Celebrities lead pretty enviable lives. Constant parties, trips all over the world, red-carpet galas in the latest fashions, private spa retreats…who wouldn’t want to live like that, at least for a while?
Riiiight. Few of us have celebrity-sized budgets, and photo shoots and galas tend to interrupt our 9-5. But there’s still a way we can taste that jet-setting, glamorous lifestyle: by getting to New Mexico. The state’s long been a favorite haunt of celebrities for its art, unique culture, and wild landscapes, while the film industry has turned the Land of Enchantment into the next Hollywood (aka Tamalewood). Here are just a few ways you can be a part of it all.
Celebrity sighting #1: Brad Pitt at White Sands
Google “Brad Pitt White Sands Photoshoot,” and let the recreation commence. One of the first results will show you that he visited the area wearing a sweater and pants, which — guess what? — you totally have in your closet, too. Watch out, GQ.
Frolicking (and apparently shoulder stands) complete, know that White Sands National Monument is way more than just a photo shoot location for film stars (Kendall Jenner, Solange Knowles…the list goes on!). Sixteen miles from the city of Alamogordo, in southern New Mexico, White Sands is exactly what it sounds like: 275 square miles of undulating dunes of pure white, white-white sand. Composed of gypsum crystals, the dune field is the biggest of its kind in the world, and it’s also a great spot for hiking, camping, and most definitely dune sledding. It’s also really popular with photographers and Instagrammers, because day or night, rain or shine, these lunar-like dunes are truly a sight to behold.
Celebrity sighting #2: Hugh Jackman at Sandia Crest
New Mexico is Wolverine-approved. While filming in Albuquerque, Hugh Jackman decided to do as the locals do, taking in the desert and city views from the top of Sandia Crest. It’s a ridge running along the top of the Sandia Mountains at an altitude of more than 10,000 feet, looming over the city. Yeah, the views are pretty decent.
To get there, take the 2.7-mile Sandia Peak Tram up the side of the mountain to the crest, where you can look out over Albuquerque and into the Rio Grande Valley. The area is also rife with hiking trails, like the popular La Luz Trail, and the 26-mile Crest Trail that runs along the top of the mountains. Technically, you can also get there via road, which has become a favorite of motorcyclists and the convertible-owning. And when the snow hits, get ready — the Sandia Mountains also have a ski center (and restaurant and gift shop).
Celebrity sighting #3: Tavi Gevinson at Tent Rocks
If you need a break from gallivanting around Santa Fe, one go-to trip is to Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, à la writer/editor/blogger Tavi Gevinson. (If you don’t know her, all you need to know is that she became famous in the fashion world at age 12. Twelve.) The monument’s located about 40 miles from the capital city, meaning you go from urban hotspot to the wild outdoors in what feels like no time at all.
“Tent Rocks” gets its name from the red-and-white-striped volcanic rocks that have — thanks to time and erosion — formed into towering, sci-fi-esque cones that pierce the desert sky. The best way to see these formations is by following the Canyon Trail, winding through a narrow gap in the rocks and eventually cresting an elevated mesa. Here you’ll overlook just about everything.
Celebrity sighting #4: George R. R. Martin at the Jean Cocteau Cinema
Game of Thrones fans may be annoyed at the fantasy author’s time-consuming side projects (he’s still writing, don’t worry!), but Santa Feans sure are pleased at the time and attention that Martin has paid to lovingly restoring the Jean Cocteau Cinema, a classic 132-seater in downtown Santa Fe. It was first opened in 1976, but closed in 2006. Martin snatched up this treasure and reopened it in 2013, expanding its artistic offerings and jazzing it up with a digital projector, better movie snacks (even celebrities need good snacking options), and a bar.
Now, the theater has screenings of everything from obscure arthouse films to cult favorites, readings and signings by writers both local and international (come back soon, Neil Gaiman!), art exhibits, performances, and the weekly game night or occasional free Game of Thrones screening. It’s also a great jumping-off point for exploring the refurbished Railyard area with its parks and markets, art galleries like SITE Santa Fe, bars and restaurants, and historic plaza.
Celebrity sighting #5: Simon Pegg in Madrid, New Mexico
Madrid is a quirky, fun, offbeat kind of town — just like actor and writer Simon Pegg, who saw it firsthand when the 2011 movie Paul featured its Mine Shaft Tavern bar. Not far from Santa Fe along the Highway 14 Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway, Madrid (pronounced MAD-rid, not like Madrid, Spain) used to be a coal mining town, but it’s now an artist community frequently used as a filming location. Places like the Mine Shaft Tavern and the Old Coal Town Museum still offer a glimpse into the town’s history, giving it a movie-set feel.
The best way to get to know this tiny community is by strolling down the main drag (still Hwy 14, because that’s how small we’re talking). Pop into a few historic buildings, galleries, and cafes, and definitely grab a drink from Jezebel Soda Fountain, the real deal dating back to the 1920s.
Celebrity sighting #6: Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the Santa Fe Opera
The only person who could make a night at the opera even classier is Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The Santa Fe Opera, open only during the summer months because of its sweeping, open-air design that looks out on the O’Keeffe-esque mountains and plains of central New Mexico, is the cultural event of Santa Fe’s summer season. SFO puts on five operas each year, usually an eclectic mix of established classics — like Bizet’s Carmen or anything by Mozart — alongside brand new pieces like last year’s The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs. English and Spanish subtitles are on your seatback, because SFO is 21st-century, too.
Before the show, you can take in the sunset on the outdoor terraces while sipping champagne, or do as the locals and have a fancy tailgate in the parking lot with drinks and hors d’oeuvres, while dressed to the nines in an evening gown and opera gloves. Or, if you’re lucky, judicial robes.
Celebrity sighting #7: The Obamas at Carlsbad Caverns
We know the Obamas have a penchant for jealousy-inducing tropical island vacations, but they also use their family time to explore America’s national parks, like their 2016 trip to Carlsbad Caverns. Located less than two hours from the alien-centric town of Roswell in southern New Mexico, the park contains a system of 119 limestone caves that started forming millions of years ago when this part of New Mexico was an inland sea. Three of the multi-roomed caves are open to the public, with most visitors opting for a tour of the namesake Carlsbad Cavern.
The main attraction is the Big Room, a massive chamber nearly 4,000 feet long and 255 feet high, filled with columns, stalactites, stalagmites, and other formations. It’s accessible by following the main walkway that leads into the mouth of the cave. Carlsbad is also home to a large bat colony, which you can watch leave the cavern in a giant swarm at sunset. Thanks for the travel recommendation, Obama.