Land of Enchantment in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe, New Mexico is a charming town that is off the beaten path for most tourists. Located at an elevation of 7,000 feet, this UNESCO-designated cultural city is nestled in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and offers 320 days of sunshine a year. With a picture-perfect backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, ponderosa forests and the vastness of the New Mexican desert, Santa Fe was appropriately named one of the Top Places to Visit by the LA Times in 2012. Besides having a bustling visual arts and music scene, Santa Fe also offers amazing natural beauty, relaxing spas, eclectic shopping and world-class dining that will entice all of your senses.

Lodging

There are beautiful historic as well as contemporary hotels in the downtown area offering luxury and convenience. If you want to be away from the hustle and bustle, stay at Hotel Santa Fe. It is the only establishment owned by the people of Picuris Pueblo, an 800-year-old Indian tribe. The Southwestern-style property features suites with fireplaces and the most comfortable California king beds. Throughout the property, you will find Native American art on display worth well over a million dollars. If you don’t plan to spend much time in your room, perhaps the more budget-friendly Santa Fe Sage Inn will meet your needs. Here you will find small but clean rooms decorated in local designs, free parking and a very friendly staff.

Dining

Santa Fe is recognized as a top 10 food destination in the U.S. and rightfully so. Most people don’t realize that the New Mexican Southwestern cuisine is unique with influences of Spanish, Moroccan and Mexican cultures. With more than 200 restaurants in the city, you can be assured of finding top quality cuisine and award-winning chefs creating a food lover’s paradise. Santa Fe is home to the best guacamole, enchiladas, tamales, and chile rellenos, served with a choice of red or green chile (sauces made with New Mexican chilies). The red sauce has a more pungent and strong flavor, while the green is mild and sweet. You could even get both “Christmas style” on the same plate.

Voted the best margarita in Santa Fe for 17 years in a row, Maria’s Restaurant offers 15 pages of margaritas ranging from $6-$45 that are shaken with pure agave and lemons instead of lime. The recipes are original and the owner has even written books on margaritas. Other must-go restaurants where you can try authentic cuisine in casual patio settings are Casa Chimayo and La Choza. Blue Corn Café is also a long-standing local place with a private brewery and the best stuffed sopapillas, fluffy fried bread made with flour.

One of the fun ways to discover the food scene in Santa Fe is by going on a restaurant walking tour with the Santa Fe School of Cooking. The guided tour will take you to four downtown restaurants where you will get to meet the chefs and sample house dishes and drinks. Santa Fe also hosts a number of food festivals throughout the year, including the popular annual Wine and Chile Festival held in September. The five-day event is packed with wine tastings, luncheons, wine dinners and demonstrations by local restaurants and chefs.

Activities

Santa Fe is a romantic walking-friendly city dotted with museums, art galleries and boutiques. In downtown, Santa Fe Plaza is the center of the city and home to a daily Indian market where you can buy handmade art and jewelry by Indian tribes from around New Mexico. Close to the plaza you will find many historic buildings, restaurants, shops and chapels so allow yourself time to wander around for a few hours.

Santa Fe is home to large collections of Native American and folk art which can be viewed at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, Museum of International Folk Art, Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, St Francis Cathedral, O’Keefe Museum and Museum of Fine Arts.

The Canyon Road Art Crawl is a weekly tradition of artist receptions, exhibition openings and gallery events where more than 200 art stores display oil paintings, bronze sculptures, Pueblo pottery, modern installations and Navajo jewelry. It is a great way to explore your inner art lover and browse through the wide selections before picking up pieces you can personally identify with.

Nightlife in Santa Fe is filled with music, dance, film, opera and theater performances. The Lensic Theater and the Santa Fe Opera House are perhaps the two best places to catch a Mariachi matinee, New Mexican folk and popular music or an Igor Stravinsky concert.

Santa Fe is also known for cradling the mind, body and spirit. With twenty world-class spas, you can pamper yourself with massages and body treatments, yoga and meditation classes, energy readings and psychic and healing sessions. BODY of Santa Fe is one of the best day spas where you can also find a café serving delicious internationally inspired organic raw food, scrumptious desserts and handmade chocolates.

Outdoor enthusiasts can discover beautiful hiking and biking trails just outside downtown. The Turquoise Trail and Puye Cliff make a scenic drive, while the Dale Ball Trail hike offers easy hikes as well as mountain biking trails. With 300 inches of snow a year, skiing and snowboarding are fun activities in this area during the winters. For a look back at history, visit the Petra Cliffs located thirty minutes outside the city dating back to the 9th century where you can still see symbols carved into the stones.

Whether you want to rekindle a romance or getaway with friends, the oldest capital in the United States is a must-see destination for anyone who enjoys natural or man-made beauty. Santa Fe will enchant you with its delectable food, charming architecture, interesting art shops and peaceful and spiritual surroundings.

Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal

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Sucheta is an award-winning food and travel writer who has traveled to 70+ countries and is on a mission to see the entire world. She is also the founder of the nonprofit organization, Go Eat Give and the author of a series of children's books on travel, "Beato Goes To" that teach kids about different countries and cultures. To learn more, visit suchetarawal.com.