SANTA FE — People in Santa Fe are in a good mood, and no wonder. Four centuries after its founding, the city of “Holy Faith” has managed to survive with its spirit intact and its beauty undiminished. Adobe houses appear to have risen out of the earth, their edges softened by seasons of sun and snow. The sky seems cleansed in pure light.
I’ve been coming to Santa Fe for 40 years. Here are recommendations I give to friends:
TRY ON SANTA FE STYLE: A visitor hitting the shops around the plaza can instantly go native, decked out in a colorful Indian-blanket jacket and draped in turquoise necklaces.
Whether you just want to sample local fashions or plunge in whole hog, try the Double Take consignment shop. In stock are top-quality cowboy boots (500 pairs, already broken in), classic western wear, and time-mellowed Indian jewelry.
In a town packed with talented jewelers, one standout is Fairchild & Co. Valerie Jean Fairchild uses 22-karat gold to cradle treasures that vary from ancient Greek coins to chunky aquamarines to opals shaped like dragonfly wings.
GRAZE YOUR WAY AROUND TOWN: Santa Fe has classic eateries such as the Coyote Cafe but my favorite is the Plaza Cafe, the town’s oldest restaurant. Patrons love the 1950s diner atmosphere and Southwestern, American, and Greek food. Recommended: cashew mole chicken enchiladas, washed down with cool agua de tamarindo.
A great lunch spot is Museum Hill Cafe, set alongside world-class museums of Native American and folk art on a hilltop with an inspiring view. No matter what you choose to eat — the menu runs from quiche to smoked duck flautas — start with tomato basil soup and top everything off with pecan pie laced with molasses.
Santa Fe’s hot new place for dinner is Bouche French Bistro. It feels like a neighborhood hangout — if your neighborhood happens to be in Paris — with an open kitchen, boisterous atmosphere, and intimate seating.
The unfussy food includes small plates (classic escargot, seven-herb ravioli with crisp frog legs) and entrees that range from bistro steak with frites to black mussels in white wine.
Bouche is owned by chef Charles Dale, formerly of the Terra restaurant at Encantado Resort, where he added macaroni and cheese to the menu for his son. It’s now available at Bouche in three varieties: “naturel,” with wild mushrooms, or with foie gras and truffles.
The city’s new obsession with chocolate has links that go back a thousand years to the Indians of New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon.
The staff at Kakawa (a name derived from the Aztec word for chocolate) whips up such intense elixirs as Mayan Full Spice, a drink that contains chili. The ChocolateSmith shop offers its own eating varieties, including a confection of toasted piñon nuts in a bed of buttery caramel trimmed with dark chocolate.
The Santa Fe School of Cooking leads behind-the-scenes restaurant tours. It also holds cooking classes. The new Santa Fe Culinary Academy also offers instruction.
At the Saturday Farmers Market in the newly arty Railyard district, generations of northern New Mexico farmers sell produce alongside young apostles of organic food. You can take home blue-corn pancake mix, green chili mustard, and other specialties.
FEAST YOUR EYES: More than 250 galleries display Native American and Spanish colonial works as well as contemporary paintings, sculpture, and photographs.
At the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum the new curator has refocused on the painter as a person, rather than an icon. You’ll see the artist’s worn camping equipment — she ventured all over this high desert region to paint — and one of the very few photos of O’Keeffe smiling.
Next door, the Andrew Smith Gallery fills a warren of rooms in a Victorian house with classic landscape photography by Ansel Adams and his ilk, as well as work by contemporaries such as Annie Leibovitz.
To appreciate the scope of regional creativity, head for the nearby New Mexico Museum of Art. A dozen more museums explore everything from New Mexico history to folk art from around the world.
Canyon Road alone has more than 100 galleries in a one-mile stretch. A standout is the Zaplin Lampert Gallery. Pick up canvases by early artists of the Taos Society and Santa Fe art colony and other American masters — from Albert Bierstadt and Joseph Henry Sharp to post-modern Pop painter Fritz Scholder.
Remember to look to the sky that inspired so many New Mexico artists — a realm of pure light, shifting clouds, and radiant beauty. By the time you leave your eyes will be wide open and your spirit soaring.