I have a lot of thoughts on Santa Fe but I’ll start with the basic info you need to know.
Santa Fe is at an extremely high elevation — higher than Denver — and as such you will get winded from the thin atmosphere, even just from a long walk. It takes some getting used to, the important thing is to pace yourself.
The summer weather is challenging to prepare for. First of all, it gets very dry. I kept getting bloody noses, and while the saline nasal spray helped it didn’t entirely resolve the problem.
Second, the heat isn’t necessarily that bad. Although it might be 95 F out, when there’s a breeze it’s fine. Believe it or not, some locals don’t even have air conditioning.
My last point about the weather is the summer monsoons. They came very late this year and I only caught the start of it. What happens is it’ll be a warm sunny day, and then suddenly there’s a huge thunderstorm with a bunch of rain, and then it’s warm and sunny again. I managed to get by without an umbrella, but your luck may vary.
Fewer than 90,000 people actually live in Santa Fe, and many are retirees. The main industry is tourism and related service industries. This leads to an unusual situation where there are many top notch museums, activities, restaurants, etc. that primarily exist to serve non-locals. Though admittedly, Albuquerque is significantly larger and only about an hour away.
Speaking of which, in order to visit Santa Fe you’ll probably have to fly to Albuquerque as it has a major airport. Santa Fe does have an airport, but it only has one terminal with one gate, and the runway is too small for larger jets.
Downtown near Santa Fe Plaza there are numerous artisans selling their stuff outside, and pricier indoor galleries as well. As is often the case with this kind of arrangement there’s a ton of overpriced tacky junk that was probably made in China. However, one thing unique to the area are the Native Americans selling homemade jewelry — look for the sellers outside the Palace of the Governors. This should go without saying, but you do not photograph Native Americans without their permission.
Despite many rave reviews of the local cuisine… I wasn’t very impressed, to be honest. I even went on a food tour and it just drove the point home even more: all the local dishes are very same-y.
I also developed an irrational hatred of the locals insisting on calling getting one item with green chili and another with red chili as “Christmas.” That’s goddamn irritating.
This isn’t to say you can’t find good food in Santa Fe. I found perfectly good traditional Mexican food, a French cafe, etc. all over town. But I’d skip the seafood as the nearest body of water is quite far. Also whatever an “Oriental” restaurant is… no.
There isn’t any. Almost everything closes at 9 PM. There’s a couple bars open a bit later than that but not a lot later. Your best bet is to go read a book or watch TV or something.
For the most part I walked around Santa Fe, only taking Lyft rides to get to and from Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return. It’s a pretty compact city and I’d say the most walkable areas are downtown and the Santa Fe Railyard area.
However… there’s a couple big gotchas here. First, the streets and sidewalks are not always well paved, and the sidewalks are rarely ADA compliant. Some of the paving was in such horrible shape I thought it was gravel at first.
Second, although it’s an older city with a lot of smaller streets, they made the same post-WWII mistake many cities made and installed extremely wide streets (aka “stroads”) that are not pedestrian friendly at all. The odd thing is there’s often so little car traffic on these huge multi-lane roads that you can just cross wherever you want. It’s like they were building for a future that never came to pass.
One of the newer neighborhoods is the Santa Fe Railyard, a former railyard (no points for guessing that) which is now home to a large farmer’s market, housing, art, and a few places to eat and drink.
I was surprised to find how close this was to where I was staying and wish I found it sooner — especially the farmer’s market which had a surprising diversity of food considering, you know, it’s in the desert.
Funnily enough, the Railyard was successful enough that it got… wait for it… a train station. You can’t make stuff like this up.