Local’s Guide to Santa Fe

After twenty years living in a place, one is sure to have a long list of must-do’s in the area. For Santa Fe tourists looking for a local’s perspective on where to eat, hike, soak, and get artsy, look no further! This article changes as we continue to explore our amazing home!

Restaurants—South Santa Fe

La Plancha Latin Grill—Our new favorite restaurant on the South Side. South-American inspired food including pupusas, fried plantains, black beans, and lots of other yummies. 3470 Zafarano Drive. (505) 466-2060

Cleopatra’s Café—delicious Middle Eastern Food.Informal—7 mins.  3482 Zafarano Drive
Hours: Everyday 11am—9pm  Phone: (505) 474-5644
Plaza Café Southside (New Mexican, American) Awesome new diner ambiance. Try their breakfast tacos!—7 mins.  3466 Zafarano Drive
Hours: Every Day 8am—9pm (10pm on Fridays and Saturdays)
Tribes Coffee House
—delicious breakfast burritos, yummy coffee and chai.
3470 Zafarano Drive.  Phone: (505) 473-3615

Restaurants—Midtown/Downtown Santa Fe

Tune Up Café (New Mexican/El Salvadoran/American)—A local’s favorite. Amazing pastries and delicious food.
Jambo (African homestyle fare) Another local’s favorite. I love their black bean soup, fried plantains, chicken groundnut stew.
Joseph’s Table (“Elevated New American Fare”)—Creative and delicious food. Cozy atmosphere. A bit more expensive than the restaurants listed above, but totally worth it!
Radish and Rye (New American)—one of our favorite restaurants. Extremely innovative food and cocktails (try the Abuelito—a Bourbon drink that comes out smoking!). Cozy/artistic ambience. On the pricier side, and worth every penny.
La Choza (New Mexican)—this is one of our favorite New Mexican restaurants in Santa Fe. Some of the best margaritas and enchiladas in town! Located near the Railyard district.


Blue corn tostada & sopapilla from La Choza Restaurant. Photo by Jpellgen

Paper Dosa (South Indian)—If you haven’t had South Indian food, check this place out. Delicious dosas and other south Indian fare that is quite different from the traditional north Indian restaurants found across the U.S.
The Cowgirl (American/BBQ)—Everybody loves the Cowgirl! Awesome patio, Gospel brunch on Sunday mornings in the summer (make reservations). I love their vegetarian chilli, bison burger, and chicken smokestack. At the very least, go get a drink at this hangout loved by both locals and tourists.

Restaurants—Santa Fe Outskirts

Izanami (upscale Japanese comfort food—not sushi)—This is one of our favorites in town. Delicious and unique Japanese fare, beautiful and relaxing environment. This is the restaurant at Ten Thousand Waves, a Japanese spa.  If you like Japanese, this place is not to be missed.
El Nido—(Italian)—Perhaps one of the best Italian restaurants in Santa Fe. Homemade pasta, delicious chicken/pork dishes, and a gorgeous ambiance/back patio. Located in Tesuque, so not in Santa Fe proper. It’s a beautiful drive getting there.
Tesuque Village Market–(New Mexican/American)—An informal dining experience if you’re in the mood for New Mexican/American fare. They have a wood fired oven in which they make a mean pizza. Cute little general store is attached with unique things to buy.   A great place to go after a hike in Tesuque!

Activities

Ten Thousand Waves–A Japanese-style spa that is nestled in the forested Sangre de Cristo mountains. You can book private tubs and spa services such as massages/facials, etc., but reservations are needed.  They have an amazing Japanese restaurant on site that features everything Japanese minus sushi!

Meow Wolf–An interactive art installation that will blow your mind.  You could explore it for hours and still not uncover everything. Started by a local art collective, and supported by Game of Throne’s author George R.R. Martin, this creative space is not to be missed. It has been so successful that more Meow Wolf interactive art spaces have been created in Denver and Las Vegas. Lines are long, so get there early, or late to avoid them. Or buy timed tickets. The also feature music, mostly DJs and bands, at night. Check their website for schedule and hours. Note: Closed on Tuesdays.


The Coral Room in Meow Wolf Santa Fe, the original location. Photo by Granger Meador

SITE Santa Fe–this world-renowned installation art space features cutting-edge conceptual artists. Exhibitions change every several months.  Located in the Railyard Arts District.

Railyard Arts District–This neighborhood is home to SITE Santa Fe, the Farmer’s Market, and many contemporary galleries.  The rail runner train, which runs between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, has a stop here.  There are also a few restaurants, a movie theater (see below), REI, and other stores.

Farmer’s Market–Open on Tuesday and Saturday mornings. Features food from local farmers, from vegetables to artisanal cheeses to fresh-baked breads. You can also purchase local meat, soaps, and other arts/crafts. Located in the Railyard.

Santa Fe Plaza–the historic center of Santa Fe. Features mostly tourist shops, but there are also museums (O’Keeffe, New Mexico History Museum, New Mexico Museum of Art). In the summer there are free concerts during the week at 6pm. Check the schedule at https://santafebandstand.org.


La Fonda Hotel Santa Fe. Photo by La Fonda.

 Ojo Santa Fe—soaking pools, great food at the Blue Heron restaurant, yoga, meditation, a pool, casitas and beautiful grounds are all things Ojo Santa Fe gets to boast about. And it’s just outside of town in La Cienega.

Places to Visit Outside of Santa Fe

Madrid–a charmingly funky old mining town 30 minutes south of Santa Fe. The drive there meanders along historic route 66, also called the Turquoise trail, and is one of the most scenic drives in Northern New Mexico.  Madrid has many galleries, antique shops, tourist shops, and jewelry stores.  The best restaurant is The Holler, and they feature southern home cooking. The fried pickles are delish! If you want to see the local “Madroids,” go to the Mine Shaft Tavern, a local bar/restaurant that features local musicians.  A few other things to check out either on the way to or from Madrid is the Kevin Box Studio.  Kevin makes larger than life size origami sculptures, and you can visit his gallery/studio space just before Cerrillos.  His space is nestled into a beautiful landscape. If you go, tell him Erin and Andrea sent you!  https://origamiinthegarden.com/visit/


An outdoor circus performance at The Mineshaft in Madrid, NM.


One of the many galleries/shops in Madrid

Taos–a beautiful drive up north that takes you along the Rio Grande river will bring you to the mountain town of Taos. Taos has a historic plaza, similar to Santa Fe’s, as well as many galleries, jewelry, furniture, tourist shops, and restaurants. We absolutely LOVE the Love Apple restaurant, but you must make reservations.  Another place to visit is the Taos Pueblo and is a fascinating way to learn about Native culture; we highly recommend doing the tour to better understand the site and people.  Fun fact: there are several scenes that take place in Taos Pueblo in the movie Easy Rider! In the winter advanced skiers will love the steep slopes of Taos mountain. There are a few awesome hot springs in the area as well.


The Taos Gorge Bridge.

Ojo Caliente— this is yet another beautiful drive up north to an amazing natural hot spring that has been developed into a resort.  Ojo has a variety of pools with various healing minerals–the iron pool, arsenic pool, lithia, and soda pools.  They also have a mud bath that you can use in the warmer months to exfoliate your skin.  The pools are public, but you can also rent private pools or get a spa treatment. The restaurant on site is also good.  Definitely worth the 1 hour drive!


The natural hot springs at Ojo Caliente near Taos.

Abiquiu/Georgia O’Keeffe house–Abiquiu is most famous for the landing place of Georgia OKeeffe once she fled busy New York.  I highly recommend visiting her home, but you usually need to make reservations in advance. Otherwise, a visit to Ghost Ranch (where she did a lot of paintings), is very worth your time, and is described in more detail below in the hiking section.  Stop by one of our favorite stores, Bodes, when you enter or leave Abiquiu for gas, groceries, and unique souvenirs.


Abiquiu, New Mexico. Georgia O’Keeffe painted this area extensively during her life.

Jemez–if you are looking for big trees and shade, Jemez is the place. Known for its ponderosa forests, rivers, multiple natural hot springs, and a cute, quirky town, Jemez is another place worth your while. On the way there you can visit the Valle Caldera, a huge valley created by a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago.  Our favorite hot spring in Jemez is San Antonio, but the road is only open in the warmer months.  Spence hot springs is much easier to access and also very nice, just a bit more visited. Giggling hot springs is a developed humble “resort” in town where you can soak as well.

Skiing

Ski Santa Fe—We love our little mountain nestled in the National Forest! Plenty of beginner, intermediate and advanced runs with a few dining options (we love hanging outside at Toltemoff’s) and amazing views of the region. Go on the Gayway run (blue) for among the best views on the mountain.


Getting the snowboard ready on Gayway, one of the most scenic runs at Ski Santa Fe.

Hiking

Santa Fe is full of breathtaking hiking opportunities. Here’s a quick list of our favorites:

Santa Fe National Forest & the Ski Valley Road above Santa Fe (25-45 min drive)

High Elevation – Aspens, Ponderosa, Streams, Green!
The high mountain hikes at 9,000-12,000 ft are wonderful to cool off in summer or enjoy a snow-filled hike in winter. If you are lucky to be in Santa Fe in October, don’t miss the changing of the Aspen leaves to view expanses of yellow!


View of October aspen trees from the Ski Valley.

Big Tesuque Trailhead: 19 miles up the Ski Valley/Hyde Park Rd.
For an easy jaunt, kid friendly with picnic tables and a lovely stream, we recommend this hike year-round. Loop trail or out and back, popular, amazing aspens in the fall. Can be crowded, but for good reason. Trailhead restrooms.
Windsor Trail to Nambe Lake or Raven’s Ridge: Leaves from Ski Valley Parking Lot
These high elevation hikes accessible to those able to tackle moderate to difficult trails. Leaves from the parking lot of Ski Santa Fe to access the high country of the Rocky Mountains. Technically this trailhead provides access to miles of trails and lots of backpacking, but a collection of great out-and-back day hikes leave (uphill) from the 10,000 ft elevation location. Raven’s ridge provides incredible views of the peaks while Nambe Lake is a robust 2 hour climb to an incredible alpine lake and mountain stream. Even a shorter walk along the heavily wooded Windsor Trail is magical. Recommend securing a trail map/directions prior to tackling. Also be prepared for afternoon summer thunderstorms (can be very intense) and quick changes of weather and cold/rain in all seasons. Carry plenty of water, food and a season-appropriate coat.  Trailhead restrooms.

Aspen Vista: Easy dirt trail that is an old forest road and offers stunning views of Santa Fe. A popular trail in October when the leaves are changing colors.


Nambe Lake. Access from Windsor Trail.

Mid Mountain Hikes – forest & views
These hikes are great for all seasons and are a bit of a shorter drive than the hikes at the top of the mountain. Winding through the forest, streams and hills of the middle elevations (8,000+ ft).
Borrego/Bear Wallow Loop: 15 miles up the Ski Valley Rd.
This loop trail passes through a range of forest types, with the highlight being the Creekside meadows of Windsor Creek, full of greenery, berries in summer and lots of shade. Approximately 2-3 hours round trip depending upon speed. Popular but not overcrowded.
Chamisa Trail: 13 miles up the Ski Valley Rd.
This loop trail is one of the closest and slightly lower elevation, but still in the forest versus the more open foothills. Easy to moderate.

Foothill Hikes
These hikes are close to town and usually feature incredible views, pinon-juniper woodlands, and well-maintained and marked trails. Popular and sometimes crowded, these are great hikes to get moving with quick access.
The Dale Ball Trails @ Sierra del Norte: 10 miles up the Ski Valley Rd.
This access point features out-and-back or various lengths of loop trails on the City-owned Dale Ball Trail systems. The primary loop at this site includes a 1-1.25 hour loop with sunny foothill and Rio Grande Valley views.
Upper Canyon Road: Santa Fe Canyon Preserve, Audubon Trails and Dale Ball Trails
This area at the very top of Upper Canyon Road includes a variety of options for a good walk. The Santa Fe Canyon Preserve highlights Santa Fe’s water history by passing through historic reservoir areas (now filled with wetlands and duck ponds) and big views. The nearby Audubon Center has walking trails and visitor center. The City owned Dale Ball Trails depart from this area to nearby peaks.

Hikes Close in South/West Santa Fe

Petroglyphs and Open Space Trails
There are a few lovely nearby walks within 10 -12 min from Casita Resolana.
La Cieneguilla Petroglyphs: Thousands of petroglyphs created by ancient Puebloan peoples grace the upper edges of this canyon/mesa hike. Extensive panels feature images primarily created between the 13th-17th century. There are also at least two cliff-face shelters. Take Rt. 599 South, Right at light onto Airport Road. Follow past the wastewater treatment plant and Horse Park (HIPCO). Parking area for petroglyphs is on the right, marked by brown BLM sign. From parking lot, follow trail to informational sign. Trail continues to the left, past a wash/canyon on the right, until it passes through the barbed wire and climbs the rocky trail to the top of the mesa. The petroglyph panels are located just beneath the top of the mesa. At the top of the trail, try the panels to the left. Beautiful views over the Santa Fe River and mountains.Hike requires sturdy boots and the ability to navigate rocky terrain. Steep at parts. Keep an eye out for snakes in the warm season.  This is a great hike to combine with brunch/lunch or dinner at the nearby exquisite Sunrise Springs Resort in La Cienega.
La Tierra Trails: County-owned open space trails west of Rt. 599. Multiple trailheads (formal and informal) for walking, hiking and mountain biking. Well marked and easy to navigate, with bike park and terrain park. Take 599 North to Unity Way (on left). Multiple trailheads from Unity Way.

Epic Hikes & Adventures Further Afield (45 min-1.5 hours from Santa Fe)

Tent Rocks – phenomenal rock structures, slot canyons and desert magic. 40 min south between Albuquerque and Santa Fe at Cochiti Pueblo. Fee area, limited parking.
Tsankawi – Pueblo ruins and cliff face caves. 45 minute drive, a remote part of Bandelier National Monument but less crowded and more of a serene experience. Ladders and navigating some steep areas. Incredible views. Located in White Rock, near Los Alamos. Fee area.
Bandelier National Monument – Pueblo ruins and cliff face caves. Popular but for a reason, 1 hour drive. Ladders into caves, visitor center, guided events, access to backcountry hikes. Check website for shuttle times from White Rock (parking at site is closed due to flooding, requires shuttle access outside of wintertime).


Bandelier National Monument.

Ghost Ranch – Red rock country hikes in O’Keefe Country outside of Abiquiu. 1.5 hour drive with numerous hikes, we love the 4-5 mile Box Canyon out-and-back hike, but they are all good. Stop at visitor center to sign in and get maps. Horseback riding, O’Keefe tours, visitor center and workshops.
Plaza Blanca/the White Place –  Formations of striking white rocks in Abiquiu, limited trails/open space navigation through rock formations and slot canyons. Located near Bode’s General Store, visit their website or directions.

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