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New Mexico: Travel Guide for Santa Fe, the City Different

Pauline Kenny

Santa Fe is a great place to live or visit. It is a small, historic town (population 70,000 ) in northern New Mexico, between the Rio Grande and the Sangre de Cristo ("Blood of Christ") mountains. It is a popular tourist destination with great shops, restaurants, museums and outdoor activities. Summer is a good time to visit with the Santa Fe Opera in July and August, the International Folk Art Market and Spanish Market in July, and the world famous Indian Market in August. We also have "Music on the Plaza" throughout the summer.


Santa Fe is a high altitude mountain town, more like Colorado than southern Arizona. The best time to visit is May through October. We have snow in the winter, a very late spring, a lovely summer with some very hot weeks, and a lovely autumn - all with 300 days of sunshine a year!! It is usually cold at night, even in the summer.

Spring: Leaves appear on the trees in April. In May, the irises and lilacs bloom. Our first planting date is May 15; you can get frost at night up until then. Apricot trees bloom in April, but the buds are frequently killed by a late frost or even snow. May and June are perfect months. Cool at night, 70s - 80s during the day.

Summer: July can be hot with daytime highs in the low 90s. The east side of Santa Fe has a lot of Apricot trees and the fruit ripens mid to late July. The monsoon season (summer rains) starts mid-July, into August. It will be beautiful all morning, but then will cloud over late afternoon with big lightening storms, rain and even hail. The storm passes through and the sun comes out again. September has perfect weather.

View from the Dorothy Stewart trail looking south towards St. John's College and the Galisteo and Sandia mountains beyond

Fall: October is lovely, but by the end of the month it is turning colder (still with bright sunny days). One year, we had over a foot of snow on October 21, but it usually does not start that early. The Aspens turn gold at higher altitudes in early October, the cottonwoods turn gold in town in late October. By November, the leaves have fallen and it is getting cold, but is sunny and is warm mid-day.

Winter: In December, we get snow; we usually have snow for Christmas. In January through April, it can be sunny and wonderful or it can be overcast and snowing. If it snows, it frequently melts by noon. At this time of year, we do our walks mid-day, when it is warmest. By June, we have to finish our walk by 10am or it is getting too hot.

A Few Notes about Santa Fe

Santa Fe is on a mesa at 7,000 feet altitude. Expect to notice the altitude change if you live closer to sea level. One alcoholic drink hits you like three. You may be out of breath when you walk. Your nose may bleed slightly from the dryness. The effects usually don't hit right away but, if you move here, they can last for a couple of months.

We have beautiful sunsets and frequently a huge moon rising up over the Sangre de Cristos. At sunset, the mountains turn purple, hence the name - Blood of Christ. This is a high altitude dessert, in the Pinon and Juniper belt. It is not lush, but we do have lots of native trees and flowers. Most people do not have "regular" lawns, but more scruffy yards of native grass and wildflowers.

We don't have many bugs; not many mosquitoes, not many fleas. We do have rattlesnakes and hanta virus and you can get bubonic plague here. Don't touch mouse droppings (hanta virus) or squirrels (plague).

This is a dog town - everyone seems to have dogs. It is also an outdoors town, with people out walking and running in the neighborhoods, hiking on the trails.

Santa Fe brought in tough anti-smoking laws in 2006 - no smoking in retail shops, offices, bars and restaurants, including outdoor dining areas.

Orienting Yourself

Santa Fe is located up against the mountains - the Sangre de Cristo, part of the Rocky Mountains. The mountains are to the east. The wide open mesa with the Rio Grande running down the middle is to the west. Espanola and Taos are to the north, Albuquerque to the south. You can see Los Alamos and the Jemez Mountains to the west.

The street Paseo de Peralta circles the center of Santa Fe. It is on the north, east and south sides; Guadalupe with the new Railyard complex (opening late 2008) completes the circle on the west. The interstate (I-25) is at the southern edge of town. Take Old Santa Fe Trail or St. Francis from I-25 to downtown. Cerrillos is a busy road and not fun to drive. It is full of hotels, "box" stores, fast food restaurants and strip malls.


The hotels in the downtown or eastside area are the best and are more expensive.

Inn of the Anasazi: A Small Luxury Hotel, one of the best hotels in town.

La Fonda: Right on the plaza, an older hotel.

Inn at Loretto: Two blocks from the plaza.

Inn on the Alameda: Nice looking smaller hotel a few blocks from the plaza, on the eastside near Canyon Road.

La Posada: Great location, recently renovated. A few blocks from the plaza on the eastside.

There are many good B&Bs throughout the downtown area. These are some resources for finding them.

www.santafeinns.com: Santa Fe Inns of Distinction - several small hotels.



Vacation Rentals

There are many vacation rentals in Santa Fe. See the Slow Travel Vacation Rentals Listings for lists of agencies and places.

www.kokoproperty.com: Kokopelli is a good local vacation rentals agency with a range of properties.


Many of the good restaurants in Santa Fe are either in the downtown area, near the Plaza, on Guadalupe between Alameda and Montezuma or on Canyon Road.

Restaurant Guides

Eat, Drink Santa Fe; The City's 50 Best Restaurants, by Michelle Pentz Glave (Santa Fe New Mexican's food critic). A great local restaurant guide. You can get it at local bookstores.

www.santaferestaurants.net: The official Santa Fe Restaurant Association dining guide.

My Suggestions

Here are a few places that we like to go to.

Bumble Bee's Baja Grill: 301 Jefferson at Guadalupe, between Alameda and Paseo de Peralta. Great, inexpensive Mexican food (vegetarian options). Eat in or drive thru!! www.bumblebeesbajagrill.com

El Farol: 808 Canyon Road, near Monte Sol. This restaurant and bar have been in Santa Fe forever - or as long as week have been here. The food is very good - Spanish tapas with good vegetarian selections. Great bar with live music some nights. Excellent Margs. www.elfarolsf.com

Felipe's Tacos: 1711 Llano St. in St. Michael's Village. The best burritos in town.

Gabriels: On the highway leaving town north towards Espanola. Pass the opera, pass Camel Rock (the rock and the casino), then look for it on your right. Good Mexican food, guacamole made at your table, good margs (vegetarian options).

Il Vicino: 321 W. San Francisco Street, park off Guadalupe, north of San Francisco Street. Pizza (vegetarian options). Outdoor seating. www.ilvicino.com

Mu Du Noodles: 1494 Cerrillos, coming from downtown it is on your left several blocks before St. Michaels. Great Asian food (vegetarian options). Fresh fish.

Pasquals: Downtown on Don Gaspar at Water. Best breakfast in town, served until 3pm (vegetarian options). Good for lunch. Dinners are good, but more expensive.

Plaza Restaurant: 54 Lincoln Avenue, on the plaza in the center of town. This restaurant has been on the plaza for a long time, but it changes with the times. It still has an old diner feel, but the food is very good. Mexican food, American diner food, and vegetarian selections.

Pizza Etc: In the DeVargas mall. Good pizza to eat there or take out. Delivery available. www.pizzaetc.com

There are several upscale restaurants in town that are expensive, but very good. These are the ones that we like: Santa Cafe, Coyote Cafe, Geronimo.

Our Favorite Coffee Shops

Latitudes: In the center of town on Alameda by the Inn at Loretto. Great coffee, fresh bagels, pastries and sandwiches, gourmet ice cream, and tables outside under the trees. This is our favorite coffee shop.

Downtown Subscription: In the eastside at Garcia and Acequia Madre. Parking lot in front. This is a popular, neighborhood, coffee shop, the place we love to hate, but we all still go there. Why? Because everyone goes there. A great place to people watch; it seems like all of Santa Fe passes through Downtown each day. Newspapers and magazines from the US and Europe.

Downtown Subscription, coffee and magazines, east side

Downtown Subscription, coffee and magazines, east side

Sage Bakehouse: Northeast corner of Cerrillos and Paseo de Peralta. The best bakery in town has an area with seats (indoor and outdoor) where you can have coffee and muffins or sandwiches.

The Tea House: 821 Canyon, across from El Farol. A nice tea house with a great selection of teas, and light meals. Indoor seating in an old adobe house and nice outdoor seating.

The Santa Fe Baking Company: On Cordova across from the Wells Fargo bank. Nice indoor seating. Outdoor seating is okay, but on the parking lot. Good food.

The Aztec: On Aztec, off Guadalupe. Great small cafe that serves a younger and more hip crowd.

Starbucks: In DeVargas Mall beside the Office Depot, on the north side of town. There is also one downtown and one out towards Villa Linda.


There used to be only Ten Thousand Waves, but more places have been cropping up. Here are a few of them.

Ten Thousand Waves: 3451 Hyde Park Road, on the way to the ski hill just outside of town. Outdoor private hot tubs, communal hot tub, and spa. The setting is beautiful and so is the Japanese style main building. You change in the main building, then follow paths outside up the hillside to the hot tubs. They are surrounded by trees and pretty fencing and decking and are very private. This is a lovely place. www.tenthousandwaves.com

La Posada: 330 East Palace Avenue. Hotel with spa. One of "The Leading Hotels of the World" group. laposada.rockresorts.com

Absolute Nirvana: 106 Faithway Street, downtown near the La Posada. Tea room and spa. www.absolutenirvana.com

Grocery Stores

Whole Foods: On Cerrillos, south of Guadalupe and Paseo de Peralta. The best whole foods selection in town. Great deli.

The Marketplace: 913 West Alameda, west of St. Francis, in the Solana Center. Part of  La Montanita Coop. You can find locally grown produce here. www.lamontanitacoop.com

Kaune Food Towne: 513 Old Santa Fe Trail at Paseo de Peralta. A small, locally owned grocery store. Pronounced "Connie".

Santa Fe Farmer's Market: In the Railyard off Guadalupe. Saturday and Tuesday mornings in spring-summer-fall. Buy direct from the farmers.

Albertsons: In the DeVargas Mall (Paseo de Peralta and St. Francis - north side of town). There are several others in town, plus other types of large supermarkets.

Sage Bakehouse: Northeast corner of Cerrillos and Paseo de Peralta. The best bakery in town with freshed baked bread, muffins, the best croissants in town, sandwiches. Locally owned.


There are great shops in the center of town, on the streets around the Plaza. Another shopping area is on Guadalupe. There are many art galleries on Canyon Road. The "box" stores and our mall (Santa Fe Place) are on the south side of town, near Cerrillos and Rodeo.

Garcia Street Books: On Garcia at Acequia Madre. This is our favorite bookstore. Great selection of fiction and nonfiction. It is beside Downtown Subscription (coffee shop, newspapers, magazines).

The Travel Bug: On Paseo de Peralta between Alameda and Palace. A great travel bookstore.

On Your Feet: In Sanbusco off Guadalupe. There are several other good shoe stores in the center of town.

The Runners Shop: On Montezuma, just east of Guadalupe. Everything for runners. Locally owned.

Optical Shop of Aspen: 201 Galisteo, downtown. Expensive, very expensive, but the best selection of eyewear I have ever seen.


The best book is "Day Hikes in the Santa Fe Area" by the Santa Fe Group of the Sierra Club. You can buy this book locally. Trails are sometimes closed during fire season, June and July. When the monsoons start in end of July to August, do your hikes in the morning, before the afternoon rain and lightening.

Short Trails on the Edge of Town

Dorothy Stewart Trail: Park on Camino de Cruz Blanca, up past St. John's College. Before you get to the Wilderness Gates you will see 4 parking spots on the left. If these are taken, go another 1/4 mile to the Wilderness Gates and there is more parking there. This is parking for both Dorothy Stewart and the Atalya Trails. If all is full, go back to St. John's and you will see a large parking lot beside the road for hikers. This is a 45 minute easy hike with some good uphill and views over the city. This trail is exposed - hike in the morning in the summer.

Dale Ball Trails: This is a large group of trails close to town. They start just off the Ski Hill road (Hyde Park Road) and go across to Canyon Road and to the Dorothy Stewart Trail. We park in the lot off Hyde Park at Sierra Del Norte and hike the trails there. You can do an easy one hour hike, or make it longer to two hours. This trail is exposed - hike in the morning in the summer.

Old Reservoir Trail: Take Upper Canyon Road until the pavement ends, turn left on the main road, then right into a parking area. From here you can do an easy (very easy - not much climbing) one hour walk around the old reservoir or take the Dale Ball trail up to the Dorothy Stewart Trail.

Audubon Center Trail: Take Upper Canyon Road until it ends and continue on the dirt road to the Audubon Center. Park there and do this very easy, flat 30 minute walk in a beautiful open meadow.

Scenic Drives in Town

Santa Fe is a beautiful town to explore. The eastside is historic and worth walking or driving through as much as you can. Explore all of downtown. Walk or drive the length of Canyon - this is the oldest street in town and is now filled with art galleries.

Here is a nice Eastside drive:

- From Downtown, take Paseo de Peralta to the start of Acequia Madre (east of Old Santa Fe Trail).

- Follow Acequia Madre east. You pass Garcia Street with Downtown Subscription and Garcia Street Books.

- Keep going on Acequia Madre until you get to a stop sign where you have to turn right. Turn right, then take the next left.

- Go straight at the stop sign at Monte Sol. You are on Acequia Madre again.

- Right on Don Miguel. This whole area is full of old adobe houses mixed with newer houses built in the old style.

- Left on San Acacio. Follow this to the end at Cabra. Left on Cabra.

- In one block at the 4 way stop, right on Upper Canyon. This is a beautiful road full of many very old adobe houses.

- Take this until the end of the paved part then turn left on Cerro Gordo. If you go straight, it is a dirt road for less than a mile to the Audobon Center.

- Cerro Gordo goes over the Santa Fe River (which is usually dry) and turns left to go back along the other side of the river. You are higher up here and have good views. Look for the house made from stone on the left as you get closer to town.

- At the stop sign for Gonzales, go straight.

- Cerro Gordo ends at Palace. Turn right and follow this back to town.

Scenic Drives out of Town

- We like the drive to Chimayo, to the church with the healing dirt.

- The high road to Taos, through Chimayo, Cordova and Truchas is a good drive. Come back on the main road.

- Highway 14 south of town to Cerrillos and Madrid is fun.

- The drive south of town to Lamy and Galisteo is beautiful.

- The drive north towards Espanola, then west to Bandalier is beautiful. Bandalier is worth a day trip.

- South of town to Kasha-katuwe Tent Rocks (National Monument). Beautiful drive and a lovely one hour hike.

There are many more wonderful drives and areas to explore near Santa Fe. The guidebooks will have more information.


If you want to do a birding tour, contact Bill West at Wings West Birding Tours. We have not done one of his tours, but we know Bill and he is a great guy. home.earthlink.net/~wingswestnm

Other Santa Fe Things

Santa Fe is on Mountain Time and goes on Daylight Savings.

NPR (National Public Radio): 89.1 and 89.9 both out of Albuquerque. All Things Considered is on 89.9 at 5:00 - 7:00.

The Santa Fe New Mexican is the city newspaper (morning). Many people also read the Albuquerque Journal.

The Santa Fe Reporter is the local weekly paper available for free around town (comes out on Wednesday).

TV shows are an hour earlier than east and west coast.

Music About Santa Fe

"One and one-half wandering Jews, Free to wander wherever they choose, Are traveling together, In the Sangre de Cristo, The blood of christ mountains, Of New Mexico, On the last leg of the journey, They started a long time ago, The arc of a love affair, Rainbows in the high desert air, Mountain passes slipping into stones, Hearts and bones"
- - Hearts and Bones, Paul Simon - -

"The last time I saw Alice, She was leaving Santa Fe, With a bunch of round-eyed Buddhists, In a killer Chevrolet."
- - Enough to be on Your Way, James Taylor, Hour Glass - -

"Train wheels runnin' down an open track, In my mem'ry time to take me back
Are you goin, are you goin', To Santa Fe"
- - Santa Fe, Van Morrison, Wavelength - -


www.santafe.org: Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau. Get them to send you their visitor's guide - an excellent resource.

www.sfaol.com: Santa Fe Always Online. Information and a few vacation rentals.

www.sfreporter.com: Santa Fe Reporter, good weekly free newspaper with a good website.

www.freenewmexican.com: Santa Fe New Mexican, the daily newspaper.

About the Author

Pauline Kenny lives in Santa Fe, NM and runs Cotswolder, a travel guide for the Cotswolds in England, and SlowEurope, a guide to finding vacation rentals in Europe. See Pauline's SlowTrav member page.

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