Travel

Your Weekend Guide to Artsy, Mystical Santa Fe

Nicknamed "The "City Different," pinon-scented Santa Fe is charmingly weird and endlessly authentic.

Visit Santa Fe, New Mexico
Visit Santa Fe, New Mexico
Visit Santa Fe, New Mexico

You’ll know you’ve reached Sante Fe when the smell of piñon pine wafts off the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and the vast New Mexico desert starts to shrink into warm, rounded adobe buildings. With its famous architecture, green chile-singed cuisine, Native American traditions, twinkling turquoise treasures, and art mecca status, Santa Fe is truly like a drink of water after so much sand.

The nicknamed “City Different” has its Native American community to thank for its distinct look. The sun-dried earth and straw homes of the Tanoan peoples proved ingenious, enduring, and hugely influential to the city today. The low-slung architecture – characterized by flat roofs, rounded walls, corner fireplaces, and covered porches – is so integral to Santa Fe’s aesthetic that city law mandates any new construction in historic districts adhere to the style.

This is one of the country’s greatest art cities, with a concentration of galleries and museums second to none. The city is a magnet for road trippers, hikers, and creators alike. One could easily spend a lifetime exploring its many facets, but even a quick weekend trip will prove there really is something exceptional about The City Different.

Visit Santa Fe, New Mexico
Visit Santa Fe, New Mexico
Visit Santa Fe, New Mexico

Feel the artistic call of the desert

For a city with fewer than 90,000 people, Santa Fe’s art galleries per capita is astounding. The Museum of International Folk Art offers the largest collection of handmade folk art on earth, from glasswork to pandemic-inspired face mask creations. On the ancestral Tewa Land that is present-day Museum Hill, other stalwarts include the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, and the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture.

The classic Georgia O’Keeffe Museum contains nine galleries and 700 drawings from the woman nicknamed the “Mother of American Modernism.” Her abstract nature paintings and sweeping desert landscapes are clear love letters to the region that came to define her career.On the modern side, SITE Santa Fe is a striking contemporary art space that’s hosted nearly a dozen international biennials since 1995, when it was the only biennial in the US. The non-profit organization curates international and local artists, including repurposed adobe artwork from New Mexico-based Joanne Keane and hand-painted maps scented with tree resins by Colombian artist Oswaldo Maciá.

Then there’s Meow Wolf, a labyrinthine art space that almost single-handedly coined the phrase “immersive art experience” when the collective launched House of Eternal Return in 2016. Backed in part by Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin, the interactive installation feels part haunted house, part art gallery, part extraterrestrial mystery, and part selfie wonderland. It’s outfitted with luminous, explorable oddities like neon forests, trippy living rooms, and dryers that turn into slides.

Visit Santa Fe, New Mexico
Visit Santa Fe, New Mexico
Visit Santa Fe, New Mexico

Stock up on turquoise and cowboy boots

Turquoise, cowboy boots, paintings, and food are just a few Santa Fe staples dominating the city’s dynamic shopping sector.

It’s only fitting that one of Santa Fe’s most prolific authors would open his own bookstore. Beastly Books is a passion project for Game of Thrones‘ George R. R. Martin, who stocked his shelves with plenty of Thrones-esque reads, including signed copies of his works, merchandise, and memorabilia.

Just off the plaza, Back at the Ranch is a go-to for hand-crafted cowboy boots in vibrant colours, funky patterns, and high-quality leather. Peruse hundreds of pairs in the shop, including boots decorated with song birds and Dia de Los Muertos imagery.

Around the corner, satisfy your taste for turquoise at Wind River Trading Company, the largest Native American jewelry store in town. The shop biographically lists out the craftsmen who make the goods, so you know who you’re supporting. They carry minerals, chunky bracelets, pendants, bolo ties, and money clips.

If your idea of shopping is more culinary, the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market hosts more than 150 local farmers sling wool, goat milk, preserves, produce, organic meat, and herbs. It’s held on Saturdays year round in the Railyard, and on Tuesdays May through November.

Visit Santa Fe, New Mexico
Visit Santa Fe, New Mexico
Visit Santa Fe, New Mexico

Satisfy your green chili cravings

Santa Fe is renowned for its farm-fresh restaurants, tequila-soaked watering holes, and bakeries wafting with aromas of blue corn and chilies.

Unless you straight-up move there, it’s hard to put a dent in your Santa Fe food bucket list, but a few standouts include brisket breakfast burritos from Betterday Coffee, green chile cheeseburgers from Shake Foundation, cheesy enchiladas from old-school Tia Sophia’s, blue corn doughnuts from Whoo’s Donuts, and al pastor tacos from the casual Coyote Cantina rooftop. For pastries, Dolina Cafe & Bakery offers New Mexican and Eastern European flavours, from crumbly Mexican wedding cookies and apple-walnut strudel to makos dios, a Hungarian cake made from ground poppy seeds, walnuts, and raspberries.

For more on where to eat and drink in Santa Fe, check out our full dining guide here.

Visit Santa Fe, New Mexico
Visit Santa Fe, New Mexico
Visit Santa Fe, New Mexico

Walk up desert mountains

Nestled in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and surrounded by 1.5 million acres of Santa Fe National Forest, opportunities for outdoor recreation abound. You can ski or snowboard at Ski Santa Fe, or hike up Atalaya Mountain in the warmer months – bring a snack or two, because the trek is quite vertical (but the panorama is worth it).

A quick drive northwest of Santa Fe, Bandelier National Monument is a popular national park for ancestral Puebloan history and hiking. The park contains 30,000-plus acres of mesmerizing mountainous landscape, canyons, and ancient dwellings crafted by Southwestern Puebloan tribes pre-1600. Frijoles Canyon is a prime place to follow indigenous peoples footsteps, seen through petroglyphs, rocky abodes, and ceremonial pits called kivas.

Back in the city, the Santa Fe River Trail follows the mostly-dry creek from Canyon Road through downtown and a few miles southwest. In the summer months, periodic pools provide an oasis for overheated hikers to dip their toes.

El Rey Court
El Rey Court
El Rey Court

Where to stay in Santa Fe

El Rey Court, a few miles southwest of downtown, is the perfect example of old Santa Fe meets…slightly less old Santa Fe. The adobe motel was constructed in 1936, and while original fixtures like exposed-beam ceilings and corner fireplaces remain, it’s been gussied up with mural-clad rooms, gardens, a swimming pool, and a chic cocktail lounge, La Reina, for mezcal-centric sips.

It’s all about location (and panoramic rooftop views) at La Fonda on the Plaza, a 180-room lodge half a block from Santa Fe Plaza. Originally built in 1922, this is another art-filled haven furnished with handmade furniture and hand-carved headboards. La Fonda offers chocolate tours and exclusive Pendleton jackets, and hosts Bell Tower Bar on the fifth floor, where you can drink in a margarita while drinking in the sunset views.

Feeling extra? The city’s newest hotel, Bishop’s Lodge, is luxury like the city has never seen, sprawled across 317 tranquil acres abutting Santa Fe National Forest. The massive adobe-style property feels like its own bougie town, complete with private casitas, a locally sourced restaurant called SkyFire, and a resident “art therapist” who leads meditations culminating in DIY art projects.

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Matt Kirouac is a travel writer with a passion for national parks, Disney, and food. He’s the co-founder and co-host of Hello Ranger, a national parks community blog, podcast, and app. Follow him on IG @matt_kirouac.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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