By Kristin Finan
Amanda Tucker was seven years old when she visited Santa Fe for the first time. During a family vacation, she found her senses overwhelmed by sounds, smells, and sights that sharply contrasted with those of her hometown in Houston. “The landscape was really intoxicating, with the mesas and deserts and mountains,” Tucker said, adding that Santa Fe was also the first place she ever saw jackrabbits. “As a kid, this was like a wonderland.”
That trip kicked off a lifelong love affair with Santa Fe. During one particularly memorable visit with her mom when she was a teenager, Tucker stayed at the Silver Saddle Motel, a folksy place just off old Route 66. “It was the first time I’d been to a drive-up motel,” Tucker said. “It really stuck with me how different the experience was compared to the hotels I’d stayed at with my parents, the big chains. I loved the fact that you could set up shop outside your room in the beautiful weather and see this microcosm of people.”
After an eighteen-month renovation, Tucker and Goldberg reopened the Silver Saddle last summer as the Mystic Santa Fe, a stylish and upscale boutique motel featuring 24 beautifully appointed guest rooms, a cafe, a bar, and a 13,000-square-foot garden and wedding venue. Tucker is particularly proud of the motel’s food and beverage menu, which includes items inspired by her Texas roots: banana pudding, margaritas, and waffles served with her grandma’s signature syrup. Also important: Southern hospitality. “We’ve been very focused on where we come from and what we enjoy when we’re traveling,” Tucker said. “We put that into practice in our establishment.” She and Goldberg try to attend each wedding that takes place on the property. Their goal is for each guest to enjoy a tailored, personal experience. “At the end of the day, when people want more boutique stays, it isn’t just about the place, but it’s also about how they’re treated. They don’t want the big hotel experience where you’re just another room number.”
The Mystic Santa Fe is not the only getaway in Santa Fe with Texas ties. In 2016, Austinite Jeff Burns and his Brooklyn-based business partner, Matt Comfort, took ownership of El Rey Court, an 86-room hotel on Route 66 with a modern Southwestern aesthetic. Described as “a reimagined adobe roadside motor court,” the renovated property serves as a respite for travelers seeking a laid-back atmosphere, with offerings that range from live music and pop-up markets to a stylish pool and a tequila- and mezcal-centric patio bar.
Bishop’s Lodge, an Auberge Resorts Collection property that opened in 2021, was designed by Dallas-based architect Nunzio Marc DeSantis, with chef Dean Fearing, who also hails from North Texas, developing the menu for the resort’s signature restaurant, SkyFire. Visit for the holidays and you can try the seasonal prix fixe menus, which include such treats as a gingerbread trifle, served on Christmas Day, and a sparkling wine mousse, on New Year’s Eve.
Should you prefer a meditative vibe over an extravagant one, make your way to Ten Thousand Waves, one of Santa Fe’s most popular spa destinations and a local institution for 43 years. Inspired by Japanese mountain hot spring resorts, the twenty-acre spa and inn offers services that include private hot tub suites, each complete with a hot tub, a sauna, a changing room, and showers; a signature Japanese shiatsu massage; and a Japanese organic massage facial, which includes a customized serum and masque.
EAT + DRINK
The Santa Fe–Texas connection is also apparent in the town’s food scene. Chef Nathan Mayes grew up between Austin and Santa Fe and worked at restaurants in both cities, as well as in New York City, before opening Paloma Santa Fe with owner Marja Martin, who is from Dallas, in 2017. The restaurant nixtamalizes corn for its tortillas and serves Mexican-inspired dishes that are just slightly different than the Tex-Mex you’re likely used to from home. Reviewers have praised the masa cakes and short-rib barbacoa with nopales.
You ought to eat at least one meal at the Shed, a tourist favorite located just off the famous Santa Fe Plaza. The seventy-year-old restaurant, which serves classic New Mexican fare, has an inviting patio draped with twinkling lights. Try the standout tamales, the spicy green-chile stew, the flavorful huevos rancheros, and the tangy prickly pear margaritas.
If you’re seeking atmosphere, Coyote Cantina—a casual rooftop patio restaurant located atop its sister, the beloved Coyote Cafe—is the perfect spot for a late lunch or a happy hour with friends. Enjoy stunning views of the city as well as complimentary blankets on those chilly fall and winter evenings. Menu favorites include Mama Schutz’ Frito Pie, griddled corn cakes with jumbo prawns, and the green-chile cheeseburger (served with chile-dusted fries, naturally).
Speaking of green-chile cheeseburgers—a local favorite dish with an obsessive following akin to that of Austin’s breakfast tacos—you’d be remiss to try only one during your visit. An excellent version can be found at Shake Foundation, which proudly proclaims that it is “dedicated to the preservation of the original green-chile cheeseburger” (and also proudly butters every bun). You can also find delectable versions at Blake’s LOTABURGER and Jambo Bobcat Bite.
For breakfast and lunch, Counter Culture is a laid-back, dog-friendly joint with a patio that’s perfect for lingering in the crisp, sunny weather that Santa Fe is famous for. Menu options include a smothered burrito stuffed with egg, jack cheese, potato, and onion and smothered with red or green chile; a house-made meatball grinder with provolone and Parmesan cheeses and tomato sauce on a hoagie roll; and beer-battered salmon tacos with salsa fresca and chipotle crema on corn tortillas with black beans.
SEE + DO
To step inside Meow Wolf is to lose yourself in a psychedelic experience while staying entirely sober. An immersive installation that first opened in Santa Fe in 2008, it showcases the creativity of local artists while drawing visitors into a mind-bending mystery. Inside Meow Wolf’s “House of Eternal Return,” you can wander a peculiar family home that spans seventy rooms, with surprises around every corner (think a forest of trees with neon branches, and a room where you can climb inside a giant monster’s mouth.) Owning to the popularity of the Santa Fe spot, Meow Wolf locations have since opened in Denver, Las Vegas, and Grapevine, in North Texas, where “The Real Unreal” opened as the fourth permanent Meow Wolf earlier this year.
Continue your exploration of art in its many forms at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, which features carefully curated galleries that showcase every era of O’Keeffe’s celebrated career (including her brief but memorable years as a schoolteacher and budding artist in the Texas Panhandle). Visitors will also view fascinating artifacts and learn personal details about the “mother of American modernism,” who got her start in New York City but became so enamored with New Mexico that she made a permanent move there in 1949. If you have more time, drive out to the O’Keeffe Home & Studio, 52 miles north of Santa Fe in Abiquiú, where you can take a 75-minute guided tour of O’Keeffe’s historic home and garden. While you’re there, be sure to also check out the 21,000-acre Ghost Ranch, which offers hiking, trail rides, workshops, retreats, and lodging amid a backdrop of the layered, rocky cliff vistas that O’Keeffe adored so fervently.
No visit to Santa Fe would be complete without an afternoon of meandering along Canyon Road, a half-mile stretch that’s home to more than one hundred galleries, boutiques, and restaurants. You can peruse some of the best fine art in the United States here. Plan out your route before you visit, though, as some galleries are closed on Sundays and Mondays.
If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, don’t miss the opportunity to see New Mexico from the water with Santa Fe Rafting Co., which offers half- and full-day trips along the Rio Grande. Traveling with kids? I recommend the half-day Rio Grande Racecourse excursion, a three-hour, rapid-filled adventure that includes breathtaking views, potential otter sightings, and a wholesome snack. (Hiking and skiing opportunities abound too; AllTrails is a good place to find hikes of varying lengths and ability levels.)
When my family and I went to Santa Fe last August, we ended our visit at the Loretto Chapel, a stunning little sanctuary that’s home to the Miraculous Staircase, an architectural marvel that includes three mysteries: the identity of its builder, the type of wood used, and the physics behind how it was constructed. According to lore, when the church was finished in 1878, the sisters of the chapel realized there was no way to get to the choir loft, which was 22 feet above them. Perhaps they could have a staircase built? Multiple carpenters passed on the job, finding it too difficult, so—according to lore—the sisters made a novena to Saint Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. On the last day of prayer, a man appeared with a toolbox, looking for work. Months later, the spiral staircase he constructed was completed and the carpenter vanished before the nuns could pay or thank him. Marveling at the staircase, which seemed to be almost suspended in air, proved the perfect ending to another mystical, restorative trip to Santa Fe.