Exploring Santa Fe

The city of Santa Fe is ideal for outdoors enthusiasts

Santa Fe sits at 7,000 feet above sea level, clinging to the lower slopes of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and offering an enchanting blend of Rocky Mountain and high desert living. This scenic city is politically progressive, abundant with museums and galleries, renowned for its distinctive adobe architecture, overflowing with sophisticated inns and restaurants, and ideal for outdoors enthusiasts. You won’t find much in the way of gay nightlife, but if you’re planning a romantic vacation with your significant other, Santa Fe may just have everything else you’re seeking.

Even better, if you’re starting to think about retirement options, northern New Mexico’s “City Different” may be worth scouting out as a potential future home. In November 2005, RainbowVision Properties opened a LGBT retirement community on the south side of town, billing itself the first such full-scale endeavor of its kind (the company has plans for additional communities in Palm Springs, the San Francisco suburbs, and Vancouver). The 13-acre compound geared toward the 50-and-over set is worth checking out even if you’re not thinking of buying here – it’s home to the Silver Starlight Lounge and Cabaret, which is open to the public and is Santa Fe’s only gay nightlife option. It’s actually quite popular with folks of all ages, especially for early evening cocktails.

One of the region’s greatest lures is the fantastic, sunny weather – Santa Fe and north-central New Mexico enjoy beautiful weather year-round. Summer tends to be the busiest time for a Santa Fe visit – this is opera season as well as a time when many prominent festivals and art markets take place. But a fall or winter visit yields fewer crowds, cool and crisp temperatures, and still plenty to see and do – plus rates tend to be lower at hotels, which are among the priciest in the Southwest.

Many of the city’s attractions are right in the center of town. Here you can take a walk around the Plaza; check out the numerous shops and cafes; admire the city’s adobe-clad Pueblo Revival, Spanish Colonial, and Victorian buildings; or stop by the circa-1610 Palace of the Governors, a state history museum set inside the nation’s oldest public building. There are several museums nearby, dealing mostly with art (such as the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, which has a terrific restaurant).

If you’re a die-hard museum explorer, make the short drive (or bus ride) up the Old Santa Fe Trail to Museum Hill, a complex of outstanding cultural attractions, the highlight being the Museum of International Folk Art. The newer Museum of Spanish Colonial Art is another top draw. If you’d rather spend most of your time outside, saunter up Canyon Road, a narrow, winding lane of historic adobe bungalows containing some of the most prestigious art galleries in the Southwest.

There’s spectacular hiking all around Santa Fe, but if you have time for just one ramble, head to Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, which is about a 45-minute drive south of town, toward Albuquerque. This 2-mile, moderately steep hike passes through a narrow, dramatic box canyon and then rises up to a lofty promontory affording panoramic views of the mountains and mesas. The monument is named for the bizarre rock formations that rise high out of one end of the canyon and look a bit like sandstone tepees.

If you’re visiting between December and April, bring your skis with you, or rent some in town. Ski Santa, which is about 15 miles northeast of downtown, offers 44 trails of rugged, beautifully groomed trails. If you have trouble believing New Mexico offers much in the way of winter sports, consider that the ski area receives an average of 240 inches of snowfall annually. This is a first-rate facility, albeit not quite as famous or as demanding as Taos Ski Valley, which is just a two-hour drive north.

However you get your exercise, whether hiking, skiing, or strolling among art galleries, you’re sure to work up an appetite in these parts, especially given the city’s high altitude, which can tax your system if you’re not used to it. Fortunately, this is a city with no shortage of terrific restaurants. Serving some of the most authentic New Mexican fare in town, the Shed is an excellent choice. The setting inside a 1692 adobe is ideal for sampling such local favorites as green-chile stew with pork and potatoes, and red-chile enchiladas. Or drop by Il Vicino, an inexpensive, gay-friendly pizza place serving delicious thin-crust pies topped with gourmet ingredients, microbrewed beers, and a cheerful courtyard.

A favorite spot for brunch is the fabulous Cafe Pasqual’s, where you might sample buttermilk biscuits with sage-bacon gravy, homemade sausage, and poached eggs. More sophisticated and substantial fare appears on the dinner menu – try the organic-chicken mole at dinner. You’ll find a couple of the city’s top restaurants along charming Canyon Road, including such high-end standouts as the Compound and Geronimo, as well as the popular tapas option, El Farol. Also specializing in smaller plates, downtown’s La Boca turns out such exemplary fare as Moroccan-grilled shrimp with sweet-pea-basil puree, and seared ahi tuna with Manchego-white-bean hash.

If you’ve had your fill of New Mexican cuisine, head to the first-rate Kasasoba for exquisite Japanese food. And for casual, affordable, yet creative American chow, don’t miss these two gay favorites, the Cowgirl (great for barbecue, and with a big patio), or Harry’s Roadhouse a short drive south of the city – not terribly far from Silver Starlight Lounge. Harry’s is especially popular for its house-made desserts and potent margaritas.

Santa Fe abounds with appealing accommodations, including a few gay-owned B&Bs and inns. One nice thing about B&Bs in northern New Mexico is that they typically comprise a small compound of casitas (adobe-style cottages) or a cluster of rooms with separate entrances, thereby affording plenty of privacy. Among the longest-running and most enjoyable such properties is the lesbian-owned Triangle Inn, which comprises nine casitas and lies about 15 miles north of downtown. Units have lovely southwestern furnishings, VCRs, CD stereos, and kitchenettes, and many can sleep four.

The Triangle draws mostly gay folks, whereas the other gay-owned B&Bs in Santa Fe cater to a mixed crowd. If you’re looking to stay in the heart of downtown, try El Farolito, a collection of airy casitas with fireplaces, striking Mexican and Southwestern furniture, and original art and photography. The Inn of the Turquoise Bear occupies the rambling Spanish-Pueblo Revival estate of Witter Bynner, a gay poet and socialite of the 1920s and ’30s who threw lavish parties here that drew the likes of Willa Cather, Errol Flynn, W.H. Auden, and Stephen Spender. It’s a warm and inviting inn surrounded by secret gardens and run by friendly hosts.

Among mainstream, luxury accommodations, it’s hard to beat the over-the-top-luxurious Inn of the Five Graces, which is in the heart of the city center and consists of 22 opulently appointed casitas, all done with elaborate Latin American, Middle Eastern, and Asian antiques and decorative arts. Service here is arguably the best in town, and guests can also enjoy lunch at the cozy on-site cafe or dinner at the adjacent Pink Adobe, a famous old Santa Fe restaurant that the Five Graces management bought and refurbished.

Another excellent upscale choice, the 57-room Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi sits steps from the Plaza, its rooms outfitted with kiva fireplaces (common in Santa Fe, they’re shaped a bit like beehive ovens), handwoven fabrics, organic toiletries, and four-poster beds. An ambitious makeover has given it a fresh look, and the hotel’s restaurant serves some of the most creative contemporary Southwestern fare in the state. Some additional downtown properties worth checking out include the upscale but well-priced Inn on the Alameda, with bright and airy rooms and a location handy for Canyon Road gallery-hopping; and the mid-priced Inn of the Governors, a rambling hotel two blocks from the Plaza. Many rooms here have wood-burning fireplaces.

Whether you’re alone or with your honey, it’s always fun to end a day of hiking or skiing with a soak in one of the outdoor hot tubs at Ten Thousand Waves, a gay-popular Japanese-style spa in the foothills on the east side of town. It’s a memorable spot for star-gazing. For the ultimate away-from-it-all vacation, book an overnight stay in one of Ten Thousand Waves’ smartly appointed luxury casitas, and watch your stresses melt away.

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