Why Santa Fe should top your R&R list
Whether you've ever been to "The City Different" or simply followed its recent appearances in the press (near the top of Travel + Leisure's Best Cities in the U.S. and Conde Nast Traveler's Friendliest Cities in the U.S. lists, for example), you get that Santa Fe is a remarkable place. But beyond the best-known local draws—the historic adobes that line the streets, the majestic mountains that fill the backdrop, the world-renowned galleries, museums, hotels and restaurants that occupy the spaces in between—there’s something else to suggest Santa Fe was made for this moment (and your next getaway): unrivaled R&R.
Whatever your ideal form of self-care—a soak in a hot spring, a day at the spa or back-to-back sessions of retail therapy—you’ll find so many options here, they could fill an entire trip. And for many an R&R seeker, they do. Read on for seven of the best options.
A soak in a spring (or several)
The region’s hot springs—prized for their spiritual, cleansing and healing properties by Indigenous societies since time immemorial—are so much a part of the local legacy that one of this year’s main exhibits at the venerable New Mexico History Museum has been the photographic retrospective entitled Curative Powers: New Mexico’s Hot Springs (well worth seeing if you can get here by September 5). Either way, of course, the heart of the hot spring experience is a proper soak, or a whole series of them, given the wealth of opportunities.
Both of the area’s celebrated Ojo Spa Resorts—Ojo Santa Fe and its Ojo Caliente counterpart, about an hour north—offer 10 a.m.-10 p.m. day access to a multitude of mineral-rich, spring-fed pools without reservations, as well as overnight accommodations for anyone who craves a deeper immersion. While the Ojo Caliente location is currently wrapping up improvements on a much-anticipated refresh, you can still soak and/or stay in this stunning expanse between the desert cliffs and cottonwood-dotted bosque. And while both properties highlight heated soaking experiences, note that the lush, 77-acre Santa Fe location is also home to the city’s largest saltwater pool (also fed by the local aquifer).
For a global take on the local waters’ healing properties, head to Ten Thousand Waves, where New Mexico’s nature blends with Japan’s bathing traditions to legendary effect. Though you’ll need reservations for even day use here, you can soak onsite whether or not you choose to stay overnight. Using mineral water from a 900-foot-deep onsite well, the hot tubs here emulate the Japanese onsen experience across a series of spots from the New Wave, complete with underwater recliner for two, to the Waterfall—meant to emulate a literal forest bathing experience.
A walk in the woods
Then again, “forest bathing” has taken on a whole new metaphorical meaning over the last few years, becoming one of the biggest trends in wellness: simply getting out among the trees and their surrounding ecosystems. As reported by National Geographic, “the term emerged in Japan in the 1980s as a physiological and psychological exercise called shinrin-yoku (‘forest bathing’ or ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’).” The original purpose—combatting tech-burnout and inspiring a greater connection to nature—has only become more urgent in the ensuing decades, and Santa Fe is among the most beautiful spots to experience the benefits firsthand.
Even a quick, easy walk along one of the cottonwood-lined stretches of the Santa Fe River does the psyche good—perhaps even more so as the canopy turns golden in October. But you can also do organized walks with a certified Forest Bathing guide through Forest Bathing Santa Fe.
A hike in the hills
If your self-care aspirations favor hiking instead of—or in addition to—a walk in the woods, Santa Fe obliges there, too, given the city’s position at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. And as the fall colors come in, the already gorgeous forests of aspen, ponderosa, and piñon-juniper make the trails extra-alluring (as does the crisp autumn air).
The routes are fairly endless, but a good starter set includes the iconic Picacho Peak Trail (3.9 miles, 1,329 feet of elevation gain) to one of the highest and most vista-blessed local hills; the Atalaya Mountain Trail (5.8 miles, 1,776 feet of elevation gain) to the top of the namesake mountain, for an even more expansive view of Santa Fe; and, for a bit of history with your hike, the Tsankawi Ruins Trail (1.9 miles, 235 feet elevation gain) through this petroglyph- and wooden ladder-dotted stretch of Bandelier National Monument. (Note that while we wouldn’t always include elevation gain info in our hiking recs, Santa Fe has a baseline elevation of 7,199 feet, so you may want to factor that figure into your hiking calculations, and also allow for a day of acclimating.)
A day at the spa
After a day on the trails—or anytime, really—massages, wraps, scrubs and facials make for an excellent addition to the self-care lineup. And while you’ll find some of the best versions at the aforementioned hot spring resorts, Santa Fe is also home to a wide array of amazing spa experiences.
One of the newest and coolest is the Vortex-inspired treatment menu at The Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe, where options include a sunset soundbath and dream massage as well as a lavender piñon facial. At the other end of the spectrum is the iconic Inn and Spa at Loretto, where the Spirit of Heritage spa ritual is a long beloved blend of foot soaking, tea drinking, heated neck wrapping and full-body massaging. You’ll find countless other stellar treatments in between, including at local day spas such as Downtown Day Spa Santa Fe, where the reflexology is particularly welcome post-trekking.
A session on the mat
While some local spas are all about the treatments, others include yoga and other body work sessions. One of the most beloved examples of the latter is Body of Santa Fe, where the drop-in yoga menu is extensive and varied (you’ll find regular sessions of Yin yoga, vinyasa, yoga therapeutics—and even the occasional ecstatic dance session).
For mat work sans spa treatments, check out the Santa Fe Community Yoga Center, the city’s famously inclusive, accessible yoga nonprofit where drop-in classes are ranked on a scale from “mild” (see: prenatal and postpartum classes) to “medium-spicy” (see: Vinyasa in the Park) to “spicy” (Hatha).
A weekend at a workshop
Actually, while weekend workshops do abound in town, you can channel your creative energies into workshops of any length—from a couple of hours to five days or more—here. And little wonder: This is a community full of painters, potters, glassblowers, photographers, chefs and other makers, many of whom are great at teaching, too.
One of the first places to look is, well, Santa Fe Workshops, where the staff includes the likes of National Geographic Expedition photographers and Pulitzer-winning authors. Great upcoming offerings include Street Photography (September 12-16) and Objet d’Art: Silver and Gold Leaf and Image Transfers (October 31-November 4). If you’re looking for less of a time commitment, check out the 2- to 3-hour workshops at Paseo Pottery, Santa Fe Art Classes and Milagro Herbs.
A day at the shops
Of course, for some, the highest form of self-care is good, old-fashioned retail therapy. And as one of the best places on earth to practice it, Santa Fe has been deemed everything from the Best Destination for Shopaholics to the #1 City for US Shopping by USA Today’s 10 Best lists. The historic downtown alone packs endless possibilities, from the traditional, handcrafted hats at O'Farrell Hat Company (the perfect accessories for sun-splashed walks and hikes) to the spice jars and candle holders at Heritage by Hand (two of the best ways to capture the aromatherapeutic powers of Santa Fe).
And while the can’t-miss stop on any shopping excursion is the portal at the Palace of the Governors, where the Native American Artisans Program makes for a dazzling array of pottery, textiles and jewelry, no self-care visit to Santa Fe is complete without a Santa Fe Soap Ranch spree. This locally handcrafted collection of organic bath products includes scents—from cilantro avocado to desert ghost flower—that let you soak up Santa Fe’s revitalizing vibes … even long after you’re home.