La Fonda: A Historic Gem in Santa Fe, NM

Sofia Jones
 | February 15, 2024

Nestled in the heart of Santa Fe, New Mexico, for over a century, La Fonda on the Plaza stands as a testament to timeless elegance and authentic Southwestern charm. 

This historic luxury hotel offers an enchanting blend of old-world allure and modern amenities for weary travelers, history buffs, and VIP guests alike.

“The fonda, meaning ‘inn’ in Spanish, by any name, was the preferred place for lodging for trappers, soldiers, gold miners, gamblers, and politicians,” Santa Fe Historian Ana Pacheco explains.

For over 100 years, La Fonda on the Plaza has been more than a hotel; it’s a living piece of Santa Fe’s soul.

Let’s delve into La Fonda’s history and discover why it’s been a must-visit destination for over a century.

La Fonda’s History

La Fonda’s storied past dates back to 1922, when it was established by Abraham Staab.

“While the hotel opened in 1922, its life as the La Fonda of legend really began with the purchase of the hotel by the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, who then leased it to the famous Fred Harvey Company,” PBS explains.

In the 1870s, a British businessman named Fred Harvey founded the Harvey Company, embarking on a venture that would transform the landscape of American hospitality. 

Approaching the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway, which was then a modest player in the burgeoning railroad industry, Harvey proposed a novel concept: providing service not only aboard the trains but also at key stops along the route.

Thus, the iconic Harvey Houses were born, serving as oases of comfort and cuisine along the railroad’s path. From Laime to Las Vegas to Raton and beyond, travelers were greeted by Harvey restaurants offering respite and sustenance.

La Fonda, standing as a historic testament in Santa Fe, marked a unique departure from the traditional Harvey House model, being one of the first establishments not directly located on the railway line. This signaled a strategic shift for the Fred Harvey Company, as they sought to cater to the evolving needs of a changing clientele.

As the popularity of automobile travel grew, La Fonda became a sought-after destination for tourists venturing westward. 

“Harvey Hotels were already famous throughout the west and the Fred Harvey Company considered La Fonda to be one of the crown jewels of their collection,” PBS says.

What Makes La Fonda Special?

The hotel epitomized the luxurious yet welcoming atmosphere synonymous with Harvey Hotels across the western United States.

The hotel’s roots, however, stretch even further. The site originally housed the Santa Fe Trail’s first inn.

“Dating back to the 1600s, there had always been some type of inn where La Fonda now stands, but, under the guise of legendary architect, John Gaw Meem, La Fonda set a new standard in design and cemented the movement to make the Pueblo revival architectural style, what Santa Fe is now known for the world over,” PBS explains.

Over the years, La Fonda evolved, changed hands, and witnessed the ebb and flow of history. Each of La Fonda’s 180 guest rooms and suites is a canvas of New Mexican craftsmanship. Hand-painted headboards, handcrafted furnishings, and original artwork create an ambiance of refined luxury. La Fonda’s architecture blends Pueblo Revival and Spanish Colonial styles. Its adobe walls, wooden vigas, and colorful tiles evoke the essence of the Southwest.

La Fonda became a member of Historic Hotels of America in 1991. And, in August 2023, La Fonda was named a top 10 best historic hotels in the US by USA Today.

5 Things To Do When Visiting La Fonda

  1. Explore the Plaza: Step outside and immerse yourself in the bustling Santa Fe Plaza. Admire the historic buildings, browse art galleries, and soak in the lively atmosphere.
  2. Take an Art & History Tour: La Fonda offers complimentary tours four days a week. Learn about the hotel’s past, its famous guests, and the fascinating stories behind its walls.
  3. Relax at The Spa: Slip away from the world at The Spa at La Fonda. Indulge in sumptuous massage therapies and find tranquility amidst the adobe walls.
  4. Sip Cocktails at the Bell Tower Bar: As the sun sets, head to the rooftop Bell Tower Bar. Sip a margarita or a local craft beer while gazing at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.
  5. Stay in Luxury: Whether you choose a historic guest room, a suite, or the exclusive Terrace at La Fonda, you’ll find an enchanting blend of old-world allure and modern amenities

Featured image: Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

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