1. Where to Stay
Coat your skin in pore-cleansing adobe clay at Santa Fe’s Encantado Spa and Resort (from $325). The 65 casitas include private outdoor patios, wood-burning fireplaces, and New Mexico–inspired décor, like cowhide accents and desert art.
Stroll through the surrounding gardens at Casa de Suenos (from $99), a 21-room B&B. Bart Prince, who has been on Architectural Digest’s list of the top 100 architects since its inception in 1991, designed the structure known as “the snail” for its winding design.
Soak in a private outdoor mineral bath with views of the red rock cliffs at the Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa (from $139). Suites are decorated with New Mexican textiles and include traditional kiva fireplaces for chilly nights.
2. Where to Eat
Follow Bill Richardson’s lead to the family-run Badland’s Burgers in Grants—the outgoing governor and former presidential candidate named the Millie Burger ($6.95) the state’s best in the 2009 Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge. The winning burger’s two one-third-pound patties are lightly charred over an open flame, then topped with smoky green chile, bacon, and guacamole.
Watch your ten-ounce burger prepared medium rare on a 50-year-old cast-iron grill at Bobcat Bite, a roadside diner that’s been around since 1953 ($7.90). Mind this mom-and-pop’s odd hours: Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7:50 p.m.
Brace yourself for the fresh-roasted green-chile topping the hand-ground burger at the original Owl Café (77 U.S. Highway 380; 575-835-9946) in San Antonio ($4.45). The special blend—spicier than most—can also be purchased in pint-size jars for $5.
Choose between the medium (quarter-pound) or large (half-pound) burger—served on a bun or tortilla—at the Little Red Hamburger Hut. (The locals still call it Wimpy’s, trademark lawsuit be damned.) Order at the counter: Burgers are freshly ground, consistently cooked well done, and doused with green or red chile (the “Little Red”). Operating hours are erratic, so call ahead.
3. What to Do
Watch flocks of sandhill cranes take flight at the Bosque del Apache nature preserve in San Antonio, a spot revered among wildlife photographers. Visit in the late afternoon to catch the birds returning to their roost in the famous New Mexico sunset, or arrive early for a more solitary setting—the preserve opens an hour before sunrise.
Take a growler to go at the Marble Brewery in Albuquerque, a beer-lovers’ haven that’s open until midnight. Sample the seven in-house beers, including Wildflower Wheat and Oatmeal Stout, plus a rotating selection of seasonal varieties. Opt for a 5-ounce ($1.50), 10-ounce ($3), 16-ounce ($4), or 22-ounce ($5.50) pour. Drop in on Friday, when the brewery features a weekly cask ale, or listen to live music in the outdoor patio starting in April.
Hike through the Santa Fe National Forest to the San Antonio Hot Springs, a wooded, four-mile trek among pine trees and, come spring, wildflowers. (Less intrepid hikers can opt to take a shorter two-mile route to the McCauley Warm Springs.) The natural pools sustain a temperature of 105 degrees Fahrenheit for a muscle-relaxing post-hike soak.
4. Insider’s Tip
Cap off a night out at Frontier Restaurant, a multi-room diner and popular late-night hangout festooned with Old West—style portraits of John Wayne, just opposite the University of New Mexico campus. Whatever you order—be it eggs, a burger, or burrito—you’ll be given the “red or green?” option. (The chile is understood.) Answer “Christmas,” a mix of both, for the Frontier specialty.
5. Oddball Day
Soak up the oddball art and culture of Albuquerque, nicknamed “Albuquirky” for a reason. Start at the recently relocated National Museum of Nuclear Science and History ($8), packed with artifacts, bizarre pop-culture relics, and propaganda from the atomic age. Then take a ten-minute drive past the curvaceous, spaceshiplike home and studio of local architect Bart Prince, Albuquerque’s answer to Frank Gehry. Stop off at La Paleteria Michoacana de Paquime (6500 Zuni Road; 505-266-3408), a colorful Mexican Popsicle stand that offers 72 different flavors. Finally, take a half-hour drive into Sandia Park to Tinkertown, the life’s work of local artist Ross Ward ($3). The otherworldly 22-room compound—housed within glowing walls built from 50,000 cement-encased glass bottles—contains an intricate universe of miniature, whittled wooden figurines.
Follow the state’s official (and illustrated) cheeseburger trail at newmexico.org.
Food blogger Gil Garduno chronicles his culinary discoveries across New Mexico on nmgastronome.com.
The Alibi, Albuquerque’s arts weekly, offers tips on the city’s nightlife and cultural happenings.
The Santa Fe Reporter’s site, sfreeper.com, lists concerts, open-mike nights, and other events in Santa Fe.