The Southwest’s best destination for art lovers also serves up New Mexico sunshine and mouthwatering chocolate.
You hear a lot of talk about the light in Santa Fe. The honeyed halo around the big shoulders of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains drew such legendary artists as Georgia O’Keeffe and D.H. Lawrence to the area when it was still a lonely outpost, far from the culture capitals. Nearly a century later, contemporary art world stars still come to bake and bask—and be creative—in that high-desert sun.
Santa Fe sells more art than almost any U.S. city except New York, which it trails in potential paintbrush-wielding inhabitants by a cool 8 million. That fun fact can be traced directly to Canyon Road, its own little land of enchantment, where visitors can see a half-mile of art on a single stroll. One mile, if you work both sides of the street.
It wasn’t so much for its artistic properties that painters sought Santa Fe’s light. Along with a squadron of other consumptive cultural elites, they flocked to the nearby Sunmount Sanitarium, where Easterners suffering from tuberculosis went to be cured—literally and figuratively—by the high-desert sun. Even after they got better, most simply never went back. Thus the Canyon Road art colony was born—not with a bang, but a cough.
But there’s a lot to recommend in Santa Fe after dark, particularly the town’s dark chocolate, which can be found and sampled along the well-worn Chocolate Trail. Four renowned chocolatiers—many within a chile-infused truffle’s throw of Canyon Road—dot the downtown area. If you have time, or the waistline, for only a couple of stops, try Kakawa Chocolate House and Señor Murphy, which is on the west side of La Fonda on the Plaza. Take something sweet up to the hotel’s rooftop bar and watch the sun set over the historic central Plaza.
The Plaza has been a lure for visitors almost since the first tubercular poet landed, but don’t let the abundant T-shirt shops scare you away. Each day, American Indian artisans line up their wares on blankets in front of the Palace of the Governors, and often the faces you see are as striking as the handcrafted jewelry.
Just off the Plaza, you encounter a funky little street called Burro Alley and across the street to decidedly non-honky-tonk Lensic Performing Arts Center, after which you come to Holy Spirit Espresso, serving up the best cup of coffee in town.
This was my nightly route back to the Eldorado Hotel, which recently underwent a $4 million renovation and features the Nidah Spa, where massage therapists gave me a Chocolate Mole Wrap that was good enough to eat. Even if the skin treatments leave you licking your lips, save room for Santa Fe’s best one-two dining punch: lunch at Shibumi Ramenya and dinner at Nostrani, where diners are forbidden to wear perfume so they can get the full scent of northern Italian dishes such as cocoa ravioli with golden beets. Like Santa Fe itself, the perfect mixture of light and dark.
This article was first published in March 2012. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.
Request the Arizona and New Mexico TourBook and Albuquerque & Santa Fe map at AAA.com  or any AAA branch. To find a place to stay, including the Eldorado Hotel & Spa , visit AAA.com/hotels . For more information, contact the Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau: 201 W. Marcy St., (800) 777-2489, santafe.org . Area code is 505.
Holy Spirit Espresso 225 W. San Francisco St., 920-3664, holyspiritespresso.com . Kakawa Chocolate House 1050 Paseo de Peralta, 982-0388, kakawachocolates.com . La Fonda on the Plaza 100 E. San Francisco St., 982-5511, lafondasantafe.com . Nostrani Ristorante 304 Johnson St., 983-3800, trattorianostrani.com . Señor Murphy 100 E. San Francisco St., 982-0461, senormurphy.com . Shibumi Ramenya 26 Chapelle St., 428-0077, shibumiramen.com .