cozy, vast, and filled to the brim with rich and colorful culture, the city different is a recreationalist’s dream.
From the outside looking in, Santa Fe is an escape, an oasis, perhaps the happy place that replaces your bad place during meditation. It might seem like the stuff of Hollywood fantasies — dusty Old West towns, miles of desert as far as you can squint, elevated views that manage to make you feel exhilaratingly significant and insignificant at once.
But for Santa Fe’s locals, many of whom have been settled there for generations upon centuries, the half desert, half mountainous region is just home. “The sky is large, the sun is out, and people are just doing their own things and saying hello to everyone,” says Zippy Guerin, our featured Recreationalist and creator of @santafefound.
Santa Fe is a fantastic mirage of people co-existing independently beside one another. And in between all of those separate paths are a handful of central hubs that bring everyone together. With help from Zippy, local artisan Krysta Jabczenski, and indigenous artist and business owner Maida Branch (of Zuni, Ute, Inda-Hispana descent), The Recreationalist brings you a beginner’s guide to The City Different.
Know Before You Go
As the oldest capital in America and one of the earliest sites of European colonialism, Santa Fe has a complicated history that should be learned and acknowledged before you go. The city and its locals are fiercely (and rightfully) protective of its lands and cultural preservation efforts, and ask that you “educate yourself outside of Georgia O’Keefe,” says local Maida Branch.
Here are three ways to do your due diligence before you touch down in Santa Fe.
1. Consider how you can pay back your thanks in more ways than just gratitude. “If you’re going to come here and glean a lot from our mystic land and really accessible nature — and so inevitably populate those areas — then think about how can you re-contribute your dollar to mutual aid. How can you give back as much as you take?” asks Maida. For starters, you can donate to Tewa Women United or the new Española Pathways Shelter — two great organizations that funnel resources back into the native locale.
2. Learn who came first. Read up on the Eight Pueblos North of Santa Fe and the Pueblos South of Santa Fe before you go. Some pueblos have been known to welcome guests during certain cultural events and celebrations. However, due to the ongoing pandemic, those events and some in-reservation trails may not be welcoming guests. Respect these boundaries — there are plenty other spots in this guide.
3. Check out this crowdsourced Native Land Map that helps pinpoint whose land you’re on and what happened there. It’s incredibly humbling to experience the vast beauty of Santa Fe while soaking in its real story.
The heart of Santa Fe isn’t so much broken up into entire neighborhoods as it is small social cores with bright spots scattered throughout — kind of like a constellation. For when you’re feeling metropolitan, Zippy Guerin takes us through her favorite shops and stops around town.
On the left, Zippy smiles at Opuntia Cafe wearing head to toe Outdoor Voices. On the right, the inside of plant nursery and farm-to-table kitchenette Plants of the Southwest.
According to Zippy, this “objectively cool neighborhood”, built around historically preserved railroad cars, is the perfect place for spending a leisurely Sunday and supporting local artisans.
On the east side of the tracks, visit the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market for fresh produce from Montoya Orchard and flowers from Green Tractor Farm. Krysta Jabczenski, a local ceramicist and photographer, always checks out Groundstone Farm and Western Family Farm.
While you’re there, swing by Sage Bakehouse for fresh-baked carbs. Plus! Keep an eye out for the reopening of Opuntia Cafe, a half plant shop-half tea house café that’s “perfect for working from home.”
The Railyard is objectively cool and super walkable to spend a whole day in.
If you’re visiting the Southwest, chances are you’ve heard of the infamous Canyon Road in Santa Fe.
For when you’re trying to unplug even further, Zippy recommends The Teahouse. “It doesn’t have WiFi and you don’t bump into a lot of people since Canyon Road is more touristy, so you can really relax.” At Zippy’s suggestion, order a London Fog tea latte, nestle into a corner, and crack open a good book.
After, stroll down Canyon Road for some light window browsing. Zippy recommends stopping in at La Boheme to shop local.
If you’re really wanting that Instagram location tag at Canyon Road, but you’re trying to steer clear of tourist zones, Krysta loves to hike at Upper Canyon Road, about three miles east of the commercial sector. Visit the Randall Davey Audubon Center & Sanctuary to observe some great native flora and fauna.
EVERYONE GETS TO KNOW EACH OTHER QUICKLY HERE. YOU CAN REALLY JUST WALK UP TO SOMEONE AND SAY HI AND ASK THEM TO COFFEE.
El Rey Court
Zippy’s favorite hotel (and the local youth magnet) is the El Rey Court Hotel. When you’re in the mood for carbs, pre-order a specially wood-fired pizza from Tenderfire Kitchen. Nuzzle into a picnic spot on the grassy lawn outside El Rey Court and witness your pizza go from dough to delicacy.
Or, zip across the street to El Parasol for tacos. Get there early, because it’s “definitely where all the locals go at lunchtime.” Don’t forget to ask for extra of their house-made hot sauce.
There are tons of local artisans like Maida Branch at MAIDA, Christine Hernandez at Lil Weavy, Bri Cimino of El Camino Tack Co, or Percy Stith of The Stith Collection Hats, whose various and gorgeous goods outmatch any old gift shop souvenir by a landslide.
Until they’re able to post up at pop-ups like the First Friday Makers Market again, feel free to individually contact these artisans for their studio hours.
While You’re Here
In downtown Santa Fe, there’s a historic district that remembers the often forgotten settlement of the Tlaxcalans of Barrio de Analco. “For a long time, they were a village of essentially indigenous slaves who were brought up by the Spanish to fight alongside their forces.” Look out for the dedicated plaque along E De Vargas Street to pay your respects.
Photos of El Rey Court by Zippy Guerin. Look out for the reopening of their inside bar, La Reina, soon.
Santa Fe National Forest
Stretching far and wide across the city and its surrounding areas, the Santa Fe National Forest is undoubtedly one of Santa Fe’s Recreational hallmarks — and one of the many reasons why people flock to the city year round looking for outdoor adventure.
Aspen Vista Trail
In Santa Fe, you know that summer has officially passed its baton to fall when the white bark Aspen trees turn yellow-leaved. For the best vantage point of these stunning trees, Zippy recommends making your way north to the Aspen Vista Trail. Once winter comes, “you can snowshoe the trail, or head up north to the ski lifts.”
Krysta adds, “Picacho Peak and anywhere along the Ski Basin are really picturesque. You can see all the way out to Española and Abiquiu.”
If you’re not in a rush, stop in at Ten Thousand Waves before heading back into the city for the only wallet-friendly outdoor Japanese hot tub retreat we’ve ever heard of. You’ll have to book in advance, but a single reservation gets you an entire suite to yourself. Currently, they’re taking extended measures to keep their facilities clean, including disinfecting and refilling each hot tub suite between reservations.
Hungry after? Grub out at its sister restaurant Izanami. Zippy recommends the grilled avocado and ginger peach sorbet for non-meat eaters.
Santa Fe Rail Trail
For runners: Zippy’s favorite place to run is the Santa Fe Rail Trail just south of the city. Specifically, you’ve got to enter at the Rabbit Road Trailhead.
“It’s hilly and meandering, so it’s perfect for running, mountain biking, or even really slow walking to watch the sunset. But it’s also flat and vast enough for sea level lungs, if you’re not used to high elevations.”
Look out for “an old railroad bridge about a half mile south of the parking lot” — Zippy says it’s a great resting point for taking in the view before trekking on.
THE BEST PART OF SANTA FE IS THAT WE GET ABOUT 300 DAYS OF SUN JUST LIKE LOS ANGELES. BUT WE’RE IN HIGH ELEVATION, SO WE ALSO GET ALL FOUR SEASONS.
From the center of Santa Fe, you can travel any which way to encounter desert, rocky, hilly, or mountainous terrains within a 20 mile radius. According to our friends Zippy and Krysta, these are the best road trips for your itinerary.
On the left, making a pit stop at the Classical Gas Museum. On the right, Zippy at Rio Grande Gorge State Park. Click here to shop her whole outfit at Outdoor Voices.
Rio Grande Gorge State Park
Just about an hour north of Santa Fe, this quaint mountain town hosts one of Zippy’s favorite summertime destinations — the Rio Grande Gorge State Park.
“It’s a beautiful stretch of river that you pay $3 to park at, and you can float down the river or bring a picnic and just set up shop for a day.”
On your way back, make a pit stop at the Classical Gas Museum. “You realize that some person has collected a bunch of really old, fun, iconic gas pumps,” says Zippy. “A lot of them are outside,” so it’s still totally viewable if the interior is closed.
Float down the river or bring a picnic and just set up shop at the Rio Grande Gorge for a day.
Another favorite day trip of Zippy’s, Los Cerrillos, New Mexico is a historical mining town located just a quick half hour south of Santa Fe — but absolutely worthy of dedicating an entire day.
“Back in the day, there used to be a turquoise mine down there — that’s where Cerrillos torquoise is from,” notes Zippy.
First settled by the Keres and Tano Indians, later colonized by Europeans before attracting Colorado miners to its precious metal and stone reserves, then eventually squeezed dry and municipally disincorporated, Los Cerrillos today still looks largely unchanged from its 1800s appearance.
Zippy loves swinging by the Casa Grande Trading Post, which houses a town museum and petting zoo. Get lunch while you’re there, then head toward the Cerrillos Hills State Park for a sunset hike. “My friends always try their luck at hunting down some turquoise nuggets, but no one’s found any yet!”
Since public swimming pools have largely remained closed, Krysta and her family have been in search of the best hikeable and swimmable day trips around Santa Fe — and Abiquiu takes the cake.
If you’re planning a weekend camp trip, Krysta loves hiking the red-orange canyons and cliffs at Ghost Ranch. If the allure of vibrant sunsets and multicolored terrain isn’t enough, Ghost Ranch was previously home to Triassic period dinosaurs and, temporarily, Georgia O’Keefe.
On your way back to Santa Fe, stop in Bode’s General Store for their “amazing green chili cheeseburgers.” A road trip must, according to Krysta.
Owl Peak Farm
Located about an hour out from Santa Fe, Owl Peak Farm is a locally owned farm that hosts monthly farm-to-table meals for visitors to enjoy. “Now you make a reservation ahead of time and pick up a box of whatever they’ve made that month,” says Krysta. Dig in on the grounds or take it to-go. Either way, you’re getting the freshest meal around town.
Before you head off to The City Different, buff up your cultural index right from the couch. Head to wildsam.com for the full Field Guides collection.
“Death Comes for the Archbishop” by Willa Cather. Buy here.
Virtual Santa Fe Indian Market. Shop here.
Cafe Pasqual’s green chili cornbread. Buy the cookbook here.
Ghost Light Sessions at the Lensic. Watch the virtual concert series here.
Dryland Wilds’ piñon desert soliflore candle. Buy here.
Editor’s Note: Given the current state of the world, The Recreationalist does not encourage long distance travel to any particular region. Instead, these guides were crafted to pay homage to the local people, communities, and cultures that have kept these cities strong for generations, and perhaps even for learning a new thing or two about the place you call home.
Featured photos by Zippy Guerin and Krysta Jabczenski.
Culture list and illustration by WILDSAM.
What’d we miss? Tell us about your favorite Recreational spots around Santa Fe in the comments below.