This is a guest post by Susan Guillory of The Unexplorer.

New Mexico can be another world. Its wide-open expanse, adobe buildings, and sand that stretches to noble mountains are awe-inspiring. Santa Fe is just one of the state’s amazing towns, and a fun one at that. I recently attended a conference, The Gathering of the Creatives, at the historic Eldorado Hotel. While the conference itself was a travel-worthy event, I managed a few sightseeing adventures in my free time.

What to See in Santa Fe

meow wolf

I’ll dive into the traditional sights in a minute, but I have to start with an attraction that is so zany and creative, I find it hard to explain. It’s called Meow Wolf. It’s not a museum per se…its website calls it an “immersive experiences company,” and I think that’s a pretty apt explanation.

Meow Wolf started because many artists felt like outsiders to the Santa Fe art scene. They created an artists’ collective and convinced George R.R. Martin, author of the Game of Thrones books, to buy an old bowling alley that they turned into a creative wonderland.

You enter the exhibit, which is set up like a boring, ordinary house…but there are secret passages to other worlds that are filled with bright colors, interactive features, lights, musical mammoth bones, spaceships…it’s pretty unbelievable. There are other locations and more coming soon. I’m already ready to explore it again!

Once you’ve gotten your fill of creative zaniness, head to Santa Fe Plaza, which is the epicenter of its Old Town. A few blocks off of the plaza, you’ll find Loretto Chapel, the smaller sister to the Cathedral Basilica, which sits on the plaza. Loretto is interesting because of its story: when it was completed in 1878, there was no way to access the choir loft. Carpenters couldn’t find a solution that didn’t eat up too much space in the church. So the nuns prayed. And lo and behold, one day, a mysterious carpenter arrived and agreed that he could help them. He built a curved staircase using only wooden pegs (no nails) and disappeared without accepting payment. Experts today still can’t figure out how he did it.

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loretto chapel

And if you want to get out of town for a bit, take a drive to the Sangre de Christo Mountains just behind Old Town. The view on the drive was breathtaking. I wish I’d had time to go for a hike, but I did stop for a bit to sit on a bench and take in the view.

sangre de christo mountains

What to Eat

I adore Mexican food, so I always enjoy eating in New Mexico. The Mexican food here is different from what I get in San Diego, primarily because of the prevalence of the hatch chili pepper. They come on practically everything, and you can order red (aged) or green. Or like me, order “Christmas” and get both on your tamales, enchilada, burritos, tacos…you name it.

You can get a great down-home Mexican meal that won’t break the bank at Tia Sophia’s.

I dipped into Rowley Farmhouse Ales after visiting Meow Wolf because it was nearby. I was happy to see some of my favorite stouts on the menu, and the creative country menu was stupendous!

rowley farmhouse ales

Santa Fe is also known for its drinkable chocolate. Thicker than American hot chocolate, it usually has interesting additions like chili powder or lavender. Kakawa Chocolate House, just outside Old Town, is a fun stop. I guarantee you’ll also pick up some of their delectable truffles or chili chocolates while you’re there!

chocolate in santa fe

For more upscale dining and great wine, try Hervé Wine BarI went with a group, and we shared bites like lavender goat cheese spread, flatbreads, and a cheese and charcuterie board. They have an extensive selection of great wines, as well as flights.

Where to Stay in Santa Fe

santa fe statue

I was on a budget for the conference, so I stayed at the Quality Inn, a 10-minute drive outside of Old Town.  There are plenty of affordable hotels in Santa Fe. I selected this hotel because it was clean and safe, and the price was right.

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If you can afford to splurge, stay in Old Town. Prices are pretty high though! I would have loved to stay at Eldorado Hotel & Spa, where the conference was held. It’s a gorgeously appointed hotel on the edge of Old Town. If you’re lucky, you’ll be there when there’s a wedding going on so you can peep at the guests! When I was at the conference, there was an Indian wedding reception, and all the women were gorgeous in their saris.

Right on the plaza is La Fonda Innwhich sits on the site of the very first inn in town back in 1607.

My stay in Santa Fe was short but sweet. I even managed a quick jaunt up to Taos for an hour! Next time, I’ll be sure to build in more days to play around my conference.