The Best 10 'Tourist
of "New Mexico's Best"
There's nothing intrinsically wrong
with a "tourist trap." In some cases such notoriety is justified,
but sometimes not. Based on the author's informal and unscientific
survey of Santa Fe residents and visitors, conducted from 1988
to the present, the 10 best (and worst) tourist traps in The City
Different include, in no particular order:
1) Native American
art vendors under the Palace of the Governors portal on the
Plaza-both the Indians and the artwork are genuine. The sellers
are friendly, the quality is high, the prices are fair.
2) Santa Fe
Opera-A setting so spectacular and productions so lavish that
even people who hate opera love it. The July-August repertoire
is wide-ranging, from popular classics to world premieres.
3) Santa Fe
Chamber Music Festival-The musicians are first-class, the
program is diverse, and the setting-a few steps from the Plaza-is
burning of Zozobra (the first time)-Probably the biggest
community-wide pagan ritual in the United States, but be prepared
for a boisterous crowd. It happens the first Thursday after Labor
Day, and is part of the commemoration of the Spanish reconquest
of Santa Fe from the native Indians in 1692.
Eve farolitos, luminaries and caroling. Snow on the
ground (sometimes), pinon smoke in the air, flickering firelight
on the adobe walls, and goodwill in the hearts of singing pedestrians.
For a few dark hours in December, it feels as if heaven has come
to Earth and peace will prevail.
6) The Museum
of New Mexico-The state of New Mexico maintains four separate,
well-curated facilities in Santa Fe, each with its own character
and charm, and each worthy of an extended visit. Buy a discount
ticket and see them all.
7) St. Francis
Cathedral and Cristo Rey Church-This is a Roman Catholic city-its
name means "Holy Faith"-and religious traditions are still strong.
For a glimpse of the beauty of these, take a quiet walk through
Santa Fe's biggest churches. Better yet, attend a Sunday Mass.
8) Canyon Road
Art Walk-On Friday and Saturday nights, particularly during
warm months, the city's galleries open their doors and invite
the public to experience any and all forms of visual art from
paintings to photographs, from ceramics to sculpture. It's all
free-including the refreshments.
notice them everywhere during summer and fall: full of hollyhocks,
columbines, lilacs and cosmos. While you're on the Canyon Road
Art Walk, linger for a soothing moment at the carefully tended,
multiblossomed El Zaguan, dominated by two enormous horse
chestnut trees and open daily, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
10) Restaurants-There are more than
200 to choose from, including some of the finest and most celebrated
in the United States. Don't be afraid to splurge. After all, you're
1) The Plaza
during summer-It's crowded with people. It's encircled by
noisy, smelly cars. There's no restroom. It's full of tourists,
not locals. Come back during the other nine months, when you'll
at least find a place to sit down.
burning of Zozobra (after the first time)-When you're
surrounded by 10,000 people, too many of them drunk and disorderly,
you wonder why you didn't stay home, order a pizza, and watch
it on cable TV.
3) The "oldest"
house-Age is relative and claims are dubious. When this house
was being built, hundreds of Native Americans in other parts of
New Mexico were living in houses where their descendant live today.
4) The "oldest"
church-Another case of relativity. San Miguel Mission
has been around for a long time, but there are contenders for
this title in every corner of the world-and other parts of the
5) New Mexico
State Capitol Building-You can take a tour of "the Roundhouse"
and watch the Legislature if you'd like-it convenes only during
January, February and sometimes March. But other than the unusual
architecture and some interesting public art, there's not much
6) Loretto Chapel-It's
small, authentic and pretty, but not a must-see unless there's
a concert-in which case you should definitely attend. The
so-called "miraculous staircase" is no miracle, although the story
7) Indian Market-Take
a relatively small, quiet town of 65,000 people. Add 100,000 tourists
and hundreds of Native American art vendors. Stir well, block
off the traffic, and place in a hot sun to bake. Need we say more?
8) Coyote- and
Kokopelli-themed art-Who can explain fashion? The howling
coyote and humpbacked flute player (Kokopelli), once wonderful,
evocative Southwestern images, have been trivialized beyond restoration.
Do the planet a favor: Don't buy any.
of coyotes, the Coyote Café is a place no self-respecting
coyote would be caught dead. The food is pretty good-although
it's often spiked with too much chile-but the noise level is deafening
and the prices astronomical. And there are several other overrated
dining destinations. Ask around before making those "big splurge"
10) La Fonda's lobby-This is the
famous "inn at the end of the Santa Fe Trail." For decades the
world walked through its front door. But the world and Santa Fe
have changed. You'll detect a faint echo of what once was, but
the characters and conversations that once made La Fonda's lobby
special will never return.
Richard Mahler is author of "New
Mexico's Best" and several other books. A journalist and photographer
as well, he specializes in travel writing, among other subjects.
He has contributed to National Public Radio since 1973 and to
the Los Angeles Times since 1979. He has written thousands
of articles for more than 100 magazines and newspapers, including
The New Mexican, New Mexico magazine, and Santa Fean
magazine. A longtime resident of New Mexico, he lives in Santa
For a full listing of Richard Mahler's
books, and to place orders for them, visit Amazon.com.
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