Your Guide To Charming Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe, New Mexico is one of those rare cities in the United States that actually feels old. Walking through this town's tiny streets gives one a sense that they're in a European city instead of the middle of the Southwest.

The history behind this town is just part of what makes it charming. The city is brimming with art, gorgeous scenery, culture, and a killer food scene. I found myself enchanted by Santa Fe and did not want to leave after a four-day stint. From the green chili cheeseburger to eating a breakfast burrito at the restaurant where they were supposedly invented, prepare to devour Santa Fe.

The Plaza is the heart of Santa Fe and would be the ideal place to start your adventure. Browse the local shops and even stop in for a quick bite. For an old timey dinner feel with incredible looking cakes, try the aptly named Plaza Cafe. Try New Mexican comfort food like the green chili meatloaf and chicken flautas, or just some guacamole if you want a quick snack. After exploring the Plaza, take a short walk to the Georgia O'Keefe Museum, another must-see. Take in some of her paintings, see the tools she's used to create them, and learn more about the life of this forward-thinking artist who loved New Mexico.

If you ask locals where the best chiles — a New Mexican culinary staple — are served, they'll almost all say The Shed, located just outside of the Plaza. Unless you've made reservations or don't mind sitting at the bar, prepare for a long wait. But it will be worth it. Order a burrito or enchilada and have it drenched in the state's signature chilies. They have a really strong, spicy aftertaste and your mouth might burn a little. Your safest bet — especially if you have an aversion to spicy food — is to have them served on the side so you can at least try it. And you should try it.

Having your first meal of the day at the iconic Tia Sophia's, the alleged home of the breakfast burrito, is a true treat. Expect burritos made with crunchy, freshly sliced potatoes, cooked eggs, and your choice of meat. And have it drenched in chiles. Order it Christmas-style (red and green) to try both chiles. I personally prefer green ones — they're a bit sweeter — but the choice is yours.

Just about every city has that one hip dual coffee shop/café, and Santa Fe's is Collected Works Bookstore. Browse the latest titles as you sip from a smooth espresso drink courtesy of Santa Fe's very own organic roaster Iconik. The store also stocks decadent doughnuts from local Whoo's Donuts and other baked goods from Sweet Lily Bakery. I also had a salted chocolate chip cookie here that nearly changed my life.

Santa Fe Bite is legendary for its green chili cheeseburger. And after the first bite, you'll see why. Expect a juicy Angus patty topped with melted cheese and just the right amount of green chilies. It will leave your stomach full, and your mouth burning just a little bit.

If you head up to Santa Fe Bite, you might as well stop by one of the city's best-known sites, the Loretto Chapel. It's famous for its wooden spiral staircase, an architectural wonder that isn't supported by anything. It might not sound like much, but it really is impressive to see up close. Especially when you consider that the man who built it more than 100 years ago disappeared after he finished the job. 

I'm an art fan, but I tend to avoid galleries since many don't exactly have the most welcoming environments unless you plan on buying. But that isn't true on Canyon Road. It's the exact opposite, actually. Walk the entire length of this street and pop in to different galleries. Expect to be greeted at each and every one. You'll find sculpture, glass works and plenty of paintings. At the very end of the street, consider stopping for lighter fare and an infused tea — the shop's specialty — at The Teahouse. The very long list of teas here is impressive.  Keep it traditional with offerings like lavender jasmine or try a dynamic combination like chocolate mint. You can't go wrong when you order a cup of tea here.

If you're a big fan of chocolate, you'll want try to swing by Kakawa Chocolate House. Known for its drinking chocolate (they're called elixirs), you can sample these beverages with historic roots for free. They're not sweet, but are made with a variety of ingredients including, what else, chilies. I personally thought the elixirs were too bitter, but I did love the tiny truffles under the glass case. You can even try a chocolate-covered chili, if you're feeling adventurous.

Santa Fe's Farmers Market is consistently rated as one of the best in the world. And it's not hard to see why. For one, it's a gorgeous place filled with local vendors selling their goods. Expect to see goods from garlic farms, beekeepers, and a raspberry farm, too. I personally loved the decorative crosses crafted out of red chilies. Head inside the large warehouse space next to the vendors to get coffee from Café Fresh or fine chocolates at The Chocolate Smith.

I can't think of a more perfect way to end a trip to Santa Fe than by watching the sunset from the Cross of the Martyrs. As you pause on the hillside, I hope you take a moment to appreciate America's oldest capital city and all it has to offer — the art, food, and culture here make Santa Fe one very special place.

Teresa K. Traverse is a Phoenix, Arizona-based writer, editor, and traveler. Follow her tweets @teresaktraverse. Check out her clips on her website