When you need a weekend getaway but you don’t want to blow your budget, finding a destination with enough historical and cultural offerings along with tasty cuisine and compelling natural surroundings is not always easy. However, in Santa Fe, New Mexico you’ll find all of the above. Early Native Americans called the oldest capital in the country “Dancing Ground of the Sun.” Frontiersman deemed it, “The City Different.” In many ways those monikers still hold true. With more museums and art galleries than you’ll be able to handle, a rich Southwestern food scene, hiking trails aplenty, and adobe architecture that will have you wondering if you are still in the US, Santa Fe makes for an ideal weekend getaway. And best of all, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to enjoy it all.
Begin your weekend in Santa Fe at the Santa Fe Farmers Market. Free to enter, you can grab a pastry and a coffee made with organic and locally roasted beans from two on-site cafes, Café Fresh or the Farmers’ Market Pavilion Café. If you bring your own cup, coffee will only set you back $2. Offering up goods from more than 150 farmers and producers, the Santa Fe Farmers Market remains one of the oldest and largest growers’ markets in all of the US. Among its locally grown produce, flowers, cheeses, and green chile salsas, you can pick up the makings for a picnic for lunch without spending an arm and a leg. The market is open at different times throughout the year, but it’s always open on Saturdays from 8AM to 1PM.
Fully caffeinated, you can head back to downtown for a little bit of sightseeing. Architecture fans will want to see the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. Just one block from Santa Fe Plaza, the French Romanesque Revival-style cathedral with ornate stained glass windows was built in 1869. Entry is free. You can also stop by the neighboring Loretto Chapel, home to the famous Miraculous Staircase. A bit further afield is the Mission San Miguel, the oldest church in the US. Originally built between 1610 and 1628 by Tlaxcala Indians, you can roam its classic Spanish Colonial interior for a small admission fee.
Pack your picnic lunch from the Santa Fe Farmers Market and head just outside downtown. In a few minutes, you can find a number of trails highlighting the natural beauty of the Land of Enchantment. You can explore the pristine wilderness of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains on a hike. There are miles of trails ranging in difficulty from easy to challenging.
Once you head back to Santa Fe from your hike, make your way to Canyon Road by late afternoon. Located in the Historic District of Santa Fe, the adobe-studded thoroughfare is lined with over a hundred galleries, boutiques and restaurants. They all manage to fit into one-half mile. While many of the museums in Santa Fe will set you back an admission fee, you won’t have to pay a dime to roam the art galleries along Canyon Road. You can sample the local art scene here without a fee as many painters and sculptors have their studios in the area itself. Should you arrive in Santa Fe on the fourth Friday of the month, you can even roam these galleries into the early evening; from 5PM to 7PM, most galleries open their doors and offer complimentary beverages on this day. Canyon Road also hosts a number of events throughout the year like the Canyon Road Spring Art Festival or the Historic Canyon Road Paint Out & Sculpt Out event. Be sure to check the calendar during your visit for special events.
Right in the middle of downtown Santa Fe, you’ll want to nab a seat at the Blue Corn Café and Brewery for dinner. The restaurant not only boasts a coveted location but also offers a good bargain. The varied menu of contemporary comfort food and New Mexican specialties won’t break the bank. Many of those New Mexican specialties like tamales, enchiladas, and tacos run under $15 an entree. The eatery is also home to an on-site brewery so you can order up a pint or two of their in-hous
e beers for just $4.
A visit to Santa Fe wouldn’t be complete without spending some time in the Santa Fe Plaza. For well over 400 years, the Plaza has functioned as the heart of the city. Originally, the area marked the northern point of the Camino Real from Mexico. Today, the grassy square, which also happens to be a National Historic Landmark, is a nice place to just hang out and people watch. You can grab a bite to eat from one of the many food vendors or take in some street music. If you do want to take home a little something from your trip, head to the northern side of the Plaza beneath the portico of the Palace of the Governors, the oldest public building in the US. Many Native American vendors set up here selling jewelry and pottery of high quality. If you visit Santa Fe in the summer, you might even be able to catch a free concert at the Plaza.
When the pangs of hunger begin to creep in for lunch, head to the Santa Fe Railyard. Formerly a vital interchange for three railroads in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the area has since been revitalized as a center for shopping, entertainment, food, and events. There are a number of food options here, but you’ll probably want to try the award-winning Green Chile Cheeseburger from Second Street Brewery. You can walk off lunch by joining one of the free tours of the Railyard Arts District, offered July through September. Not only is the area home to a wealth of contemporary art galleries, but you’ll also find a number of local artisan shops and boutiques too.
If you need something to do in the afternoon, the Santa Fe Board of Tourism recommends a number of themed tours you can take on your own time. These are self-guided so you can pick whatever theme suits your taste and mood, from the Santa Fe Brewery Trail to the Chocolate Trail to the Literary Landmarks Tour.
For dinner, you can make your way to a Santa Fe dining institution that first opened its doors in 1953. Located just east of the Plaza, The Shed lends a taste of Northern New Mexico cuisine. Family owned and operated, the restaurant is legendary for its red chile enchiladas and blue corn specialties. And entrees won’t hurt your pocketbook either, with most running under $15.
Have any budget-friendly sights, attractions, and restaurants in Santa Fe to add to the list? Let us know in the comments below.