Planning a solo trip to Santa Fe, NM? Here’s everything you need to know for your visit:
- Capital of New Mexico, with a population of ~84,000 across 37.4 square miles.
- Founded in 1610, it is the oldest state capital in the United States.
- A melting pot of three cultures (Anglo, Native American, Hispanic), the city has a rich history and varied history. Even today, Santa Fe has the second largest art market in the country (second to New York City).
- Nicknames: The City Different. Some refer to Santa Fe as “The Land of Entrapment” – the city is notorious for being hard to leave (those who do move away tend to come back!)
- Currency: US Dollar (USD)
- Spoken languages: English and Spanish.
- Best time to visit: from August to October (dry, continental climate).
- Arriving via airport: the Santa Fe Airport is a small airport limited commercial flights. You are most likely going to be flying into Albuquerque, in which case your best bet is to rent a car, hop the Sandia Shuttle, or take the train. The Groome Shuttle operates 30 trips a day between Santa Fe and the Albuquerque airport. The Rail Runner runs from Belen through Albuquerque up to Santa Fe, and there is a shuttle service between the airport and the Rail Runner station.
WHERE TO STAY
Hotels greatly vary in price – downtown Santa Fe has the more upscale accommodations ($200/night and up), while south Santa Fe offers more budget options (closer to $100/night).
- Santa Fe is small enough that there are only 10 bus routes.
- Fares are very reasonable. A single adult fare is $1, a day pass is $2, and a 3-day pass is only $5. Riders must have exact fare.
- To get around faster, consider requesting an Uber through the app.
- For car rental, look for the national chain brands downtown (e.g. Enterprise, Hertz, Budget).
SANTA FE NIGHTLIFE
- Drinking age is 21, and last call is at 1:30 AM.
- Santa Fe is a very small town and there isn’t really a separation of nightlife areas.
- Generally, everyone (wealthy, hipster, student, and blue collar) mixes downtown.
- Great bars for solo travelers: The Matador, Evangelo’s, Staab House Restaurant, New Mexico Hard Cider (lots of locals), La Reina, Desert Dogs Brewery, and the outdoor patio at Tumbleroot Brewery.
UNIQUE LANDMARKS TO VISIT
- Built in 1931, the iconic Lensic Theatre was the long-time favorite for movies and vaudeville. Restored in the early 2000s, the Lensic is now a performing art center, and is used by the Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, and the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival.
- Visit the Loretto Chapel to find out about the legend of the “miracle staircase.”
- The San Miguel Mission on East De Vargas Street was built in 1610, and is thought to be one of the oldest churches in the United States. Sunday Mass is still held here.
- The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi was built by Archbishop Lamy – this Romanesque structure is a sharp contrast to the pueblo style buildings that dominate Santa Fe.
- Canyon Road is one of the most concentrated areas in the nation for art galleries. Take a leisurely stroll up Canyon Road, wander into the art galleries, and have your picture taken with a bronze statue of Mark Twain.
- Walk along the Plaza of the Governors in downtown Santa Fe. Known simply as “The Plaza,” the whole downtown is a walking district centered around this old Spanish building from the 1600s. Unique shops and restaurants line the plaza, and every summer there is free live music.
- Walk up Upper Canyon Road and peek at the multi-million dollar homes built in the traditional New Mexican fashion. Make it to the top, and you will reach the Audubon Center and Sanctuary.
- Note: check the weather report before going on any long walks or expeditions, especially in the summer. This is monsoon season, which always brings a risk of flash floods.
- Santa Fe is located at 6,500 feet above sea level. Give yourself a day to acclimate to the thinner air. Drink a lot of water, moisturize your skin, and always wear sunscreen. It is all too easy for visitors to get sick from from the altitude and/or climate.
- The state question is “Red or green?” this refers to the type of chili you want on your meal). The appropriate answers are: red, green, or “Christmas” (half smoky red chili, and half citrusy green chili).
- The Paseo de Peralta is a road that runs along where the old city walls used to be. Locally known as “The Paseo”, in some places the Paseo de Peralta is so narrow two cars can barely squeeze by each other.
- Great restaurants to try in Santa Fe: Jambo Cafe ($$ – African with vegan options), Sazón ($$ – book in advance), Izanami Restaurant ($$ – Japanese)
- Looking for the best casual Mexican food in town? Try El Parasol, Café Castro, La Choza Restaurant ($$), and The Shed.
- Where to get cheap eats: Don Gaspar Avenue and Galisteo Streets. For something off the beaten path, you can’t go wrong with Cerrillos Road. Cerrillos Road (pronounced “Sir-eee-ohhs”) will take you further out of town into the more densely populated Hispanic neighborhoods, where any hole-in-the-wall restaurant you stop in will be full of locals enjoying authentic New Mexican food.
- Dangerous areas: while Santa Fe is generally a safe place, there are a few unsafe barrios (ghettos) in the city. Avoid: Airport Road, Alameda (south of Solano), and West Agua Fria.
Recommended trip duration: 1-2 days