SANTA FE, New Mexico – I can smell the piñon-infused air when I arrive. I have a spectacular show on the ride from the airport, a distant storm pouncing over the terrain, blowing dust and fueling lightning strikes and, finally, creating a beautiful double rainbow.
I arrive at Casa De Maria on Canyon Road and feel instantly relaxed. Maybe it's the change in altitude. Or the scent of the apple shrubs, pear trees, and wild lavender dotting the property. Or the wind chimes and shadows on the porch.
It's quiet and peaceful. Locals are getting in their jogs, walking their dogs. I stroll up Canyon Road to Teahouse for a Green Mist tea. On another morning, I have an espresso and read the paper at Downtown Subscription (376 Garcia St.), and try to catch sight of Santa Fe resident Tom Ford. No luck.
I get my bearings and adjust to the altitude with a run by St. Johns College, moving along Upper Canyon Road to the Audubon Center. It's a stellar workout. Ditto the various bike trails (bicycles can be rented from Mellow Velo). A dip in the tubs at Ten Thousand Waves can really help a girl adjust to the new terrain (read the Popupla postcard all about it).
A DRINKING LUNCH
My table runneth over. I have lunch at La Boca: a glass of rose and shrimp tacos (the Cubano looks mighty good, too). Then over to Santacafe, which is bustling outside. I do some people-watching through my Ray-Bans. The courtyard is a busy stage of waiters pacing quickly as glasses clink and forks clank on plates of their famous calamari. The Shed is a mainstay, but the locals like to hit La Choza for potent margaritas and blue corn enchiladas (double the hot sauce). Around the bend sits the stellar Tune Up Cafe, home of the former Cafe Pasqual chef (another must-try for breakfast and coffee).
Santa Fe is a 400-year old town of adobe architecture and stark, clear blue skies. You know why the artists came to paint. I visit the Indian Market, where Native American artists congregate to showcase their pottery, jewelry, art and wares. Palace of the Governors houses handmade Native American jewelry, woven items, and souvenirs, as does the Shiprock. The Monks Corner carries a selection of local, handmade soaps, folk pieces, and incense. For books and postcards, Collected Works is a real treat.
I graze the stellar local book selection (with a bargain bin to boot) at Garcia Street Books. Serious art and photography collectors already know to visit Photo Eye. Of course Canyon Road has art. But the Railyard District feels newly charged with its edgy, contemporary galleries. It's a nice place to explore after the Saturday farmers market.
A number of museums offer respite on Art Hill. I love the Museum of International Folk Art and the trading post in the basement of the Wheelwright Museum for a thorough sampling of native art and wares.
For a splurge: Geronimo, which serves up large portions of elk, scallops, lobster, and tuna. The bar menu at Compound is elegant and sophisticated, yet easy. Coyote Cafe serves up miles of thick, freshly cut corn chips with creamy avocado tomatillo lime, pico de gallo, and something called Fire-Roasted Cantina. Outside seating is the perfect place to rest and sip a Lava Lamp, an effervescent mixture of frozen margarita and bold beer. It is very refreshing.
El Farol is an old mainstay where locals and tourists cohabitate. I like a margarita at La Fonda's Bell Tower while watching the sun turn a purple-orange hue before slipping away. On a perfect night I have tickets to the opera, and tailgate with the Sangre de Christo and Jemez Mountain ranges in the background.
WHERE TO STAY
If you are planning to spend a week or more, think about renting from Casas de Santa Fe vacation dealers, which use Frette linens and Molton Brown products at their properties. Inn of the Anasazi is a perennial hotel favorite, while the Inn of the Governors and Hotel St. Francis are very fairly priced. The Four Seasons recently took over Rancho Enctando with sweeping mountain views.
HOW TO GET THERE
The Albuquerque International Airport (ABQ) is about 60 miles from Santa Fe (1-25 North). The Santa Fe Municipal Airport (SAF) is open to private aircraft and American Eagle, which offers two nonstop daily flights between Dallas and Santa Fe and one nonstop daily flight between Los Angeles and Santa Fe. Sandia Shuttle Express can get you to and from the airport and Santa Fe. The rail is also an option. But you'll want your own wheels for your first joy ride.