Artists and adventurers, snowbirds, shoppers, and spiritualists—they are all drawn to mystical Santa Fe, a high-desert town of about 85,000 in northern New Mexico. They’re magnetized by the impossibly blue skies and bathtub-warm temps, the rust-colored adobe facades and chili ristras hung from door jambs. Santa Fe has a place for so many types of travelers: families, girlfriends on a getaway, anniversary celebrants, remote workers, retirees, soul searchers. It’s so many things to so many people, it’s no wonder generations of seekers have flocked here. The City Different lives up to its name.
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Getting to and around Santa Fe
The Santa Fe Regional Airport fields nonstop flights from Phoenix, Denver, and Dallas, but many travelers fly into Albuquerque International Sunport and drive an hour north to Santa Fe. Renting a car is helpful if you plan to go horseback riding at Georgia O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch in Abiquiú or soak in the mineral springs at Ojo Caliente, but downtown Santa Fe is fabulously walkable. Some hotels loan bicycles to guests; others run shuttles to the historic Plaza or Railyard Arts District. The city publishes a detailed map of bikeways and trails and you can rent wheels from downtown bike shop Mellow Velo. Uber and Lyft also operate in Santa Fe—and can be a godsend during festivals.
What to do in Santa Fe
There are many boxes first-time visitors to Santa Fe will want to check: walking along Canyon Road, one of the country’s densest concentrations of galleries and artist’s studios; browsing traditional pottery and turquoise jewelry from the Native American vendors set up outside the Palace of the Governors; and ogling the helix-spiraled Miraculous Staircase at the 143-year-old Loretto Chapel.
By all means, make the rounds at the excellent Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and New Mexico Museum of Art. Just don’t overlook SITE Santa Fe, an edgy contemporary art space housed in a former beer warehouse; IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, the only museum in the country focused exclusively on work by living Native American artists; and the Museum of International Folk Art, housing 130,000-odd objects from 100 countries—Indonesian shadow puppets and New Mexican retablos among them.
Another arty gambol: Slide down the rabbit hole that is the House of Eternal Return, a mind-bendingly immersive installation created by the Meow Wolf art collective and backed by Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin. The psychedelic playground reopened in March after a yearlong COVID-19 closure; new installations and artist collaborations have been integrated into the original exhibition, which sprawls across 70 rooms in a converted bowling alley. When you first enter the dreamscape, the set resembles a rambling Victorian mansion. But pass through the front door and you start to notice that things are a bit off. The kitchen fridge is a portal to a freaky underworld; panels beneath the stairs lead to secret tunnels. Depending on what door or path you choose, you might encounter a life-sized mastodon skeleton glowing under blacklights or a 30-foot harp with laser beams for strings. It’s wacky-good fun.
When you’ve had your art fill, hit the shops. The museum-like Shiprock Santa Fe showcases extraordinary Native American artwork, handwoven rugs and baskets, detailed beadwork, and hand-thrown pottery—all of the finest pedigree and with prices to match. Heritage By Hand, a new boutique on Sena Plaza, specializes in sustainable goods and heritage textiles. It’s a great spot to pick up Alpaca shawls from Chile or cactus “leather” totes from Mexico’s Desserto. As the name suggests, everything at Hecho A Mano gallery is made by hand: jasper bolo ties from Alison Jean Cole, limited-edition linocuts by Sergio Sánchez Santamaría, and minimalist ceramic dishes from the potter cooperative Colectivo 1050°. Santa Fe Stoneworks, housed in a century-old adobo ranch house, is a purveyor of beautiful, artisan-made lockbacks and kitchen knives inlaid with turquoise, malachite, and petrified dinosaur bone. For a stellar array of vintage boots, hand-tooled leather bags, and Nudie Cohn-inspired Westernwear, do-si-do over to Kowboyz, a store started in Los Angeles more than 30 years ago that remains a go-to for Hollywood costumers. (Pieces from the store have appeared in Brokeback Mountain and No Country For Old Men.)
Two by-appointment-only showrooms worth seeking out are Photo-eye, a bookstore focused on rare photography tomes from the likes of Daido Moriyama and Barbara Bosworth, and Santa Fe Vintage, an industrial park warehouse crammed floor to ceiling with 1940s military gear, well-worn biker jackets, bohemian Gunne Sax gowns, denim, and oodles of Americana curios. It’s one of the best collections of vintage clothing anywhere in the United States and should not be missed.
What to eat in Santa Fe
To experience the bounty of ingredients at a chef’s disposal in this corner of the Southwest, swing by the thrice-weekly Santa Fe Farmers’ Market, where booths are mounded high with glossy cherries, dried pinto beans, piñon nuts, wild honey, and heirloom chiles. Travelers wanting to learn about local foodways can sign up for a class at the respected Santa Fe School of Cooking. The three-hour introduction to Native American cuisine, led by Kiowa chef and indigenous foods historian Lois Ellen Frank, covers everything from blue corn gnocchi arrowheads to sweet fry bread with prickly pear syrup.
For brunch, Modern General Feed and Seed, with its arched windows and canary yellow flourishes, is cheerfully hip enough to check all the Instagram boxes but also delivers with its fresh-pressed juices and creative brunch specials (purple acai teff cakes, roasted red pepper flapjacks with Scottish lox). The global menu at Opuntia Cafe, newly relocated to an airy second-story space in the Railyard’s Market Station, offers heartier dishes, including Singaporean noodle bowls and Moroccan lamb sandwiches. Grab an indoor booth near the plant-enveloped koi pond or outside on the sunny patio.
Zacatlán, also in the Railyard District, is one of the hottest tickets in town. The Southwestern/Mexican restaurant was founded by Chef Eduardo Rodriguez, who rose through the fine dining ranks at Geronimo and Coyote Cafe. His dishes are playful but sophisticated: Think lamb shank barbacoa or bone marrow and sweet corn esquites served on hatch green chile toast.
Green chiles, of course, are a Santa Fe staple. Try the arm-length green chile cheese dosa at South Indian eatery Paper Dosa; the green chili cheeseburger, chased with an Adobe mud shake, at Shake Foundation; and the green chile apple fritter from Whoo’s Donuts. Or, for a different kind of heat, slurp up a bowl of unctuous Caribbean goat stew at Jambo Café, a beloved African restaurant founded by a Kenyan immigrant.
Sate a sweet tooth at Kakawa Chocolate House, known for its selection of traditional Mesoamerican drinking chocolates, and Chainé, a bakery that charms with ristra-frosted French macarons in flavors like biscochito, the official state cookie of New Mexico.
Where to stay in Santa Fe
For pure prestige, the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi (from $485 per night) is an obvious choice: The 30-year-old inn occupies prime real estate just a block from Santa Fe’s historic Plaza and the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, where you can admire the oldest Madonna statue in North America. Rooms feature beamed viga ceilings, kiva fireplaces, and antique Navajo rugs, while attentive concierges cater to guests’ every whim, arranging tequila tastings and securing primo tickets to shows at Santa Fe’s open-air opera house.
For a more intimate experience, lock in a room at Inn of the Turquoise Bear (from $269 per night), a 135-year-old adobe estate with manicured grounds dotted with lilacs and wild roses. Once upon a time, this Spanish Revival-style villa was a retreat for Willa Cather and Georgia O’Keeffe; today its rooms beckon travelers with luxurious linens and floors made of polished brick or Saltillo tile. The varied breakfasts (huevos rancheros, blue corn pancakes with piñon butter) are a daily highlight—best enjoyed on the B&B’s shaded flagstone patio.
Also worth a mention: Auberge Resorts Collection will unveil its restoration of the storied Bishop’s Lodge (from $812 per night), bordering Santa Fe National Forest, this spring. Located 3.5 miles from downtown, the secluded spot will have standalone casitas, a 12-bedroom bunkhouse, horse stables, a trout stream, and a healing arts studio where guests can rebalance their chakras with turquoise gem therapy or partake in a candlelit crystal sound bath.
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