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Stunning Santa Fe

Come for the 300-plus sunny days a year, stay for the history, spice and culture.

Stunning Santa Fe

Volcanic eruptions shaped Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.

(Photo: CREDIT: ferrantraite / getty images)

When you visit a place that has blue skies 300 days per year, with Native American heritage and the third most active art market in the country, you’ll be pretty happy. Throw in world-class cuisine, stunning adobe architecture and mountainous national parks, and you’ll be jumping for joy.

Santa Fe, N.M., has this understated “pinch me” appeal, like a small-town vibe with culture galore. Founded by Spanish colonists in 1610, it’s the nation’s oldest state capital. An hour northeast of Albuquerque in the high-altitude desert, it also sits at the intersection of continental and Native American legacies, and its contemporary tribal presence is a vivid reminder of that history.

There are visual reminders, too. The ubiquitous art scene is manifested at Canyon Road, where you can stroll its half-mile of 100 art galleries and restaurants offering a vibrant collision of local art, architecture and food. The Santa Fe Artists Market at the Railyard (March-December) is a smorgasbord of local artists selling handcrafted ceramics, turquoise jewelry, paintings and more, while local Native American artisans have sidewalk stalls at the Palace of the Governors, now the New Mexico History Museum. Sit in the historic downtown Plaza with a coffee and practice your price negotiation technique.

The Museum of International Folk Art, inside the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, features hundreds of mini dioramas in the world’s largest folk art collection. Meanwhile, Meow Wolf ’s hands-on environment is a must for families, blending contemporary pop culture with sci-fi geekdom.

For further adventures, drive an hour to Bandelier National Monument to explore 13th-century pueblo cave dwellings. Only 40 miles west of the city is Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, featuring hiking trails and bird-watching amid the cone-shaped hoodoos and plateaus formed by volcanic eruptions 6 million years ago.

After all this activity, you’ll need sustenance. Since New Mexico is the chile capital of the U.S., its dishes begin and end with this pepper. Whether you order sopapilla, deep-fried dough stuffed with ground meat and cheese, or the posole stew, you must decide, “red, green or Christmas?” referring to the chile sauce you prefer. Visit La Boca for upscale tapas, La Choza for authentic enchiladas smothered in chiles, or El Farol for live flamenco dancing.

Explore new destinations at AAA.com/CityGuide.

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