The City Different is an apt nickname for Santa Fe. This Southwestern gem stands out, and not just because of its distinctive Pueblo Revival architecture and hundreds of art galleries. Santa Fe also fully embraces its heritage and the blend of cultures that shaped it into the city it is today.
Things to do and see in Santa Fe
Art is everywhere in Santa Fe, in museums, galleries and public spaces. Creativity is on full display in the Railyard Arts District, the New Mexico Museum of Art, the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, the House of Eternal Return and the half-mile stretch of Canyon Road that is home to more than 100 art galleries and boutiques.
The city's artistry also extends to music. The renowned Santa Fe Opera performs at the Crosby Theater, a state-of-the-art, open-air structure with mountain views. The 2024 season will run from June 28 through August 26, kicking off with new productions of "La Traviata" and "Don Giovanni," followed by the world premiere of "The Righteous" by Gregory Spears and Tracy K. Smith. Backstage tours are available most mornings during the summer, and later in the day, prelude talks are given to ticket holders who would like a "road map" for the evening's performance.
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The Santa Fe Plaza is the original city center and still a hub for community events and annual festivities like the Santa Fe Indian Market, a showcase of more than 1,000 artists from over 200 tribes. Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in the United States, and there are many historic buildings to explore, from The Palace of the Governors to the Loretto Chapel.
All four seasons are distinct in Santa Fe, and while there are around 320 days of sunshine every year, there's also snow in the winter and thunderstorms in the summer. Visitors can easily bop around town by bike during mild weather, and many hotels offer guests complimentary use of cruisers. More adventurous travelers who come in the summer can try river rafting on the Rio Grande or Rio Chama, and hikers of all skill levels can hit the trails in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Come winter, it's time for skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Santa Fe is at an elevation of 7,199 feet, so it's important to get acclimated before diving into outdoor activities.
Where to eat
Of course, Southwestern flavors abound in Santa Fe, but all kinds of global cuisines can be found in the city. One thing is universal: Chiles are a way of life here, with red and green peppers incorporated into most menus. If you can handle the heat, try enchiladas with a chile sauce or a burger topped with diced chiles. Those who want red and green chile at the same time just have to order the "Christmas" version of a dish for the best of both worlds.
Sazón offers contemporary and traditional Mexican flavors, courtesy of its chef, Fernando Olea. In 2022, Olea was named Best Chef of the Southwest by the James Beard Awards, and his finest work is on display in the nine-course degustación menu, which changes with the seasons. He's known for putting his own spin on chiles en nogada as well as for his signature soup, Sopa de Amor. For the latter, blue lump crab, poblano cream and amaretto foam come together for what Condé Nast Traveler called a "sweet, savory and spicy" treat.
The Shed is a Santa Fe staple, known for its red chile blue corn enchiladas served alongside posole and beans. This historic eatery (it opened in 1953) also offers several hot and cold soups, including the intriguing raspberry soup made with sour cream, rosé and lime. The Shed is one of the stops on the Santa Fe Margarita Trail, so save room.
Mix things up at Jambo Cafe, an African-Caribbean hot spot. These flavors hit, from the jerk chicken wings to the Banana Leaf Wrapped Island Spice Mahi Mahi. Jambo Cafe's chef and owner Ahmed Obo started cooking on Lamu, an island off the coast of Kenya, and he pays homage to his roots with the Lamu Coconut Pili Pili Shrimp. Guy Fieri visited the café twice for the Food Network's "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives," and said if the Caribbean Goat Stew was "the only dish you sold, I'd come back every week."
Elevate your sweet tooth at the Kakawa Chocolate House, an impressive establishment that sells chocolate elixirs and confections like red chile caramels and chile dark chocolate bars. The handmade elixirs are more than just drinking chocolates — they're also a history lesson, with the different varieties based on recipes from pre-Colombian America and Europe in the 16th and 18th centuries.
Where to stay
The Inn of the Turquoise Bear is an intimate Spanish Revival-style property with just nine rooms, named in honor of former guests like Edna St. Vincent Millay and Willa Cather. There's a reason why the adobe inn has such an impressive roster of early fans: The property dates back to 1886 and was once owned by poet and essayist Witter Bynner. The rooms are spacious and comfortable, with wood-burning fireplaces that can be used during the colder months. A gourmet breakfast is served in the morning, and more treats are set out in the afternoon. Make a plate and enjoy them outside on one of the patios.
In a city known for art, the Inn of The Five Graces fits right in. This bold 24-room hotel is a feast for the eyes, with its hand-laid tile mosaics, luxe tapestries and hand-blown glass chandeliers. For the ultimate splurge, book the three-bedroom, three-bath Luminaria Villa, complete with a lapis inlaid ceiling, ornate tile work and chef's kitchen with hand-carved cabinetry. Each reservation includes breakfast, an in-room mini-bar with snacks and non-alcoholic beverages, yoga and guided meditation classes and walking tours of the city. Make sure to leave some room in your schedule for a restorative massage or facial treatment at the inn's Tibetan-inspired Spa of The Five Graces.
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