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What to do in Santa Fe

Tucked in the ink-blue mountains of Northern New Mexico, Santa Fe is an inimitably striking city. At roughly 7,000 feet above sea level with pueblo-style architecture and phantasmagoric skies, the New Mexico’s capital city (just 70,000) offers visitors a culturally diverse experience, steeped in the history of the American West. Surrounded by unspoiled beauty - with nearly 1.5 million acres of National Forest - the city is haven for nature and art lovers. As one of the oldest art colonies Santa Fe has grown while preserving its inviting small-town feel.

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The heart of Santa Fe is the Plaza, which hasn’t changed much since the Spanish settled here 400 years ago. But surrounding the Plaza – where Native American handcrafts are for sale on every corner – is an increasingly cosmopolitan city that draws a multitude of artists, creative minds and visitors from all over the globe. The lively and compact downtown area is filled today with funky contemporary art spaces, trendy vintage shops, hot restaurants, newly renovated hotels and a just-opened Mezcal bar (the latest trend in town!). Here, Jetsetter put together a list of the hottest spots to visit and a few stops not to miss on the way from the airport!

The Turquoise Trail

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When arriving in Santa Fe from the Albuquerque airport, one can generally choose between Interstate 25, roughly an hour’s drive, and State Route 14, a National Scenic Byway also known as the Turquoise Trail. The latter route is a gem! Going through the mountains, you pass through small towns like Madrid, whose art galleries and shops sell local artwork, pottery, and American Indian jewelry for less then what you would pay in Santa Fe. A short drive up State Route 14 from Madrid is Cerrillos, home of the Turquoise Trail Sculpture Garden and Studio. This 35-acre peaceful garden uses natural stones of the Southwest in settings to promote harmonious art exhibitions. The current exhibition is Origami in the Garden, featuring 20 large-scale sculptures made in origami by international artists.

Where to stay

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La Fonda on the Plaza

La Fonda on the Plaza located in the heart of the town offers Santa Fe’s best with popular attractions like the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi (with picturesque views from some of the deluxe room’s private terraces), Palace of the Governors and the New Mexico Museum of Art within a half-mile. This newly renovated New Mexico-style historic hotel focuses on local art, with every room – nearly 200 – uniquely decorated with hand-painted headboards by local artists (some from nearby pueblos), handcrafted furnishings, and original artwork with Spanish and Native American influences. In season, the Bell Tower is a favorite place to watch the afternoon fade while sipping the signature margarita and waiting for the Cathedral bell to ring at sunset.

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Inn of the Five Graces

Nestled on a quite side street near the Santa Fe River in one of the America’s oldest inhabited blocks, Inn of the Five Graces is an embellished 24-suite boutique hotel with a traditional adobe and stone exterior designed by Ira and Sylvia Seret. Each room showcases handcrafted artisans pieces and one of a kind treasures acquired during the owner’s travels through Central and South Asia. Each suite is ornamented with tile mosaics, along with Afghan and Tibetan artifacts and textiles. Beautiful tapestries, candelabras; and wood-burning fireplaces in every guest room only to add the sensual allure (the name, Five Graces refers to an Eastern concept: the five graces of sight, sound, touch, smell and taste).

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Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi

With a refined take on the Santa Fe-style, just a few steps from the historic Plaza, Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi was recently renovated by Jim Rimelspach, who originally designed the property when it opened nearly 25 years ago. Named after the lost tribe of the Anasazi, ancestors of the Pueblo, the 58 rooms hotel tastefully pay tribute to the Southwest roots with a modern touch. Adobe walls, kiva-style fireplaces, hand carved four-poster beds and throw pillows made from Pendleton blankets. There’s also plenty of Native American art throughout the three-story hotel. The hotel offers in-room massages and aromatherapy sessions, and has a sidewalk patio where you can have a drink to re-charge.

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Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi

Where to eat

Located just a half-block from the Plaza in a hacienda that dates back to the 17th century, The Shed has been a colorful staple since the ‘50s. Locals and visitors alike line up to sample their authentic New Mexican cuisine (a Spanish/Mexican fusion offering posole, enchiladas, blue corn burritos) and what’s been called the best red chile in town. Try to score a seat on the patio and enjoy the Roca Coin Margarita, made with Roca Patron Silver Tequila. Prepare—reservations are only accepted for dinner.

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The Shed

The Compound is another gem, sitting at the top of Canyon Road in an elegant adobe building designed by famed architect Alexander Girard. In a sophisticated setting, Award–winning chef/owner Mark Kiffin offers his creative menu – a new kind of Southwestern cuisine with a Mediterranean influence that uses regional ingredients. If the weather allows, choose the outdoor patio—a flower-filled oasis unto itself.

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The Compound Restaurant

Izanami: The restaurant at local Japanese spa, Ten Thousand Waves, is set atop a ridge that leads to to the Santa Fe Ski Basin. Beautiful carved wooden beams, panoramic windows, Japanese lanterns, private tatami rooms, and a waterfall entryway complement the Izakaya dining experience, which is made up of small and exquisite Japanese dishes that are meant to share — sake braised shimeji mushrooms, Wagyu steak, and a housemade tofu with garlic and chive — but, no fish. The Michelin Starred-restaurant uses ingredients that can only be sourced locally — and Santa Fe is over one thousand miles from the closest ocean.

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Ten Thousand Waves

Things to do

Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch Located in the village of Abiquiu, Artist Georgia O’Keeffe’s Abiquiú home and studio is 60 miles northwest of Santa Fe.

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It was the artist’s first residence (from 1945-1984) in her beloved New Mexico. This private, meticulously preserved adobe contains artworks by O’Keeffe and Alexander Calder, Mid-Century furniture, and displays of sculptural works and objects that O’Keeffe gathered on her walks. Additionally, if you can spare an hour, you can join the Georgia O’Keeffe and the Ghost Landscape tour guiding you through the area she loved, explored, painted, and lived in.

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Santuario Chimayo Whether you’re a believer or not, there’s something about the peaceful mysticism of small churches that makes them inviting, along with legends that make them a pilgrimage destination! A short drive from town (45 minutes), you’ll find the Santuario Chimayo, a small church in Chimayo, between Taos and Santa Fe that holds a room with a dirt floor. Make that a Holy Dirt floor, which is believed to heal everything from heartbreak to cancer. You can buy small vessels of the Holy Dirt in the surprisingly well-executed gift shop to take to your loved ones.

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The O’Keefe Museum Housed within a former adobe Baptist church, this elegant museum features the largest O’Keeffe collection anywhere in the world. Works from each of her series — from the New York cityscapes to the paintings of mountains, flowers, and bones — are on view. The museum also screens detailing O’Keefe’s life, story and growth as an artist.

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SITE Santa Fe, Jeff Goldberg

With a new expansion designed by Shop Architects, Site Santa Fe is the commanding contemporary art museum in Santa Fe. Housed in a former beer warehouse, with its striking steel and glass renovation, the museum runs a great program, having shown artists including Marina Abramović, Louise Bourgeois, Ed Ruscha and Bruce Nauman.

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SITE Santa Fe, Nick Merrick / Jeff Goldberg

For a true escape and spa experience, spend a few hours (or a few nights) at Ten Thousand Waves, a Japanese-inspired mountain resort. Set on 20 wooded acres in the Sangre de Christo Mountains, the grounds are tranquil and gracious, with private and (semi)-public hot tubs, a restaurant, and spa services that include hot stone massages, Shiatsu, and salt glow treatments. With only 14 guest rooms, overnight lodging can be limited, so opt instead to spend a day at the spa, followed by izakaya eats and sake at Izanami.

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Ten Thousand Waves

For the more adventurous spirits, drive four hours south of Santa Fe to White Sands and behold an unearthly landscape: boundless white sand dunes where you can walk, meditate, camp, and witness pink sunrises and sunsets that are otherworldly.