When we arrived in Santa Fe on the evening of July 2, 2015, it was the end of our drive along the historic Santa Fe trail. Three days earlier and 760 miles east, we began our Santa Fe trail adventure at the National Frontier Trails Museum in Independence, MO. After exploring historical points of interest (e.g. Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop & Farm, Fort Larned National Historic Site, Fort Union National Monument, and Pecos National Historical Park) and going from hotel to hotel for three days along the Cimarron Route of the Sante Fe Trail, our hearts, our souls, and our legs were happy to be in Santa Fe.
As we drove to our casita, the wistful white adobe walls and bright vivid flowers welcomed us to this enchanting city. Our 2 bedroom casita rental was well appointed with a nice kitchen and only a short walk (1/2 mile) from the historic Santa Fe Plaza. After a quick run to the local grocery store to stock up on provisions and a late dinner at our casita, we settled in for the evening.
Clafoutis and Coffee
We woke up on the morning of Friday July 3rd, ready to explore Santa Fe for the first time. Our “Bakery Scouts” (i.e. Dad and a couple of the kids) were the first ready and while the rest of the crew prepared for the day, they walked a block to Clafoutis French Bakery and Restaurant. A French family, Anne-Laure and Philippe Ligier and their daughter Charlotte, run the restaurant which serves breakfast and lunch, along with a counter-service bakery. You can read/see more about Clafoutis at the Chasing Sante Fe blog or in the Santa Fe Reporter. When our Bakery Scouts arrived at Clafoutis, the line stretched out the door, but thankfully it was the table-service breakfast line. They surveyed the simple bustling dining room and the saloon doors that never seemed to close as busy servers brought breakfast and dishes to and from the kitchen. The Bakery Scouts made their way through the table service line to the glass pastry displays. Plums, apricots, berries, and other fruit glistened through the glass delicately nestled into their beds of cream and pastry. Giant clafoutis pastries with pits, without pits, and all delicious, lined the top of the glass. In another glass display, eclairs of all sizes and flavors, flaky croissants, cinnamon rolls, and more fought for attention. Needless to say, the Bakery Scouts were very successful and returned to the casita with a delicious variety of pastries for breakfast and a bonus baguette to save for dinner.
Once everyone was full of French baked fruity sugary chocolaty flakiness, we left the casita to explore downtown Santa Fe. The first stop in downtown was Holy Spirit Espresso. As Dad loves his bakeries, Mom loves her coffee, and from all the reviews, Holy Spirit Espresso was the place to try. Holy Spirit Espresso is the size of a walk-in closet tucked into a building on San Francisco Street. In the shop, every surface is covered with postcards, pictures, notes, signs, and currency from all over the world. Mardi gras beads hang around the counter behind which owner, master barista, and ultimate character, Bill Deutsch crafts his coffee creations. From all the coffee shops we visited along our 9998.2 mile adventure, Holy Spirit Espresso was among the Top 5. Once Mom had her mocha, we were ready to immerse ourselves in the history of Santa Fe.
Immersed in History
Around the outside of the Palace of the Governors, Native American artisans sold handmade treasures of turquoise and silver jewelry, corn necklaces, miniature bows, intricate baskets and pueblo pottery. We were especially captivated by one vendor’s blackware pueblo pottery. In talking with him, we were surprised to learn that black color comes from covering the pottery with horse dung during firing. We talked with several other artisans, who were happy to share their craft and its history.
Inside the Palace of the Governors, we traced the history of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the Southwest. Walking through the small doorways and on the original foundation of the historic building, we saw their collections of Spanish armor and weapons, Segesser Hide Paintings, mission art, bone combs and other relics from the Santa Fe Trail, and much more. The kids enjoyed a scavenger hunt and several interactive exhibits that put them back in time or in other roles, such as pretending to be an archaeologist. In the courtyard, we explored the Palace Print Shop to see their antique printing equipment and some of their current publications of historic books and prints of local Santa Fe poetry. Across the courtyard from the Palace, we continued our tour through history with a visit to the New Mexico History Museum.
The New Mexico History Museum was built in 2009 and contains permanent exhibits that walk you through New Mexico history as well as touring exhibits brought to Santa Fe from around the world. One of the most captivating displays at the museum brought the 1680 Pueblo Revolt to life, helping us to see the precarious position of the Spaniards and courage of Popé and the Puebloans. Equally impressive were displays of Native American textiles that were the perfect balance of craft and beauty. We also enjoyed the touring exhibits, such as Poetics of Light: Pinhole Photography and Painting the Divine: Images of Mary in the New World. We left the New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors compound with a better sense of the history, wonder, and spirit of Santa Fe.
About a block away from the Palace of the Governors, our next stop was the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. The original church was built on the same site in 1610, while the current Cathedral was completed in 1887. In front of the Cathedral, and off to the side, the kids discovered an intricate brick labyrinth. Seizing the opportunity, the kids ran through the labyrinth trying to be the first to find the center. Once everyone worked off some of their energy navigating the labyrinth a couple of times, we gathered ourselves and walked into the Cathedral.
The Cathedral was peaceful and beautiful. The light colored the floor from the stained glass windows while some of the statues, with their real human hair, were stark and unnervingly realistic. Our favorite part was the historic Capilla de La Conquistadora which featured the La Conquistadora – Our Lady of Peace statue. The statue first arrived in Santa Fe around 1625, making it the oldest Madonna statue in United States. The Capilla de La Conquistadora chapel is also the oldest part of the Cathedral, dating back to 1717. After a quick stop by their gift shop featuring local crafts, we left the Cathedral to see the “miraculous” stairs of the Loretto Chapel.
If you’ve never heard the story about the stairs, you can read about it here or watch a recent segment from History Channel’s Mysteries at the Monument. The Loretto Chapel is a couple of blocks away from the Cathedral and it is now a private museum. Interestingly, the Loretto Chapel gift store was bigger than the Chapel itself. We walked through the Chapel and whether or not the stairs were “miraculous”, the graceful curves, smooth veneers, and freestanding structure were impressive. Exhausted and hungry from our morning of museums, we walked back through the pueblo architecture of Santa Fe to our casita for a late lunch.
Around Every Corner
Along every block and around every corner in Santa Fe, there is almost always a clothing store (or “western” shop), a jewelry store, an art gallery, or a gift shop. While our morning focus was history, after lunch we walked back to downtown Santa Fe in search of local crafts, cowboy hats, and souvenirs. Here were a few of our favorites:
- The Shop – A Christmas Store. A year round Christmas store that features local artisan crafted Christmas ornaments and decorations. Our favorites were the handcarved wooden angels, adobe ornaments, and tin cutout ornaments and candle holders.
- Santa Fe Hat Company. The Santa Fe Hat Company is part of the Montecristi Hat Works. At this store, everyone had the chance to try on their top of the line beaver skin and turquoise cowboy hat. However, our budget was much, much lower, and the salesperson was very willing to help us find a hat for our budget.
- Folk Arts of Poland. At first we were surprised to see a shop full of Polish folk art in Santa Fe. But as we thought about the French bakery from the morning, the heavy Spanish influence, and the international appeal of the city, it made more sense. The shop itself had many unique colorful pieces and while we were there, the kids enjoyed watching an artisan carve and paint a small wooden angel.
- Five & Dime. The Five & Dime store is a fixture on the Santa Fe Plaza. Originally a Woolworth’s, it is probably most famous for its “frito pie”. For us, it was a great stop to pick up some postcards, T-shirts, and a small leather purse for one of our little ones.
After an afternoon of Santa Fe shopping, everyone was ready to rest their feet and enjoy a snack. From a quick Google Maps search, we found Ecco Espresso & Gelato and began our trek to the other side of downtown Santa Fe. As we crossed the historic Santa Fe Plaza we noticed that roads were starting to close and tents were going up in preparation for Santa Fe’s 4th of July tradition, Pancakes on the Plaza. Working our way through the setup, we made it to Ecco Espresso & Gelato and sampled their wide variety of flavors, including sea salt caramel, blood orange, lavender, and chocolate. Not quite ready to call it a day, we gathered up our energy for one last foray, this time to experience Santa Fe’s “Free Fridays”.
Between May and October, nearly every museum in Santa Fe is free on Fridays from 5 to 8 p.m. In addition to being free, many of the museums bring in music for the evenings. For us, Free Fridays was the perfect opportunity to explore two museums that we would have otherwise missed.
The New Mexico Art Museum is an impressive pueblo building we walked by many times as we explored Santa Fe earlier in the day. With “Free Friday”, we were able to bring our kids, even the very little ones, to experience as much of the museum as anyone wanted, with no preset expectation of trying to “get our money’s worth.” We took a quick walk through the museum and the kids favorite part of the collection was a Disney Jar created by local artist Bunny Tobias. However the highlight of the museum, and possibly the most transcendent moment of our visit to Santa Fe, was the courtyard of this incredible pueblo architecture building.
The courtyard was filled with native plants and surrounded by adobe walls bearing art while massive chile ristras hung from the timbers. In the corner, a local band did their best to credibly cover classic rock standards. As the music played, young and old listened and danced, some with a sway, some with a shake, and some with just a smile. We looked at each other and it sunk in, we were really in Santa Fe.
After enjoying the music and dancing of the courtyard for awhile, we walked to our last museum of the day, the Georgia O’Keefe Museum. When you think Santa Fe and you think art, you think Georgia O’Keefe. While everyone’s favorite piece was her Black Hollyhock Blue Larkspur painting, we all enjoyed the interesting artifacts such as her early sketches and her original artist materials. As it was late in the day and everyone was hungry, we cut our visit a little short and walked back to the casita for our last dinner in Santa Fe.
Farmer’s Market and Farewell
On the morning of Saturday July 4th, we woke up and our Bakery Scouts got ready for their morning mission. While everyone else was busy packing, the Bakery Scouts headed to the Saturday Santa Fe Farmers Market in the Railyard. When we first drove by the farmers market, it looked and felt like so many others – nice building, nice setting, good number of vendors, etc. However, once we got out and walked through the market everything changed. The vegetables looked brighter. The fruit looked juicier. The meat looked fresher. It was as though flavor was contagious in Santa Fe, spreading from the chile to infect everything grown in the region.
Our favorite vendor at the market was Jesus Guzman and Kate Ross-Mason. Initially drawn by the colorful array of spices with names like Smoky Green, Smoky Mild, Smoky Sun Dried, and Holy Moli, we paused at their stand for a closer look. But Kate looked at us and told us that we can’t look at spices, we need to smell them! She didn’t even have to open the bags, just holding the closed bag near our noses was enough to infuse us with the flavor of smoke and chilies. It was incredible. We purchased several small bags of spices as well as a large bag of blue corn flour to enjoy over the rest of the trip – and that we did. While we were able to resist enticing offerings from other vendors such as blueberry and blue corn donuts, we also purchased a few veggies (e.g. garlic scapes) and local honey for the road.
Leaving the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market, we still didn’t have a good option for breakfast. So once again we looked to the Internet and discovered Sage Bakehouse. Like Clafoutis from the day before, Sage Bakehouse is another authentic French bakery in Santa Fe. Andrée Falls is the chef/owner at Sage which she opened in 1996. At Sage, we loaded up on croissants and crusty bread and the Bakery Scouts returned to our casita for breakfast.
At last it was time to leave. We packed up the van and checked out. Full of breakfast, but needing a coffee for the road, we went back to Holy Spirit Espresso for one last mocha. It was just as good, if not better, the second time – which is pretty much how we’ll feel the next time we visit Santa Fe – just as good, if not better, the second time.
Photo credits: Full Van Fun unless otherwise specified