Flying into Santa Fe is a memorable experience. The plane hovers over long expanses of desert before descending into an oasis at the base of the southern Rocky Mountains, 7,000 feet above sea level. The city, with a population of 69,000, is the second oldest in the United States and the preferred hideaway for a certain vintage of Hollywood star: Ali MacGraw, Robert Redford and Jane Fonda all have vacation homes here, as does local-boy-gone-big Tom Ford. Entourage hottie Adrian Grenier also frequents this chicly eccentric destination.
The city’s superb quality of light—attributed to the altitude and lack of pollution—and laidback hippie spirit has attracted artists for centuries. Modernist painters like Georgia O’Keeffe and Agnes Martin made their careers here, and despite its relatively small size, Santa Fe represents the third biggest art market in America, with more than 240 local galleries (80 of them clustered on Canyon Road alone). But gallery-gazing is only one of the city’s attractions.
On the first day of my trip, after settling into an affordable wood-beamed cottage suite crammed with organic bathroom products and kitsch Pueblo paintings at Las Palomas, I embark on the mandatory art crawl, wandering through the Museum of International Folk Art, the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, the New Mexico Museum of Art and the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. From the Native American jewelry and ceremonial clothing to O’Keeffe’s sensual paintings of flowers and bones, I’m enchanted by Santa Fe’s bygone glamour. Then I step into the 21st century at Site Santa Fe, an airy glass-and-concrete contemporary gallery. Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, Site is hosting the work of many of the American art stars —including mythically-inspired Amy Cutler, conceptualist Dario Robleto and multimedia artist Ann Hamilton—who got their big breaks at the gallery. I make my way out through the gift shop and stock up on cheeky wares: silk pocket squares plastered with the word “banal” by Santa Fe artist (and Parsons alum) Michael Namingha, and a fun tee that reads Art-curious? Let’s meet.
After all that gallery-hopping, I’m starving. At the heart of Santa Fe’s culinary culture are the red and green chili peppers indigenous to New Mexico. The chilis have several degrees of heat and vary in flavour from sweet to pungent to smoky. They’re harvested in the fall and roasted throughout the year at the Farmers’ Market, housed within a repurposed railyard at the end of town. It’s a great visit on Saturday mornings when the market is packed with local bounty (raw milk, blue cornmeal, the aforementioned peppers) and bohemian locals. I eat an unexpectedly delicious green chili muffin as I gaze at the twentysomethings floating past in tie-dyed Rodarte and mules.
For brunch, the Tune-Up Café is a neighbourhood fave that serves a mash-up of regional and El Salvadorian food. Case in point, the huevos El Salvadorenos: scrambled eggs with scallions, tomatoes, refried beans and pan-fried banana served in homemade corn tortillas. Later on, I join an upscale crowd at Bouche Bistro, a cozy French eatery with an open kitchen and community table, and devour a traditional cassoulet. Then I head to Santa Fe Spirits Tasting Room Distillery for an after-dinner whiskeyrita, a house cocktail featuring locally made Silver Coyote Malt Whiskey.
The next day I head to Modern General shop and juice bar for Wheatgrass Wednesday ($1/shot) and down a double while lounging in an Eames chair. Garden tools adorn the walls and though I’m tempted to buy the most perfect shovel, I leave with a more suitcase-friendly Burstenhaus Redecker hairbrush, handmade with organic wood and horsehair. Nearby, inside an unassuming storefront on Galisteo St., I visit Cicada Collection, a boutique carrying clothes by designers Ivan Grundahl and Rick Owens. A local fashionable type tells me that shop owner Irina Ross is beloved because “she doesn’t buy a ton of anything, so you’re not going to see your outfit walking around town.” At Workshop, I try on sculptural shoes by German design duo Trip-pen, and a Viktor & Rolf scarf at Santa Fe Dry Goods, Workshop’s sister store. Both stock high-end clothing that—on theme for Santa Fe—runs along the lines of rarified quirk.
Following two days of shopping, eating and gallery-hopping, I treat myself to a day at Ten Thousand Waves Luxury Mountain Spa Resort and spend several hours moving from outdoor hot tub (with full view of the mountains) to sauna to private Japanese soaking basin. Back in town again on my last night, walking along the adobe-lined streets, I understand why Santa Fe restricts outdoor lighting so that the extraordinary starscape can be seen in full. I realize that O’Keeffe wasn’t abstracting all that much in her infamous paintings; the forms she introduced to the world are in fact part of the natural magic of this place. That, and Modern General’s liver-cleanse smoothie—made with chilis, of course.