A Quick Day In Santa Fe, NM
“Red or Green?” asked the lady
“Christmas!” I replied confidently
This was not a political discussion, nor was I going mad (although some may argue that’s already happened). This was in fact “insiders” New Mexico code-speak** and it was all about chilies.
Chilies, chilies, chilies….you either love ’em or hate ’em. There’s that hard bite when you first taste them, kinda like a bee sting, and then there’s that lingering burn on your lips and throat after they’ve gone down, kinda like sulfuric acid. The hotter the chili the longer the burn, and when it’s particularly strong it’s like a drug. You keep trying to stop, but you just can’t help wanting more. It’s a hurt that’s oh-so-good, if you’ve got the taste for it that is.
Now you wouldn’t think a pasty white Danish pastry like myself would be able to handle such intensity, but despite my puny tastebud genealogy I’ve actually developed quite the spicy palette. Growing up in Asia will do that to you, especially if you love Thai or Indian food as I do. I’ve had many years to build up a tolerance and these days I can hang with the best of them. Besides chilies are good for you, and if you’ve got any kind of…ermmm…through-flow issues they’ll fix that up for you right away (sometimes way more efficiently than you’d like, mind you).
New Mexico is the very heart of such things and it’s one of the many reasons I love it here. In this state chilies rule the day, and that same heat flows through to the landscape, the people and the colors. It’s a place of toasty golden hues, warm earthy tones and wonderfully fiery foods.
Our entry point to this heat-fest was Santa Fe, art capital of New Mexico, land of Adobe brick and high desert hills. We ‘d missed this city in our 2-month spree through New Mexico in 2011 and it’s an error we wanted to correct. That year was the first time we discovered this state, and like many of the best things in our travels it was completely unplanned. Much like Oregon, New Mexico was a state that, for whatever reason, wasn’t on my radar when we first started RVing. It was only because we were evacuated by fire in Texas that we even came here, and it was only because of her charm (and the incredible deal of the State Park Camping Pass) that we stayed.
We traveled extensively across the state in those 2 months exploring deep caverns, meeting aliens, playing on white sand dunes, hiking ancient cliff dwellings, seeing the heavens through the VLA, discovering pueblos, sampling art & wine and driving the enchanted circle (amongst other things). New Mexico gripped us from the start and the time we spent here would forever tempt us to come back.
But we never made it, at least not until now.
So we were very excited to be here, and even though we were running behind in our schedule we decided we’d stop for a quick visit to Santa Fe, to get a feel of what we’d missed the first time around. We’d heard Santa Fe was touristy, expensive and somewhat overdone which is actually part of the reason we skipped it in 2011 (we stuck to more remote and nature-rich spots on that trip). Plus there’s not really any great, inexpensive RV camping options here.
All of that is true, to an extent.
During our stay here we did find the artsy downtown somewhat touristy, and there’s no doubt it’s pricier than other NM cities, both for camping, parking and eating. But there’s also a rich cultural history and definite visual appeal that cannot be denied. Santa Fe was established in 1607 which makes it the oldest capital city in North America and the oldest European community west of the Mississippi. It’s been incredibly well-preserved making for a very pretty town with lots of museums and historic churches. In recent years it’s gone through an art and tourism boom which means it’s also an easy place to pickup some colorful sculptures or a good meal. It’s the ultimate potpourri of New Mexico’s soul in one place; culture, art, food and history, kind of like the Christmas** chili I ordered in the first line.
We didn’t have much of a stay here, just a single day to explore, but we made the most of it. We enjoyed a walk through old town and visited all the major historic attractions including the oldest church (San Miguel Chapel est. circa 1610 and thought to be the oldest church in the continental United States), the church with the miraculous staircase (Loretto Chapel which was ok, but not quite as exciting as I thought it’d be for $3/person) and the oldest house in the USA (De Vargas Street House, which we did enjoy).
Food-wise we indulged in red and green chili creations at The Shed which was somewhat overpriced and over-hyped, but super cute (and I must concede the margaritas were lethal). I’d say it was a good start to our chili sojourn of New Mexico, but I think we’ll manage better as we stay here longer.
Lastly, so as not to fall behind on our beer duties, we managed a trip to Santa Fe Brewing Company, another tasty brew spot located just minutes from our RV park with a nice, laid-back atmosphere. Being several miles outside of downtown the brewery had a more “local” vibe to it, and felt much more like the kind of place we typically like to hang. The Happy Camper IPA was good, but the Black IPA was our absolute joint favorite here. Great service, relaxed atmosphere and they had a lovely outdoor dog-friendly seating area too. It’s a recommend.
Our full and HOT day (we were breaking heat records) wrapped with a subtle, but colorful sunset which fittingly ended our time here. Even though it was a super-quick visit (we missed a ton of good stuff esp. museums & food-wise) I can definitely see coming back in the future for a longer stay. I have a feeling that’s there’s much more depth to Santa Fe, especially if you explore outside of the tourist center. Plus there are hikes and outdoor activities in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains that we didn’t even touch.
But we ran out of time….
We’re now finally, after almost an entire year of anticipation, going to an event that’s been on our bucket list for YEARS. The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta has arrived and we are bursting at the seams with excitement to see it happen. Paul’s dad & stepmom are joining us (they traveled across from Florida in their RV) as well as around 1,000 other close friends & RV buddies. It’s going to be busy and it’s going to be crazy so you’ll have to excuse me if I don’t post about it for a few days. But fear not, I’ll be back and you’ll have more balloon pics than you can handle.
- Santa Fe Historical Sites -> Click HERE
- Santa Fe Museums -> Click HERE
- Pet-Friendly Santa Fe -> Click HERE
- Santa Fe Brewing Company -> Click HERE (outdoor area is 100% dog-friendly)
** For those wondering Christmas means you want a combo of both green and red chilies.SPONSORED LINK:
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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do
Chuck Witt says
Will you 2 scientists being going to Los Alamos? It is a very interesting place to drive to and see in person.
We didn’t manage anything extra the day we were here, and we’ll be going directly West from ABQ so sadly we won’t make it out there. I’d love to go!
Ray J says
Love chiles and love the New Mexico state parks!! One of favorites is Rockhound State Park!!
That’s actually be of the few NM State Parks we haven’t been to, so I’ll have to add it to the list. We love the NM parks!
Steve Hall says
We were in Santa Fe in May and loved it also. Couldn’t stay more than a couple of days and it is definately on our “go back” list. We struck up a conversation with a local and asked where the locals got their chili fix, he sent us to Tia Sophia’s. In old town, we would have never found it or even considered it by the looks of the place, (though it wasn’t bad) just nothing about it would catch your attention. It was on another level 🙂 Highly recommend.
Oh sweet! A local “insiders” tip. I’ll definitely be adding that one to the list!
While there at balloon festival go Murphys Mueller Barn for a meal. Also try The Range in city of Bernalio. Be up early to see test flights just b-4 daylight. We missed this yr, but, we’ll go again. We usually stay at the rodeo grounds just below the launch area owned by the Bernalio Sheriff Possee.
We’ve planned to crew, so we’ll definitely be up for the early morning flights. Cheers for the tip on the eatery. I’ll look it up.
Please keep us posted on the fiesta! We are going to book for next year when they upton up for bookings…desperate for some info on what you chose and how the various sites rate.
Fear not. I’ll be writing several posts about our experience at the Balloon Fiesta including tips & recommendations for those wanting to come in the future.
Dawn from Camano Island says
Thank you for that info, Nina. A friend & I are considering volunteering (the month-long type) one of these years. Have fun!
Have been following you for a wild & enjoy your post – we live in Newport,OR-
While you were in NM did you visit
Las Vegas – we really enjoyed the town & history there
No, haven’t been to Las Vegas. One of the towns we missed this time (and last time) unfortunately. SO much to still see and do for us in NM!
Old Fat Man says
Santa Fe is special. Accept it as a great tourist trap and enjoy it. I have had about four days not in a row in that town and fond it worth my time to keep coming back. My answer to Red or Green is both.
In other words, Christmas!
Pauline Conn says
I used to live in Taos. Love NM and miss it so much. Now we summer (RV full time) in the PNW, mostly Oregon. No wonder I love your posts. Christmas, indeed! Yum! Guadalajara Grill and Taos Diner, Taos Mesa Brewery-next time you’re there. Also the high road to Taos has some great small towns. Santuario de Chimayo north of Santa Fe is another favorite place.
ken kaahanui says
So while you’re here do you have time for a meet and greet?
In Santa Fe? We’ve already left. In ABQ we’ll be attending happy hour at the Xscapers group in the standard parking area on Sun and the Boomers group on Wed. If you’re here you are welcome to come on by.
Robyn D says
Santa Fe is one of our favorite winter day trips when we are staying in So. Colorado. Can’t say we’ve explored it a lot and we usually brown bag it, but we do like to pick up some chiles on the way. We have been to Santuario de Chimayo a number of times and it is certainly worth a stop next time you’re around. Thanks for the tip on NM state parks, I will have to check that out. Looking forward to your take on the balloon fest. We keep missing it, but one of these days we’ll make it.
David & Stilla Hobden says
Great post!… We just left Santa Fe and took the exact same pics at the Oldest Church and De Vargas House 🙂
David & Stilla @
They’re classic Santa Fe sites. I see you toured outside if town too. Lots more spots for us to visit.
Richard Oliveria says
Two things ya gotta do. Sadie’s restaurant on 4th st. Albuquerque and Sky City if you are going west after leaving Albuquerque/ often missed but quite the place.\\
Tamara R says
Oh gosh, I hope you’ll be giving tips on how to do the festival in an RV at some point (looks like you have a front row/view site!) as I’ve heard it can be quite challenging.
We spent four weeks RVing around New Mexico last spring, and though we were a bit taken aback by the economics of the state, we relished the beauty, history and proud heritage visable everywhere we traveled.
We missed Taos (late-May snow flurries kept us away), so both it and the Balloon Festival assure we’ll return.
I’ll definitely be writing up tips and hopefully passing along useful info for others. More coming…
About seven miles northeast of Santa Fe is one of our favorite camping areas. Black Canyon is a National Forest campground there, and just a little further north is Hyde Park State Park. Hyde Park has hook-ups. Black Canyon does not, but the nights are so cool up there, it is pleasant without the AC. We love to go up there for the weekend and then go to museums, etc. in Santa Fe, or just relax at camp. Black Canyon is so beautiful, you wouldn’t believe you are so close to town. Probably not doable during Balloon Fiesta, unless you have reservations, but another time you might try it. All the hook up sites at Hyde Park would accomadate the Beast, and many of the sites at Black Canyon would work.
That’s good to know. We didn’t get to explore those campgrounds when we were there, but they’ve been on my radar. With Balloon Fiesta everything was booked solid and we were only able to get the one night at Santa Fe Skies in town. It worked out ok in the end, but it’s good to have options for when we return.
Jerry Ericsson says
Ah those chillies I had almost forgotten the wonders of the red and green. We from up north always figured red was the hottest, man were we wrong. Ah but that was 40 years ago, and things have changed. Now days it seems folks are eating jalapeño peppers like candy, we used to think they were HOT! I recall in the old days, putting the troops to work on the radios then going to the NCO club and eating jalapeño mixed with scrambled eggs sprinkled with Tabasco, and washed down with a mug of ice cold beer. Man that was the breakfast of champions down at Fort Bliss with the 3rd Cav.
Santa Fe was a different story back then, they had yet to finish the Interstate back then and it sort of ended in the middle of Santa Fe, and you were on your own to find it again outside the city. We usually hit it during a rush hour, man it was nervy back then. I look forward to seeing how things have changed once we get on the road. Should be going before the end of the Month. So much to do and so little time….
Santa Fe is someplace we really want to go. We had planned it last year, but it didn’t work out. We want to go check out the art scene there. But the food and beer sounds great too.
There is a HUGE thriving art scene here. I think you guys would be able to pick-up some good connections.
Box Canyon Mark says
New Mexico is touristy, but hey, what’s new. For sure your photo glimpse of all that adobe warms my heart. I love walking the residential side streets around Old Town. The adobe walls and courtyards and narrow lanes are a feast for the eyes.
Box Canyon Mark
I do love adobe structures…the older the better of course, but I’ll take modern adobe over most other modern structures any day.
Love the food in New Mexico! If you come to Albuquerque in the future, and want to visit Santa Fe from there, try the train, we did, it drops us off down town Santa Fe and we walked all over, great time. Fun to not be driving for a change and it was cheap to, round trip maybe 12 dollars.
The train from ABQ is an excellent tip. I had friends who took it and enjoyed traveling on it.
PD & MMM says
We are at Palo Duro State Park TX today three weeks into our maiden motor home trip and have followed you’re wonderfully informative blog for quite a while now, learning much from you. Trinidad State Park is on our planned horizon sometime soon so we were really glad you recently reviewed it and included some local Trinidad town info. Have you ever stayed anywhere else in the area between Trinidad & Albuquerque? We are not sure yet if we should go next to Trinidad then onto SW Colorado and before heading back into New Mexico via Santa Fe and then carrying on down to far West Texas before heading home to Houston in mid November or travel the other way around via the Santa Fe area and then into SW Colorado and finally east to Trinidad before coming back through Eastern NM & down to West TX. We wondered if anyone out there had any suggestions for Southern Colorado or Northern & Eastern New Mexico State Parks that can accomadate a 36ft motor home with Toad. We have read the usual review websites but we would feel far happier with info/suggestions from you guys or your well informed blog readers. One note though, we don’t mind any colder weather that could be found at altitude but would rather not experience driving our smaller beast on snowy or ice bound roads just yet. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Please excuse any grammer or puncuation errors likely due to chubby fingers on an older iPhone keyboard. Again, love your blog Nina and Paul’s also although I think I need more financial awareness to fully understand it…..
We’ve traveled in both areas. You can click on my CO or NM Tabs (at the top of the blog) or on my Camping Map to see where we’ve stayed. Reviews are linked there too.
Here’s a link to the map in case you can’t find it:
Sounds like Santa Fe is a fun place to visit. I’ve heard and read good things about it, but have yet to visit there. But it is on my list.
I’m really looking forward to your balloon fest pics and posts while you’re in NM. 🙂
There are more breweries in town we didn’t try, too. So, obviously we’re going to have to come back. One day just isn’t enough.
Santa Fe has always been one of our favorite cities, and we never tire of visiting. In fact, we’re heading back for a week this fall on our way to Florida. Nothing better than autumn in Santa Fe, with the scent of roasting chiles at the fabulous farmers’ market, the slant of fall sun illuminating the adobe, and the Dia de las Muertos celebrations. The whole city is a feast for the senses. Yes, you must return. 🙂
I’d like to come back and spend a month here, in the right season. I think that would give us a much more in-depth experience. If you love it that much, I’m sure we would too!
Jim McGregor says
Okay, I will admit it, I like touristy! Places become touristy because they’re popular with things to do and see, that’s why they’re touristy! Best to visit when they’re not crowded, of course. I live in a “touristy” city in the UK and love it when it quietens down over the winter, but accept that other people are going to come and visit the place. I’m just lucky to live here year ’round. My favourite city in the US is Charleston, SC, which is very touristy too. But that means good restaurants, money coming to the city, a wide choice of places to stay etc etc.. It maybe does drive costs up, but I accept that as part of the package. I’d love to see NM and will put it on my list when I can persuade my wife it’s time to do the big US RV road trip! Great pics and colours…beer looks good too!
I admit that I’m generally fine with touristy too, as long as it’s not over-done. I’ve been to some places where the “touristy” aspect overwhelms any original charm the place might have had. Thankfully Santa Fe is not like that. They’ve preserved the history and prettiness of the town really well. It’s pricey, but it’s got charm.
JOHN STEIN says
I think with your ability to write and love of the subject matter a book about Bars and beers of
the western USA would be a best seller . I enjoy reading all your post , but a lot of time I skip right to
the part about beer . Great job
Tee hee! Well I’m glad I can “provide” for all types of folks out there. A beer book would be fun to do!
One of my favorite towns although I’ve only been able to spend two single days there, years apart. There are some wonderful little gardens and walkways tucked in between the tourist shops and sights (which I also enjoy). Sopapillas with meat and green chili is enough to draw me back! I tried Tia Sophia’s like the comment above, but found it too spicy to enjoy – sounds like you’d love it 🙂
Yummy! I also love Green chili stew and it’s fast becoming my new favorite dish. Those green chilies can be dangerous tho’….:)
Simply gorgeous photos. That was some one day in Santa Fe. New Mexico is a state we have not given the proper amount of time to either. Look like we need more than two months to even get a start? Do you think they’ll let me in if I say I don’t even like chiles? My tender palate just can’t take them. Maybe I need an introductory course in how to enjoy the heat. Waiting to hear where’s the best place to stay near Santa Fe. You sure did get a great spot for the balloon fest.
Oh dear…yes, you might have to “train” a bit before jumping in to the chilies here. And yeah, 2 months would be perfect. Our original 2 months here gave us a great overview of the state. It’s so diverse with so many interesting things to see. Plus if you buy the State Camping Pass it’s very, very cheap.
Cynthia Huff says
You are right—one day is not enough.
FYI in New Mexico—Chile is spelled Chile not with an i or ies. (chili or chilies)
Quirkie—but as in Christmas, it makes you feel like you are in the know.
Have fun at the balloon fiesta—come back to Santa Fe one of these days —there are some reasonable places here.
As I said before—SAms Club is a very large, quiet parking area with trees and shrubs and adobe walls to slide next to. The RV parks here are very expensive.
After being on the road full time for a year and a half, we decided that Santa FE was the best place to live. So we are now here in an off-wheels house. Feels great. We were so tired.
Interesting quirk on the spelling. I had no idea. Cheers for that. Looks like you found the perfect place to settle down!
Lori B says
Love it… Enjoy the balloons… Also on my bucket list. We start full timing in January….
I love Santa Fe. It became a place where I and my girlfriends met for a girls’ trip several times. It is very expensive but I love the vibe and the spicy food is heavenly. Looking forward to more pics from the balloon festival.