With so many different places to explore in New Mexico and several friends mentioning their visits to the mountains this year, I thought it was time to visit the enchanted land for the first time. After one surprising night in Albuquerque, discovering a cool new rooftop food hall with killer views (and spotting actress Shailene Woodley), we rented a car and road-tripped to Santa Fe and Taos. These were a few of our favorite things we experienced during a summer excursion to New Mexico.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Where To Stay in Albuquerque
Opened just five years ago in historic Old Town, Hotel Chaco has to be one of the coolest places to stay in Albuquerque. The Heritage Hotels and Resorts property is the perfect mix of classic New Mexico and modern. Throughout the hotel, you’ll find local and regional artists’ work as well as original artwork by contemporary Native American artists.
One of the main attractions at the hotel is the rooftop bar and restaurant called Level 5. It offers incredible views of the Sandia Mountains, as well as a tasty menu from Paris-born chef Christian Monchâtre. Make sure to try the Spanish coca flatbreads and fried artichoke hearts.
What To Do in Albuquerque
Directly across the street from Hotel Chaco, Sawmill Market is a new food hall (the first in New Mexico). It features local merchants including bites from Tulipani Pasta, Dr. Field Goods, and Kulantro. You’ll also find Neko Neko, which features soft-serve ice cream served in taiyaki, a Japanese fish-shaped cake. There’s a flower shop, beer and cocktail bars, and a giant outdoor space that hosts live music as well.
Another cool thing to do in Albuquerque is to visit the historic Old Town. Since its founding in 1706, the charming area is home to many of the local museums, shops, and galleries of the city.
Where To Dine in Albuquerque
Besides making sure to grab a bite at Level 5 and Sawmill Market, be sure to check out a local gem called Artichoke Cafe near downtown. An American restaurant, the spot boasts creative cocktails like a Lavender Margarita, as well as dishes including steamed artichoke, a signature burger, and pasta. The menu continuously changes at the farm-to-table restaurant.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Where To Stay in Santa Fe
Located amidst the hustle and bustle of Santa Fe Plaza, Hotel St. Francis is quiet and serene. The hotel, named after the patron saint of Santa Fe, features handcrafted wooden furniture by local artisans and neutral colors. Besides easy access to the historic plaza, St. Francis also offers three food and dining options — Gruet Tasting Room, Secreto Lounge, and Market Steer Steakhouse.
What To Do in Santa Fe
Since 2016, visitors have flocked to Santa Fe just to see the original Meow Wolf. Featuring immersive art installations from the Meow Wolf collective, the experience completely takes you in. I spent an hour and a half exploring each and every room, closet, and dryer the space includes. From treehouses to spaceships, the House of Eternal Return is a must-visit while in Santa Fe. And if you’re exploring Colorado as well, the newest Denver location will be opening on September 17, following the recent opening of the second Meow Wolf in Las Vegas.
Where To Dine in Santa Fe
Located right behind the Loretto Chapel, home of the miraculous staircase, Luminaria Restaurant offers an enchanting outdoor patio to have a meal. Part of the Inn and Spa at Loretto, the restaurant has breakfast, lunch, and dinner. On a visit during breakfast, we indulged in the brioche French toast and eggs Benedict. On a cool night, there’s a fireplace ablaze for warmth and blankets can be provided.
For a mid-day snack, we stumbled upon Hervé Wine Bar. The interior boasts a lounge under a glass ceiling, making it feel as if you are inside and outside at once. Here you can order a flight of different wines from Lescombes Family Vineyards, as well as various kinds of bruschetta.
If you’re more into beer, take a drive out to Santa Fe Brewing‘s Beer Hall at HQ. Take in the mountain views from the balcony while sipping on an IPA or seltzer.
At dinnertime, make sure to check out La Plazuela at La Fonda. Inside of the La Fonda Hotel, the New Mexican restaurant offers a dining room filled with skylights, a chandelier, and a fountain. Favorite dishes include the artisanal bread board with houses blue corn muffins, enchiladas, and bread pudding.
Taos, New Mexico
Where To Stay in Taos
For first-time Taos visitors, El Monte Sagrado is the perfect place to stay and get acquainted with the city. Located near downtown Taos, you can walk or grab a complimentary shuttle ride from the resort and spa to drive you within a three-mile distance. Rooms at the resort range from one-bedroom Native American-inspired suites to globally-inspired suites (think Japan and Spain) that can fit a family. You’ll also find an indoor saltwater pool at The Living Spa, which features treatments like massages and astrology experiences.
El Monte Sagrado also boasts Anaconda Bar, named for the snake sculpture that slithers above, and De La Tierre restaurant for seasonal American dishes.
What To Do in Taos
Unfortunately, Taos Pueblo is currently closed for tours due to Covid-19, but it’s supposed to be one of the most interesting things to do in Taos. The only living Native American community designated both a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and a National Historic Landmark, the city usually welcomes visitors to explore the community.
Obviously, hiking is huge in Taos, but we opted to mix it up with kayaking down the Rio Grande River. Check out one of the local companies (Far Flung Adventures, Los River Runners) for rentals and experiences. The view from the river is picturesque and you may even see otters on the ride.
And if you’re into weird buildings and eco-conscious experiences, head northwest to The Greater World Earthship Community. You can take a brief, self-guided tour of the sustainable way to live.
Where To Dine in Taos
For breakfast or lunch, Manzanita Market is a great place to grab a bite downtown. The spot offers espresso drinks, sandwiches, salads, and homemade ice cream. Next door, make sure to grab a piece of chocolate from Chokola — an organic, small-batch chocolate shop.
Around the corner, The Lounge by Rolling Still Distillery is a must-visit for craft cocktails. The Lavender Honey Drop and Root and Revel are two favorites. Also, the snack board for two is delicious if you’re hungry.
Beer lovers, make sure to check out Taos Mesa Brewing‘s Taproom. Brews include lagers, IPAs, and sours, as well as ciders and wine. The brewery is also a great spot for lunch or dinner, as it makes pizzas starting at a personal six-inch size.
On the edge of Taos and El Prado, Medley is an eclectic restaurant with craft cocktails. The outdoor patio offers sweeping views of the mountains, and the indoor space makes you feel like you’re in the coolest place in Taos. Must-tries include the Medley Marg, ahi tuna tartare tostada, and shrimp tacos.
And for authentic New Mexican food, La Cueva Cafe is the place to go. With a small indoor space and outdoor patio, there was a line every time we walked by the spot. But we got a table and enjoyed the fresh chicken mole enchiladas and wine agave margaritas we were looking for.