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The Short Version: New Mexico is known as the Land of Enchantment because of the beauty of the state’s cliffs, rivers, plains, mountains, and people. Its capital, Santa Fe, is home to many gorgeous attractions from the foothills of the Rocky Mountains to the aspen trees of the Santa Fe National Forest. Daters can come to Santa Fe to escape the hustle and bustle of city life and enjoy authentic New Mexican cuisine with a specialty margarita to wash it down. The downtown scene is a hub of activity all year long with dozens of markets, festivals, galleries, and chocolate shops to delight couples on any budget. On your visit to Santa Fe, you’ll discover a quaint town steeped in culture, history, and natural beauty. In other words, a perfect place for romance.
On my mom’s side of the family, we trace our roots back to the purple mountains, the red sands, and the open skies of New Mexico. That’s where my mom grew up, and she still considers it home.
“I miss the mountains” is the familiar refrain of my mom, my aunt, and my grandmother. Florida, where I was born and raised, is much too flat and humid for them. “The air is so wet here,” my younger cousin once said, “I feel like I’m swimming.”
When we travel to see our relatives in New Mexico, my mom presses herself against the window of the plane and points out the mountains like they’re old friends.
Santa Fe, the capital city of New Mexico, encompasses all there is to love about the Land of Enchantment — the beauty of the mountains, the tranquility of the desert, and the rich history and culture of the Southwest. The city has a wide variety of outdoor activities, national monuments, art markets, restaurants, and operas to divert couples in search of a memorable and budget-friendly date ideas.
Founded in 1610, Santa Fe has the distinction of being the oldest state capital in the US. There’s a lot of history here. The Pueblo peoples of the Rio Grande date back thousands of years to the Paleolithic age of hunters. Archaeologists say the Ancestral Puebloans migrated to the Rio Grande Valley during the 13th and 14th centuries. Today Santa Fe has a population of around nearly 82,000 people, so visitors often come here to escape the crowds and relax in a low-key environment.
“There are a lot of couples-friendly activities held throughout the year,” said Matt Sessions, a spokesperson for Santa Fe. “From the summer art markets to skiing in the wintertime, there’s so much you can enjoy without breaking the bank.”
Need some convincing? We’ve come up with six compelling reasons why Santa Fe is an excellent place to take a date anytime you want to escape to the mountains.
Many people think of New Mexico as a dry desert with a baking sun and prickly cacti. Actually, the state has its fair share of greenery, especially in the northern part of the state, where Santa Fe is nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
“It’s not a desert climate — it’s a subalpine forest and grassland environment that has four moderate seasons. It’s actually very green in the spring and summer,” Matt emphasized to us. “The city sits at an elevation of 7,000 feet on the southern foothill of the Rockies, so there’s some really incredible hiking and mountain biking. It’s not dry and dusty at all.”
Just outside of town is the Santa Fe National Forest where campers and hikers enjoy the fresh air in a beautiful setting. In the autumn season, the aspen trees in this protected forest turn a bright gold, providing an impressive sight for couples looking for an outdoor escape.
Additionally, the Bandelier National Monument, which preserves the cliff dwellings of Ancestral Puebloans along the Rio Grande, is less than an hour away from Santa Fe.
Santa Fe is the oldest European community west of the Mississippi, so there are plenty of historical sites to serve as a backdrop for memorable and romantic moments. Weddings in this town are particularly lovely.
The historic nature of many of the city’s chapels set them apart from most wedding venues. The San Miguel Mission Chapel, for instance, has been officially recognized as the oldest church standing the US. The beautiful adobe structure was built in Santa Fe in the early 1600s and still opens its doors to couples looking to tie the knot.
Other noteworthy churches include the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis, which was built by Spanish missionaries, and the Loretto Chapel, which is known for its miraculous staircase engineered to stand without central support. Hundreds of couples every year choose these breathtaking spots to exchange their vows in the heart of Santa Fe.
Santa Fe boasts more than 400 restaurants with a variety of cuisines and price points to satisfy any craving on any budget. Daters can search the city’s restaurant index by meal type, location, cuisine, and other criteria to find the perfect place to dig into contemporary local cuisine. Whether you’re hankering for a slice of pizza or homemade Indian food, these restaurants serve a tempting spread.
According to Matt, many of the restaurants are independent establishments, typically family-owned, so daters can move beyond chain restaurants and enjoy classic New Mexican meals. Many of the restaurants highlight New-Mexican-style dishes, putting a unique spin on traditional American, Italian, and French menus.
L’ Olivier is a French restaurant unafraid to add a dash of green chile to its recipes to spice up classic meals with a taste of Santa Fe. The menu offers diners a subtle fusion of Southwest and French flavors in an upscale setting.
“Santa Fe’s culinary scene has really exploded over the past few years,” Matt told us. “There’s anything and everything you could possibly imagine.”
Plus, on Saturdays, the farmers market is open year-round and brings food lovers out into the sunshine to select fresh and organic foods ranging from green chile peppers to locally grown apples.
Opera tailgating is pretty much what it sounds like — think of football tailgating, but with white tablecloths and dressier outfits. This is an activity that is unique to Santa Fe. Residents love gathering at the Santa Fe Opera before the show begins to set up meals as simple as beer and pizza and as sophisticated as steaks and wine.
This summertime event sees couples sharing intimate dinner dates and groups of friends playing games on the pavement before the show. “It’s a really fun event,” Matt told us. “You have people in tuxedos side by side with people in flannel shirts and cowboy boots.”
Recently, the opera has endeavored to attract a younger crowd by presenting innovative orchestrations, such as the (R)evolution of Steve Jobs.
Ranked among top operas in the world, the Santa Fe Opera draws people who love culture and the fresh mountain air of New Mexico.
The Crosby Theater is a striking, state-of-the-art, and open-air venue that has won several prestigious design awards and is widely recognized for blending contemporary design aesthetics with traditional building materials. It offers a panoramic view of the Jemez Mountains to the west and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east.
The outdoor amphitheater is a beautiful and earth-friendly venue for a show. The structure catches and reuses rainwater to maintain its beautiful landscape. Surrounded by mountains and sunshine, audiences relish going to the opera and making a day of it.
In the winter, Santa Fe offers some of the best ski slopes in the US. It’s an affordable and great location for vacationers who love to stay active. Instead of holing up in the middle of nowhere at a ski lodge, you can enjoy the city’s vibrant scene on your romantic getaway.
“There’s amazing Rocky Mountain skiing just 30 minutes from downtown,” Matt said. “After you’re done skiing, you can go downtown where you have countless activities available in addition to world-class dining. I think that speaks to the versatility of this destination.”
During the summer and spring seasons, the mountainous terrain invites many outdoorsy individuals to go mountain biking, horseback riding, or whitewater rafting. There are golf courses, motorcycle tours, and many other opportunities for fun under the sun.
At Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, about 40 miles southwest of Santa Fe, hikers can marvel at towering layers of volcanic rock forming tents (hence the name) reaching up to 90 feet tall. The site gives couples a chance to appreciate gorgeous vistas, remarkable canyons, and geological phenomena millions of years in the making.
Ranked the third largest art market in the US, Santa Fe is a cultural hub packed with amazing sites. Along Canyon Road, daters will find over 100 art galleries to peruse. “This is among the most iconic streets in America,” Matt told us. ” You could spend hours just walking up and down and poking your head in different galleries.”
Throughout the year, Santa Fe hosts 10 summer art markets — some of which are the oldest and largest of their kind. The Santa Fe Indian Market, hosted every August, has been held in the city for nearly a century. This multi-day festival celebrates Native American culture and invites thousands of artists from more than 200 local tribes to sell textiles, pottery, artwork, beadwork, and jewelry.
From delicate earrings to bright pendants, turquoise jewelry offers visitors with a tasteful memento of their stay in Santa Fe. If your partner loves turquoise, you’re both in luck. You’re sure to treasure these authentic pieces of Native American craftsmanship. My dad always sneaks away when we’re in New Mexico to find a piece of turquoise jewelry to surprise my mom with. Works like a charm.
Not visiting in August? Don’t worry, there’s always something going on in Santa Fe. The city’s special programs include an International Folk Art Market in July, Independent Film Festivals in October, and the Wine and Chile Fiesta in September, right in heart of chile harvest season. People come from all over world to enjoy Santa Fe’s vibrant cultural events all year long.
“It’s a great destination for art lovers. There are events throughout the year that definitely cater to a wide variety of interests, but they are heavy in arts and culture,” Matt said. “Each festival celebrates a different aspect of Santa Fe.”
Chocolate is a luscious treat for the senses and a perfect way to cap off an indulgent date. Santa Fe tempts visitors with the Chocolate Trail, an assortment of seven places where chocolate lovers discover the city’s best artisanal desserts. This journey is perfect for daters with a sweet tooth.
A notable stop on this trail is the famous Kakawa Chocolate House, a specialty chocolate shop with rich and savory chocolate elixirs inspired by recipes from historical figures like Marie Antoinette, George Washington, and the Aztecs.
Served in Native American ceramic cups, Kakawa’s exquisite cocoa drinks and chocolate truffles offer organic and original tastes from deep in the annals of history. You and your date won’t find anything like it anywhere else.
“The flavors are different than what we’re used to,” Matt explained. “It’s pure cocoa with no processed sugar, so you have something like Aztec chocolate infused with chile and spices.”
If you and your date want to indulge in the nightlife of Santa Fe, the city’s official Margarita Trail can send you on a fun series of dates. The trail highlights 31 margarita recipes at bars and restaurants across the city. These specialty margaritas are made with 100% agave tequila and infused with unique flavors like sage, basil, or green chile.
You can get a Santa Fe Margarita Trail Passport at any visitor center in town and receive a discount every time you try one of their recommended margaritas. The server or bartender will also stamp your passport (you can only earn two per day). With enough stamps, you’ll earn souvenirs like a T-shirt, a signed margarita recipe book, and your very own Margarita Bartender Kit. Plus, you’ll have a keepsake to remind you of your drinking adventures.
“Santa Fe was the first place tequila was imported to the US, so there’s a historical connection there,” Matt explained. “The city is home to some really talented mixologists who make delicious creations.”
You can also sign up for special guided tours of the city to experience the food, art, gardens, bike trails, and other sights through the eyes of Santa Fe locals.
As a child, I thought of New Mexico as a mythical place where people fell in love with mountains. My mom’s family left the state over 40 years ago, but the memories of the time they spent there have never left them. New Mexico’s natural beauty is unlike any other. When I return to my family’s home state and see the setting sun cascading red light across sandy plains, snowy mountaintops, and adobe houses, I understand why they miss it so.
New Mexico’s capital city is a wonderful and affordable place to visit. Santa Fe offers visitors a rich cultural experience touring historical landmarks, wandering through colorful markets, and sampling local cuisine in the oldest capital city in North America.
You and your date can sip margaritas, tailgate at the opera, and take in the sights of this unique, picturesque destination. Whether you’re most comfortable strolling through art galleries or mountain biking through nature trails, the variety of attractions at Santa Fe can entertain you all year round. Next time you’re planning for a romantic retreat with your loved one, look to the Southwest. The mountains are waiting for you.