New Mexico is unlike any other place I've ever been. The culture, the landscape, the food; it all has a sense of uniqueness that no other destination has come close to. I've been out west more times than I can count on two hands, and it always has something new to offer, something new to discover and explore.
Two summers ago, I went on a cross-country roadtrip, starting in Virginia, and ending in Bernalillo, New Mexico. It is a highlight in my "travel career." You learn so much, not just about the country, but about yourself. About what makes you happy, comfortable, and what you just can't stand. I already enjoyed being in a car, but roadtripping, being in the car for hours on end, I really enjoyed that too. Stopping at tourist attractions, little roadside shops, and run-down gas stations; I loved every minute of it.
My first stop in New Mexico is always the same- Old Town in Albuquerque. Old Town is filled with great food and great shopping. There are multiple jewelry stores, as well as Native Americans selling their handmade jewelry along the sidewalks. The best place to grab lunch? La Plactia's, located right along the center square in Old Town. Their sopapillas are heavenly, and the large tree growing through the center of the main dining room adds a touch of rustic outdoors to the atmosphere.
My second stop? Always the Hyatt Regency Tamaya. The smell of Cedar Wood incense greets you as you enter the main lobby, which is filled with gorgeous leather game board tables, such as Backgammon and checkers. Vintage Native American objects are scattered throughout the resort, with information cards on when the items are made and what region they come from. Every day, a different flavored water awaits you in the lobby next to the check-in desk.
Santa Fe is about 45 minutes north, and well worth the drive. The Santa Fe Plaza is located here, and one could describe it as an upscale Old Town. This is the place for turquoise jewelry - high class collector's pieces with the richest of blues, and vintage, Old Pawn pieces from the 1920's. While these pieces cost a pretty penny, they're worth every cent.
After browsing the shops at the Santa Fe Plaza, hit the road and head to the Santa Fe Farmer's Market. They're open on Saturday year-round, and on Tuesdays from May through November. You can find a wide range of items here - from fresh produce, to sage bundles, to handmade arts & crafts. If you only take home one thing, make sure it's a few Hatch green chiles. These are widely considered the best tasting chile in the world, highly sought after by families and restaurants. They are usually harvest from the beginning of August through the end of September, and all over New Mexico you can find these delicious peppers roasting over a fire. The smell of these chile peppers roasting is intoxicating, something I remember well from my childhood when my mother was making chile rellenos. And, while eating at any restaurant in New Mexico, you will be asked, "Red or green?" This is referring to which chile sauce you'd prefer, and it is the state question as well. I recommend choosing green - it's full of flavor and subtle heat. And while the red is flavorful as well, the heat is well beyond what the green has to offer.
About a half hour north of Santa Fe, on the High Road to Taos, is Rancho de Chimayo, who serve the best breakfast you can find in the Southwest US. Breakfast is only served on weekends from 8:30A to 10:30A, but usually there is no wait and you can get seated right away. After you eat, browse the gift shop for spices or chile sauce to take home, or take photos in the courtyard with the chile ristras and horses.