PeaceJoyAustin

Cheap, free, and local-endorsed things to do in beautiful places

Santa Fe & Taos

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  • Artsy historic cities in Northern New Mexico
  • Strong Native American influence
  • Located 1.5 hours from each other

Santa Fe Population: 70,000 (#4 in New Mexico)

Taos Population: 5,700 (#31 in New Mexico)

When To Visit: April-October

Climate: Mostly sunny year-round. Warm and dry in the spring, summer, and fall. Cold with some snow in the winter.

These two popular New Mexico cities have a lot in common – strong art scenes, stunning historic architecture and sights, excellent New Mexico style Mexican and native food. Santa Fe is a much larger city, while Taos is a small town located just below one of the state’s most popular ski resorts.

Photo: Cathedral Bascilica of St. Francis of Assisi, Santa Fe Plaza

Where To Go in Santa Fe & Taos

Santa Fe

Santa Fe Plaza: The city’s historic central gathering area and prime spot for people-watching is flanked by quintessential New Mexican architecture, including the must-see Cathedral Bascilica of St. Francis of Assisi. Free.

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Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi

Cross of the Martyrs: A can’t-miss destination! A short uphill walk takes you to this cross on a hill which has the best possible view of the city. Come here for the sunset. Free. 617 Paseo De Peralta.

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Cross of the Martyrs

Canyon Road Arts: The epicenter of Santa Fe’s art scene, this long stretch of art galleries features countless local artists and a variety of mediums in a peaceful Southwestern setting. Free. 409 Canyon Road.

Loretto Chapel: This ornately decorated small church is famous for its “Miraculous Staircase” which seems to stand without any support. Free. 207 Old Santa Fe Trail.

De Vargas House: Known as the oldest home in America, part of this small pueblo home dates back to the 13th century. Today it is a free museum and craft shop. Free. 215 East De Vargas Street.

Atalaya Trail: This moderately strenuous 6-mile round-trip hike just outside the city takes you through peaceful forest and offers panoramic views of the city and surrounding area. Free.

Taos

Taos Plaza: The town’s historic central plaza is a nice place to relax and take in the surrounding pueblo-style buildings, including the famous Hotel La Fonda. Free.

Mabel Dodge House: This longtime haven for artists and writers has stunning twists on New Mexican architecture and tranquil gardens. Today, it’s a hotel, but it’s a worth walk through the gardens and lobby. Free. 240 Morada Lane.

Taos Pueblo: 3 miles north of town, portions of this living and breathing Native American settlement were constructed as far back as the year 1000. It’s an incredible chance to get a glimpse of how pueblos may have operated centuries ago. $16 admission. 120 Veterans Highway.

San Francisco de Asis Church: A must-see, this incredible church located 4 miles south of town in Rancho de Taos and built in the 18th or 19th century is an incredibly cute one-of-a-kind architectural wonder. Free. 60 St. Francis Plaza.

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San Francisco de Asis Church

Martinez Hacienda: This free museum 2 miles west of Taos allows you to walk through a well-preserved 19th century hacienda (a large estate) and see hundreds of historic artifacts. Free. 708 Hacienda Road.

Rio Grande Gorge Bridge: The views of the river gorge are out-of-this-world at this arch bridge 10 miles outside of Taos. A walk across it is sure to thrill. Free.

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View from Rio Grande Gorge Bridge

Manby Hot Springs: These (lukewarm) natural hot springs are carved out of a beautiful portion of the Rio Grande itself. Access is via dirt roads – the average car won’t be able to make the last mile but you can hike it, making it an easy 3 mile round trip walk. Free.

Williams Lake Trail: Easily the most scenic hike in New Mexico, this moderately strenuous 4-mile round-trip hike in the Taos Ski Valley a half-hour from town takes you through stunning mountain wilderness to a shiny lake surrounded by huge peaks. The last mile of the drive is on a dirt road, but it is accessible by any vehicle. Free.

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Williams Lake Trail in May

Santa Fe & Taos Cheap Eats

Santa Fe and Taos restaurants and fast casual eateries popular with locals where you can get a full meal for under $15. I always highlight some vegan or vegetarian options – cutting down on the amount of meat you eat is by far the #1 way you can reduce your environmental impact and contribute less to animal cruelty.

Santa Fe

Pantry Cafe: My top pick in New Mexico, this casual cafe has unique twists on Southwestern dishes – their brisket tacos are to die for. Prices are gloriously low, with many entrees under $10. 1820 Cerrillos Rd, Santa Fe. (505) 986-0022

Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen: Excellent Santa Fe-style cuisine and a huge margarita and tequila menu. I enjoyed the blue corn enchiladas, a quintessential Santa Fe dish. 555 West Cordova Road, Santa Fe. (505) 983-7929

Tomasita’s: A wildly popular spot among locals and tourists, this colorful restaurant serves excellent red and green chile dishes. Note that they’re closed Sundays. 500 South Guadalupe Street, Santa Fe. (505) 983-5721

Jambo Cafe: In the mood for something different? This hole-in-the-wall eatery has unique offerings from all over Africa and the Caribbean. 2010 Cerrillos Road, Santa Fe. (505) 473-1269

Taos

Orlando’s: Just north of Taos, this casual and affordable eatery has beautiful patio seating and a great menu of New Mexican eats – I enjoyed their frito pie, a sort of taco bowl with tons of Fritos. For dessert, try their unique and surprisingly sweet avocado pie! 1114 Don Juan Valdez Lane, El Prado. (575) 751-1450

Ranchos Plaza Grill: Just south of Taos in the town of Rancho de Taos, this is the local spot to get the most authentic Taotian cuisine. They’re famous for the huge sopapillas with honey they serve with every meal. Don’t miss the gorgeous San Francisco de Asis church next door. 8 Ranchos Plaza, Rancho de Taos. (575) 758-5788

Santa Fe Nightlife

Santa Fe bars, lounges, and clubs that are popular with locals and meet one or more of these criteria: A) Unique, unlike anyplace you’ll find in another city  B) Fun and lively, sure to be a good time  C) Beautiful decor or view

Taos does not have much in the way of nightlife, but here are my top picks for Santa Fe bars:

Bell Tower Bar: Admittedly a tourist trap, this rooftop bar on top of the La Fonda Hotel nonetheless is worth checking out for its birds-eye views of Santa Fe Plaza and the surrounding area. It’s an excellent spot to watch the sunset! Predictably, the drinks are a bit pricey. 100 East San Francisco Street, Santa Fe. (505) 982-5511

Crowbar: This artsy bar is named for its large colorful crow mural and has a great selection of drinks for low prices. 205 West San Francisco Street, Santa Fe. (505) 570-4333

The Palace: This restaurant is pricey, but go to their old-school saloon to enjoy a cocktail in a trendy Prohibition-style setting which celebrates Santa Fe legend La Doña Tules – a powerful 19th century woman. 142 West Palace Avenue, Santa Fe. (505) 428-0690

Nearby Side Trips from Santa Fe & Taos

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Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

El Santurario de Chimayo: This spiritual haven on the scenic High Road that connects Santa Fe and Taos has stunningly designed chapels, folk art, and beautiful gardens. Read more.

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument: 1 hour west of Santa Fe, this off-the-radar park created in 2001 has strikingly unique “tent rock” formations. Take the 3 mile round trip Tent Rocks Trail for the best views. Read more.

Albuquerque: New Mexico’s largest city one hour south of Santa Fe reflects all of the best aspects of the state – the unique architectural style, their wonderful twist on Mexican food, and the quiet beauty and serenity of its desert landscape. Read more.

Great Sand Dunes National Park: Head 2 hours north of Taos to North America’s tallest dunes. Great Sand Dunes offers some unique outdoor adventure opportunities and lots of freedom to choose your own path of exploration. Read more.

Bandelier National Monument: Take the easy 1.2 mile Main Loop Trail at this monument an hour from Santa Fe to see well-preserved cliff dwellings and petroglyphs that morph into their beautiful canyon surroundings. Vehicle access is restricted – you must take the shuttle into the park from the town of White Rock most of the year. Read more.

Los Alamos: This unique community of scientists, engineers, and researchers close to Bandelier Monument is famous for being the location where the first nuclear bomb was developed. Enjoy the town’s museums and parks. Read more.

 

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