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Ten Great Reasons to Go to Santa Fe, New Mexico

My last visit to Santa Fe was an amazing trip. So when the opportunity arose to head to New Mexico for a few days with my husband, we jumped at the chance.

My last visit to Santa Fe, New Mexico was six years ago. I took that trip with my incredibly energetic sister Linda, who had me exploring every crevice and corner from Albuquerque to Santa Fe and on up to Taos. It was an amazing trip -- one that left me feeling that New Mexico was a place I would definitely like to see again. And again. So when the opportunity arose this month to head out to that part of the country for a few days with my husband Dan, we jumped at the chance. We were both in need of some down time, so we opted to settle into Santa Fe for the duration instead of hauling up and down the Turquoise Trail as I'd done on my last visit (we're saving that for our next trip).

Going local proved very rewarding, though. A born and bred New Yorker, Dan had never been to New Mexico, and the adobe structures and pervasive art-everywhere attitude of Santa Fe alone wowed him. The city looks like no other place in this country; certainly nothing like New York. In fact, zoning laws of the state's capitol mandate that no building can be higher than three stories, making the sky just as much a part of experience as what's beneath it. For my part, I had never been at Christmastime, and was dazzled by all the farolitos (paper bags filled with sand holding glowing candles -- traditional Mexican Christmas lights, if you will) and the light dusting of snow that covered the sage brush and piñon trees. Even better, I found new (and new-to-me) things to love. Below is my top ten list of sights and tastes not to miss if you're planning a journey to Santa Fe:

La Posada de Santa Fe Rock Resort. There are many wonderful places to stay in Santa Fe, all built in the adobe architectural style. Much of this is new-ish, though, and I always like to get a little history when I go away. La Posada's original, main building, the Staab House (which has the best bar in town -- the tequila list alone is outstanding) was built in 1882 by a German-Jewish immigrant businessman for his wife, Julia, who haunts the place to this day according to staff -- although, I was told, she's a friendly ghost. The six acres of property also encompasses a row of abode bungalows, which at one point during the 1950s were the residence of artists who came from all over the world to work in the famed light of Santa Fe. Indeed, the grounds are filled with fascinating sculptures and the paintings and photographs inside are ever-changing and absolutely worth your time to gaze at. Don't miss dinner at Fuego, whose menu allows for creative culinary touches that gently surprise the palate, but never overwhelm. Be sure to check in with wine steward Diane Hebert, whose pairing suggestions are unfailingly perfect. 330 E. Palace Ave. tel. 505/986-0000.

The Anniversary of the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. In preparation for the 10th anniversary, the museum recently acquired over 1,000 pieces of Ms. O'Keeffe's stunning work. As one of the most famous and respected American female artists in the country, O'Keeffe left a legacy that this Santa Fe museum proudly and happily displays, along with the work of her compatriots, like the breathtaking southwestern vistas and curiosities in Paul Strands 30's-era photography. 217 John St. tel. 505/946-1000.

Wine and Tapas at La Boca. While the restaurant scene in Santa Fe is chock full of wonderful food, things don't change too swiftly on this city's culinary map. When a chef does make a move, though, it's big news. Chef James Campbell Caruso made a name for himself at Canyon Road staple El Farol. Now, he's opened his own spot on Marcy Street, an addictive tapas spot that has already become a hit with locals. The well-chosen wine list comes with a book full of stories about the winemakers the restaurant carries, although if reading isn't on your agenda, the knowledgeable and helpful staff members are happy to tell you all they know. Don't miss the grilled artichokes with pillowy soft goat cheese, mint and blood oranges. 72 West Marcy Street. tel. 505/920-0521.

The Echo at Museum Hill's Labyrinth. Right outside the Museum of International Folk Art is a labyrinth made of brick that you can wind your way through until you come to its center. But once you do, don't turn back and find your way out. Stand right on top of the small, rounded center spot and speak something out loud -- anything at all. When you do, you will hear your voice echo all around your head, as if someone put a bucket over it. The weirdest thing? You're the only one who can hear the echo. It is completely bizarre and tons of fun. Apparently, it's caused by a bubble of water in the tiny dome you are standing on and the sound reflecting off the labyrinth's low walls. However it happens, it's pretty darned cool. 706 Camino Lejo.

Lunch at Pasquale's. Pasquale's is pretty much an institution at this point, and with good reason. The food rocks. In all likelihood, you'll have to wait a bit for a seat. For faster service, grab a chair at the big, round communal table in the middle of the room and chat up the locals who come here for Pasquale's simple, snappy pleasures, like the chicken breast sandwich with manchego cheese, aioli mayo, carmelized onions, and a kick of jalapeno on what is easily some of the best bread in the world (made from organic corn and green chili). 121 Don Gasper. tel. 505/983-9340.

The Miraculous Staircase at Loretto Chapel. Nobody knows how it was put together or even what the wood used to build it is, but this ornate spiral staircase is a wonder to behold. Legend has it that the nuns of the gothic Loretto Chapel wished for an easier way to get to the church's second-floor choir loft. Their prayers were answered in the form of an unknown carpenter (feel free to draw Biblical parallels here), who showed up to build the staircase using no nails, no central support, and creating two full 360 degree turns. Impossible? Go see for yourself. It's truly a marvel. 207 Old Santa Fe Trail. tel. 505/982-0092.

Dinner at 315. The thing that tipped us off that we were in for a really good meal at 315 Restaurant & Wine Bar was the obvious amount of in-the-know locals dining there. A quick eavesdrop on any number of tables around us confirmed it: 315's following is a loyal one, and for good reason. This tiny, cozy spot is very serious about the ingredients that go in its Provençal-inspired fare, which as often as possible are local in nature, frequently organic and always fresh at the behest of chef/owner Louis Moskow (who is also the proprietor of the more casual Railyard Restaurant & Saloon in the eponymous neighborhood). Pinot Noir fans take note: Moskow is a big fan of the grape and has lots of it on his large, wonderful wine list. 315 Old Santa Fe Trail. tel. 505/986-9190.

Vintage Shopping at Double Take. Even if vintage isn't on your radar, taking a walk through this thoroughly entertaining vintage clothing store is worth it to check out the massive selection of western gear alone. From sparkly Loretta Lynn-worthy shirts to cowboy boots and turquoise jewelry galore, half of Double Take is exclusively devoted to all things western. The other portion of the store is a vintage-hunter's dream. The condition of the clothing and shoes is nothing less pristine, and the bargains can't be beat. 319 S. Guadaloupe. tel. 505/820-7775.

Gruet Champagne. New Mexican "Champagne"? You betcha. The Gruet family came to New Mexico in 1983 from the Champagne region of France where they'd been producing the beverage since the 1950s. As the French tend to believe that difficult terrain makes for better wine, they found the New Mexican lands to be just the thing for their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes and bought a plot to give it a shot -- the rest is bubbly history. Their Blanc de Blanc can be found on wine lists throughout Santa Fe, by the bottle or glass, and it's delicious -- crisp, acidic, a little citrusy. A great surprise well-worth checking out. 8400 Pan American Freeway N.E., Albuquerque. tel. 888/857-WINE.

Farm-to-Restaurant Project. Chefs all over the country are getting to wise to their own natural resources, and Santa Fe is no exception. In 2005, a group of local farmers and eateries helped to form Farm to Restaurant, a consortium of local growers and restaurants who exclusively buy from them for a truly organic New Mexican experience on their menus. Next year will see a permanent indoor/outdoor structure in the Railyard District built for the popular farmer's market, too -- definitely be worth a stroll through when the market is in full swing during the growing season. At the time of this writing, there were 15 great eateries participating in the project, giving locals and tourists the opportunity to taste true New Mexican fare.

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