Money can’t buy Santa Fe’s finest asset, which is its world-famous, ever-present, wide-open sky, captured so elegantly by artists like Georgia O’Keefe. Thanks to almost zero air pollution, the 7,400-foot altitude, and an average of 283 days of sun per year, the quality of light here is magical. It can be bright and searing, soft and pastel, or biblically apocalyptic, depending on the weather and the time of day. There’s so much open space that it’s possible to watch the sky’s shifting moods from almost anywhere, but for the best, biggest, unhindered views—as well as the best places to Instagram the brilliant smudges of red, orange, purple, and pink left by the sinking sun—you’re going to have to work for it. Some of these special spots require a drive, others require a hike up a long staircase, others you’ll need hiking shoes and adequate lungs, and one you simply need to show up and buy a nice bottle of wine.
Cross of the Martyrs
The 25-foot-tall reinforced concrete cross sits on top of Paseo de la Loma Hill in Fort Marcy Park and commemorates the 21 Franciscan priests and many more Spanish colonists who died during the Pueblo revolt of 1680. Easily accessible via a gently sloping staircase that starts on the eastern corner of Paseo de Peralta, the summit provides both a close-up of the adobe walls and giant cottonwood trees of downtown Santa Fe and giant vistas of the Jemez Mountains in the west beyond.
Santa Fe Scenic Overlook
Start out a half-hour before sunset to give yourself time to drive the 18 miles up windy New Mexico 475 from Santa Fe through the towering Ponderosa Pines of Hyde State Park. The whole way up you’ll have ever-shifting views of the Sangre de Cristos ahead and the Jemez Mountains. At the Overlook, a parking area with a fence between the cars and a steep abyss a half-mile before you hit Ski Santa Fe, pull off to enjoy the massive western panorama.
On the top floor of the Santa Fe Arcade, Rooftop Pizzeria has a height advantage over other outdoor restaurants. Ask to be seated along the west-facing bar on the patio and you’ll have unhindered sunset views to the Jemez Mountains. Order the Number Four pizza (smoked duck, green pepper corns, spinach, basil, roast garlic, and four cheeses) on a blue corn artisan crust and a bottle of rosé.
Not many cities have an 8,577-foot peak out the back door. Don’t let the hour-long climb to the summit of Picacho deter you. This two-mile (one way) hike on a well-maintained trail is a fast track to joy—at the top, take your pick of two views: One overlooking the city, the desert, and Albuquerque’s Sandia Peak in the far off distance, the other overlooking the Jemez to the west and the forest-green, rolling carpet of the Sangre de Cristos to the northeast.
More popular than Picacho, Atalaya starts behind St. John’s College and is a straight 3.0-mile shot up to the 8,800-foot summit. It’s a lot of vertical—1,800 feet— in a short spurt, but the payoff is nice. On the top you’ll find a few slabs of west-facing rock—the ultimate place to watch the sun go down over Santa Fe.