Why Santa Fe Is the Perfect Repeat Vacation Destination

One travel writer’s case for visiting a favorite city again and again, when you just can’t get enough.

Swapping gas station protein bars for the green chiles and blue corn of Santa Fe was a very necessary decision. After half a year on the road, traveling full-time in an RV, I needed to pull over. A lifestyle that once felt freeing can, at times, become suffocating and lonely. But Santa Fe emerged ahead of me like an adobe-clad mirage in the sun-scorched desert of New Mexico. The city felt like a refreshing sanctuary against a backdrop of rugged solitude.

Santa Fe was the right place to hit the brakes—and it became a place to reroute to many times over the years. Some destinations aren’t meant for just a passing glance, some places become a home away from home: a vacation you can put on repeat.

It seems more people are falling in love with vacation spots they can return to again and again, whether in a big city on another coast, a tropical island swathed in sunshine and sea air, or a cozy cottage in a forest. For me, it’s the desert city. I’d traveled much of the USA in my RV since 2018, falling in love with national parks, Disney World, and unexpected cities from coast to coast. But few places connected with me like Santa Fe.

visit santa fe again
Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

The New Mexican city has so many huge and tiny discoveries that take time to explore. Pint-sized doughnut shops serve up green chile fritters and lavender-glazed blue corn. Generations-old turquoise and leather boot shops fill the historic adobe buildings of downtown, preserved in time thanks to strict architectural codes. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum puts the modernist artist’s love for New Mexico on full floral display. Meow Wolf looms like an otherworldly labyrinth that feels part escape room, part Wonderland, and part haunted house, where laundry machines turn into slides and treehouses glow with plants that look straight out of Avatar. Gnarly, cacti-strewn deserts are surrounded by the types of dusty communities you typically only hear about on true crime podcasts. Panoramic hiking trails wind through the piñon-scented Santa Fe National Forest. And views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains hover above it all. Whether it’s your first time or your whole lifetime, Santa Fe has an undeniable shimmer.

Appreciation for vacation spots like these only increases over time, which was exactly my experience. In some ways, it was lucky I was already in my RV when, a few years later, the COVID pandemic hit. When I slammed the brakes on my road trip plans to hunker down someplace that felt comfortable and safe, there was Santa Fe again. While I couldn’t go out to restaurants or museums, I could hole up for a couple months in my favorite RV park, binge Agatha Christie books in my hammock, or hike up Atalaya Peak, whose arduous ascent never ceases to culminate with jaw-dropping views of the adobe-filled valley. The city was ready to be my refuge during uncertain times.

gay santa fe
Visit Santa Fe, New Mexico

That protective feeling isn’t just pandemic related—it’s a sentiment that often resonates in deeper ways for queer people, who’ve historically struggled to find a sense of home. More than bare-minimum comforts and inclusion, the urge to connect with a place that feels as safe as it does inspiring becomes pivotal.

As a gay man who wears his Pride on his sleeve (and in his pink-dyed hair), this urge for homey sanctuary has been a struggle as long as I can remember, driving through rural settings that made me feel like I was wearing a bullseye simply by being me. But with its inclusive community, where even non queer-centric spaces like the El Rey Court motel feature recurring Pride events, it’s clear that The City Different indeed hits different.

My repeat vacation spot was a thrill as a rosy-eyed tourist, a reprieve from long travel days spent white-knuckling an RV I barely learned how to drive, a much-needed siesta from weary road trips, then a refuge during the pandemic, and eventually a city that’s held me through my eventual divorce.

why visit santa fe
Unsplash/Maddy Baker

Many of my initial memories here were connected to my ex-husband. Some were glossy and unvarnished, others were hard. But the city goes on, and shows me how to as well. I’ve since been able to return anew, creating my own memories and feeling rejuvenated as someone who has not only survived in Santa Fe, but thrived.

Santa Fe nourished me during solo travels, soothing wounds and connecting me to myself—and now it’s a place to celebrate new moments of my life with my new fiance. Future Santa Fe is now a place for my mini-honeymoon, horseback riding, sharing green chile and bison meatballs, and basking by the fire pits, beckoning a beautiful new era for a place I can continue to share with my soon-to-be husband.

Repeat vacation destinations transcend mere R&R or bucket-list goals. They’re places that feel both nostalgic and exciting, at once providing heart-warming routine while being refreshingly faraway, where you can feel like a part-time resident and someone looking to break new boundaries. There’s always room to create new memories, to grow with the city. Repeat vacation destinations like this, when they continue to inspire and comfort through all of life’s journeys, just hit different.

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Matt Kirouac is a travel writer with a passion for national parks, Disney, and food. He's the co-founder and co-host of Hello Ranger, a national parks community blog, podcast, and app. Follow him on Instagram.