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Santa Fe calls itself “The City Different.” Spend even a short time here and you’ll know why. There’s no other place quite like it. With a population of just over 82,000, it’s a small town, yet delivers big city amenities and without the pretense and outrageous expense.

With 17 major museums and 250 galleries, Santa Feis the third largest art market in the U.S. and is a must-visit for art appreciators. There are more than 400 restaurants, 40 bars, the opera, symphony orchestra and chorus, ballet and more than 40 festivals and fiestas a year.

ALSO: Food and art you’ll love in New Haven, Connecticut

Santa Fe is full of surprises. I was psyched to be in town for the International Folk Art Market, where nearly 200 artists from more than 60 countries showcased their world-class art and attended workshops to strengthen their entrepreneurial skills. During the opening ceremony, each artist entered Santa Fe Plaza dressed in traditional garb and holding signs stating their country of origin. It was a “We are the World” moment, that gave me chills on a hot, sunny evening. I’ll always remember how connected I felt to the universe.

Not only was it cool to be standing in a place with folks from all over the globe, but the crowd on the Plaza was an eclectic mix: young and old, hippies and hipsters and some “characters”  that look liked they’ve lived a life or two. Despite the differences, when the band from Mali played, everybody was dancing, and happy.

santa fe-sunset

Sante Fe at sunset

Santa Fe does seem to be a happy place. Maybe it’s those gorgeous multi-colored sunsets, majestic mountains or that calm spirit that permeates the air. Nobody is in a hurry, what qualifies as “traffic” would make most big city dwellers laugh.Then too, it could be the delicious cuisine. Spice is the order of the day. Green, red or Christmas, is a question you’ll get asked a lot. Confused? They’re asking about your chile preference. Not sure? Try each. Chile goes with most everything.

Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen is the breakfast spot. It will be hard to choose, but you won’t go wrong with the breakfast burrito – black beans, sweet potato, fried egg and green chile wrapped in a wheat tortilla and topped with jack Cheese.

For dinner, go to Sazon. It’s aptly named as the word sazon in Spanish means “just the right taste” and “the perfect moment.” Chef Fernando Oleo puts a contemporary, sophisticated twist on traditional Mexican cuisine. Try the xochimila—corn truffle over mini tortillas with exotic spices and asadero cheese or berejena—stuffed eggplant, zucchini, corn, tomato and gruyere cheese. The greatfood, excellent service and beautiful work from Mexico’s premiere top artists, sets the stage for an evening you’ll never forget.

New Mexico Museum of Art

New Mexico Museum of Art | Flickr CC: Ron Cogswell

Perhaps the biggest surprise about Santa Fe is all the art. Canyon Road alone has 100 galleries showcasing contemporary sculpture and paintings, traditional Native American weaving, ceramics, jewelry and more. The mile-long street has bragging rights for having the highest concentration of art galleries in the nation. There is the New Mexico Museum of Art, Museumof Indian Arts and Culture, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and more. Seeing such spectacular art does something to the senses, it’s for sure one reason why folks are walking around with a smile. Meow Wolf is an interactive art experience for which there is no comparison. The House of Eternal Return tells a story and asks visitors to solve a mystery. Be ready to walk, climb and crawl through the 20,000 square foot, 70-room facility that is like nothing you’ve ever seen. More than 500 artists collaborated to create this captivating experience. Do not leave Santa Fe without going here.

There’s so much to do. Hike, bike, shop. The Railyard-Guadalupe District is the place for consignment and unique boutiques, restaurants, bookstores, the Santa Fe Farmers Market is legendary and, if you have time, take a class at the Santa Fe School of Cooking. Get over the fact that you are going to splurge on beautiful Southwest silver and turquoise jewelry or take home some art.

Farolitos beautifully line homes during the holidays

Farolitos beautifully line homes during the holidays

Time your visit. During the holidays farolitos light up rooftops and walkways and the whole town is aglow with festivities. Labor Day weekend visitors, meanwhile, can “purge” themselves at the public burning of Zozobra (a giant marionette effigy) by writing down what’s bothering them and putting it in one of the “Gloom Boxes” around town. On the night of the burning the boxes are carried in Zozobra—a 50-foot marionette—prior to historching. Say adios to your troubles forever.

Drink up. Watch the sunset with a cocktail in hand at rooftop locales like Bar Alto at the Drury Plaza Hotel or Bell Tower Bar at La Fonda on the Plaza, or hit the margarita trail. Chocolate lovers have their own trail. But if you can only stop in one chocolatier, make it the Kakawa Chocolate House. Kakawa stands out for its elixirs influenced by historic recipes that span 1000 BC to the mid-1900s AD. It’s quaint and casual. Savor the flavors while drinking chocolate from Kakawa’s signature tiny, beautiful blue cups.

When you want to relax, Ten Thousand Waves Japanese Spa & Resort awaits. In the foothills above Santa Fe, indulge in outdoor hot tubs, spa suites, massage and more. You’ll want to stay at the historic Drury Plaza Hotel and eat at their Eloisa restaurant, renowned for its cooking inspired by the Abiquiu pueblo and the paintings of Georgia O’Keefe. You’ll also get top service at the city’s only Native American owned hotel, Hotel Santa Fe The Hacienda & Spa.  Every room at The Hacienda has a fireplace and with a $1 million art collection the walk to each guestroom is like a museum stroll. Take advantage of on-call butlers, and a spa that is heavenly, literally, with its blue-sky, puffy white cloud ceilings that immediately lower your blood pressure. Ask for Ingrid, she is indeed a spirited angel.

There is something cosmic about Santa Fe. Maybe it’s the rich, history and culture, the Native American and Spanish influence that’s everywhere. It’s other worldly how kind everyone is. Don’t be surprised if more than one stranger tellsyou they love that dress you’re wearing, or if you’re having lunch and someone at the table next to you, quietly asks a question, and the next thing you know, you’re deep in a personal, heartfelt conversation that touches you. Yes, Santa Fe is “The City Different.”


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Sheryl Nance-Nash

Sheryl Nance-Nash

Sheryl is a writer and editor, specializing in travel, personal finance, business and career topics. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Newsday, Money,,,, Upscale Magazine, Essence, Black Enterprise and others.

2 thoughts on “Santa Fe is a city we can’t stop loving and here’s why”

  1. New Mexico is also coined “The Land of Entrapment” instead of The Land of Enchantment. That’s because once you move here, you will not want to leave. We have lived in Santa Fe for over 8 years and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

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