A Travel Guide for How to Visit Santa Fe on a Budget

Santa Fe offers historical sites and great food.
(c)Mark D. Kahler

For travelers, Santa Fe is among the most popular state capitals in the United States. The city provides a look at historic New Mexico, and a grand selection of arts and culture. This travel guide will help visitors navigate Santa Fe without spending too much money.

When to Visit

Those who think of New Mexico as dusty and arid will have that myth busted upon arrival in Santa Fe. The city sits at the southern edge of the Rocky Mountains, with forestry and weather to match. At about 7,000 feet above sea level, Santa Fe receives more snow in winter than most other major cities in the state. Nighttime temperatures can drop below freezing at almost any time of year, so dress accordingly. The trade-off is lots of sunshine in all seasons. Festival season peaks with the highest number of tourist arrivals in July-September.

Where to Eat

Along the Plaza de Santa Fe (the city's central gathering area for nearly 400 years) you will find street vendors offering fajitas and other local treats. If you're interested in a sit-down meal, expect to pay more in restaurants located within a few blocks of the plaza. One moderate splurge is Blue Corn Cafe (corner of Water and Galisteo Streets), where lunch entrees featuring local cuisine are available for under $10.

Where to Stay

Santa Fe is among the top tourist destinations in the western U.S., so it stands to reason there are plenty of high-end spas/resorts and bed & breakfast inns. If you can find a deal, these places can make your stay. But most budget travelers will want something less expensive. Santa Fe Motel & Inn is within a short walk of the plaza. Rooms start at about $100/night. Four-star hotel for under $150: Inn on the Alameda, between the historic Santa Fe Plaza and the galleries of Canyon Road. Chain operations a few miles from downtown offer lower prices.

 

Getting Around

Most people who arrive in Santa Fe drive or pick up a car rental. Santa Fe itself is small enough to see on foot. St. Francis Cathedral is among nine convenient central parking lots where fees are less than $2/USD per hour and $9/day. Public transit is available at reasonable prices, too: a one-day bus pass is only $2.

Area Attractions

Start your visit in the Plaza, a park-like place in the center of Santa Fe. Many of the city's art galleries, shopping areas, and restaurants are located within a few blocks of this attraction. There are 16 museums within the city. One of the best is the Institute of American Indian Arts, with 7,000 artifacts on display and artisans on hand to describe their works. Admission: $5 adults, $2.50 seniors and students, free under age 16.

Within a Day's Drive

Bandelier National Monument is about an hour from Santa Fe, but well worth the day trip. It combines gorgeous scenery with important archaeological preservation of pre-Pueblo culture. A seven-day automobile pass is $12, but admission is free to educational groups. Camping and hiking facilities are also available. Snow can close some areas of the park in winter.

More Santa Fe Tips

Museum Hill is more than exhibits

This fun area near the city center offers a respite from the traffic and shopping of downtown. Each of the five museums here sells a $12 four-day pass good for the entire Museum Hill area. So if you'll be in town for a few days, this buys you a daily escape and some fascinating historical knowledge at the same time.

Art galleries abound

Only New York offers its visitors more art galleries, and when you consider how small Santa Fe is in relation to the Big Apple, you begin to see how important art is here. You can spend days wandering aimlessly through galleries, but the best strategy is to inquire locally about galleries that specialize in your favorite art forms. Many are concentrated in the Canyon Road area west of downtown.

Daytrip: Sangre de Cristo Mountains

During high season, Santa Fe is jammed with festival visitors. A great escape is the nearby mountains, which reach heights of more than 13,000 ft. and offer spectacular hiking, skiing and water sport opportunities. Carson National Forest alone offers 330 miles of hiking trails. The ski mecca of Taos is nearby.

More about walking

In a city that's easy to walk, there are plenty of walking tours. Free self-guided walking tours are available

Santa Fe Opera tickets

This highly regarded company performs during the summer. The so-called "cheap seats" here are affordable--$31 and up. You can reserve seats online.

Festival central

Many Santa Fe visitors are here to take part in one of the many festivals hosted in the city. Check out SantaFe.com for a chronological listing of events.