolf. (c) Mary Farah
The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

I’ll be first to admit that before my visit to the stunning Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in town, I was one of those people who thought they knew O’Keeffe’s art style. That style being, those scandalous and sensual depictions of flowers she famously painted. While those works of art are certainly part of her legacy, they were just the tip of the iceberg.

O’Keeffe was a private person. Some even have said she was downright mean. After a visit to this stunning gallery in the heart of downtown, I think she was what many creatives and brokenhearted souls are: misunderstood.

Our fabulous docent, Kathy, took our tour on a wonderful journey through the life of a young 17 year old Georgia in Wisconsin, to the lonely, introverted woman painting skyscrapers in New York. O’Keeffe was one of the most talented artists coming out of the art world in the 1930s, and she knew it. In no way a shrinking violet, O’Keeffe was intensely protective of her art and vision. Plagued by heartbreak due to her husband’s infidelities, she suffered multiple nervous breakdowns. The cure she found to keep going? Her art and travels.

From New York to Europe, Georgia rejuvenated on the road and with her paints. While she had residences in New Mexico since the 1940s, she settled to Santa Fe in 1984 and remained there until she passed away in 1986 at the age of 98.

The museum acts as a beautiful tribute to O’Keeffe for the established fan, and as an eye opening introduction for those like myself who were not too familiar with her life. In the trusty hands of Kathy, I appreciated her ability to get us opening up and discussing the art rather than just observing.

The pelvic bone that inspired this O’Keeffe painting. (c) Mary Farah
The sensual flowers. (c) Mary Farah
The lovely Kathy, our tour docent at the O’Keeffe Museum. (c) Mary Farah
A Taste of Santa Fe (Hint: Gluten-Free Galore)

I’d heard you can have food you cannot get anywhere else in Santa Fe. I was skeptical, but after the meals I enjoyed while there, I know it to be true. Given the love for corn in the Southwest, I figured gluten-free would be an easy task in these parts, which it was.

I had the opportunity to meet several of the most beloved cafes, wine and spirit makers and chocolatiers in town at the Taste of Santa Fe, held at the beautiful convention center. An exclusive event for IFWTWA conference attendees, this afternoon enabled me to try several of the “must eats” over a buffet-style, sampling luncheon.

Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen was on hand with a Cuban style jack fruit and ropa viejo. With a menu of gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan,the fried plantain paired perfectly after the spice from the jack fruit, and also went well with several of the wines I enjoyed.

Over at Terracotta Wine Bistro, Chef Mary was serving up decadent and savory planked salmon. I loved chatting with the ladies from the bistro, and their menu proved to be extremely gluten-free friendly. They also offer a daily “$6 glass of wine before 6pm” deal that’s sure to get you in the door.

In New Mexico, it’s all about the green chiles. Dr. Field Goods Kitchen was on hand whipping up single serve portions of their famous green chile stew. It was music to my ears as their sign stated it’s gluten-free sans a tortilla side dish. As each chef saw my eyes light up at those two wonderful words, I learned that the state in general is very health conscious and all about accommodating one’s dietary needs. The people of New Mexico respect Mother Earth unlike anywhere else I’ve visited. Locally sourced meats, fruits, vegetables and cooking needs are the norm in these regions.

Small bites from Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen. (c) Mary Farah
Salmon from Terracotta Wine Bistro. (c) Mary Farah
Chocolate and Spirits and Wine, Oh, My!

After some hearty rounds of green chile stew and seconds of that jack fruit, I knew it was time to satisfy my sweet tooth. Santa Fe is no stranger to decedent treats, and my first stop was to taste this concoction called “drinking chocolate” the whole room was buzzing about.

A favorite treat in Santa Fe since 2005, Kakawa Chocolate House is not your typical sweets shop. Influenced by the elite elixirs enjoyed by the Mayans and Aztecs over a thousand years ago, by grinding cacao beans with sensations like spices, chiles and herbs, they create a bold, powerful drink. While the chile elixir was a bit too hot for me, their American elixir with 70% dark chocolate was smooth and felt like home.

While over at Cacao Santa Fe, their organic truffles were such works of art that I almost didn’t want to eat them. I came around, and they were as delicious as they looked.

Making chocolates since 2007, owners Melanie and Derek moved to Santa Fe in 2016 and re-located their award winning confectionery. In addition to some of the best truffles I’ve ever tasted, Cacao also offers craft chocolate bars and gourmet coffees. Oh, be still my heart!

In between all this noshing, I was rarely without a glass in hand. Many may not realize that New Mexico is a terrific wine region in the country. I loved tasting and chatting with local winemakers from Sheehan Winery and Vivac. Both producing thriving wines in state, winemaker Sean Sheehan is producing gorgeous wines for Sheehan Winery in his backyard. Visits like that one is what’s made me fall in-love with this Southwestern gem.

Truffles from Cacao Santa Fe. (c) Mary Farah
Works of art! (c) Mary Farah

Vivac Winery is a family affair with tasting rooms in Santa Fe and nearby Dixon. The Padbergs founded Vivac over 15 years ago and haven’t looked back since. Having only had California and Pacific Northwest Pinot Noirs, I was amazed at the body and robust notes on their New Mexican 2017. Stay tuned for a Wine Women Wednesday feature with co-owner, Michele Padberg.

Since there was much wine tasting, that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy some shots. Santa Fe Spirits was on hand pouring several spirits I had not tried in years. A highlight was their Wheeler’s Gin that’s not only corn based (aka gluten-free) but boasts a harmonious blend of juniper, sage, osha root, cascade hops and cholla cactus blossoms. Divine and so light, it’s an easy one to savor.

As winter is coming, that means it’s sniffle cold and flu season. Did grandma ever make you a hot toddy with a splash of brandy? Well, grandma would love Santa Fe Spirits apple brandy. Made in small batches with local apples, this is another spirit I usually avoid but enjoyed every sip this time around.

Michele Padberg of Vivac Winery. (c) Mary Farah
Staying at La Fonda on the Plaza

With nods like “#2 Best City in the USA” from  Conde Nast and Travel and Leisure (and loads more), there’s undoubtedly a great selection of hotels to rest your head at. I was thrilled to stay at the exquisite La Fonda on the Plaza, which serves as the only hotel situated on the historic Santa Fe Plaza.

While an ideal space to hold our annual conference, it was the hallways, rooms and atmosphere that made me fall in-love with La Fonda. With rooms and suites to boot, my room offered me a tranquil view of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi and since one of my most favorite sounds are cathedral bells chiming, it felt very meant to be.

Outside my door were the bustling streets of Santa Fe, just a block away from the Governors Market and boutiques like the Christmas Shop. We may have been in a cold wave (40 degrees when we arrived….and that windchill) but that didn’t stop me from exploring all I could. La Fonda is one of those ideal places where you don’t even need much transportation to get in all of the sights. From the cathedral to Laretto chapel, museums and shops, you’ll have Santa Fe at your fingertips when you stay at La Fonda on the Plaza.

Make sure to dine at-least once with La Fonda. I was fortunate to enjoy breakfast at their La Plazuela and a private dinner prepared by Chef Lane Warner. While the menu does not state it, they do offer gluten-free bread and are very accommodating about allergen concerns.

For dinner, Chef Warner pulled out all of the stops. One of the most memorable meals on my excursion, a blue corn tamale dish that was gluten-free, vegan and burst with flavor. Flavor you’ll only have in New Mexico. No visit to Santa Fe is complete without a meal at La Fonda on the Plaza.

Arriving to La Fonda on the Plaza. (c) Mary Farah
Tamale dinner by Chef Warner at La Fonda. (c) Mary Farah
Discover why Everyone Loves Santa Fe

I think It’s safe to say, I’m in-love with Santa Fe! I cannot thank the City of Santa Fe, IFWTWA and all of the local businesses we partnered with enough for this fantastic conference and trip. While a special rate was arranged with La Fonda on the Plaza, several of my visits were hosted on behalf of story coverage.

Learn more about Santa Fe and plan your trip HERE.


    November 27, 2019 at 5:46 pm

    I like what you said: “The people of New Mexico respect Mother Earth unlike anywhere else I’ve visited. ” What a tribute to one of MY FAVORITE places in the whole world! Cheers, UNSTOPPABLE Stacey Wittig

    1. AlongComesMary

      November 30, 2019 at 6:29 pm

      Aw, thanks so much, Stacey!

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