Santa Fe - Hipsters and Good Food

Trip Start Apr 30, 2010
Trip End Sep 05, 2010

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Flag of United States  , New Mexico
Monday, May 10, 2010

We got up and headed to Santa Fe in the morning. We were curious to see what this city would bring. The woman at the hot springs yesterday had mentioned that "Santa Fe had changed" and the Rough Guide to the USA echoes her sentiments – that locals lament the loss of the way things used to be. Santa Fe has only about 70,000 residents, but hosts close to half a million tourists a year, so I guess it's easy to understand how the locals could feel inundated and overwhelmed.

The drive to Santa Fe was stunning – again, the variety of landscape and geology we saw in just hours of driving is incredible. The scenery took on a drier feel and soon the sky stretched huge and endless before us. Flat topped mountains rose on the horizon, with jagged canyons carved between. The landscape is so radically different from home that it is difficult to describe without a better knowledge of geology and geography – I imagine it would be like tropical visitors trying to describe Montreal in January when seeing it for the first time. Matt was excited when we first saw at least one familiar sight: snow-capped mountains in the distance.

The Guide also mentioned the “depressing urban sprawl” on the city’s outskirts and how its hipness has become “overblown”. We were definitely struck with the too-cool-for-school vibe and the downside of Santa Fe’s chic epidemic as soon as we crossed into the city vicinity.

We wanted a coffee and needed to do an email check and search for a few Santa Fe sites, so as we neared the city we watched for a coffee shop where we could do both. As promised, several ugly malls flank the city’s outer reaches. We saw a Starbucks and, for the sake of speed and convenience, grudgingly stopped in. It was hip – really hip. A handful of try-hard artsy types lingered at the counter, ordering 10-syllable Starbucks beverages and working really hard at looking aloof and eccentric.

Man, I sound harsh, but I guess the whole scene was like hitting a wall after unassuming Las Vegas and the striking drive that followed. Anyhow, it should be noted that Starbucks was also the first time anywhere we had to pay for wireless (boo!) even the tiniest of towns we have passed through have had accessible wi-fi.

Well enough complaining, it was 15 minutes of slight annoyance, and in the end it was a bit entertaining anyhow. Santa Fe itself is really cool. I can see how it must get overwhelming in high tourist season because it’s just not that big a place, yet every street is densely packed with trendy restaurants and wine bars, art galleries, fashionable souvenir shops.

This city is probably the most unique, in terms of appearance and architecture, that we have seen so far. Over the years, New Mexico has been settled by the Native Americans, Spanish, Mexicans and Yankees. The influence of each group is palpable, and you can still sense authenticity shining through the commercialized stuff. Everything is low and terra cotta coloured – the Rough Guide actually mocks Santa Fe’s “rigorous  insistence that every building should look like a 17th century Spanish colonial palace” – but to our Canadian eyes the unusual colours and shapes made for an appealing cityscape. (On that note, we were also told, by a guy at the hot springs, that New Mexico is the only state that actually reads “USA” on the license plate to remind you that you’re still in the country).

We actually happened to land into Santa Fe on one of the two days a week that most museums are closed (Sundays and Mondays – be warned if you visit!) which was unfortunate because quite a few the galleries and museums of Santa Fe are world renowned. I would have liked to have visited the Museum of Fine Arts or the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Next time.

So, since we didn’t want to browse the many touristy knick knack shops and couldn’t go to any museums, we decided to aim for the other aspect of Santa Fe that seems to consistently receive high praise: its food. We decided to try the Casa Sena, since we heard it has a nice terrace – or courtyard I should say. The courtyard was indeed lush and lovely, filled with blossoming flowers and trees, sprinkling fountains and chirpy birds.

Initially, we felt bit of the Santa Fe pretentiousness we were sort of expecting, but hoping not to find. Several waitresses clearly saw us but somehow didn’t seem to find their way over to our table – even though there were only a couple of other guests dining. Finally, a friendly waitress did come see us and we perused the tempting menu. We ordered beautiful meals and a glass of New Mexico white – which was met with quite a stir as our Quebec ID bewildered the waitress and manager alike. Once it was sorted though, the staff was so apologetic they knocked 25% of our meal. Thanks Casa Sena! We’ll recommend you on our blog (just don’t say you know us if you go there….).

We also dropped into Casa Sena’s on-site wine shop. We wanted to pick up a bottle so we could have a glass to dress up one of our campsite meals, a little treat since so far our Coleman stove meals haven’t been too stunning, given our limited time and access to decent groceries. After some of our encounters in this town, I was worried that we would be stared down and right out of the store. I was pleasantly surprised (maybe shocked) when the quirky shop clerk lit up at my request for a “good camping wine”. She dashed to a nearby shelf, and grabbed a box (yes, box – 1 litre, not the big party ones) of 2007 Yellow & Blue Malbec. She enthusiastically explained that Yellow & Blue (as in makes Green) organic winery that uses eco-friendly packaging to lessen its carbon footprint, which incidentally is perfect for camping since it’s unbreakable and if you don’t finish it, just squeeze the air out and re-cap it. She got even more excited when she found out we were Canadian as she is currently in the midst of a Kids in the Hall addiction, watching old episodes online daily. I guess you never know what to expect in Santa Fe!

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