Summer in the southwest is a glorious time. The sun is shining, skies are clear, and everyone is out and about enjoying the good weather. Until it becomes just too darn hot and people start looking for things to do to get out of the heat. Lucky for you, New Mexico has plenty to keep you entertained and occupied during the summer months, from music festivals to nature retreats. Whatever you enjoy, whether it’s hiking, trying new things, lazing around, eating different food, or shopping, New Mexican summer has all the answers. Here’s how you do summer in New Mexico right.
Pull on a ball gown and grab those opera glasses for an evening at the world-famous Santa Fe Opera. This yearly festival — which is held during the summer because of the theater’s gorgeous open-air design — puts on five shows a season, usually featuring classics like “The Marriage of Figaro” or “Carmen” as well as new or lesser-known works. And the fun starts before the curtain even rises with tailgating, a local tradition where attendees have mini-soirees in the parking lot, dining on champagne and fancy hor ‘d’oeuvres. Many people even go all out setting up banquet tables or party tents with all the trappings. From start to finish, taking in a show at SFO is a real treat.
Embark on the Margarita Trail. Don’t worry, you won’t get dysentery on this kind of trail, but you will get more than your fill of salt and tequila. Santa Fe bars shake up some of the best margaritas this side of the border, so follow the Margarita Trail around Santa Fe’s bars and restaurants like the Bell Tower at La Fonda or Del Charro to try all 31 varieties of margarita, including the Prickly Pear or the Santa Fe Margarita which uses chile-infused tequila (orale!). For each margarita, you get a stamp in your Margarita Passport and can collect rewards (although just going around drinking margaritas is a reward in itself).
You have not had a good cheeseburger until you’ve had a green chile cheeseburger, which is fixed up with all the standard fixings but with the addition of a heap of diced, roasted, melt-your-face-off-it’s-so-good green chile. Every city has its go-to GCCB joint, like Santa Fe Bite, a successor of the legendary Bobcat Bite, but to go back where it all began, head to San Antonio, a small town about an hour from Albuquerque and find a small greasy spoon diner called The Owl Bar and Cafe. This is ground zero for green chile cheeseburgers, which were invented here in the 1940s and a favorite of scientists working in Los Alamos.
Stall shop at the Art Markets. One of Santa Fe’s main draws is the eclectic variety of art that highlights New Mexico’s blend of Native and Hispanic cultures. Expressed through sculpture, paintings, jewelry, and other mediums, the many talents of New Mexican artisans are on full display at the annual Native America, International Folk Art, and Spanish Folk Art markets held on the Santa Fe Plaza and Museum Hill. Collectors and art lovers come from all over the world for these markets, so if you do buy something, you can be sure it’s a one-of-a-kind treasure.
Explore the Jemez wilderness. Located a short drive from Albuquerque and Santa Fe, the Jemez wilderness area is filled with some of the state’s most beautiful landscapes and fascinating history. Starting from Santa Fe you’ll pass through Los Alamos, where you can learn about the Manhattan Project, before entering a pure mountain wilderness of pine forests, grassy plains, and clear streams. Keep an eye out for elk on the Valles Caldera, hike to natural hot springs hidden on a mountainside, go for a splash at Soda Dam, spend a weekend camping in the woods, and finally, walk through a slot canyon to a forest of conical rock formations that look like something out of a Dr. Seuss book at Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks.
Have a Frito Pie from the Five and Dime on the Plaza in Santa Fe. The jury is still out on whether it was New Mexico or Texas who invented the Frito Pie (we say it was us), but even so, you can still enjoy our classic recipe from the Five and Dime in Santa Fe. Grab a bag filled with crunchy Fritos topped with chili, cheese, and sour cream, and then go sit on the Plaza and people watch. There you have one of the quintessential Santa Fe experiences.
Crack open a New Mexico craft beer. Wash down those green chile cheeseburgers and Frito pies with a brew from one of New Mexico’s many fine craft breweries. The Santa Fe Brewing Company started it all in 1988 and their IPA and Pale Ale are now staples in many a New Mexican’s fridge (if you’re going camping, it’s not a real trip unless you brought along bottles of the Santa Fe Pale Ale). Marble Brewing and La Cumbre produce excellent IPAs and stouts as well, and when hanging out in a beer garden be sure to try the offerings from other smaller operations around the state, like Bosque Brewing Co.
Escape the heat in Carlsbad Caverns National Park. The summer heat in New Mexico is no joke, so what better way to take a break from being roasted than by going underground? Carlsbad Caverns, which is located about an hour and forty-five minutes from Roswell in the southern half of the state, is a huge network of more than a hundred limestone caves that began forming millions of years ago when the area was an inland sea. The main attraction is the titular Carlsbad Caverns with its Big Room, which houses towering stalagmites, stalactites, columns, draperies, and a colony of Mexican freetail bats, and is accessed via a natural entrance, a gaping hole in the earth with a path that winds its way down. At night, you can sit outside the entrance and watch as the colony of bats fly out of the cave in a giant swarm.
Go dune-sledding at White Sands. No, that’s not snow you’re seeing, it’s a huge field of white gypsum sand dunes, aptly named White Sands. Visitors are encouraged to go on nature walks through the dunes to try and see local flora and fauna, but the main draw is that, although the dunes are a protected monument, you can still monkey around and have fun. People bring sleds and sandboards to surf these literal white waves, and the sunset views are phenomenal.
Try New Mexican wine. Betcha didn’t know that New Mexico is actually a great wine state! Vines were first brought over by the Spaniards to make wine for religious ceremonies and the concept has (thankfully) expanded to include pleasure drinking. Visit the tasting rooms for Gruet, one of NM’s finest vineyards, to try the specialty, Methode Champenoise sparkling wines. But winemakers here use the arid climate to produce all sorts of wine, which you can taste-test at the Santa Fe Wine Festival. And if you’re really adventurous, try the famous Green Chile wine: white wine flavored with New Mexico’s favorite chile.
Spend a day exploring downtown Santa Fe. If you’re in New Mexico, you have to spend at least a day in the Fe. The downtown area is where all the action is, with the prettiest historic adobe buildings, the Plaza and Cathedral, renovated urban centers like the Railyard Park, many of the best restaurants and cafes, and Canyon Road, a half-mile of galleries and stores where you are guaranteed to spend way too much money on beautiful artisan goods. Give yourself a day to wander the narrow streets of downtown, learning about the rich history of the area, stopping in museums and stores, and recharging with meals and margaritas from any number of topnotch eateries.
Treat yo’self at Ojo Caliente Spa. You’ve probably been hitting the art markets, stores, and trails pretty hard, so now it’s time for a little R&R. Back in ye olden times, people with ailments would come to these isolated geothermal hot springs to use their naturally-occurring minerals like lithium, arsenic, iron, and soda to cure afflictions ranging from digestive problems to skin conditions. Whether you believe in healing waters or not, Ojo Caliente is now a great place for a day of rest, with six different hot springs, a mud bath, spa treatments, massages, and more.
Gorge on as much classic New Mexican food as possible. Trust us, when you leave, you’ll miss starting the day with a heaping plate of huevos rancheros or a breakfast burrito, having enchiladas or tamales for lunch, and then finishing the day with whatever you didn’t eat early. And even though it’s summer, go hard on the green chile. Green chile stew, enchiladas, tamales, burritos, everything. Get it while the getting is good.
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