Friday, June 21, 2013

Travel Tips: Santa Fe

One of the best parts about evolving into a traveler in others' eyes is the chance to provide travel tips and guidance from what I've learned.  So here's my first attempt to share warnings and wonders from my experience in Santa Fe:

Avoid Albuquerque.


I'm sure there are many lovely things to see and do in Albuquerque, but the airport isn't one of them. I spent many more hours there than I needed to because of the time cushion necessary for the shuttle trip to and from the airport.  Great Lakes Airlines offers flights into Santa Fe from several cities - you'll pay about $100 each way, but you'll save the cost of a shuttle (Sandia Shuttle was $48 for a round-trip reservation) and the time needed to drive to Santa Fe.

Have a car, but don't have a car.

As much as I loved the area surrounding the Plaza in downtown Santa Fe, after 24 hours I would have enjoyed wandering a little outside of the city center.  Hiking, eating and even just driving through non-touristy neighborhoods would have all been enjoyable but weren't possible without a car.  I learned that I need a balance between the avoidance of downtown parking nightmares and the freedom to flee when desired.

Take time to listen.

The sounds in downtown Santa Fe were consistently amusing and informative.  Diverse languages and outlooks, overheard suggestions of activities and insights from locals - all floated through the air while I sat in the Plaza or walked the streets.  But most of all, there was music.  The balloon artist who always carried an old-school boombox, an old man with a beat up guitar, and the young girl who was an amazing cellist...they were all much better than stuffing earphones in and ignoring the world around me.

Take time to watch.

The sights of Santa Fe are as notable as the sounds, though not as harmonious.  I never knew what I would see - from colorful posts across windows to inspiring/confusing Collections of Things on a street corner.

Carry dollar bills.

I will forever carry guilt that I didn't contribute to the fund in that cellist's music case.  She played some of the most beautiful music I have heard in a very long time and clearly poured her heart into the effort whether or not anyone was listening.  I was rooted to the spot for an hour and if I'd had some dollars in my purse I would have felt more comfortable openly turning the performance into my own personal concert.

Buy a newspaper.

I traveled to Santa Fe armed with years-old clippings from newspapers that a dear friend loaned me.  They were helpful but even more accurate was the entertainment section in the Friday paper.  Buy a copy on the street or sweet talk one from the concierge at the La Fonda hotel (you can guess which one I did) - it's a priceless addition to planning a weekend itinerary, or spontaneously delving into Santa Fe's arts and music scene.  It allowed me to find a free bell choir concert at a local church, country music in a restaurant and breathtaking flamenco dancing, all in a 24-hour timeframe.

Visit the train.

I wasn't lucky enough to take the Railrunner from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, but I spent a lot of time alongside it.  The Station coffee shop became my favorite place in the city - it made me feel both like a cherished visitor and an average local, which I consider to be an irreplaceable quality in any good coffee shop.  I basked in the sun one morning, watching residents with puppies and tourists with cameras walk to the nearby farmers' market, and I hid inside to avoid the blistering winds that arrived the next day.  Both were wonderful experiences and, combined with the thoughtful ability to both buy and mail postcards from The Station, it was the perfect Santa Fe hangout.

Read Willa Cather.

The churches of downtown Santa Fe are beautiful even to a newcomer, but my love for Death Comes to the Archbishop made me feel as if I was treading on sacred historical ground.  Befriend Jean Marie Latour and you'll have a much deeper, more personal connection to the cathedral loving overseen by the real-life Jean-Baptiste Lamy.

Order it "for here."

There were plenty of tourists grabbing food quickly or to go in between sightseeing stops, but my favorite times were in the uncomfortable table-for-one setting.  Whether over a meal or a refreshing cup of tea, from there I watched countless nationalities absorb the southwest, separated the best art galleries and the ones that people quickly left, and shamelessly eavesdropped on other visitors' thoughts of the town we visited.

Move in.
The downtown Santa Fe hotels all looked lovely, though I was partial to La Fonda because of the great location and that friendly concierge who gave me his newspaper.  But if you're trying to save money or want to find a home away from home, try one of the many home/apartment short-term rentals listed on sites like  It's where I found my little Santa Fe haven and while the process of renting it was slightly more difficult than online hotel reservations, I really enjoyed having my own space at the end of the day.  And even in just three days, I felt like a part of the neighborhood - one neighbor moved out across the street and I learned which dogs to admire and which to avoid just like I was putting down roots.  Stability without roots: every nomad's dream.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for your comments! Don't worry if they don't show up right away - I read every one and they'll post as soon as I get to a computer again.