Like a fine cheese or wine, some things simply get better with age. This certainly seems to be the case for Santa Fe, as the capital of New Mexico celebrates its 400th anniversary.
(Photo by Ivan Astar)
Throughout its history, Santa Fe has been a destination for those on a quest -- from Spanish conquistadores seeking new land to artists seeking inspiration to gays seeking acceptance. Today, Santa Fe trails only San Francisco among U.S. metro areas in the percentage of households headed by same-sex partners. As such, I found it to be a welcoming city with much to offer.
One of the first things you notice when visiting Santa Fe is the adobe -- it's everywhere. The Palace of the Governors is a prime example of the distinctive architecture. Located along the northern edge of the city's historic, central Santa Fe Plaza, it's the oldest public building in the United States. It serves as a state history museum and visitors can find Native-American artisans selling their wares daily under the building's portal.
For one ingredient to so define a destination's cuisine is rare, but Santa Fe has cornered the market when it comes to green chilies. Two of the best places to partake in the spicy treat include The Pink Adobe, which features a N.Y. strip steak with sautéed mushrooms and green chilies; and Atomic Café, offering the unique Frito pie -- Frito chips covered in beans, cheese and green chili. I loved it.
Native Americans inhabited New Mexico long before Spanish contact in the 1500s, and their timeless cultures, traditions, arts and beliefs continue to enrich the state today. Beautiful Native-American pottery is sold throughout the many downtown galleries such as Andrea Fisher Fine Pottery. Fisher represents a number of openly gay pottery makers.
It's also a great experience to visit one of the area's many pueblos to see the pottery being made. The San Ildefonso Pueblo is located just 23 miles north of Santa Fe. While this pueblo welcomes visitors, it is important to be respectful and become familiar with the rules and regulations of the various pueblos before visiting.
(Photo by Steven Allan)
At 400, Santa Fe and the surrounding area are obviously rich in history. A day trip to Bandelier National Monument and Los Alamos provides rich ancient and modern discoveries. Bandelier's human history extends back more than 10,000 years. The main loop trail, about a mile and starting at the visitor's center, weaves past remarkable petroglyphs (rock engravings) and excavated archeological sites and cliff dwellings that served as the ancestral home for various modern Pueblo people. Guided tours of the main trail are offered almost daily.
In the early 1940s, a small unassuming shop at 109 East Palace Avenue in Santa Fe served as main processing center for researchers heading to the ''secret city'' of Los Alamos to be part of the Manhattan Project. Today, the shop is still there and Los Alamos remains an acclaimed scientific-research town. The Los Alamos Historical Museum and the Bradbury Science Museum provide visitors an opportunity to learn about the town's vital role in the development of the world's first atomic bombs.
Beyond the bomb, the Santa Fe area is an art lover's mecca.
The city is home to more than 200 galleries and many major museums. Not to be missed is an exploration of the galleries that line Canyon Road, and visits to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum and the New Mexico Museum of Art. In addition to the O'Keeffe Museum, there is also the opportunity to visit O'Keeffe's two New Mexico homes, at nearby Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu, to see many of the amazing vistas -- including the beautiful New Mexico sky -- that inspired much of her work. The State Capitol also has a vast collection of art on display.
(Photo by John M. Chase)
One of Santa Fe's major art events is the prestigious Santa Fe Indian Market, held every August. It is the city's largest event, with more than 1,200 artists from 100 tribes. And while mostly known for its visual arts, Santa Fe's opera company is considered one of the best in the world.
When it comes to accommodations, you're really in luck if you like spas. The Inn and Spa at Loretto is just steps away from the city's historic core and easy walking distance to the art galleries of Canyon Road. Ten Thousand Waves is a Japanese-inspired resort and spa a few miles north of downtown. Both properties actively market to the gay community.
One of the only things Santa Fe lacks is a gay nightlife (or much of any nightlife, really). One surprising option is the Silver Starlight Cabaret, which is located in a gay retirement community, RainbowVision Properties, on the outskirts of downtown. Though part of the residents' clubhouse, the cabaret is open to the public, and it actually attracts a fairly lively crowd, especially in the early evening hours.
For more information about Santa Fe, visit santafe.org.