Courtesy Daniel Nadelbach

Santa Fe rises out of New Mexico’s endless desert landscape like a colorful oasis that teeters between over-the-top kitsch and expressive old soul. Many locals and longtime visitors bemoan the fact that seemingly the rest of the world has caught on to the charm of their little town, and it’s true that parts of Santa Fe are hopelessly overrun, and overdone. But during a trip to the New Mexican capital – the United States’ oldest –travelers are often to discover that underneath all that touristy commerce, Santa Fe maintains a hippie-chic New Age heart. After all, this is the far-flung destination that left a deep impression on American cultural influencers including Georgia O’Keeffe, Willa Cather, Bob Dylan and Cormac McCarthy (all of whom spent or have spent considerable time here). Artsy-looking ladies of a certain age championing astrology are a big part of Santa Fe, along with an onslaught of silver jewelry boutiques in the Palace of the Governors.

Cheat Sheet

Lay of the Land

The entire town of Santa Fe can be explored easily on foot; in fact, locals recommend leaving cars behind because parking is notoriously difficult. A first-time visitor will want to schedule at least two days of exploring Santa Fe from a base of one of the well-located hotels: the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi, the Inn on the Alameda, the Inn of the Five Graces or La Posada. But on your third and/or fourth day, rent a car and explore the incredible landscapes surrounding Santa Fe. Art lovers should head up to Abiquiu to visit Georgia O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu Studio. Nature fans can hike in Bandelier National Monument and explore the extraterrestrial-looking Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks. History buffs, meanwhile, should not miss the mystical Puye Cliff dwellings and old mission churches, like Chimayó. For the perfect town-and-country combination, check into the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi and then the gorgeous Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado, the latter a fifteen-minute drive north. Perched on a ridge top, Rancho Encantado is all about space, something you just don’t get in town, so it’s the perfect spot in which to conclude a Santa Fe journey.

When to Go

May through early September is considered high season in Santa Fe, and even though temperatures can reach the 90s, the elevated desert location (7,000 feet above sea level) guarantees cooler evenings and nights, so bring warm clothing. The annual Santa Fe Opera Festival is the big draw in July and August, but most longtime visitors consider late September and October the best times to go. (Temperatures can fluctuate between the low 70s during sunny days and the low 40s at night.) Christmastime is famous for the festive farolito walk along Canyon Road, when residents line the streets with sand-filled paper bags illuminated by votive candles and galleries are open late. Be aware that Santa Fe hosts numerous festivals throughout the year – focused on everything from art to food – and the best hotels book up quickly during those times.

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