Five Days in Santa Fe

Annie Lux | - January 14, 2008

You've been to the Plaza-several times, in fact. Enjoyed the downtown museums and the ones on Museum Hill, explored the churches and Canyon Road, even visited Chimayó and Taos. Now what? Not to worry, there's plenty left to see. Of course, you could relax and just soak up the New Mexico sky, or soak in a Japanese hot tub at Ten Thousand Waves (3451 Hyde Park Road). But if you're itching to see more of New Mexico, here are a few suggestions.

Acoma Pueblo

After Taos Pueblo, the ancient village known as Sky City is the next must-see pueblo. It's a two-hour drive from Santa Fe, so if you'd like to go ahead and make a day of it, here are some suggestions. (This is a great adventure to take with older kids; younger ones may get restless.) Get an early start and stop at the Range Café (925 Camino del Pueblo) in Bernalillo (from I-25 South, take Exit 240. Make a right on Camino del Pueblo; The Range is .2 miles down on the left-hand side) and have yourself a nice big breakfast or lunch. There's a funky gift shop attached to the restaurant with a great sign: "Unattended children will be given two shots of espresso and a free puppy." Gotta love 'em. After breakfast, continue west on NM 550 to Zia Pueblo. The charming little village's lack of commercialism (as well as it's much smaller mesa-top location) is an interesting contrast to Acoma's majesty and visitor-oriented setup. You'll need to go back to I-25 and continue south to I-40 West (there's no shortcut), but you'll be at Acoma in plenty of time to spend several hours touring the pueblo. Do take the guided tour: it's interesting and well worth it.

After spending an hour or two at Acoma, head back east to Albuquerque Old Town (exit 157A from I-40). Wander around the plaza, stop in at a few shops, check out Albuquerque's historic church, San Felipe de Neri, on the plaza's north side. Is it dinner time already? There are several restaurants right on the plaza to choose from. For authentic New Mexican food, try La Placita on the Plaza (206 San Felipe NW) or High Noon Restaurant & Saloon (425 San Felipe NW), also know for its selection of wild game. Not quite hungry enough for dinner? There's always room for ice cream from the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory (303 Romero NW).

Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument

If you liked Pecos National Historic Park, you'll love the Salinas Pueblo Missions. The ruins of three pueblos, Quarai, Abó, and Gran Quivira-all abandoned before the 1680 Pueblo Revolt because of drought-are located near the town of Mountainair, where the monument's headquarters are located. It's a hike: about a 2½ drive from Santa Fe. Take I-25 South to the Belen exit, then NM 47 to NM 60 and continue west. Or enjoy the scenic route through small, rural towns: take I-40 east from Albuquerque to NM 337, drive south 54 miles to Mountainair. The three pueblo ruins with their magnificent red-stone churches are a wonder, and the scenery is stunning. Maps, directions, and information are available at the monument headquarters (easily located on Mountainair's main street). Visiting all three pueblo ruins will take several hours.

Other Pueblos

If you're a history buff or just fascinated by New Mexico's natives and history, there are several other area pueblos worth a visit. Ohkay Owingeh (formerly San Juan Pueblo) is just off NM 68 north of Española (an easy and quick side trip on the way to Taos). This quiet, simple pueblo has the distinction of being the only pueblo to have Gothic church buildings. Ohkay Owingeh has a small cultural center and gift shop. San Ildefonso Pueblo, on NM 502 (on the way to Los Alamos) is another good choice. You can tour the pueblo and visit the San Ildefonso Pueblo Museum and the María Martínez Museum, dedicated to the work of one New Mexico's most famous potters. Since it's on the way, a visit to San Ilefonso in the morning will give you plenty of time to spend the rest of the day at nearby Bandelier National Monument.

Bandelier National Monument

Both history buffs and hikers will enjoy Bandelier National Monument. From San Ildefonso, continue west on NM 502 and follow the signs. Spectacular cliffs, mesas and ancient cliff-dwellings are features of this beautiful park. Hikes range from fairly easy to challenging. Information is available at the Visitor's Center.


This former mining town has reinvented itself as a funky collection of shops, galleries and restaurants. Not just a tourist stop, Madrid (put the accent on the first syllable to say it like a local) is home to bikers (the movie Wild Hogs was filmed here), artists, hippies, lesbians, farmers and cowboys. Madrid is on the Turquoise Trail, the lovely stretch of NM 14 between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. From Santa Fe, take I 25 South to the Madrid exit (not far) then continue south on NM 14, which will take you straight into town. The stores are lots of fun, selling everything from art and antiques to jewelry and crystals to colorful clothing. Madrid's mining-town past is evident in the piles of coal that still appear behind the main drag, and the Mining Museum at the south end of town. Stop in next door at the Mine Shaft Tavern (2846 Hwy 14) for a green chile cheeseburger, local music, and some of the best people-watching anywhere.


You don't have to be an art lover to visit the town most famous as the home of artist Georgia O'Keeffe. Originally settled by Genízaro Indians (Plains Indians who had been captured and Christianized by the Spanish) in the early eighteenth century, this tiny town 47 miles northwest of Santa Fe is home today to artists entranced by the areas spectacular views and light as well as locals fiercely proud and protective of their village. To get there, take NM 285/84 north out of town (St. Francis Drive) turn left when 285/84 veers away from the main highway in Española and stay on NM 84 when it splits from NM 285). Abiquiu is surrounded by stunning red rock cliffs and the Jemez Mountains (yes, that's Pedernal you're seeing, the flat-topped mountain Georgia O'Keeffe loved to paint), so be sure to take a nice long drive around the area. To get to the village, turn up the hill by the sign for the Abiquiu Post Office. Be sure to observe "No Parking" and "No Trespassing" signs here, and take photos only with permission. Local artists host a Studio Tour every October over Columbus Day weekend (bonus: the aspens in full golden splendor).

Ojo Caliente

Ready to relax? There's nothing like an afternoon-or longer-at Ojo Caliente, a casual hot springs resort in the Jemez Mountains 50 miles northwest of Santa Fe. Bring your swim suit and experience the multiple public tubs filled with waters from the area's natural iron, soda, and arsenic springs, or rent a private outdoor tub, where you can soak au naturel. Spa services are available, and there's a decent restaurant too. Overnight lodging is also available. To get there, take NM 285/84 north out of town (St. Francis Drive) turn left when 285/84 veers away from the main highway in Española and go to the right onto NM 285 when it splits from NM 84.

Since Abiquiu and Ojo Caliente are in the same general direction, you can plan a day around visiting both places. Start at Abiquiu in the morning, then head back south on NM 84 and turn left at the juncture of NM 285 to head to Ojo Caliente. More adventurous types may be tempted to try the route that takes you through El Rito and other very small towns. From Abiquiu, turn left off NM 84 onto Highway 554 through El Rito, then follow Highway 111 back to NM 285 and turn right to head towards Ojo Caliente. (This is not a shortcut.) Both roads are beautiful drives. If you take the alternate route, stop for lunch at El Farolito (1212 Main Street, El Rito), a local hole-in-the-wall with great New Mexican food. You can't miss it unless you blink and miss El Rito entirely (mostly kidding): it's right across from the hardware store that I've heard referred to as the "El Rito Wal-Mart."