After visiting Santa Fe, humorist Will Rogers reportedly said, “Whoever designed this town did so while riding on a jackass backwards and drunk.” Well, we can’t argue with that. You, too, may find yourself perplexed when maneuvering through the meandering lanes and one-way streets, in this, the oldest capital city in the United States. But Santa Fe’s crooked streets, combined with its stunning setting at the base of rugged mountains, provide a sense of exotic sophistication. On its historic central plaza, you’ll see Native Americans selling jewelry, locals cruising along in souped-up low-riders and vintage pickup trucks, and people young and old just hanging out. Such diversity, coupled with the variety of architecture—which ranges from Pueblo style to Romanesque to Gothic—prompted the tourism promotion people to label Santa Fe “The City Different.”

Remember to pack your walking shoes, because exploring Santa Fe by foot is the best way to enjoy its idiosyncrasies. And if you do get lost, ask one of the roughly 70,000 people living here—7,000 feet above sea level—for directions.

Things to Do

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Santa Fe's grandest building is a towering French-Romanesque church, St. Francis Cathedral, which traces its roots to the small adobe building out back -- Our Lady of the Rosary chapel, founded in 1610. Think of this New Mexico city as a large collection of historic artistic and architectural gems, more examples of which are displayed at the New Mexico Museum of Art. The early Pueblo Revival-style building houses 20,000 regional masterpieces.

Shopping

Santa Fe's art scene is one of the world's finest, drawing from the rich blend of American Indian, Hispanic and Western artistic traditions. Canyon Road is packed with galleries featuring traditional and contemporary themes, as is Santa Fe's central Plaza. A rich tradition of Indian arts and nearby turquoise mines account for the plethora of silver, turquoise and coral necklaces, earrings, and belt buckles sold by Indians under the portal of the Palace of the Governors.

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Nightlife and Entertainment

In a city renowned for culture, it's no surprise that Santa Fe has a thriving performing arts scene. The world-famous Santa Fe Opera performs only in the summer, but their performances are so good that it's worth thinking about planning your trip around them. A variety of free concerts are also staged throughout the summer in the Plaza. Other performing arts worth considering includes the Maria Benitez Teatro Flamenco and the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet.

Restaurants and Dining

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It's true: New Mexico's official state question is, "Red or green?" The reference is to chili, with green chili hotter, red more pungent. Try them both at restaurants on the Plaza. The Blue Corn Café serves typical New Mexican food like tamales, enchiladas and tacos as well as their own house-brewed beer. Coyote Café has earned a reputation for adding creativity to New Mexican standards, like porcinis and prawns over corn cakes or rib-eye steak with chili onion rings.