(Courtesy of Santa Fe Opera)

A Modern Guide to Santa Fe: An Arts Town Fueled by Tequila, Chiles & Native Culture

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Santa Fe had us at "Margarita Trail," but The City Different doesn't just run on tequila.

It brings the heat with its chile-infused Southwestern cooking, boasts one the most vibrant art scenes in the country, and remains deeply connected to its Native American roots. Not to mention it is damn photogenic.


Arts + Culture

What was once a beer warehouse has been renovated and expanded by Shop Architects to house the contemporary art space Site.

(Courtesy of Site Santa Fe)

If Santa Fe were to be defined as one thing, it would be an arts town. With more than 250 galleries and 17 major museums, you could spend days diving into the art scene alone. Many of the galleries open their doors for art walks on certain Friday evenings of the month, so check their websites before you go.

There's no art exhibit quite like Meow Wolf's House of Eternal Return (1352 Rufina Circle), a family-friendly, yet David Lynch-esque immersive experience. With 72 different rooms to discover, you'll find yourself climbing and crawling through tight spaces—and time—as you collect clues and attempt to save a young boy. It's basically a trippy, over-complicated escape room (with lots of neon) that you will never solve, but in the end, there's a bar! // Head to the tranquil and iconic Canyon Road (Paseo de Peralta to Palace Ave.), a half-mile stretch of pavement lined with 100 galleries, studios, shops, and sculpture gardens, toting everything from paintings and pottery to jewelry and antiques. Lyman Whitaker's wind sculptures are fantastically hypnotizing. // Once a key railroad interchange at the turn of the 19th century, the new and buzzing Railyard District (between Montezuma Av. and Cerrillos Rd.) is now a contemporary arts hub. It's home to the futuristic-looking Site, an innovative, visual arts museum; weekly farmers' and artists markets; and a collection of galleries, shops, and theaters including the Jean Cocteau Cinema. // If you're short on time and going to pick just one museum, make it the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum (217 Johnson St.), host to the largest collection of her work (3,000 pieces). You'll gain insight into O'Keeffe's creative process and embark on her lifelong journey from flowers to skyscrapers to the New Mexican landscape that she called home for many years.

Eat & Drink: The Chile Capitol of the U.S.

(Courtesy of Geronimo)

There are a few Santa Fe staples that you must seek out on your New Mexican visit. Look for these dishes on the local menus: corn pancakes, frito pie, green chili cheeseburgers, and your salsa served Christmas-style (red and green chiles combined).

Ask anyone where to eat in Santa Fe and they'll tell you Cafe Pasqual's (121 Don Gaspar). This small, colorful cafe covered with hand-painted Mexican tiles and murals oozes local flare. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, there's often a line (they seat just 50), but it's nothing you haven't seen in the Bay Area. The green chile cheese bison burger is next-level and the corn pancakes are literally life changing. // From the outside, Geronimo (724 Canyon Rd.) is totally unassuming, but inside the cozy, yet elegant 1756 adobe home, a table at Santa Fe's most talked-about fine dining establishment awaits. The hospitality is world-class and executive chef Sllin Cruz gives classic American dishes the fiery Santa Fe treatment. Case in point: the green chili mac & cheese and Mesquite grilled Maine lobster tails. // You're guaranteed a killer and authentic New Mexican meal at family-run La Choza (905 Alarid St.). Their award-winning chili is featured in just about every dish, from enchiladas to clam chowder (don't knock it 'til you try it), and they've got 20 margarita variations to choose from. La Choza's sister restaurant, The Shed (113 ½ E. Palace Avenue), is a Santa Fe landmark that has been serving their famous red chili enchiladas since 1953. // El Parasol (1833 Cerrillos Rd.) is where the locals flock after an especially boozy night. These cheap and crispy greaseball tacos are a Santa Fe tradition—and just what the doctor ordered when tequila gets the best of you.

Speaking of tequila, Santa Fe was allegedly the first place in the world to import the spirit from Mexico, so the town has laid claim to an actual Margarita Trail. There are 31 margaritas along the trail—all made with 100 percent agave tequila—like Anasazi Restaurant & Bar's (113 Washington Ave.) Sandia y Pepino, made with watermelon and cucumber purée and served with a chili lime salt rim. Download the app ($3.99 and it comes with recipes) to get $1 off each margarita, plus win prizes when you sip a certain amount (five margs gets you a T-shirt). // If tequila isn't your friend, Second Street Brewery (1814 Second St.), the city's first brewery, makes more than 60 handcrafted beers, ranging from kolsch to pale ale to a series of bitters. That may sound overwhelming, but the expert staff members are all cicerone certified (it's like being a sommelier of beer) and can lead you to the perfect pint. Or, you can simply choose based on best name. We like the sound of Red & Yellow Armadillo.

Play: Hikes, History, Festivals + More

The city's main hub of activity is found within the historic Santa Fe Plaza. You'll spend a good part of your trip here, strolling the narrow, colonnaded streets lined with adobe architecture and exploring the local shops and markets, restaurants, art, and nightlife.

Even non-opera fans can appreciate the magnificence and uniqueness of the Santa Fe Opera (301 Opera Drive), hosted al fresco in the high desert, surrounded by 360-degree mountain views. The opera season runs from the end of June through August, and features both classical performances and more contemporary "new operas," like last year's The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs. // Check out the "miraculous staircase" at the historic Loretta Chapel (207 Old Santa Fe Trail). The church's spiral staircase has garnered international attention for being mysteriously built—legend has it by St. Joseph, the Patron Saint of Carpenters himself—with two complete 360 degree spirals and without any support or nails. // Take in the beauty of the high desert landscape on a hike at Nambé Lake Recreation Area (15A NP 102 W.), just 25 miles west of the city's center. The main draw here is the gushing Nambé Falls, one of the best waterfalls in the southwest accessible by two short trails. Make sure you pack lots of water; at 7,000 ft. above sea level, the altitude here is no joke. // Santa Fe is known for throwing a myriad of cultural festivals throughout the year, especially during the summer months. Consider planning your trip around one of them, like the 300-year-old Fiestas de Santa Fe, a 10-day celebration held August 31-September 9, 2018, or the Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta, taking place September 26-30, 2018.

Stay: Stylish Adobes

(Courtesy of the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado)

Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado

Immerse yourself in a peaceful, mountain retreat at the the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado, where you'll cozy up in one of 65 spacious, Southwest-inspired casitas complete with wood-burning fireplaces, private patios, and deep-soaking tubs. Start your morning with a one-hour guided hike right from the property, or book an excursion—like hiking, mountain biking, or a Native American cultural tour—at the Adventure Center. Then relax with a spa treatment inspired by the native culture. The Mountain Spirit Purification includes a traditional smudging ceremony, an adobe clay body mask, and a juniper-sage hot stone massage. Catch one of the iconic Santa Fe sunsets from the heated pool or hot tub, or from the terrace at Terra, the resort's fine dining restaurant. Downtown Santa Fe is roughly 10 miles away, and one of New Mexico's smallest pueblos, Tesuque Pueblo, is just down the street. Grab breakfast from the Tesuque Village Market on your way into town; the Holey Toast is made of green chile cheese bread topped with roasted bell peppers and fried eggs. // 198 NM-592 (Santa Fe), fourseasons.com/santafe

La Fonda on the Plaza

Sleep amongst the action at La Fonda on the Plaza, situated—as its name suggests—right on Santa Fe's historic plaza and, allegedly, the oldest hotel corner in America. The current adobe-style structure was built in the 1920s and combines authentic New Mexican craftsmanship with the grandeur of the Gatsby era and modern amenities. The hotel offers three dining experiences and an al-fresco Bell Tower Bar, which some of the best views and margaritas in all of Santa Fe. While the atmosphere at La Fonda is constantly abuzz, you can escape for some R&R at the spa; the Chakra Balancing Ritual utilizes gemstones and aromatherapy to align your body's energy during your massage. // 100 E. San Francisco St. (Santa Fe), lafondasantafe.com

Hotel Chimayó

Located just a block off the plaza, Hotel Chimayó is a celebration of the northern New Mexico town Chimayó. The 17th-century Spanish village remains steeped in New Mexico's artistic and spiritual traditions today, plus it's home to the coveted Chimayó pepper. The hotel and its 56 rooms are decorated and furnished with handcrafted pieces of art from more than 70 Chimayó artisans, including traditional elements such as woven tapestries, hand-carved wooden crosses, and bancos seating. Get a feel for the city with a free guided Santa Fe Historic Walking Tour, which leaves the hotel lobby on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Dine at the on-site restaurant Estavan, the only in Santa Fe to serve Chimayó chiles, and finish your meal with goat's milk flan for dessert. Then grab a nightcap at the Low n' Slow Lowrider Bar. Inspired by New Mexico's classic car culture, the bar is decked out in themed decor—think, diamond-tuck upholstered seats and tables made of chain-link steering wheels—and the cocktails are named after actual restored cars throughout the state's history. // 125 Washington Ave. (Santa Fe), hotelchimayo.com

Day Trips

Bandelier National Monument

A quick 45-minute drive from Santa Fe, Bandelier National Monument (15 Entrance Rd., Los Alamos) features 70 miles of hiking trails throughout its 33,000 acres, but the main attraction is the 1.2-mile Main Loop Trail, where you can climb ladders into ancient cave dwellings that were carved into sides of the Frijoles Canyon thousands of years ago. If you're not afraid of heights, you'll want to extend the trail an extra mile (round trip) to the Alcove House, a 25-person home of ancestral pueblo people that can only be reached after climbing 140 ft. up four wooden ladders. You'll likely be thirsty, so on your way home, stop in at Don Quixote Distillery & Winery (18057 U.S. 84, Jaconita), which is led by Olha, the only female master distiller in the country. She and her team handcraft bourbon and vodka using New Mexico blue corn. Lastly, take a short detour to the White Rock Overlook (Overlook Rd., White Rock) for spectacular views of the Rio Grande Gorge and a waterfall.

Taos

Seventy miles from Santa Fe, Taos is a popular ski destination in the winter and a Native American cultural mecca year-round. The Taos Pueblo (120 Veterans Hwy, Taos) is a World Heritage Site and the 1,000-year-old, multi-story adobe buildings are still inhabited today. If you're lucky, you'll catch one of the feasts and dances the locals host throughout the year. Continue your history tour at the San Francisco de Asis Church (60 St. Francis Plaza, Taos). Built in the early 1800s, it's been depicted in the work of legendary artists Ansel Adams and Georgia O'Keeffe. Stroll through the Historic Taos Plaza, which like Santa Fe's, is full of shops and galleries. Don't leave without a pit stop at the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge on Hwy 64. Set 650 feet above the Rio Grande, it's the second-highest bridge on the U.S. Highway System. And if you have time, you should most definitely embark on a llama trek.

Albuquerque

It's only an hour from Santa Fe and chances are you'll fly in and out of ABQ anyway (the Santa Fe airport is tiny and has limited routes). You probably need more than a day to discover New Mexico's largest city, but if you book a later flight, you can spend a few hours exploring Albuquerque's Old Town and shopping for turquoise before heading home.

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