An Insider’s Guide to Santa Fe’s Coolest Restaurants, Shops & Galleries

Warning: you’re going to want to move there.

By Jenn Rose Smith
Alison Carroll at El Rey in Santa Fe, NM

When we predicted the hottest travel destinations of the year, Santa Fe was at the top of our list. That’s because creatives like Alison Carroll are breathing new life into this classic American destination. She and her husband recently oversaw the creative direction and renovation of the classic 1936 motorcort in, El Rey along the old Route 66 in Santa Fe. Alison is also the co-founder of Wonder Valley and owns OIL SHOP in Joshua Tree, where she lives full time. Through the massive project of renovating El Rey, she’s grown to love Santa Fe as a second home. We sat down with Alison to talk about what makes Santa Fe such a magical place (and all the great artists who’ve been drawn to it over the years.) Read on to discover her picks for the best vintage, the best art, and the best tacos in town.

photos by jay carroll for apiece apart

Alison Carroll at El Rey in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

What makes Santa Fe a great place to visit?

Alison: Santa Fe is an incredible town. It is entrenched in rich native culture around food, craft and the iconic adobe style of building. The town is big enough that there’s new things opening all the time, but small enough that you can easily become a regular at a local watering hole.

Santa Fe is beloved and the muse for so many great artists; Georgia OKeefe, Dennis Hopper, Alexander Girard, George Nakashima, Paolo Soleri and it’s not hard to see why when you spend time here.

There’s something about it that gets under your skin, the sense of community and the open skies and the chill! A place I love coming back to.

El Rey Inn in Sante Fe, NM

Tell us a little bit about the restoration and re-opening of El Rey. What inspired you about the property?

Alison: The property is a little oasis amidst the other roadside motels and strip malls along Cerrillos Road (old Route 66). When you enter the property, it overwhelms you with how large and lovely it is. The 86 rooms sit on 5 acres of native landscaping. There’s a great photo by reception of the original hotel, the 20 rooms on a dirt road with absolutely nothing around it or a tree to take shade under.

Those rooms are still my favorite, the original straw bale adobe construction intact with murals and piñon fireplaces. 

Alison Carroll at El Rey in Santa Fe, NM.

Alison: Most of our job was stripping away the decades of motel decor and honoring these great bones. We reinstated the Swim Club, which has been closed for decades, allowing locals to buy memberships to enjoy the pool.

Alison Carroll at El Rey in Santa Fe, NM.

Alison: We created La Reina, a bright white adobe bar mezcal bar with two fireplaces and ancient wisteria vines growing over the porch – it feels like a locals bar that just happens to be in the hotel lobby. We worked with local weavers, photographers and painters to breathe new life into the property.

What was the biggest challenge and love of this property is how unique each corner of it is, there are no two rooms alike in layout or design.

El Rey Inn in Santa Fe, NM

Read on for Alison’s favorite things to do in Santa Fe…

Optunia in Santa Fe, NMimage by jen judge for wall street journal

Where to Eat.

Opuntia – favorite spot for breakfast and lunch set inside a sunny greenhouse, with the best matcha latte and rice bowls and my favorite Cuban sandwich.

La Choza – a beloved locals spot for New Mexican food and strong margaritas.

El Parasol – across the street from El Rey, real deal hard shell tacos and addictive hot sauce.

Santa Fe Vintageimage by santa fe vintage

Where to Shop.

Santa Fe Vintage– vintage clothing mecca!

Shiprock Gallery in Santa Fe, NMimage by gear patrol

Galleries and Museums.

Shiprock – a gallery on the plaza with the most overwhelming collectives of Native American art, textiles, and jewelry.

Santa Fe Folk Art Museum – the classic museum of international folk art

Ten Thousand Waves in Santa Fe, New Mexicoimage by ten thousand waves

Immersive Experiences.

Ten Thousand Waves – a Japanese compound set in the hills on the edge of town, the holy trinity of Japanese Izayak: sake, sauna and soaking tubs.

Meow Wolf – a far out immersive art experience that’s best seen in person.