Since my childhood, I've loved hotels. I remember as a child running into a hotel room and opening every drawer, flopping across the bed, and checking out the bathtub. I have been fortunate to stay at many amazing hotels. Some of them stand out because of the over-the-top luxury, others because of the hospitality, others because of how they make me feel welcome. Each is different and I have some great examples of what I consider to be my best hotel stays—whether it's around the world or across the street.
One of my favorite hotel stays is at La Fonda on the Plaza in Santa Fe. La Fonda offers a lovely stay in a beautiful historic property in the heart of Santa Fe, New Mexico. I'm a huge fan of Santa Fe and La Fonda offers such a personalized visit. It definitely offers some great wow moments when you visit Santa Fe.
Why La Fonda is Special
La Fonda on the Plaza is a historic hotel. The AAA Four-Diamond hotel is a member of Historic Hotels of America. The building is on the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Historic Santa Fe Foundation's Register of Properties Worthy of Preservation. With that kind of historic background, you can feel it the moment you arrive.
La Fonda is on Santa Fe's historic plaza and sits just across from the St. Francis Cathedral Basilica. I find it especially intriguing—given my love of hotels—that historians believe there was a hotel on this very corner as early as 1607. The original inn, or fonda, was a significant stop on the Santa Fe Trail. I can only imagine the interactions that must have taken place in that old inn. The current hotel, on the site of the old inn, was built in 1922.
I am a huge fan of the old railroad hotels across North America. La Fonda was one of those hotels. In fact, the original designer of the 1922 building was Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter. Colter was rare at the time—one of the few female architects and designers. She worked for the Fred Harvey Company, a hotelier whose legacy includes many of the country's railroad hotels. Colter worked on a number of projects, including the Hopi House at Grand Canyon National Park.
I had been in the lobby of La Fonda many years ago but had never stayed there. I was excited to visit in the fall of 2019, while I was speaking at the national conference for the International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association. The hotel and its rooms received an update between 2013 and 2016. While updating it with modern amenities and touches, the renovations kept the spirit of Colter's vision.
Rooms at La Fonda on the Plaza
There are 180 rooms and suites at La Fonda. My room, Deluxe King Room, was such a lovely retreat. I spent a lot of time exploring Santa Fe during my visit, but I also made sure I had time to simply relax in my room. The King bed had a custom-painted headboard, a signature of every room in La Fonda.
The separate sitting area was so comfortable, and I propped up on the sofa in there and reflected on each day. Every room features hand-carved furniture that I found to be a work of art.
Speaking of art, the entire hotel—including the guest rooms—is filled with artwork. Throughout the spaces, you can see the work of contemporary Native American artists. If you stop by the front desk and ask, they can give you a guide to some of the artwork.
My room had a delightful bed (I looked and it was a Serta Dynasty mattress) with Egyptian cotton sheets. After a day of exploring, it was a pure delight to sink into that bed. While it feels like New Mexico with the hand-painted headboards and handcrafted furniture, it also has a flat-screen television and free high-speed WiFi, giving you every modern amenity. I did make use of the Keurig to make coffee each morning.
One of the nicest touches I discovered was the little card with a saying left on my bed during turndown each evening. The chocolate was nice, but I loved the little quotes. My favorite was: A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor's book.
If you're looking for the ultimate luxury, I suggest that you check out one of the 15 Terrace at La Fonda rooms. These rooms are on a private concierge floor. There are both rooms and suites.
The Terrace rooms and suites have a dedicated concierge staff to help with whatever you might need. Each room has a private terrace and access to the private patio with a hot tub. You'll receive a snack tray when you arrive, breakfast each morning, and a newspaper.
Dining at La Fonda
Santa Fe is filled with such great food, and I had a chance to enjoy dinner at La Fonda's signature restaurant—La Plazuela—on a previous visit to Santa Fe. On this trip, I had breakfast there each morning during my stay.
La Plazuela feels like you're dining in an outdoor courtyard at a Mexican hacienda. It's a beautiful open space with natural lighting, a gorgeous wrought-iron chandelier, and plants. Of course, as in most of the hotel, it is also filled with hand-carved furniture in beautiful colors.
La Plazuela opens for breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day. While staying at La Fonda, I sampled something different each morning. I recommend the Huevos Rancheros served with those amazing New Mexico Hatch Red or Green chile. Of course, I usually opt for “Christmas style” and get both red and green. The huevos rancheros come with black beans, pork posole, and a warm handmade tortilla.
You can also enjoy music, drinks, and bites at La Fiesta Lounge just off the lobby. La Fiesta is a great place to relax at the end of the day after exploring Santa Fe. They have a nice selection of hand-crafted cocktails, mocktails, margaritas, and tequila flights.
In great weather, I also recommend that you make your way up to the 5th floor to check out the sunset at the Bell Tower Bar.
Wow Moments in Santa Fe Near La Fonda
Santa Fe is a favorite destination for me, along with many of the Wander writers. Despite having been many times, I always find something new to discover in the historic town. I really enjoyed staying at La Fonda, because it is so close to everything.
Art in Santa Fe
One of the best things about Santa Fe is an amazing art scene. From jewelry and pottery to paintings, sculpture, and weaving, Santa Fe has everything. When Elizabeth Rose wrote about visiting Santa Fe in the spring, she highlighted some of the galleries and boutiques on Canyon Road. You can also find gorgeous jewelry as you explore Canyon Road and the Plaza area.
Santa Fe is also home throughout the year to several art festivals and markets. During the SWAIA Indian Market each August, the plaza in front of the hotel fills with booths displaying an array of arts.
There is also the Santa Fe Spanish Market, a week of art and culture held each July.
One of my favorite art stops in Santa Fe is the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. I love O'Keeffe's work and visit each time I'm in Santa Fe. It is a lovely 5-minute stroll from La Fonda. The museum opens at 10 a.m. each day and you can discover more about O'Keeffe's life while looking at her beautiful artwork. Make sure you visit the Museum Store. I picked up small prints of some of my favorite O'Keeffe paintings there years ago. The framed prints are my favorite artwork in my home.
For a quirky side of Santa Fe's art be sure to visit the House of Eternal Return at Meow Wolf. Meow Wolf “creates immersive and interactive experiences” and you'll find yourself completely immersed in weird art.
There are so many incredible museums in Santa Fe. I suggest that you purchase a New Mexico CulturePass for $30. This has sites in Alamogordo, Albuquerque, Las Cruces, and Santa Fe. Once you purchase the pass, you can use it for one visit to each museum or site within 12 months. In Santa, it includes entrance to the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, Museum of International Folk Art, New Mexico History Museum, and the New Mexico Museum of Art. If you must choose just one or two, I recommend the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture and the New Mexico Museum of Art—but they are all worth a visit.
Wining and Dining in Santa Fe
I honestly believe that Santa Fe may have some of the best food in the world. It ranges from really casual dining to luxury meals. Some of the best table-side guacamole in the world is at Gabriel's Restaurant, but it is a drive from downtown. It's about 12 miles north of La Fonda on the Plaza.
Closer to La Fonda is Geronimo. This is an amazing gem in Santa Fe, about a 5-minute drive from the hotel. You can call a rideshare if you don't have a car, or you can walk it in about 20 minutes. Writer Kurt Jacobson described his vegetarian meal at Geronimo when he was also in Santa Fe for the conference. I can also attest to the meat-side of Geronimo's menu.
During my dinner, which I shared with a friend, we started the evening with a Wagyu beef carpaccio that was over-the-top amazing. We also shared the pan-seared Hudson Valley foie gras sitting on a citrus crepe that was melt-in-the-mouth delicious. For dinner, I had the locally raised center-cut beef tenderloin and fries. It came with a selection of dipping sauces and I was thrilled with the fresh flavors.
The restaurant is so comfortable and welcoming. Do make reservations because it fills up each evening.
You can also find great libations in Santa Fe. One of my favorite features is the Santa Fe Margarita Trail. The Margarita Trail, complete with the Margarita Trail Passport, highlights 45 specialty margaritas. While I have sampled margaritas at some of the restaurants and bars in the passport, I do need to return and work my way along the margarita trail. La Fonda has three margaritas in the passport. You can sample the Tamarindo Margarita at La Fiesta Lounge, the Smokey Margarita at La Plazuela, and the Mana Margarita at Bell Tower. I also recommend the Sandia y Pepino Margarita at Anasazi Restaurant Bar & Lounge and the Smoking Bull at El Farol.
My other favorite New Mexico flavor is Gruet sparkling wines. I first discovered Gruet when I stopped by their winery and tasting room in Albuquerque almost two decades ago. Over the years, Gruet has grown, as has my love and appreciation for these Methode Champenoise sparkling wines.
During my visit to Santa Fe this time, I went with Shannon Hurst DalPozzal of Shannon D Travels to the Gruet Tasting Room in Santa Fe. We spent a lovely afternoon tasting sparkling and still wines. We chose the Daily Tasting, which is $12. There are also more focused flights for $16 each. You get four or five different tastes with each flight. We also ordered some nibbles to go with our wines and purchased one glass of the Cuvée Danielle.
The Gruet Santa Fe Tasting Room is open daily. The tasting room is a 4-minute walk from La Fonda on the Plaza.
Book a Spa Day in Santa Fe
Over the years, I have had some pretty amazing spa treatments in Santa Fe. Several years ago, I had an incredible spa treatment, but I hadn't been back since then. During this visit, my friend Shannon and I really wanted time to simply relax. We knew they offered authentic Japanese soaking tubs (I had an opportunity to experience one with several other women during my earlier visit) and decided that was exactly what we needed.
It was a cool fall day and we were almost giddy to have 90 minutes in our private Ichiban garden. The attendant ushered us into our private garden. We changed into swimsuits in our private changing area, showers.
After donning our suits, we each spent the next hour soaking in our private ceramic bath. There is also a wet/dry sauna. It was quiet and so relaxing. Our tubs were outdoors and the price is $80 per person for 90 minutes. If you prefer, there is the Ofuro with one soaking tub on a covered balcony that looks out across the valley. If you don't need the private changing room, there are other premium private tubs, which are $70 per person for 85 minutes. These vary in size and include a cold plunge.
If You Stay at La Fonda on the Plaza
I really enjoyed my stay at La Fonda on the Plaza. Santa Fe is one of those rare places that I choose to visit again and again. My husband has never visited Santa Fe, so this is definitely on our list. Santa Fe has such a welcoming environment and is easier to get to than ever.
In the past, I always flew into the Albuquerque International Sunport and either rented a car or booked a driver to take me the 65 miles to Santa Fe. However, American Airlines and United Airlines both now service Santa Fe Municipal Airport (SAF) from Dallas Fort Worth (DFW), Los Angeles (LAX), and Denver (DEN). It is a tiny airport, making it easy to get in and out quickly. Do be aware that both airlines fly small regional jets into Santa Fe. I thoroughly enjoyed my quick flight between DFW and SAF.
I had a great time picking out my 50 best hotel stays and invite you to check on new hotels as I post them throughout 2020. La Fonda on the Plaza really embraces what I love most about Santa Fe. It offers modern amenities but embraces the history and culture of New Mexico. Be sure to check out more on Wander about visiting New Mexico. No matter where your travels may take you, we also have great suggestions for more hotels.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with accommodations, meals, and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.