Artists in search of inspiration, hedonists in search of relaxation, hikers in search of scenery, foodies in search of spice—all are welcome and rewarded handsomely in Santa Fe. In town and within an hour’s drive in most any direction, museums, galleries, spas, hiking trails, and restaurants allow tourists the best opportunities to sample life in the Land of Enchantment. Even visitors on a short stay should feel free to dive right in.
Immerse Yourself in Art
Where: Meow Wolf
From the labyrinth on Museum Hill to the twists of gallery-lined Canyon Road, Santa Fe has always encouraged tourists to get turned around, and turned on, by art. But stranger things are happening here these days, and Santa Fe’s venerable (but maybe once a little too predictable) art scene grows curiouser and curiouser. Inside a former bowling alley, an art collective called Meow Wolf takes visitors through the looking glass with an immersive art experience called “House of No Return.”
The term “immersive art” encompasses several genres; in this case, “House of No Return” consists of a small, bizarre universe, beginning with a full-size Victorian home inside the building, where visitors are encouraged to open drawers and read diaries in an attempt to find clues to solve the (threadbare) mystery passing for a plot. More outrageous fun lies in the realms beyond, a sequence of alternate realities where you can, among many other things, make music using dinosaur bones or laser beams. (Anyone familiar with Narnia or Hogwarts has a head start on figuring out how to get there.) Yes, it makes little sense to read about and not even that much more when you’re there, but the experience is not about following a linear narrative—it’s a chance to participate in an all-encompassing sensory extravaganza.
Insider Tip: Tickets are not timed, so go on a weekday or at less popular hours to avoid long entrance lines and crowded rooms. And bring your camera—photography is encouraged.
Soak in Hot Tubs
Where: Ten Thousand Waves
Lovers of a good outdoor soak find themselves spoiled for choice in and around Santa Fe. Close to town, with a distinct Japanese influence and no children allowed, the piped-in hot tubs at Ten Thousand Waves present a sophisticated, upscale alternative. About an hour’s drive north and west, the more family- and budget-friendly Ojo Caliente has a low-key charm, and the pools are naturally filled from mineral-rich hot springs and located directly beneath looming cliffs. Both spas offer massages and other treatments and have lodging on the premises. Each also has an on-site restaurant, and there the edge goes to Ten Thousand Waves, where a reservation at the James Beard award–nominated Japanese restaurant Izanami is sure to result in one of the best meals you’ll have during your trip, and perhaps your entire year.
Insider Tips: The pools at Ojo aren’t just different temperatures; the waters are infused with different minerals. If you’re feeling down, spend time in the lithia pools; for fatigue and immune system ills, soak in the iron pool; and to combat arthritis, stay as long as you can in the hottest tub of all, filled from the spring containing arsenic.
Marvel at Surreal Rock Formations
Where: Tent Rocks National Monument
Northwestern New Mexico’s dramatic scenery, geological wonders, and historical landmarks provide an embarrassment of hiking riches. One exceptional chance to shed your cares in the clear desert air can be found a 45-minute drive from Santa Fe, at Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. On a trail that takes 1.5 to 2 hours, hikers get to squeeze through slot canyons and scramble past hoodoos—the namesake “tent rocks”—that look like shelves of peaked caps made for giant stone wizards. Even the occasional tight spaces and steep stretches won’t hold back closely supervised 3-year-olds or reasonably fit senior citizens, although the claustrophobic and acrophobic might want to proceed with a small amount of caution. At the top the reward spreads out in 360 degrees: a stunning view of mesas and mountains stretching to the horizon.
Insider Tip: Unless you’re accustomed to high altitudes, bring more water than you think you’ll need. Even the easiest trails take a toll when you’re more than 7,000 feet above sea level.
Drown Your Food in Chile Peppers
When a local cuisine looms large enough to prompt an official state question and answer, it’s a clue that to understand the region there’s no substitute for indulging in its food. New Mexico’s state question, “Red or green?”, is short for “Which kind of chile would you like on your plate?” The state answer, “Christmas,” indicates that even residents have a hard time picking just one. For a thorough primer in New Mexican cuisine, order a combination plate at La Choza, and save room alongside the tacos, enchiladas, and tamales for a puffy sopaipilla, a pillow of fried dough served with honey. Burger lovers shouldn’t miss the ultimate green chile cheeseburgers at Santa Fe (formerly Bobcat) Bite. Devote at least one morning to a sumptuous breakfast burrito at Tia Sophia’s, or Café Pasqual’s. And no matter where you are or what you’re eating, do as the Santa Feans do and make sure it’s swimming in chile peppers.
Insider Tip: The honey on the sopaipilla can be a tongue-saver if things get too hot for comfort.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Guide to Santa Fe