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Santa Fe is New Mexico’s capital, but it remains a small city of 75,000 residents, a city determined to preserve its ancient character (the chief zoning board rule: adobe, sí, high-rises, no). An easily strollable town, Santa Fe retains a laid-back vibe that echoes its bohemian history as an artists’ refuge; the city is justifiably proud of its extensive heritage of culture, music, literature, and of course, cuisine.
WHERE TO STAY
Bishop’s Lodge Ranch was New Mexico’s first resort (it was once the private retreat of the Pulitzer family), and it remains a top spot for horseback riding, hiking, tennis, swimming, and getting pampered at the spa. Ten Thousand Waves is a unique Japanese-style spa with both private and communal baths; it also features a handful of elegantly appointed suites for overnight guests. The Inn of the Five Graces is a luxurious boutique hotel, sumptuously decorated with exotic Asian touches (kilim rugs, mosaic tile) and located near the Plaza, the historic heart of Santa Fe.
WHERE TO EAT
Red and green chile and sopaipillas are as common in Santa Fe as adobe, and some of the best of both chiles and sopaipillas are at Santa Fe mainstay Tomasita’s, where locals and tourists alike brave long waits for these Southwestern staples. The Coyote Café, which launched the nationwide trend for upscale Southwestern food in the ‘90s, is still going strong. Café Pasqual’s, named for the patron saint of New Mexican kitchens, offers eclectic Southwestern fare (huevos motuleños, made with fried eggs, blue corn tortillas, and sautéed bananas, are a breakfast favorite) and makes its own bread and ice cream.
Of course, many great Santa Fe restaurants have nary a chile pepper in sight. Aqua Santa is known for its “Slow Food” cuisine (literally slow, in the case of its renowned braised-all-day lamb entrée); it’s also a place where you might spot local celebs like Val Kilmer. Chocolate Maven, which claims to have the best brownies on earth, is also a popular lunch spot. Trattoria Nostrani, with a frequently changing menu of northern Italian dishes, has been cited in Gourmet magazine as one of America’s 50 best restaurants. (Don’t wear cologne or perfume, though; they have a strict no-scent policy.) And El Farol, one of Santa Fe’s oldest restaurants and favorite bars, pays homage to the city’s colonial heritage with a menu of Spanish tapas.
WHAT TO DO
The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum houses paintings by the celebrated artist whose work came to define the desert landscapes of New Mexico. Many of Santa Fe’s renowned galleries are concentrated along Canyon Road. If you want to buy Native American crafts made by area artisans, the best quality items are sold at the huge open-air bazaar at the 400-year-old Palace of the Governors, on the Plaza.
The world-class Santa Fe Opera’s current season runs through Aug. 29 and includes the world premiere of Paul Moravec and Terry Teachout’s noir opera The Letter.
The Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival will feature nearly 80 concerts by local and international performers between now and Aug. 24.
Visit Bandelier National Monument, an hour outside the city, and tour cave homes built up to a thousand years ago by Pueblo Indians. Santa Fe Mountain Adventures offers programs from fly-fishing and whitewater-rafting excursions to Southwestern cooking classes and GPS treasure hunts for kids.