I don’t ski, but if you’re a skier then you might want to go to Santa Fe in the winter. I hear the slopes are amazing, and I believe that you still don’t need a car to get to them. But if you don’t ski, Santa Fe is a great place to visit in the spring or summer. You can reach Santa Fe by train from the Albuquerque airport, and you can get around the city quite easily by foot or taxi. For a three-day trip, you’ll find plenty to eat, see, drink and do without wheels. If you have more than three days, you’ll want to have a car to visit Taos or some of New Mexico’s beautiful state parks.
First you have to get to Santa Fe, which is tricky but not that tricky. Santa Fe does have an airport, but it’s small and not a lot of airlines fly there. It’s much easier and cheaper to fly to Albuquerque and take the New Mexico Rail Runner Express (train) up to Santa Fe. The Rail Runner can be accessed from the airport via a free shuttle on weekdays and an inexpensive public bus on weekends. It only costs $7 one-way and takes an hour and 20 minutes to get from the ABQ stop to the Santa Fe Depot. It’s a scenic ride, offering up a great view of New Mexico’s landscape. It’s a fun ride for kids because the train itself is painted like a roadrunner and even beeps like the trademarked Warner Bros. character when the doors open and close. (But be careful… it’s only got one bathroom, and there’s no easy access to a bathroom when you reach Santa Fe. Also be careful on the way back. The public bus is actually scheduled to leave before the train gets to the downtown Albuquerque stop. I had to run to the bus and wave at the driver to catch it. The next bus was an hour later, and I would’ve had to take a cab to the airport if I didn’t make the bus. Long story short… leave early on the way back.)
When you arrive at the Santa Fe Depot, you have a few options to get to the Santa Fe Plaza, which is the heart of the city and where all the hotels and points of interest are. You can take a shuttle bus, cab or walk. I walked; it’s only a mile, and a pretty nice mile at that. When you reach the Santa Fe Plaza you’ll pretty much not need to leave a ten-block area for the next three days.
For an upscale resort, check out the La Posada de Santa Fe. It’s got a great pool, spa and restaurant. It’s also famous for its art collection, being one of the few hotels in America with a full-time art curator on staff. La Posada also has little nightly events for hotel guests. The events range from wine tasting to beer sampling to complimentary hors d’oeuvres. They also do art tours from time to time.
For something more affordable, try the Inn on Alameda. It’s got a cute Southwestern motif, with red chili peppers hanging everywhere, and a very nice happy hour. There are dozens of other hotels in town, but I stand by these two. Most importantly, you want to be somewhere between the Santa Fe Plaza and the Canyon Road Art Galleries. I personally would stay away from the hotels located right on the Plaza itself.
The activities in Santa Fe break down into five categories. Food. Drink. Art. Music. Shopping. If you enjoy such things, you’ll have a fun few days. But if you’re more interested in nature, you’ll need that car. There are plenty of beautiful state parks in New Mexico, plus the Rio Grande Gorge, Taos, and such. If you’re staying in Santa Fe for four or five days, you might even consider renting a car for just one or two days of your trip to cut down on the expense. You can spend a few full days in town and then take some day trips when you have the car.
If you like Mexican food, you’ll love New Mexican food! But it’s different. Most items feature a sauce made from red or green chili pepper sauce or perhaps both, which is called “Christmas” Sauce. The chili peppers are grown all around the state, and you’ll see them everywhere. Although there are plenty of bistros and international fare in Santa Fe, I personally would eat nothing but New Mexican food on a three-day trip. (And don’t call it Mexican food!) You can walk into any restaurant around the Santa Fe Plaza and have a good meal, but there are a few places to keep your eyes open for. The Shed is famous… and so is the line. You can’t go wrong with the pork in green chili sauce. Tomasita’s by the train station is famous as well… and so also is their line, so don’t plan on going there if you have a train to catch. The wait can be up to an hour, but it’s worth it. Mucho Gusto’s is a solid, tucked-away place that serves up delicious food without the wait. For something more upscale, try Café Pasqual’s. Everything is so close in Santa Fe, so you can just walk around and see what looks good to you. And make no mistake, the food is one of the main reasons you should be taking this trip.
There are three microbreweries in Santa Fe. The Second Street Brewery is right by the Santa Fe Depot. It’s a good place for a first or last drink in town. It’s a short cab ride from the Santa Fe Plaza, though most hotels offer a free shuttle to get to that part of town. It’s not bad to combine this spot with Tomasita’s. Second Street Brewery is also a good spot for blues music. The Marble Brewery Tap room is not to be missed, if even just for its location—right on the square, with a balcony facing out towards the Plaza. Their beers are outstanding, and they didn’t even charge me for their samplers. If you can get a table, it’s a great place to enjoy the outside air. The Blue Corn Café and Brewery is all right, but if you’re only going to make it to two of the breweries, skip this one. And if you do go, skip the food. There’s also one winery in town and one notable bar (that’s not included in the music section). The Vino del Corazon Wine Room is the first in-town wine tasting room, but I won’t be surprised if there are more the next time I’m back. The owner is friendly, the wine is delicious, and without a car this is the only taste of New Mexican wine you’re going to get. (If you do have a car, I strongly suggest stopping at some of New Mexico’s wineries. There are dozens now. Most of the grapes are grown in southern New Mexico, but there are plenty of wineries in Albuquerque, around Santa Fe, and on your way up to Taos.) For a taste of a real “local” dive, stop in the basement bar called the Matador. This old rocker hangout does not disappoint.
Santa Fe is one of the great music cities. It’s not Memphis or Nashville or New Orleans, but there is live music going on somewhere every night. La Fonda, right on the square, has country music nightly. The music is pretty good, but the people-watching (cowboy hats and belt buckles) is out of sight. Milagro 139’s big open patio is a fun place to take in some honest folk music. If you’re looking to hear some Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash covers mixed in with some original material, this is the place. The Cowgirl BBQ (semi-close to the train station) features different types of acts on different nights. For all these places, you’ll want to check online and see what’s going on ahead of time. If you know what you like, you’re bound to find something that interests you.
No trip to Santa Fe is complete without a walk down Canyon Road. The endless street of art galleries is only occasionally broken up by an upmarket restaurant or boutique. From the Inn at Alameda or the La Posada Resort, it’s a very quick walk to the beginning of Canyon Road. Unless you’re rolling in the money, you probably won’t buy anything on Canyon Road, but you will take a lot of pictures, especially of some of the sculptures outside of the galleries. Besides Canyon Road, you’ll want to stop by the Georgia O’Keefe Museum. Honestly, it’s small and missing some of O’Keefe’s best work, but it’s only ten bucks, and you can be in and out in an hour. New Mexico residents can get in for five bucks, so they really have no excuse to skip it.
There are a million places to shop in Santa Fe. If you want to buy overpriced jewelry, overpriced boots, overpriced cowboy hats, and overpriced… you get the point. I have no recommendations here. You’ll figure the shopping part out on your own. When I’m traveling, I actually do like to shop a little, but I did find Santa Fe a little pricey. You may not. Just be wary of goods that appear local but are not, like moccasins that are actually made in Montana and can be bought cheaper online. The shopping in Santa Fe may be a little dollar-intensive, but there are plenty of fun places to pop your head into and browse around. If you’re going to Taos as well, save your shopping money for when you get there; it’s cheaper and better. Also keep your eyes open for vintage or consignment jewelry. You’ll get a better deal than at some of the boutiques.