By Richard Mahler

Some of the best things about Santa Fe, and all of the Land of Enchantment, do not fit into discrete geographic categories. They pertain instead to New Mexico's distinctive character, and resist geographic pigeonholes. Others relate to the region's tri-cultural heritage: Native American, Hispanic and Anglo (a catch-all category that includes virtually everyone who doesn't fit into the other two classifications).

To examine my specific recommendations for Santa Fe, Taos, Albuquerque and other popular New Mexico sites, please browse through the category titled THE BEST. In the introductory section presented here, however-which I am calling The Best of the Best-I have pulled together my own observations and those of many recognized experts on various aspects of New Mexico's unique culture.

I hope these reflections-both general and specific-prove useful to you as you discover and explore the incredible part of America that is New Mexico, Nuevo Mexico and the Land of Enchantment. There is no other place like it.


OUR REMARKABLE STATE by former U. N.  Ambassador Bill Richardson. "New Mexico is world-renowned for advancements in science and technology, but intermingling threads of yesteryear weave an alluring pattern of past and present, old and new." (more)

THE BEST ROUTE BETWEEN SANTA FE AND ALBUQUERQUE. "Take the Turquoise Trail (NM Highway  14) between Albuquerque and Santa Fe," advises Ty Allison, a professional photographer whose work takes him all through the Land of Enchantment. "The drive north will take a few minutes longer than I-25, but will give you a much better feel for the incredible geographical and cultural diversity of New Mexico." (more)

WHAT'S BEST ABOUT SANTA FE. "The moment I saw the brilliant, proud morning sun shine high up over the desert of Santa Fe," wrote British novelist D. H. Lawrence after his first visit to New Mexico's capital, "something stood still in my soul." (more)

NEW MEXICO'S BEST KIDS STUFF. Here's the "Totally Awesome 10," according to a random selection of New Mexicans under the age of 16. Like, check it out, dude. (more)

NEW MEXICO'S HISPANIC CULTURE by noted author Rudolfo Anaya. "If one is to savor New Mexico's best qualities fully, it is good to know something about the people who make this their home. No group is more significant in this regard than los Hispanos-the people of mixed Spanish, Native American and Mexican blood, whose ancestors have been here for generations." (more)

NEW MEXICO'S NATIVE CULTURE as seen by Simon Ortiz. Simon Ortiz is a native of Acoma Pueblo, west of Albuquerque, who has lived in urban and rural communities throughout New Mexico, as well as on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. He is an eloquent, critically acclaimed poet and short-story writer, whose books include "Going for the Rain," "Woven Stone" and "After and Before the Lightning." (more)

THE REAL NEW MEXICO by Jim Sagel. The late Jim Sagel lived in the Espanola Valley of northern New Mexico from the early 1970s until his untimely death in the late 1990s, working as an educator, translator and writer. An Anglo transplant from Colorado, he taught himself to read, write and speak Spanish after marrying into the family of local weaver Teresa Archuleta. "I wanted to protect myself from my in-laws," he joked. "After I learned the language, "I became fascinated with the stories that my suegros (in-laws) were telling. I started writing them down-and creating stories of my own." (more)

THE BEST WAYS TO BEHAVE ON INDIAN RESERVATIONS. Above all, be respectful. Assuming you're not a Native American, come to dances, celebrations, festivals and ceremonies only when they're announced as open to non-Indian visitors. Often these are summer feast days, saints' days, Christian religious holidays, New Year's Day and King's Day (Jan. 6). (more)

THE BEST MODERATELY PRICED ACCOMMODATIONS. As a rule, the closer you are to the Plaza, the more things cost-including hotel rooms. For those with a car (or who don't mind using Santa Fe's efficient bus or taxi services), a move to the outskirts can free up money for other diversions, such as eating and shopping. (more)

THE BEST FLEA MARKET. "Sooner or later, everybody in Santa Fe shows up at 'The Flea.'" This declaration by the late abstract Santa Fe painter, African art dealer and bon vivant Don Fabricant stands the test of time. 505-995-8626 (more)

THE BEST MUSEUM. There is no place on Earth quite like Santa Fe's Museum of International Folk Art. Yes, there are other folk art museums in the United States, but none as exuberant, good-humored, and diverse as this. (more)

THE BEST OUTDOOR MARKET. For a truly "local" Santa Fe experience, come to its twice-weekly Farmers' Market. It is seasonal, running from late spring through the October harvest. (more)

BEST ALTERNATIVES TO BANDELIER NATIONAL MONUMENT. See the Puye Cliffs and avoid the crowds that usually overwhelm nearby Bandelier National Monument. (more)

THE BEST VIEW OF THE RIO GRANDE. White Rock Overlook-also called Overlook Park-is a spectacular aerie on a basalt cliff high above the roiling, frothy Rio Grande. (more)

THE BEST PLACE TO SEE SCULPTURE BEING MADE. Like her fellow sculptors from throughout the United States, California resident Gwyn Murrell visits Shidoni whenever she gets anywhere close to Santa Fe. A combination foundry, gallery and outdoor sculpture garden, Shidoni is north of the city in the village of Tesuque. (more)

THE 10 BEST TOURIST TRAPS. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with a "tourist trap." In some cases such notoriety is justified, but sometimes not. (more)

THE BEST SPA. A few years back, Ten Thousand Waves was voted "the best place to send friends" in a poll conducted by the weekly Santa Fe Reporter. It also has been dubbed "the best place for a romantic first date." Whatever the "best of" category, locals can't seem to get enough of this elegant Japanese-style onsen (outdoor health spa). (more)

THE BEST PLACE FOR KIDS. The hands-on Santa Fe Children's Museum "offers kids a chance to learn by doing," says local writer (and parent) Catherine Coggan, author of Family Adventures in New Mexico. "There's a climbing wall, bubble-making machine, a contraption containing 180,000 metal pins, magnet exhibits, as well as snakes and other live animals that children can touch or hold." (more)

THE BEST WAY TO LEARN MORE BESTS. Besides my own book, there are several New Mexico magazines and newspapers that compile "best" lists with some regularity. (more)

Richard Mahler is author of "New Mexico's Best" and several other books. A journalist and photographer as well, he specializes in travel writing, among other subjects. He has contributed to National Public Radio since 1973 and to the Los Angeles Times since 1979. He has written thousands of articles for more than 100 magazines and newspapers, including The New Mexican, New Mexico magazine, and Santa Fean magazine. A longtime resident of New Mexico, he lives in Santa Fe. For a full listing of Richard Mahler's books, and to place orders for them, visit

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