For texans Bob and Marty Grable, Santa Fe, N.M., is a feast for the senses.
The eye candy of majestic purple sunsets, blue skies, and scenic mountains. The soulful arias of the city’s top-rated opera. The true-to-Mexico flavors of favorite restaurants. The distinct smoky pine scent of piñon wood wafting from chimneys.
"Santa Fe feels, looks, and smells different than any other place in the country," says Bob, who also considered Colorado for a second-home getaway. "There are a lot of colors in the mountains and hills. The sky and quality of light are so special. Colorado was stark."
The Grables have been visiting Santa Fe for 30 years, finally getting serious a few years ago about buying an escape from Fort Worth’s steamy summers. Santa Fe’s sensory seduction won out. The golf courses were also to Bob’s liking and the location was more accessible than Colorado was.
The New Mexico capital benefits from its unique geography—a high desert some 7,000 feet above sea level, a combo that delivers low humidity, more than 300 days of sunshine, and summer days with 40-degree temperature differences, according to Gary Dewing, an associate broker with Santa Fe Properties.
Santa Fe, North America’s oldest capital city, is a mélange of cultures: Hispanic, Native American, and Spanish have played a role in shaping its past and present. Conservation-minded city fathers cherish the native architecture, preserving its historic adobe homes and requiring that new construction boast pueblo, territorial, or northern New Mexico vernaculars, although you will see some with a contemporary twist, says Christine McDonald, an 11-year resident and agent with Barker Realty.
"There’s strong historical preservation mentality," she says. "You’ll find authentic Santa Fe architecture with one- or two-foot-thick adobe walls in our downtown. The historic properties don’t have the views of some of the newer homes, but the whole town is walkable."
Side streets with retailers and restaurants radiate from downtown, or "the Plaza," extending several city blocks to the Canyon Road arts district and the Railyard, Santa Fe’s emerging entertainment and gathering venue.
The Grables bought their first home, a 100-year-old adobe within walking distance of the Plaza, in 2009 but traded up in early 2012 for more space. "We looked for a larger adobe off Canyon Road in the gallery district and came close to buying one," says Bob.
"We eventually decided to look in the foothills of the ski mountains."
The additional altitude and larger home were worth the trade-off. "Our views are spectacular," Grable says. "We see all the way to the Sandia and Jemez mountain ranges. It’s breathtaking."
Besides the golf courses, the Grables also enjoy the city’s arts and cultural offerings—the galleries on Canyon Road, most of them locally owned, and the open-air opera, often ranked second only to the Met.
"Santa Fe also has a wonderful collection of restaurants for a city of its size—from dives to fine dining," says Grable, who counts the enchiladas at the Tune-Up Café among the best he’s ever tasted.
Rated as one of Travel + Leisure’s favorite American cities, Santa Fe also earned 2012 kudos from the magazine as the top cultural getaway and ranked high in independent boutiques, fine dining, and environmental consciousness.
"Opera buffs love our opera," says Dewing. "One of my clients who’s well known on the Philadelphia arts scene bought a house here because of the opera. We have 60,000 permanent residents; 100,000 during opera season."
For Bob Grable, Santa Fe’s summer clime is a cool alternative to Texas’s humidity.
"It’s really lovely in the summer," says Grable. "It’s also beautiful in the spring and fall. I also look forward to cooler weather; everyone burns piñon in their fireplace and it smells wonderful. Santa Fe is a fascinating city with a long history of several cultures. The combination of climate, culture, history, restaurants, and arts makes it a pretty special place."
MEDIAN AGE: 43.2
RANGE OF LUXURY RESIDENTIAL PRICES: Well-preserved historic districts boast original low-slung, earth-hued Pueblo homes characterized by curved walls, kiva fireplaces, and a floor plan designed around a central plaza or courtyard, including a recent three-bedroom listing, priced at $950,000 and offering a surprising 2,125 square feet. Santa Fe also has in-town pieds-à-terre and multimillion-dollar estates in the sought-after old Eastside and Museum Hill areas. Ski retreats, ranches, equestrian estates, and the Jack Nicklaus golf community in Las Campanas are nestled in the surrounding mountains. The nearby village of Tesuque, a haven for famous artists and known for its famed Camel Rock formation, offers multiple-acre properties priced from $600,000 to $2.3 million.
COST OF LIVING INDEX: 107 (U.S. average 100)
WHO YOUR NEIGHBORS ARE: Despite one local website’s posting of recent celebrity sightings (Jennifer Aniston with Justin Theroux, Emma Roberts, and SNL’s Jason Sudeikis), Santa Fe’s lackadaisical attitude toward the rich and famous appeals to the rich and famous. “Celebrities come here because no one bothers them,” says Dewing. “They can walk around, get coffee, go to a restaurant and be left alone.” Count industrialists, hedge-funders, and other successful business entrepreneurs among the city’s full- and part-time residents. Santa Fe also draws folks from California, Arizona, Colorado, and Oklahoma and it has a well-established enclave of artists and writers.
AN IDEAL DAY: The Santa Fe National Forest offers a whopping 1.6 million acres of public lands, with hiking, biking, and equestrian trails, rafting and paddling pursuits along the Rio Grande or Rio Chama, and lake and river fishing. The park’s higher altitudes provide prime snowshoeing and Nordic skiing ops in the winter. Fuel up beforehand with Café Pasqual’s huevos motulenos, a Bob Grable favorite of easy-over eggs, black beans, sautéed banana, feta, green peas, and roasted tomato-jalapeño salsa served with corn tortillas. Enjoy fine dining at Geronimo before the opera.
THE DREAM HOME: McDonald’s $12.5 million listing, a seven-bedroom estate perched in the hills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, offers a rare lifestyle the hills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, offers a rare lifestyle one-two punch of golf and equestrian pursuits. Nestled along a fairway of the Quail Run golf course, the 36-acre property has an eight-stall stable, exercise and riding arenas, multiple paddocks, and a mile of developed bridle paths. The 9,300-square-foot main house offers a home theater, exercise and play rooms on its second floor, and a hobby room, office, and study on the ground floor. There’s also a two-bedroom guesthouse with hardwood floors and a caretaker’s residence.