New Mexico is a national secret in the US but for those who have been there, "The Land of Enchantment" is indeed spellbinding, with its combination of colliding cultures, towering mountains, and diverse deserts. And Santa Fe, the oldest capital city in the country, captures all of those aspects in a prismatic microcosm that is unlike any other city in the world.
In our second installment of BAD Weekends, we highlight the cities different eateries, museums, and outdoor experiences to guide you on your visit to the high desert haven, whether it's your first or fifth.
Check out some art
Santa Fe bats way above it's population for many things (food, cultural offerings) but it's a true anomaly in the art world, where it annually ranks in the top three cities for art galleries in the nation behind only New York and Los Angeles—and it only has a population of 80,000. For the most bang for your buck, stroll up Canyon Road, and visit any number of the 75 galleries on this beautiful street. From abstract to modern to Native American, you can find something for every taste. See a full listing.
Visit world-class museums
Santa Fe's history is especially rich, reaching back to 900 C.E., when Tanoan people had a village where the modern-day Plaza is. The Spanish conquered the area in fits and starts and officially (but shakily) founded the town in 1610. The US marched into town in 1848 and declared it their own. You can learn about this history in the New Mexico History Museum and the Palace of the Governors right on the Plaza (which is historic in its own right and well worth walking around). The Georgia O'Keefe Museum is a fantastic collection of the late artist's work while the Museum of International Folk Art houses the largest collection of folk art in the world. And for an experience that has to be seen to be believed, check out the art collective Meow Wolf's House of Eternal Return.
Eat a lot of chili
New Mexican food is a cuisine all its own, surprisingly different from Tex-Mex and traditional Mexican food. Use of dried red chiles and roasted green chiles are so liberal that the purported state question is, "Red or green?"—your choice for the kind of chile you want your food smothered in (to try both, ask for Christmas and you'll get half and half). Picking the best of the best is a tough ask but we like New Mexican diner Tia Sophia's for breakfast; mole enchiladas at Tune Up; red chile (worth the wait) at The Shed; and the smothered green chile burger at the Horsemen's Haven. Other notable restaurants (not necessarily New Mexican) include La Boca, La Casa Sena, Harry's Roadhouse, and Counter Culture.
Visitors are always surprised by Santa Fe's landscape. The town is nestled at 7,200 feet of elevation at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, the tail end of the Rockies. There's a ski area (Ski Santa Fe) 15 miles from the Plaza, that has great terrain if the snow cover is good (world-class Taos is only 1.5 hours away) and in summer offers an epic road bike climb/descent that's not for the faint of heart. From the east edges of town, the Dale Ball Trails provide 30 miles of easily accessible hiking, mountain biking, and running trails while further afield there are nearly endless options for trail adventurers, including multi-day backcountry excursions. There are myriad rock climbing areas within a couple hours of town, offering almost any type of climbing that one could desire. And of course, there are meandering desert rivers to explore, including the Rio Grande, the Chama, and the Pecos.
To take a really deep dive into history, we recommend heading up to the 33,000 acre Bandelier National Monument. Home to the Ancestral Pueblo people from about 1150 C.E. to 1550 C.E., they were an agricultural people that planted fields on top of the mesas and carved their homes from the grainy sand stone cliffs. Explore these homes on the same trails they used and even see where there footsteps wore deeply into the rock itself. And the Puebloans were relatively recent residents: there is evidence here of human presence here going back 11,000 years.
Santa Fe is unlike any place you've ever been. We hope you enjoy a trip there soon!