On a sun-dappled afternoon, a scenic stroll through historic Santa Fe can get downright storybook. And as you’re wending your way like an Atomic Age spy through downtown’s nooks and secret gardens, what’s better than plopping down awhile with a book? Here are a few fine perches for al fresco summer reading, with some suggestions for snack pairings.
Cathedral Park and Stations of the Cross Prayer Garden
Revel in the ample shade or throw your own at passersby; this spot’s good for people-watching if your pages don’t grab you, or if you’re a semi-performative reader who paradoxically needs others around in order to bury your nose in a book.
See if the Stations of the Cross Prayer Garden is open (typically seven days a week, 8:30 am-4 pm). The circular garden is flanked by 14 life-size bronze sculptures by Gib Singleton depicting the events leading to Jesus’ death, making it an ideal oasis to fall into Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather. The novel is not only based on the life of Archbishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy, who made the cathedral a reality, but the Prayer Garden represents the remnants of Lamy’s storied personal gardens.
Snack on: Lamy famously grew plump strawberries and cherries, so bring along some Farmers Market fruit with walnut and olive bread from B&B Bakery in Burro Alley. For something better than Communion wine and to honor Lamy’s French roots, pick up a split of Gruet Brut champagne for your private reading party.
East Alameda along the Santa Fe River
The main former site of Lamy’s gardens is now occupied by the empty St. Francis School. At that corner of Alameda and Paseo de Peralta, a large tree grows parallel to the ground, stretching behind a picnic table to the river. This spot used to be almost exclusively a sketching hangout for New Mexico School for the Arts kids, but since the art school moved, things have grown quieter.
This entire stretch of Alameda, from Paseo to Don Gaspar, makes for great summer reading and picnicking. Climb one of those flattened trees, stretch out on a picnic table or laze in the grass beside the old Ciderpress House. Stay in the Lamy lane with Paul Horgan’s -Pulitzer Prize-winning Lamy of Santa Fe, or dig into the history of the nearby Barrio de Analco by reading Nación Genízara, a far-ranging 2019 anthology of essays about mixed Indigenous identity in New Mexico.
Pair with: The wide stone tables beside the Santa Fe River are a good excuse to splurge on a gorgeous cheese and grazing plate from Picnic Catering & Events.
(545 Canyon Road) and the Olive Rush Studio (630 Canyon Road)
If you can mosey up Canyon Road and slip under the very low old entrance of the Historic Santa Fe Foundation (or El Zaguán) to snag an empty spot overlooking the garden on one of the porch’s wicker rocking chairs, you know you’ve come up in the world. Volunteers from the Santa Fe Master Gardeners Association keep the surroundings of the Historic Santa Fe Foundation lively and verdant from April through September. The peonies and horse chestnut trees may date back to the James L Johnson family’s late 19th century occupation of the house, when Johnson’s wife established her Victorian gardens.
This is a perfect place to catch up on the bohemian history of the ‘hood. Artists of the Canyons and Caminos by Edna Robertson, first published in 1976, gives an overview of local art stars like Gustave Baumann, John Sloan, Randall Davey and Marsden Hartley. An even more absorbing read is Jann Haynes Gilmore’s 2016 book Olive Rush: Finding Her Place in Santa Fe’s Art Colony. Gilmore recounts the exhilarating freedom and inspiration Santa Fe afforded Quaker painter Olive Rush (1873-1966) and several other Eastern transplants like her. And if it’s Saturday and the Quakers are meeting at Rush’s old studio, wander up the street to her own flowering backyard at 630 Canyon Road.
Bring along: A stop at Kaune’s Neighborhood Market means a plethora of sandwich, salad or prepared food options. But the genteel quality of El Zaguán’s wide, columned porch is also well suited to homemade cucumber sandwiches (add green chile) and a Mason jar of iced tea.