If you come to Santa Fe, be prepared to have the city change you.
Inspiration is everywhere, beginning with the warm perpetual sunset hues of adobe that has been used in its architecture since Native American tribes settled in New Mexico centuries ago. The versatility of its signature ingredient, the chile, means the city’s more than 250 restaurants have found ways to incorporate it into every meal. As the oldest U.S. capital and a gateway to the West, its history tells an entirely different American story from the colonial Northeast. Yet the city feels thoroughly cosmopolitan, while remaining connected to nature.
Life is just better in Santa Fe. Whether you’re an art lover, a foodie or an outdoor enthusiast, there’s something in this city to inspire you.
New Mexico is the first state with an official question: “Red or green?” Sooner or later, everyone must pick a favorite chile.
Start your day off right at Tia Sophia’s, whose founder lays claim to inventing the breakfast burrito, rolling up potatoes with chile and bacon. (Eggs were omitted because they were not considered flavorful enough by comparison.) It began as a meeting place for city officials, but its hearty, generous breakfasts have made it a favorite with locals — and the odd celebrity as the state’s film industry has grown.
Experience the full potential of the chile in one dish with Il Piatto’s Pan Roasted Chiles appetizer, with three different peppers in their own preparations (and don’t miss the warm bean salad.) The farm-to-table restaurant puts a New Mexican twist on its Italian heritage.
Head to Cowgirl BBQ for the regional Frito Pie “delicacy” or, better yet, the Green Chile Cheeseburger, which blends beef, buffalo and bacon on a pretzel bun, with brie cheese and chopped chiles.
And because no city can claim foodie status without a thriving craft beer scene, Santa Fe alone boasts six breweries. The prevalent Monks’ Ale by Abbey Beverage Company is crisp like mountain air. Fans of liquor will be well-served by relative newcomer Santa Fe Spirits, which distills several varieties that can be enjoyed at a downtown tasting room.
Do it: To try your hand at regional cuisine in a small group class with chef Mika at the Santa Fe School of Cooking, which began nearly three decades ago as a mother-daughter operation. The menu’s “elegant simplicity” philosophy comes from Georgia O’Keeffe, who lived to be 98 years old, so pay attention.
For those ready to become restaurant-grade, don an apron for Santa Fe Culinary Academy’s yearlong professional program, which was created with the input of the city’s established chefs and restaurateurs. Sample students’ work during the new lunch service at the academy’s onsite restaurant.
Where to stay:The Eldorado Hotel & Spa exudes masculine elegance in the heart of downtown. Don’t miss the dry-aged steak at The Old House restaurant — or its green chile breakfast waffle.
Art & Culture
Santa Fe has drawn artists for decades with its quality of light, the tranquility of its foothill shelter, and the sense of history and connectedness to nature preserved by its architecture. The most notable of these is the painter Georgia O’Keeffe, who commands an entire museum to herself (though her also notable husband Alfred Stieglitz, credited with elevating photography from gimmick to art, gets his own section.) In addition to painting workshops, the museum offers classes in poetry writing, family art and even a hydrology expert discussing the lakes that inspired O’Keeffe.
Even the statehouse does double duty as a gallery, thanks to the nonprofit Capitol Arts Foundation. All public spaces feature rotating exhibits in all media by local artists.
Prefer your art wearable? Head to the Plaza, the city’s main square, where pueblo Indian crafters selling every kind of handmade treasure line the sidewalks. Also find locally designed fine jewelry using unusual stones at Mati Jewelers. For pottery, there’s no more reputable shop featuring local artisans, many of them women, than Andrea Fisher Fine Pottery. Or wind through the preserved hacienda-style shop to pick up a quirky folk art piece at The Rainbowman.
A Unesco Creative City, Santa Fe holds more than 40 festivals annually (including a wine and chile event in September). With summer comes opera season, and before each performance attendees have taken to combining two unlikely, but great tastes: The scenic parking lot (how often do you hear that?) of the open-air Santa Fe Opera turns into a giant white-tablecloth tailgate picnic. Come in costume on opening night!
For year-round fun, the New Mexico History Museum is a thoroughly modernized tour of the American West through interactive exhibits: Hold your hand over handprints around the museum to trigger an audio story told by a Native American. (There’s also a display about Jewish cowboys nearly dubbed “Shalom on the Range.”) A notable upcoming exhibit opening June 28, “Painting the Divine,” features colonial-era art rescued from Central American churches that were being destroyed or modernized, largely depicting Old World saints redressed and depicted in the New World.
Do it: Shape your own piece of Santa Fe at Green River Pottery, where owner Theo Helmstadter leads small classes using locally sourced materials. Warning, Demi Moore made it look easy in “Ghost” but throwing clay takes effort and patience; leaving with an object worth keeping is an accomplishment.
Where to stay:La Posada bills itself “Santa Fe’s art hotel,” displaying (and selling) local and national artists’ work as well as offering easy access to Canyon Road and its half-mile of nearly 100 galleries. After a long day of art appreciation, enjoy dinner at the hotel’s four-diamond Fuego restaurant or a chocolate-chile wrap at its in-house spa.
It might surprise you to know that this sunny city as a substantial ski season, with several resorts open as late as April. But warm weather will come again, and when it does there’s no better way to take in Santa Fe’s scenic beauty than the 50-mile Turquoise Trail drive through the Ortiz Mountains.
Ride the Wave of Bliss spa treatment to relaxation at Ten Thousand Waves in the mountains just 10 minutes out of town. The zen aesthetic is right out of a Japanese bath house, including communal as well a private pools.
At the newly opened Santa Fe Botanical Garden, a fruit orchard and cactus garden get their own spaces among the showcase of plant species suited to the state’s dry climate. A bike trail and planned outdoor classroom add new ways to enjoy the region’s unique landscape.
Where to stay: Sleep among the mountains you’ll be hiking at secluded Bishop’s Lodge Ranch Resort & Spa. Just step outside your luxurious lodge-style room for morning yoga and pilates classes, then explore the Sangre de Cristo Mountains on horseback.