Southwest Smackdown: Santa Fe vs. Sedona

1205_Sedona_cowboy_uptownSedona cowboy
Whitney Tressel

Arizona and New Mexico just turned 100! Which Southwest retreat—Santa Fe or Sedona—is right for you?

We pitted two of the most popular southern cities against one another to see which one would come out on top. We compared all of the things that give a city personality: boutique shopping, culture, creative cuisine and that special, indescribable feeling that makes you want to come back time and time again. Our conclusion? Each place has its own special appeal. Depending on your interests you'll gravitate to one or the other-keep reading to find out which one belongs at the top of your list (and what to see once you're there).

SEE THE CITIES

SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO

Best for: Art Lovers, Chile Addicts, History Buffs

Founded back in 1610, Santa Fe displays its rich history through its architecture, a style known as Pueblo Revival, which is inspired by native adobe structures and includes flat roofs, thick stucco walls, and exposed timber beams called vigas. With a population of 67,947, "The City Different" is known for painter Georgia O’Keeffe, the 1610 San Miguel Mission (the oldest church in the U.S.), and the Santa Fe Trail.

GLOBAL GALLERY
Georgia O'Keeffe gets all the press, but the artists at the Museum of International Folk Art have all the fun. This whimsical collection of designer Alexander Girard offers folk pieces-such as masks, dolls, and Day of the Dead figurines-from over 100 countries arranged in quirky dioramas. 706 Camino Lejo, internationalfolkart.org, admission $9.

BORDER BITES
Before 1848, this area was still, well, old Mexico. Cafe Pasqual's, named for the patron saint of the kitchen, nods to that past with a cross-border menu that includes a green chile bison cheeseburger. 121 Don Gaspar Ave., pasquals.com, burger with side salad $15.

THE RIGHT TRACK
After the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway chugged out of town, the city was left with 50 acres of abandoned switching grounds and warehouses. Creative locals transformed  the area into a hip, revitalized arts center. Opened in 2008, the Railyard District is now home to 11 contemporary galleries, a 10-acre park, and a farmers market. railyardsantafe.com.

SWEET HEAT
New Mexican cuisine is dominated by chiles; at Chocolate Smith, they even infiltrate the candy. The specialty is paté, fudgy ganache infused with chipotle or ancho, then dipped in colorful wax that protects the spicy-sweet treat on all-weather hikes in the nearby Sangre de Cristo mountains. 851A Cerrillos Rd., chocolatesmith.com, 1/4 lb. pate $14.25.

WHERE TO STAY
Opened in 2009 in the shell of the city’s oldest hotel, the Hotel St. Francis takes its namesake seriously. The minimalist decor is monastic chic with rustic, white-plaster walls and wrought iron crosses, wooden statues of saints, and a candlelit baptismal font in the lobby. 210 Don Gaspar Ave., hotelstfrancis.com, from $130.

SEDONA, ARIZONA

Best for: Outdoorsy Types, Spiritualists, Photographers

Sedona was founded in wild Red Rock Country in 1902. As you drive through town, you'll see Western-tinged storefronts uptown, mid-century modern homes in the hills, and rustic cabins that incorporate pine logs and round river rocks. The town has been the setting of dozens of Hollywood Westerns, including 3:10 to Yuma and Firecreek,, and now it's home 10,031.

HOLY VORTEX
New Agers claim the Chapel of the Holy Cross sits atop a "vortex," one of the city's eight alleged hotspots of spiritual energy. Whether or not you're a believer, the 1956 church has a power all its own, thanks to sculptor Marguerite Brunswig Staude's sleek design, which recalls  the man she studied with, Frank Lloyd Wright. 780 Chapel Rd., chapeloftheholycross.com, free.

EATS MEETS WEST
Don't mistake the steer horns for kitsch. Housed in one of the city's oldest buildings, the Cowboy Club serves real-deal, high-desert fare like fried cactus, buffalo skewers, and green chile rattlesnake meatballs. 241 N. Hwy 89A, cowboyclub.com, appetizer platter $15.

AFTER DARK
Sedona's sunsets are legendary, but the folks at Evening Sky Tours know a pitch-black sky has its own appeal. Just outside of town, astronomers lead through-the-telescope tours of planets, stars, and the space station. eveningskytours.com, two-hour tour $60.

TAKE A HIKE
Sugarloaf Loop starts in a residential area and  climbs to a summit with 360-degree views of red rock formations like Coffee Pot Rock, which is shaped like a percolator. Buena Vista Dr. and Little Elf Dr., free.

WHERE TO STAY

Follow the tourists up to Airport Mesa for stunning sunset views. Just next door and adjacent to the very quiet regional airport, Sky Ranch Lodge is a homey alternative to Sedona’s chichi spa scene, with gardens that attract hummingbirds and an onsite bar serving Arizona beers and wines. 1105 Airport Rd., skyranchlodge.com, from $100.

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