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Sumptuous Santa Fe

The Southwest’s best destination for art lovers also serves up New Mexico sunshine and mouthwatering chocolate.

  • "Black Hollyhock Blue Larkspur" in the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum of Santa Fe, New Mexico, image
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    Black Hollyhock Blue Larkspur is just one of the vivid images to be seen in the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum of Santa Fe, N.M.
  • A longhorn steer skull on an adobe wall in Santa Fe, New Mexico, image
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    A longhorn steer skull adds spark to a red adobe wall in Santa Fe, N.M.
  • Canyon Road gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico, image
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    The art galleries along Canyon Road in Santa Fe, N.M., are so beautiful they’re nearly artworks themselves.
  • Chili peppers in Santa Fe, New Mexico, image
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    Chili peppers not only power the intense flavors of Southwestern cuisine, but also bring a pop of color as decorations around Santa Fe, N.M.
  • Fiesta dancers in Santa Fe, New Mexico, image
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    The bright costumes of fiesta dancers brighten a celebration in Santa Fe, N.M.

You hear a lot of talk about the light in Santa Fe. The honeyed halo around the big shoulders of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains drew such legendary artists as Georgia O’Keeffe and D.H. Lawrence to the area when it was still a lonely outpost, far from the culture capitals. Nearly a century later, contemporary art world stars still come to bake and bask—and be creative—in that high-desert sun.

Santa Fe sells more art than almost any U.S. city except New York and Los Angeles, which it trails in potential paintbrush-wielding inhabitants by a cool 8 million. That fun fact can be traced directly to Canyon Road, its own little land of enchantment, where visitors can see a half-mile of art on a single stroll. One mile, if you work both sides of the street.

It wasn’t so much for its artistic properties that painters sought Santa Fe’s light. Along with a squadron of other consumptive cultural elites, they flocked to the nearby Sunmount Sanitarium, where Easterners suffering from tuberculosis went to be cured—literally and figuratively—by the high-desert sun. Even after they got better, most simply never went back. Thus the Canyon Road art colony was born—not with a bang, but a cough.

But there’s a lot to recommend in Santa Fe after dark, particularly the town’s dark chocolate, which can be found and sampled along the well-worn Chocolate Trail. Four renowned chocolatiers—many within a chile-infused truffle’s throw of Canyon Road—dot the downtown area. If you have time, or the waistline, for only a couple of stops, try Kakawa Chocolate House and Señor Murphy, which is on the west side of La Fonda on the Plaza. Take something sweet up to the hotel’s rooftop bar and watch the sun set over the historic central Plaza.

The Plaza has been a lure for visitors almost since the first tubercular poet landed, but don’t let the abundant T-shirt shops scare you away. Each day, American Indian artisans line up their wares on blankets in front of the Palace of the Governors, and often the faces you see are as striking as the handcrafted jewelry.

Just off the Plaza, you encounter a funky little street called Burro Alley and across the street to decidedly non-honky-tonk Lensic Performing Arts Center, after which you come to Holy Spirit Espresso, serving up the best cup of coffee in town.

This was my nightly route back to the Eldorado Hotel, which features the Nidah Spa, where massage therapists gave me a Chocolate Mole Wrap that was good enough to eat. Even if the skin treatments leave you licking your lips.

Photography by (chili peppers and fiesta dancers); Douglas Merriam (gallery with blue door); Georgia O’Keeffe Museum (flower painting); Daniel Nadelbach (skull on adobe)

This article was first published in March 2012, but updated in November 2013. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.