Let’s get this right out into the open: Santa Fe is a touristy town. The art, the architecture, the history—Santa Fe has been selling itself as a world-class vacation destination, and people are buying. There’s no point in denying the facts, and tourism in Santa Fe is a fact. Another fact is that tourism isn’t the city’s only commodity. Now, now, don’t let your bias get in the way. Santa Fe isn’t only for rich yuppies with money to burn, nor is it full of stinky hippies who wish it was still the ’60s. And you Santa Feans—you know you harbor bias toward the Burqueños, too. Albuquerque is not void of culture, nor is it a cesspool for crime. There are plenty of reasons for residents of both cities to visit the other, from cultural events to culinary decadence, artistic gatherings to outdoor adventure. The long-standing sibling rivalry may never end, but isn’t it nice to sit and have a chat with your slightly overbearing sister over tea, even if you go straight home and bitch about her yappy dog? You know she’s talking smack about your hairdo, but family is family.
As a Santa Fe native turned Albuquerque resident, I feel like the girl who’s befriended both sisters and finds herself in the middle, screaming at the two of them about the triviality of it all. Albuquerque: You have your urban Downtown, the sports stadiums, the State Fair grounds, an amusement park, huge movie screens and so many other enviable commodities. Santa Fe doesn’t have those big, civic wonders (she knows it, and she’s jealous), but she’s got her own life. She is, in fact, the City Different and the City of Holy Faith. That’s a pretty big role to fill, never mind being the state capitol, so cut her some slack. Santa Fe: You’ve got to chill out, too. Albuquerque is blooming into the internationally known city she’s been striving to become, and there is so much going on, it’s hard to get away sometimes. Again, let’s face the facts: Some folks in the Duke City just don’t know much about you beyond your touristy exterior. So, whether as a means to end this rivalry or as an act of futility, I’ll share some of the reasons why I like to go back to my hometown for an occasional weekend getaway. Some things Burque folks may already know. Some may be new, but they sure do remind me that this rivalry is just plain silliness.
It's not possible to think about Santa Fe without thinking about art. There’s a gallery, studio, museum, street vendor or artist market on practically every corner of our state capitol. Don't be intimidated. If you like art and you want to get your fill of it, just walk into any gallery in town and have a look. They don't charge admission fees, and as long as you don't break anything, you don't have to buy. A walk up and down Canyon Road will take you past galleries with art from so many mediums, styles and eras that nearly everyone will find something intriguing. Museum Hill (www.museumhill.org) hosts four world-class museums: the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art (505-982-2226), the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture (505-476-1250), the Museum of International Folk Art (505-476-1200) and the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian (505-982-4636). The museums have discounted rates for New Mexico residents and are free to residents on Sundays. Downtown, the Museum of Fine Arts (107 W. Palace, 505-476-5072, www.mfasantafe.org) is hosting the fabulous Mexican Modern: Masters of the 20th Century, as well as works by Georgia O'Keeffe, Gustave Baumann and Marsden Hartley. The MFA is also discounted to New Mexico residents and free on Sundays. If you want to be sure you’re seeing local art by local artists, check out the Santa Fe Artist Market (1614 Paseo de Peralta, www.santafeartistmarket.com) every Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. The Santa Fe Farmer's Market (www.santafefarmersmarket.com) and SITE Santa Fe (1606 Paseo de Peralta, www.sitesantafe.org) are just around the corner. For more detailed information about galleries and museums in Santa Fe, check out the Collector's Guide (www.collectorsguide.com).
One of the most beautiful aspects of Santa Fe is the architecture. Santa Fe has been working hard to keep those flat-roofed, adobe-style homes the norm, and the aesthetic is part of her appeal. The ancient layout of the city, its narrow, windy roads and the old, seasoned houses are my favorite parts of Santa Fe. I love to get lost.
Santa Fe lacks the formal city planning of its metropolis of a sister, Albuquerque. Grids do not exist. It is very, very easy to get turned around in Santa Fe, so if you always need to know where you are, you'd better acquire a map. If you don't mind a little confusion, start from the downtown area, drive east toward the foothills and just lose yourself in the residential areas. The old, truly adobe houses can't compare to the modernized version you might see from I-25. This isn't some prepackaged, tourist-approved version of the City Different. This is the City Different. It's easy to imagine someone riding a burro along the streets carrying water from the acequia. When you're ready to head back, just drive toward the sunset (west, away from the foothills) and you'll eventually meet a main street such as St. Michael's Drive or Old Pecos Trail.
Driving aimlessly for the sake of sightseeing isn't for everyone, so if you need a destination, check out the Randall Davey Audubon Center (505-983-4609, www.nm.audubon.org). Located at the end of Upper Canyon Road, this wildlife reserve is the perfect spot for an afternoon hike or bird viewing. The narrow drive up Canyon Road, while not quite as thrilling as exploring the foothills, takes you past a number of beautiful homes and the Santa Fe reservoir. The Randall Davey Audubon Center is a 135-acre wildlife sanctuary and environmental education center. The grounds are open from 8 a.m. to dusk every day, year round. You can hike a loop trail, which takes about 20 minutes, or take the one-and-a-half-mile Bear Canyon trail. Both are well-marked and make for excellent bird watching. The area is also home to the residence of the late artist Randall Davey. His studio is a registered historic landmark and was once a mill for the U.S. Army in 1847. You can tour his home at 2 p.m. on Mondays. For use of the trails, they ask a $2 donation for adults and a $1 donation for children.
For more outdoorsy fun, head on up Hyde Park Road into the Santa Fe National Forest (505-438-7840, www.fs.fed.us/r3/sfe). The color change during the fall months, especially by the aspens, makes the drive up to the Santa Fe Ski Area (www.skisantafe.com) a tradition for locals. Aspen Vista and Big Tesuque picnic/camping areas are great spots for a short hike, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. On your way back down the mountain, stop by the Asian-style spa Ten Thousand Waves (3451 Hyde Park Road, 505-992-5025, www.tenthousandwaves.com). Even if you don't like massages or facials, reserve a private tub for you and your sweetie, or take a dip in their women's or community tub. Don't rush out, either. Grab a cup of hot tea and watch the koi or sit in the sauna. Here's a hint: On the weekdays, New Mexico residents get 20 percent off with a valid I.D. Sweet, sweet bliss.
Everyone has different tastes as to what they like to do after hours. Some like to drink. Some like to dance. Some like the movies. Others love live performance. There’s something for everyone in Santa Fe, and there’s no way I can give you a comprehensive list of places to go and things to do in the evening—but here are a few of my favorites.
The Santa Fe Opera (505-986-5955, www.santafeopera.org) is one of Santa Fe's gems. The outdoor theater is gorgeous, and the productions catch the attention of national and international opera fans—all in our backyard. For a refined evening, head out to the opera parking lot the night of a show, bring finger foods, a few bottles of your favorite wine and tailgate with other beautiful people. When they open the box office, go up and ask for a “standing-room only” ticket. They are only available the day of the show and cost $10. You do have to stand the whole time, but if you love the show, you won't mind. If you hate it, you can leave without feeling much shame.
For a slightly more casual—but still wonderful—evening of vocal talent, make reservations at La Casa Sena's La Cantina (125 E. Palace, 505-988-9232). Every night, the extremely talented waitstaff at La Cantina not only serve some of Santa Fe's finest foods, they also perform Broadway and jazz hits. They have two seatings at 5:30 and 8 p.m., and they almost always book up. If fine dining doesn't fit your budget, just come in for drinks and dessert. Request “If I Were a Rich Man.” Better than Broadway. Seriously.
Dancing is also a passion of many Santa Feans (this one included). El Mesón (213 Washington, 505-983-6756, www.elmeson-santafe.com) hosts a great variety of Latin dance, including tango on Tuesdays. Oddfellows and Rebekahs (1125 Cerrillos, 505-983-7493) is essentially the place to be on Monday night if you love all things swing.
For some great live music and good brew, check out the Santa Fe Brewing Co. (35 Fire Place, 505-424-3333, www.santafebrewing.com). On Aug. 19 and 20, Frogville Independent Records is hosting Frogfest 2, a music festival featuring James McMurtry, Hundred Year Flood, the Texas Sapphires and many more on the fabulous patio of the Santa Fe Brewing Co. Another local brewpub with live music blaring nearly every night is the Second Street Brewery (1814 Second Street, 505-982-3030, www.secondstreetbrewery.com). If margaritas are more your thing, it doesn't get much better than Maria's (555 W. Cordova, 505-983-7929, www.marias-santafe.com)—the owner wrote the book on the subject, The Great Margarita Book, after all.
In Albuquerque, it's the Balloon Fiesta. In Santa Fe, it's the Fiesta (santafefiesta.org). Every year in early September, Santa Fe celebrates the peaceful reconquering of the city by Don Diego de Vargas. Politics of colonization aside, it's a major event and the entire city is involved with merchants, food, fiesta dances and parades. Although there are events preparing for the big weekend all year, the first major one to kick of the fiesta of all fiestas is the burning of Zozobra at the Fort Marcy Complex. This is a must-see for every New Mexican. Zozobra is a 40-plus-foot-tall puppet that represents all the gloom that has accumulated over the year (he's also known as Old Man Gloom). At nightfall, the ceremony begins. Zozobra moves and moans, as he knows his fate. Boy scouts taunt him with torches. The crowd chants, “Burn him! Burn him!” When the fire dancer appears, Old Gloomy-pants cries his last cry as he's lit ablaze. While he burns, Santa Feans are freed from their bad thoughts, and then enjoy the fireworks display. This is one of the more recent additions to the almost 300-year-old fiesta but has become one of its most famous events. On Saturday morning, local children and their pets fill the streets for the pet parade, which is my favorite, and then everyone enjoys food and mariachi music in the plaza.
If you enjoy politics and live theater, make sure to get reservations for the Santa Fe Fiesta Melodrama at the Santa Fe Playhouse (505-988-4262, www.santafeplayhouse.org). Every year a new melodrama is written by local playwrights (who remain anonymous) that satires local and state political events. This year's, which is titled Screens of Silver, Cities of Gold or A Teacherous Treasurer's Travails to Swindle the Star-Struck Santa Fe Status Seekers or The Day They Shot the City Different, opens on Aug. 24. ¡Que Viva!