Chill out with hot food and hot peppers

Santa Fe's cool is a quality you can't miss - this is one relaxed town where visitors can just chill, walking around the Plaza, poking around galleries and shops.

To seriously unrev your personal engine, head to the Japanese-style spa Ten Thousand Waves, where under the pine trees you can soak in a hot tub - perhaps in drizzling rain or falling snow. Try the hot and cold stone massage to really let go of tensions. And men, fear not: This woodsy spa exudes pine scent, if anything - not froufrou spa aroma. The place is popular with locals, with separate communal outdoor tubs for men and women - or you can rent a private tub.

The aroma of chiles rules in restaurants around town - and livens the air at the Saturday morning farmers market, where chiles are roasted in hand-turned wire baskets. Watch people cart them off in big plastic garbage bags - chances are you'll see similar bags on the carousel of baggage claim from your flight home from Albuquerque, the closest airport to Santa Fe.

Lots of restaurants serve chile-studded, cheddar cheese-covered New Mexican cuisine, but if you want to join the locals, try Maria's New Mexican Kitchen. It's a no-frills restaurant, unless you consider a wagon wheel lit with neon decorative. The fancy part is the margarita menu - Maria's has more than 100 versions, and an assortment of high-grade tequilas. For a moderate $11-$14, you can get a great margarita that will send you flying.

Blue Corn Café is another local favorite with the chile-loving set. This brewpub brews its own beer; hops lovers should try Hop God. Other fun tastes: Indian fry bread tacos and Blue Corn Root Beer.

For the cheapest, most oddball eats in town, head to the 5 and Dime on the Plaza for a Frito Pie.

The I-couldn't-care-less server at the counter opens a bag of Fritos, then ladles hot bean chile right into the open Frito bag. She mixes it up, sprinkles cheddar cheese on top and it's deliciously yours for $4.15. Fork up the yummy mess at a retro Coca-Cola table, then prowl the dime store afterward for cheap New Mexico souvenirs - bottles of chile sauce, plastic Gila monsters and cowboy hats. «

Do you know the way to Santa Fe?

The High Road Art Tour 2007 dates are Sept. 16-17 and Sept. 29-30. Studios are located on roads north of Santa Fe, on the way to Taos. Towns of Chimayo, Cordova, Truchas, Ojo Sarco and Penasco are along the way. www.highroad newmexico.com.

Ojo Sarco Pottery, 82 County Road 73; open all year. 505-689-2354; www.ojosarco.com.

Inn on the Alameda, 303 E. Alameda St., Santa Fe. 888-984-2122; www.innonthealameda.com. This adobe-style inn has some rooms with little patios, others with cheery kivas (fireplaces). A good location for exploring galleries on Canyon Road and shops, restaurants on Plaza.

Gabriel's, Route 84/285 between Santa Fe and Pojoaque. Guacamole dip made fresh at your table; the moles are also popular. 505-455-7000; reservations recommended.

Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, 217 Johnson St. 505-946-1000; www.okeeffemuseum.org. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily except Wednesdays; open until 8 p.m. Fridays. General admission: $8. O'Keeffe is the artist who most memorably celebrated New Mexico's flowers, clouds and red rocks; this museum is a Santa Fe must-see. The O'Keefe Café next door is not really a café - it's white-tablecloth fine dining, 505-946-1065.

Museum of International Folk Art, 706 Camino Lejo. www.moifa.org; 505-476-1200. A museum with works from more than 100 countries; a Hispanic Heritage Wing has the largest collection of Spanish colonial and Latino folk art in the United States.

There are many more Santa Fe museums, including Palace of the Governors, the oldest continually occupied building in the United States, dating from 1610; Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian; Institute of American Indian Arts Museum; Museum of Fine Arts; Museum of Indian Arts and Culture. A free shuttle, the Art Van Go, is a good way to get around; it runs every 10 minutes seven days a week.

Santa Fe Farmers Market, Tuesdays and Saturdays 7 a.m. to noon April 22-Nov. 4 in Railroad Park at Cerillos and Guadalupe. Winter markets are held 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays the rest of the year in El Museo Cultural, 1615 Paseo de Peralta.

Maria's New Mexican Kitchen, 555 W. Cordova Road, Santa Fe. 505-983-7929. More than 100 kinds of margaritas, most made with high-grade tequilas. Not much on decor, but good New Mexican-style food in an old adobe building; you'll have to wrestle the locals for a table.

Blue Corn Café, 133 W. Water St., Santa Fe. 505-984-1800, a brewpub serving New Mexican cuisine with blue corn specialties. Like hoppy beer? Pick Hop God. Located upstairs in Plaza Mercado.

5 and Dime, on the Plaza. Frito Pies sold at the counter in back.

ten thousand waves, 3451 Hyde Park Road, 505-982-9304; www.tenthousandwaves.com. Serene Japanese-style spa outside of town with communal and private hot tubs under the pinon pines. Variety of massages.

MCT

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