Many visitors flock to Santa Fe for the opera alone: the theater is a marvel, with 360-degree views of sandstone wilderness crowned with sunsets and moonrises, while at center stage the world's finest talent performs magnificent masterworks. It's still the Wild West, though; you can even wear jeans. Shuttles run to and from Santa Fe ($24) and Albuquerque ($39); reserve online.

Gala festivities begin two hours before the curtain rises, when the ritual tailgate party is rendered glamorous in true Santa Fe style right in the parking lot. Bring your own caviar and brie, make reservations for the buffet dinner and lecture or a picnic dinner, or have your own private caterer pour the champagne (several customize their menu to the opera's theme). Prelude Talks, free to all ticket holders, are offered in Stieren Orchestra Hall one and two hours before curtain.

Youth Night at the Opera offers families a chance to watch dress rehearsals for bargain rates; one precedes the run of each of the season's operas – with brief talks aimed at ages six to 22. Backstage tours offer opportunities to poke around the sets, costume and storage areas.