Last updated on May 3rd, 2021
A Local’s Tips on Sante Fe: Slow Down and Smell the Desert Flowers
by Billie Frank, Guest Writer
Santa Fe is a small, intimate city that offers way more than you probably expect from a city this size. Nicknamed The City Different, it offers world-class music and art and a sophisticated dining scene. The shopping here – everything from funky cowgirl boots to wonderful pieces of art – will make your heart sing. Santa Fe is a perfectly comfortable place for solo women travelers and one that I recommend highly. As a local let me share with you what I know about this city.
- Staying here: Pick lodging close to downtown. It’s the area you will want to explore and dine in. There are a few more moderate and budget options close to town but also check rates the on-line discounters are offering. The Hotel Santa Fe, the city’s only native-owned hotel sometimes offers bargains and has shuttle service to the Plaza area as does the basic and budget Santa Fe Sage Inn.
- Acclimate: Take your time. Spend your first day in our city acclimating. In Santa Fe, we’re at 7,000 feet. It’s very dry here in the high desert.
- Hydrate: Drink lots of water. Minimize coffee and alcohol consumption until you have acclimated to the high and dry. And by the way, because of the altitude, alcohol affects you faster. One drink here is the equivalent of two at sea level.
- Slather with a Capital S: Sunscreen and a hat are very important in Santa Fe. We are closer to the sun and the air is thin. Trust me; you will burn faster than you think.
- Expect an interesting climate: Santa Fe is not Phoenix. People are often surprised that it gets cold here. In winter people arrive not realizing that, yes, we do get a real winter. While it feels warmer than it does in humid places, come prepared for cold and snow. In winter, we can get warm days and even if it’s cold (unless it gets into the low 20s or the wind is blowing), it feels warmer than the thermometer leads you to believe. Since it’s sunny and dry (over 300 sunny days a year) you don’t get that bone-chilling cold that happens in places with humidity. And be prepared; it can snow into May.
- What to bring: When packing for Santa Fe, think layers. Even in the summer, evenings can be chilly and you’ll need a sweater. Anything goes in terms of dress. It’s mostly a casual town, but many visitors (and locals) can be seen decked out in turquoise and silver and fabulous cowgirl boots.
- Relax in a spa or hot spring: If you want to soak in a Japanese-style hot tub, check out Ten Thousand Waves. Splurge on a private tub if you can. The public, clothing-optional pool, is not for everyone and neither is the women’s pool. Like natural hot springs? Check out the mineral pools at Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs about an hour and a half drive from Santa Fe. Treat yourself to one of their private (and huge) soaking pools with kiva fireplace.
- Explore the historic downtown: Santa Fe is a great walking city. Check out the historic downtown Plaza area. The city is compact and full of history; there are lots of nooks and crannies to explore on your own. Want some company? You can take an organized historic walking tour with Historic Walks of Santa Fe. From April through October, there are also open-air tram tours such as Loretto Lines. The Santa Fe Traveler offers historic tours by appointment and will also design a custom tour for you either to do on your own or with a knowledgable (and fun) guide.
- Free history, art and culture: Santa Fe has great museums. The state-run New Mexico History Museum and New Mexico Museum of Art are free on Friday evenings from 5 to 8 pm. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the Museum of International Folk Art and the Museum of Indian Art and Culture, both on Museum Hill, are also free on Friday nights. There’s a bus from town if you don’t have a car. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum is free the first Friday of the month from 5 to 7 pm.
- There are galleries galore: Santa Fe has over 200 galleries; you can see ‘free’ art every day. Friday night gallery openings are a great way to get a glass of wine, a nibble and a look at what’s new on the Santa Fe art scene. There’s a First Friday Walk shared by the West Palace and Lincoln Avenue Galleries and Canyon Road have a Fourth Friday Walk. Pasatiempo, the Friday weekend magazine insert in the Santa Fe New Mexican, our daily paper, lists the openings and other happenings throughout the week.
- Georgia O’Keeffe: If you are coming here because you are a Georgia O’Keeffe fan, here are a few tips: The museum closes several times a year for about two weeks to mount new shows. Plan your trip accordingly. The Georgia O’Keeffe Home and Studio and Ghost Ranch are both in Abiquiu, over an hour’s ride from Santa Fe. You will need a car to get there. The home tour and the O’Keeffe landscape tours at the ranch are offered seasonally and tend to book up. Make arrangements well in advance.
- Go back in time: Take a trip to one of the cliff dwelling or other Pueblo archeological sites. Visit one of the two historic Pueblos (Acoma Sky City, southwest of Albuquerque, or Taos Pueblo, north of Santa Fe) where people live today much as they did before the Spanish arrived.
- Take a guided hike: The bad news is that unless you know the area well solo hikes in the wilderness or the desert are not recommended. You could on occasion encounter bears, mountain lions, and rattlesnakes. You could also get very lost. The good news is that I can recommend two companies that have trained, knowledgeable guides who can explain our state’s exceptional flora and fauna and take you through some interesting terrain. They are Outspire and Santa Fe Walkabouts. P.S. If you choose to go alone, take your cellphone and let your hotel know your destination and proposed return time.
- Get out on the water: In late spring and early summer, book a rafting trip on the Rio Grande. If you are moderately adventurous, the Race Course offers class two and three rapids. For the more intrepid, The Taos Box offers class three and four rapids in the spring. If you aren’t looking for adventure or a potential dip in the water, try a float trip. The chance of the raft flipping over on these is slim. KoKopelli and New Wave have both been running rafting trips for years.
- Shopping: If you want to own a piece of authentic Native American jewelry, pottery, a Navajo rug, kachina, etc. the town is loaded with world-class pieces. There are also lots of reproductions so beware if you are purchasing a costly item. This is also the place to buy traditional Spanish Colonial art.And if you’re a fan of cowgirl boots, some great examples can be had. If price is not an object Back at the Ranch (209 East Marcy Street) is the place to go. They carry really unusual boots and also do custom-made ones. For used boots (resole them and they’re as good as new) check out Double Take (321 South Guadalupe Street) or Kowboyz for great selections. Interesting clothing stores abound in Santa Fe. My favorites are Origins (135 West San Francisco Street) a shop specializing in flowing timeless clothes, Spirit of the Earth where you can find unusual clothing especially great velvets and cashmere in season and Zephyr (125 East Palace Avenue) a small gem offering an interesting mix. Lucille’s (223 Gallisteo Avenue) is a popular place for more reasonably-priced clothing. If you are a resale-shop fan, vintage western wear and more can be found at Double Take (321 South Guadalope Street) and there are great finds at The Beat Goes On (333 Montezuma Avenue, Suite 102). There are also wonderful boutiques tucked all over town offering unique things that maybe you can’t live without. The museum shops have some treasures. And don’t miss the Native Americans who sit under the portal at the historic Palace of the Governors. Everything is authentic and made by the vendor or a family member. It’s a great place to browse for gifts.
- Introduction to Northern New Mexican cuisine: Try the local cuisine while you are here. Just remember, New Mexicans like it hot and the food can be spicy. Ask to taste the chile before you get your food “smothered” in it. Most restaurants won’t take the dish back if it’s too hot for your palate. I prefer green chili, but many like red. Ask for “Christmas,” you’ll get both. And remember, sour cream can tone down the heat, and beer or a frosty Margarita go a long way to cooling down your burning mouth. The Shed a block from the Plaza is great fun. Want company? Eat at the bar. All the locals do it.
- Solo dining: Women dining alone will be comfortable at most restaurants here. Try the community table at Café Pasquals. If you have a car or don’t mind the bus, Jambo Cafe serves up inexpensive African comfort food in a very casual atmosphere. Del Charro Saloon is a great place to go for bargain food and it’s always bustling. For a splurge, try 315 Restaurant and Wine Bar. If you feel isolated at a table in this restaurant, consider sitting in the bar section. It’s where people come and go and sometimes chat.
- Our breakfast treasure: Try a breakfast burrito while you’re here. They are different from the ones you’ve encountered in California, Arizona, and Colorado. They are the best ones I’ve tasted. It’s that New Mexico chile that makes the difference. Guadalupe Café (422 Old Santa Fe Trail) and Tia Sophia’s (210 West San Francisco Street) are great in-town spots to grab a burrito. Have it smothered in chile. Remember, not all breakfast burritos are created equal. Read restaurant reviews, chat with locals or put “breakfast burrito” in the search bar at SantaFeTravelers.com.
- The hills are alive with the sounds of music and more: Santa Fe has great music year-round. In summer, there’s the Santa Fe Opera, The Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, Music on the Hill and Santa Fe Bandstand. If you want to know what’s going on in the culture scene, check Tickets Santa Fe. Their website has a schedule of upcoming concerts. They sell tickets to just about everything except the Santa Fe Opera.
- Free info: Free publications and guides can be found all over town. Some will have information about Santa Fe events. Pasatiempo (see above) has a wealth of information on events as does the weekly Santa Fe Reporter. Local Flavor, published monthly, can give you a feel for The City Different. Check out the Buzz column, there’s always interesting info about new places there.
- Annual events: Santa Fe has many annual events that you can plan a trip around. Christmas here is very special. There are three major markets here in the summer: International Folk Art Market, Spanish Market, and Spanish and Indian Market. There’s the Santa Fe Wine and Chile Fiesta in September, ArtFeast in February and El Rancho de los Golondrinas, a Spanish Colonial Arts era hacienda has wonderful weekend festivals throughout the summer.
- Don’t drink and drive: Besides the obvious safety issues, Santa Fe periodically puts up sobriety roadblocks and getting caught will ruin your vacation. If you enjoy a drink or two with dinner, call a cab or stay at a hotel with a shuttle service. Santa Fe also has radar camera vans that move around town as well as red-light cameras.
- Be safe out there: As in any other place you travel, solo women travelers are advised to be aware of their surroundings especially at night. Stay on crowded streets, if you have to go a distance, call Capitol Cab 505-438-0000 (you can’t hail them on the street). Don’t flash money and jewelry. Use the general common sense you use whenever you are traveling.
- And remember: You’re visiting the Land of Enchantment and The City Different. The pace here is governed by ma’ana. So, slow down, smell the desert flowers and have a margarita. Welcome to Santa Fe, ladies.
JourneyWoman Billie Frank lives and works in Santa Fe. She is co-owner of The Santa Fe Traveler, a travel consultant company specializing in customized Santa Fe experiences. She also blogs about her adopted city at Santa Fe Travelers and is currently updating a Santa Fe travel guide for a major publisher.