Checking In and Checking Out

Live Like a Saint at This Historic (and Historically Affordable) Santa Fe Hotel

by Berit Baugher
Hotel A guest room at Hotel St. Francis. Photo courtesy of Hotel St. Francis.

Fathom editor Berit Baugher checked into Hotel St. Francis, a historic Santa Fe inn with a saintly aesthetic.

SANTA FE, New Mexico - My trip to Santa Fe feels like a hazy but pleasant dream that I'd love to repeat. The small city — a town, really — is one of those rare vacation gems that has successfully avoided turning into the Disney World version of its former self. Sure, it can feel a little touristy at times, but with the right hotel and travel agenda you can have an authentic experience that leaves you wanting to return again and again. I visited in late April, just as the flowers were starting to bloom, and checked into Hotel St. Francis, the city's historic inn a few blocks from the main plaza.

CHECKING IN

Overview

Named for Santa Fe's patron saint, the hotel is the oldest in the city and was the unofficial meeting place for politicians in the 1920s and 1930s. Considered one of the grandest (and prudish!) spots in town, guests of the opposite sex were required to show a marriage license before checking into the same room. After a period of decline, the hotel was purchased by a new owner in 2008 and renovated in a simple and elegant Southwestern style.

What's on Site

The main draws are the hotel's history, prime location, and affordability. The decor is inspired by the simple style of St. Francis Assisi. There's a beautiful lobby with a high ceiling and plenty of seating, an outdoor porch with chairs for afternoon lounging, two restaurants, free and reliable WiFi, and a small gym.

There are tons of fascinating features on site, but the best thing about staying at the hotel is having access to Inger Boudouris, a member and former president of Les Clefs d'Or — the prestigious concierge organization that inspired The Society of the Crossed Keys in Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel. She has been the hotel concierge since 1987 and knows just about everything there is to know about Santa Fe.

Hotel St. Francis Lobby - Santa Fe, New Mexico

The hotel lobby. Photo courtesy of Hotel St. Francis.

Hotel St. Francis Hallway - Santa Fe, New Mexico

Design inspired by the hotel's namesake. Photo courtesy of Hotel St. Francis.

Secreto Lounge - Santa Fe, New Mexico

Secreto Lounge. Photo courtesy of Hotel St. Francis.

The Food

The contemporary American restaurant, Tabla de Los Santos, was closed during my visit, but I'd love to go back and eat lunch in the charming outdoor courtyard.

Secreto Lounge, a cozy bar and restaurant connected to the hotel lobby, serves small bites (I can vouch for the steak taquitos) from the same chef as Tabla de Los Santos. Known for their garden-to-glass cocktails, mixologist Chris Milligan has created a really delicious signature drink. The Spicy Secreto is made with Cabana Cachaca and St. Germain elderflower liqueur, fresh cucumber, jalapeno, lime juice, cane syrup, and red chile salt.

In the Room

The 80 guestrooms are simple and sparse, but comfortable and clean. It's the way I imagine a saint with good taste and a nice budget might live — complete with a flat screen television, white Frette linens, and en suite bathroom. Handcrafted wood furniture and small details like iron lanterns and punched tin lightswitch covers give the room a bit of traditional Santa Fe charm.

This Place Is Perfect for ...

Those looking for a comfortable and affordable home base in downtown Santa Fe.

But Not So Perfect For ...

Those looking for a luxurious hotel or the amenities you would ordinarily find at a larger resort.

Cafe Pasqual's - Santa Fe, New Mexico

Huevos rancheros at Cafe Pasqual's. Photo by Berit Baugher.

Shiprock Santa Fe - New Mexico

Navajo rugs at Shiprock Santa Fe. Photo by Berit Baugher.

Modern General - Santa Fe, New Mexico

Tea at Modern General. Photo by Berit Baugher.

CHECKING OUT

Santa Fe is the type of city that you could spend a few days or a whole week exploring. Here are my highlights:

For traditional Southwestern cuisine, I loved Café Pasqual's and still think about the huevos rancheros I had on my last day. If, like me, you can't choose between red or green chile sauce, order yours Christmas-style for a taste of both. Modern General was my go-to for breakfast. The farmhouse-inspired cafe serves tea from beautiful yellow porcelain sets made by Japanese brand Kinto. They also make a really good breakfast sandwich that changes daily and serve fresh-pressed juices. For a more formal dinner, Eloisa was a highlight. I loved the beautiful presentation and modern take on Northern New Mexican cuisine.

There are a few standard Santa Fe souvenirs, like cow skulls and smudge sticks, that you will see over and over. For something a little more original and authentic head to Shiprock Santa Fe. The buyers have excellent taste, but it will cost you. I still think about their room filled with vintage Navajo rugs and wish I had picked up a piece of antique turquoise jewelry. Todos Santos is a funky little chocolate shop with folk art and the Santa Fe Farmers Market is a good spot for less expensive finds like fresh ground chili powders and lotion bars from Love + Leche.

Before my trip, everyone I spoke to told me to visit Ten Thousand Waves Spa. I'm so glad I listened. The Japanese-style hot spring and resort is a ten-minute drive from downtown but feels a world away. Canyon Road is a traditional stop for most visitors and I loved every minute of the afternoon I spent wandering through the shops and galleries along the historic road. You won't get far with out hearing or seeing something related to artist Georgia O'Keeffe. Experience her paintings up close at her namesake museum or spend a day at Ghost Ranch. The ranch was closed during my visit, but I opted to make the drive out to O'Keeffe Country anyway. Seeing the famous landscape up close was by far my favorite part of the trip.


PLAN YOUR TRIP

How to Get There

Santa Fe Municipal Airport (SAF) is the closest airport and a twenty-minute drive from the hotel. Daily commercial flights are offered from Dallas through American Airlines and from Denver through United Airlines.

Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ) is a little over an hour drive and has a larger selection of incoming flights from various airlines. Sandia Shuttle Express runs 30 daily trips from the airport to Hotel St. Francis and many other locations in Santa Fe.

Getting Around

Downtown Santa Fe is easy to navigate by foot, but there are so many great things to see and do outside the immediate city center. I recommend renting a car for at least a portion of your trip. Enterprise at La Fonda on the Plaza is a quick five-minute walk from Hotel St. Francis and a good option if you don't want to book a car for your entire stay.

Good to Know

On my visit, cell phone service through AT&T was notably spotty and there were many instances where I didn't get service. Check in with the hotel front desk if you're planning on leaving downtown. They can provide you with printed walking and driving directions in case you lose access to your online navigation system.

Credit card readers were another surprising challenge. Carry a supply of cash on your visit. When the weather is less than stellar they tend to go down.

FIND IT

Hotel St. Francis
210 Don Gaspar Ave.
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501
+1-505-983-5700


BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE

What's New in Santa Fe, The Oldest Capital in the USA
Following Georgia O'Keeffe's Footsteps
The Dog Digs the Spa