Which U.S. city proudly calls itself “The City Different”? It’s the second oldest city in the nation, but capital of one of the youngest states. It hosts the third largest art market in the country despite having a relatively miniscule population. It sits in a sun-soaked southwestern desert but gets cold enough for winter skiing (yes, it snows there).
Those who guessed La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asis are correct. You might also know it as Santa Fe, New Mexico. While this quaint adobe outcropping at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains has its fair share of quirkiness, its rich blend of Native American, Hispanic and Anglo cultures have combined to offer visitors a selection of food, art, music, architecture and museums unlike anywhere else in the world: more than 200 art galleries, a world-class opera, unique Northern New Mexican cuisine and an outdoor experience that’s unrivaled, no matter the season. The Financialist has compiled a list of to-dos that can’t be missed.
What to See
A couple of moments spent viewing Santa Fe’s spectacular red, orange and purple sunsets can make locals and visitors alike fall in love with the city. The natural colors and light are why Georgia O’Keeffe made Northern New Mexico her home, and they continue to inspire legions of fine artists.
And where there are artists, there are galleries. Narrow Canyon Road is lined with old adobe homes that house almost half of the city’s 200 or so galleries, featuring everything from old million-dollar masterpieces to contemporary work and Native American jewelry. Just above the entrance to the street is the enormous museum-like Gerald Peters Gallery, which showcases European and American art from the 19th century to the present. Aficionados can find American modernism at Addison Rowe Fine Art, pieces of the American West at Nedra Matteucci Galleries and 20th century American art at Aaron Payne Fine Art.
The city also boasts the third-largest network of public museums in the country. Visitors to Museum Hill will find more than 150,000 artifacts at the Museum of International Folk Art. They’ll also find the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture and the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian. On the town’s plaza, or main square, visitors can spend time with New Mexico’s most famous artist at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.
The plaza also houses the Palace of the Governors. Built by the Spanish in 1610, the country’s oldest continuously occupied public building houses a museum documenting the history of the city and state. Under the long portal outside the building, vendors stretch out blankets that offer Native American art and jewelry for sale. The August 18-24 Santa Fe Indian Market, held at different locations around the city, attracts more than 1,000 Native American artists representing over 100 tribes.
What to eat
Red or green? By far the most common uttering at Santa Fe restaurants, the question refers to the stage of ripeness patrons prefer when ordering sauce made from the state’s famous chile pepper. Try it and other highlights of New Mexican cuisine, including blue corn, a type of fried bread called sopapilla and the region’s own take on the enchilada, at sister restaurants La Choza and The Shed. The adventurous will head to Horseman’s Haven Café, which serves a Level II green chile that’s so hot many can’t survive it. For an upscale New Mexican breakfast, try Café Pasqual’s downtown. If the line runs out the door – it usually does – volunteering to sit at the community table can shave time off your wait.
There really is no competition for the city’s tastiest restaurant, a distinction long-held by The Compound. A former single-family home situated off Canyon Road, the eatery is the brainchild of well-known interior designer Alexander Girard and, more recently, James Beard award-winning chef Mark Kiffin. The establishment long ago ditched a requirement that servers wear white gloves, but the quality of The Compound’s succulent steak hasn’t changed at all. Other standouts: La Casa Sena and Geronimo, which is across the street from The Compound. If you’re ravenous after getting a massage at the mountain resort Ten Thousand Waves, stop by the spa’s Japanese-inspired restaurant Izanami.
What to hear
The majestic Santa Fe Opera sits perched atop a ridge several miles outside the city. The theatre’s splendid visual backdrop of the high desert landscape has been the setting for more than 1,600 performances of 140 different operas since 1957, with music directors such as Alan Gilbert, current director of the New York Philharmonic. This season, opera lovers can choose between Carmen, Don Pasquale and Fidelio.
The Lensic Theatre, a Spanish Renaissance style movie theatre that was renovated in 2001 to house performing arts, is an anchor of the city’s cultural scene, featuring everything from the New Mexico Jazz Festival to the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet and the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. Those craving rock, blues or country will find them at local nightlife favorites Evangelo’s and Cowgirl BBQ. And one shouldn’t leave Santa Fe without seeing flamenco at the classic El Farol on Canyon Road. Be careful, though—the bar has a reputation for occasionally getting rowdy.
Hollywood Goes New Mexico
While New Mexico has long been a favorite for film and TV crews, the state has seen a boom in production in recent years thanks to sweet tax incentives. That means plenty of opportunities to visit locations where famous films were shot, and visitors can download a map from the New Mexico tourism office to find locations across the state for films from No Country for Old Men to Transformers and The Avengers. Drop by Evangelo’s and the Santa Fe Opera, for example, if you want to feel like you’re in a scene from Jeff Bridges’ Crazy Heart. Crazier still: An hour down the highway in Albuquerque, fans of Breaking Bad can take biking and trolley tours to see where the series was filmed.