Santa Fe offers the hustle and bustle of shopping in the Plaza or a breathtaking walk through an aspen forest.
Santa Fe offers the hustle and bustle of shopping in the Plaza or a breathtaking walk through an aspen forest. Dennis MacDonald/age fotostock

People often ask me, "If your job is to travel, where do you go on vacation?" Two words: Santa Fe. I have had the pleasure of returning to this city six times, including with my mom and my sister on separate girl trips. I love Santa Fe for its desert beauty and for how it reminds us through ancient sites — such as the 19 pueblos found in the area — that the European colonists weren't the first Americans.

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Santa Fe is a city in which you can appreciate our vibrant Native American culture and experience a world-class art scene that's attitude-free. Also: At an elevation of 7,000 feet, one margarita goes a lot further!

The New Santa Fe

A once-grimy, industrial no-man's-land is now the Railyard: a pedestrian-only stretch of beautiful landscaped spaces, open-air performance areas, contemporary art galleries, one-of-a-kind shops and eat-your-heart-out restaurants. It has become a local favorite and an antidote to the historic center of Santa Fe (also known as the Plaza), which on weekends becomes so overwhelmed by people and traffic that you'll be grateful for the breathing space the Railyard provides.

A Walk in the Woods

What I love most about Santa Fe is that just 10 minutes outside its bustling center are fantastic hiking trails. My favorite is the Aspen Vista Trail. It's a gorgeous trek (moderate) through a forest of luminescent aspen that make you feel as if you're walking through a Klimt painting. The sweeping view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains is so breathtaking, I always get slightly emotional when I begin the hike. In fact, I've nicknamed the trail "The Tear Jerker." Find it on Artist Road, past Mile Marker 13.

A Walk in the City

If you like your walk to be more instructive, go to Santa Fe's visitors website for a list of self-guided walking tours with printable maps and itineraries. There are tours that cater to chocolate lovers and coffee lovers, but the most relevant to visitors interested in understanding Santa Fe's roots is the New Deal Art Legacy tour, which combines information about the city's art and history. You'll learn, for instance, that for a decade starting in 1933, public art was funded by President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs. They employed 167 New Mexican artists, who created more than 1,000 artworks in Santa Fe and across the state.

A True Mexican Meal

On my first trip to Santa Fe, I asked a bellman where he would spend money to get the best Mexican food in Santa Fe. I wanted authentic cuisine (no Tex-Mex!) in a nice, comfortable sit-down restaurant. He told me "Maria's," and I have been going there for the last 14 years to get fajitas, enchiladas, guacamole, Spanish rice and more. Maria's has been open since 1952, surviving decades of culinary competition for good reason.