A progressive, gay-friendly magnet for creative spirits and outdoorsy types, Santa Fe draws opera fanatics in summer and ski bums in winter, but many travelers overlook the cool yet sunny days of autumn, a time to attend festivals, hike the stunning countryside, and savor the taste of fresh-roasted green chiles. In October the aspen trees turn golden, and by mid-November it’s not uncommon to see a white shock of snow crowning Santa Fe’s spectacular 12,500-foot Sangre de Cristo Mountains. By then, the nutty aroma of piñon wood burning in hundreds of fireplaces permeates the air.
DAY 1 Fiesta: For 10 days in early September you can watch the colorful events of Santa Fe Fiesta, including the fabled Burning of Zozobra on September 7. Over the first two weekends in October it’s just an hour’s drive to Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the largest such event in the world. And numerous villages in and around Santa Fe host studio tour weekends from September through November, during which you can chat with artisans and browse their wares.
Browse: On the off chance you’re in town when there’s no event on tap, spend your first day strolling historic Canyon Road, a narrow, winding lane that climbs from downtown into the piñon-studded foothills, fringed by several renown art galleries.
Eat: Pause for a meal at gay-popular Geronimo (724 Canyon Rd., 505-982-1500), one of the Southwest’s temples of haute cuisine. Don’t miss the mesquite-grilled lobster tails with sautéed gnocchi and a spicy chile-wine sauce.
DAY 2 Head for the Hills: Saunter through Aspen Vista (off Hyde Park Road, 13 miles east of downtown), a dense grove of quaking aspens just below the Santa Fe ski area. It’s about a four-mile jaunt to reach an amazing promontory that affords panoramic views of the city and surrounding high desert. Remember, this is high-altitude country--pace yourself, and drink plenty of water, even on a cool fall morning.
Decompress: On your drive back to town stop at Ten Thousand Waves (3451 Hyde Park Rd., 505-982-9304), a Japanese-inspired spa retreat, where you can bliss out to an Indo-Asian hot-oil massage before soaking in one of the serene hot tubs. If it’s you and your honey, opt for the private New Ofuro tub, with its balcony and adjacent sauna. If you’re going solo, hop into the chummy communal tub, a favorite hobnobbing spot among the many queer folks in town.
Groove: Little Santa Fe isn’t the hottest clubbing destination in the world, but Swig (135 W. Palace Ave., 505-955-0400), a chic, mixed lounge and dance club, has a decidedly gay following.
DAY 3 Breakfast on the Patio: Begin your morning with a meal at one of the most atmospheric restaurants in town, Harry’s Roadhouse (Old Las Vegas Hwy., 505-989-4629), a funky adobe spread on the outskirts of town. On the sunny patio nosh on hearty breakfast burritos or blue-corn waffles.
Cocktails and Dinner on the Patio: As the sun sets, grab a seat on the open-air Rooftop Cantina (132 W. Water St., 505-983-1615), a favorite hangout for people watching, chips and “guac,” fish tacos, and mango margaritas.
The Far East-meets-Old West vibe of the intimate, ultraplush Inn of the Five Graces (150 E. DeVargas St., 505-992-0957) delights discerning travelers. Stylish Rosewood Hotels & Resorts recently bought and renovated the swank Inn of the Anasazi (113 Washington Ave., 505-988-3030), an artful 57-room adobe hotel just steps from the historic Plaza (it has one of the hottest restaurants in town). The gay-owned Inn of the Turquoise Bear (342 E. Buena Vista St., 505-983-0798) occupies the rambling, Pueblo Revival estate of gay 1920s poet Witter Bynner. Affordable yet quite elegant, the Old Santa Fe Inn (320 Galisteo St., 505-995-0800) offers a hip, spotless, modern take on a vintage motor court in Santa Fe's lively Guadalupe District.
Santa Fe is served by Albuquerque International Sunport (2200 Sunport Blvd. SE, off I-25, 505-244-7700), which has flights on all major U.S. airlines and lies just 60 miles from town via I-25. If you have time, take the slightly longer but incredibly scenic Turquoise Trail (Hwy. 14), stopping in the funky village of Madrid for some gallery hopping.