How To Not Look Like A Tourist In Santa Fe

santa feAlthough I was 26 before I visited New Mexico, I’ve always felt a strange kinship with the state. I suspect it’s because much of my childhood was spent traveling to see my grandparents in Arizona (where my dad grew up). We’d attend pow-wows, visit local museums, and explore the high desert landscape, and I always yearned to cross the state line, and delve deeper into the Southwest.

On my first visit, I spent several days in Santa Fe, and it was love at first sight. Since then, I’ve made many trips to New Mexico, but I always try to spend time in Santa Fe. Hordes of tourists flock there for a reason: its cultural, historical, architectural, scenic, and culinary charms make it one of America’s most alluring small cities.

I recently spent a weekend in Santa Fe, as it’s an enjoyable, six-hour drive from my home in Boulder. As I wandered the city each day, I was repeatedly asked for directions by befuddled visitors. I dislike looking like a tourist, and the upside of being a bit of a dirtbag is that I’m often mistaken for a local when I travel domestically. I’m secretly delighted when tourists ask me for intel, even if I don’t know the answer.

In Santa Fe, however, it’s easy to tell the natives from the tourists if you know what to look for. I’ve compiled a handy list, so that when you visit, you, too, can fake it. Native Santa Feans, please know that these observations come from a deep place of affection … and that there’s a reason I’m not telling you the location of my hometown.

How to look like a Santa Fean

Wear natural fibers.

Smile. Say hello. Mean it.

Know the meaning of “Christmas.”ristraHave your own, strongly held beliefs on where the best chiles come from, and be prepared to defend them to the death.

Know how to correctly pronounce and use the following words: acequia; luminaria; viga; portales; ristra; sopapilla; adovada, posole.

Wearing lots of turquoise and silver jewelry is good, as long as it doesn’t look new.

Know where Canyon Road is.

Own well-worn cowboy boots and hat. Quality counts.

Get your gossip on at the farmers market.

Rock a hairstyle 20 to 30 years out of date, regardless of your gender. Males should ideally have hair that reaches at least the shoulders, even if balding on top; pony-tail optional.

Food: the spicier, the better.

Heels or a tie for dinner at a restaurant? Nah.

Drive an old pickup.

Breakfast: posole, green chile, or a burrito.

Leathery, sun-burnished skin trumps a spray tan, any day.

[Photo credit: Flickr user kenkopal]