When it comes to Santa Fe, people think of the Plaza. We all know and love the Plaza. For festivities, people-watching and the occasional loitering about, it just can’t be beat. But it really is an almost ludicrously small segment of what Santa Fe has to offer. (And I’m guilty of it, too. As I researched this article, I discovered neighborhoods I had never truly explored, right in my own town!) So, for frequent visitors, curious travelers or residents who just haven’t poked around much, here are a few places—close to and far from the Plaza—that are worth digging into.
A few blocks from the Plaza off Paseo de Peralta, the Canyon Road neighborhood is a short but sweet stretch of galleries, clearly marked with a Canyon Road sign at the start and the appropriately named Last Gallery on the Right at the end.
This quiet neighborhood positively exudes charm and is practically bursting at the seams with creativity and inspiration. It’s a treat for the eyes, both inside the galleries and on the street, where cheerful gardens and brightly colored storefronts line the street for a half-mile. Adobe architecture and beautiful courtyards feature prominently alongside one of the highest concentrations of galleries you’ll find anywhere. Although the densely packed shops do have something to suit every taste—from pre-Columbian to postmodern—it makes for a pleasant stroll even if you’re not interested in art. The Wiford Gallery’s moving sculpture garden is particularly crowd-pleasing; it’s spacious, appealing and peaceful.
Some of Santa Fe’s top restaurants call Canyon Road home, with Geronimo and The Compound situated on the “top,” or west end, of Canyon Road. If you’re looking for something more casual, he Teahouse is a great place for a cup of tea or quick, no-fuss bite, and El Farol is a legendary late-night spot. Don’t let Canyon Road’s small geographic area fool you. Surprises wait around every corner, and one can easily while away an entire day.
If you go:
Bring your walking shoes and give yourself plenty of time. Canyon Road is best enjoyed on foot at a leisurely pace.
Just one block from the Plaza, Marcy Street runs from the looping Paseo de Peralta westward to Grant Avenue, where it dead-ends rather unceremoniously at several large civic buildings. Go around the corner, though, and you’re back in business on Johnson Street.
A collection of quaint little shops with chairs and doggie water bowls set out for passersby contributes to Marcy Street’s friendly atmosphere. Unique shops like Back at the Ranch, Design Warehouse and Full Bloom are the perfect partners to intimate, exquisite restaurants like Il Piatto and La Boca. Mellow Velo will rent you a comfy retro cruiser bike complete with basket and bell to pedal around the city in style, and breezy café-style spots like The Beestro and Ecco gelato offer inventive lunchtime fare in a relaxed setting. Ecco’s gelato options include flavors ranging from familiar vanilla to far-out Strawberry Habañero. (Who knew gelato could burn?) People cover the sidewalk: strolling, sitting, hanging out and welcoming you in.
Around the bend on Johnson, historic adobe and brick buildings house bakeries, bistros and galleries, in addition to the distinguished Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Large trees shade the avenue, and the street is so quiet it’s hard to believe you’re only minutes from the Plaza. It’s a great place for a bit of respite, and the presence of nearby eateries, like Terra Cotta Wine Bistro, Momo and Co. and Shohko, means you needn’t go far to refuel. Or, if you’d rather try your hand at New Mexico cuisine at home, hit up Santa Fe School of Cooking, which offers classes on a variety of cooking styles, as well as walking tours and food products for sale.
If you go:
There’s very little parking, so your best bet is to walk. However, drivers are less mindful of pedestrians as you stray from the Plaza, so use crosswalks and exercise caution. Don’t be afraid to ask for directions if you get turned around residents are accustomed to it and are usually happy to help.
Santa Fe’s Railyard District was envisioned as a complment to the Railrunner’s northern terminus, and at its heart lies the thoughtfully designed Railyard Park, on the corner of Cerrillos and Guadalupe, and the recently completed Farmers’ Market Pavilion, on Paseo de Peralta. It is easily identifiable by the large water tower, which dominates the public promenade.
The Railyard neighborhood’s look is airy, urban and modern. You won’t find the familiar brown adobe walls here. Instead, it’s all patinaed metal, steel cables and minimalist glass. This clean architectural style, combined with ample open space, allows the Railyard to serve as a meeting ground for locals and visitors. The aforementioned Railyard Park is beautiful and sustainably built with a community garden in the center, and it is often the site of public events like concerts and movie screenings, as well as the weekly Santa Fe Artists’ Market.
Dotting the edges of this gathering place are shops and several esteemed galleries. The art here tends to be more contemporary, even avant-garde. SITE Santa Fe’s nationally acclaimed installations are prime examples of the thought-provoking exhibition art that distinguishes the area. It’s a creative center, more geared toward creators than dealers. Axle Contemporary makes regular stops here, and Santa Fe Clay, SITE Santa Fe and even the Farmers’ Market are all producer-centric mainstays of the Railyard.
Shopping opportunities abound: Sanbusco Center, Bon Marché, Farmers’ Market Shops and, yes, plenty of art available for purchase as well. Restaurants like Second Street Brewery Railyard, Flying Star, La Choza and Bouche top off the neighborhood’s distinctively earthy elegance.
If you go:
Park in the underground parking garage and be ready for anything. Depending on the day, you may see large crowds, people on stilts, families with children, a marimba ensemble, packs of bicycling hipsters, protesters, art installations, all of these at once or hardly anyone at all. That’s Santa Fe for you. It’s best to just roll with it.
A continuation of the Railyard community, the Baca Street Railyard is bordered by Cerrillos Road and encompasses several blocks of relatively new businesses off Baca Street and Flagman Way. Several buildings are built from shipping containers, a nod to the neighborhood’s Railyard nomenclature. You may wonder (as I did) what exactly is the area’s claim to the Railyard name, considering it’s not terribly close to the rails. (The tracks actually run directly through the Midtown/Triangle District before joining the highway and heading out of town.) The answer: It once served as coal and fuel storage for the railway, so historically it’s considered part of the Railyard.
Baca Street boasts a quirky ensemble of galleries, consignment shops and restaurants, in a mix of old and new. Santa Fe institutions like Santa Fe Mountain Sports, Counter Culture and Tecolote Café mingle with very edgy businesses, like contemporary industrial design newcomer Molecule. The mantra here seems to be “anything goes,” and you will find a little bit of everything and anything: custom frames, modern furniture, fine art, organic spray tans, slabs of marble, a giant gold golf ball, even an astrologist. It makes for some exceptional exploring, because you never know what you’ll encounter next. Take Baca a bit farther from Cerrillos and there are a number of consignment shops and small studios like Baca Street Pottery, plus the beloved Tune Up Café at the far end of the neighborhood, on Hickox.
If you go:
Go ahead and drive, but stop often to explore on foot. Parking’s not an issue, but navigating the winding, poorly marked streets can be a challenge, one that’s more easily tackled on foot.
The Triangle District—as The New York Times dubbed it—is the triangular area bordered by St. Michael’s, St. Francis and Cerrillos Road (indisputably our three major roads). Less of a “district” and more of a middle-of-the-city waypoint, it’s also been called Midtown. Put them together, and you’ve got the Midtown Triangle.
One of Santa Fe’s older residential neighborhoods, the Midtown Triangle has recently seen an uptick in business development and live/work studios. The new industrial modern architecture in this area is an intentional departure from Santa Fe’s homogeneous adobe. Builders here eschewed romanticized historic mud walls and instead favor a blend of industrial modernism and traditional style. The result: adobe walls (but in purple, red and green), industrial metal touches and well-considered native-plant landscaping. Between the Lena Street Lofts, Pacheco St. design district and St. Michael’s corridor, the area hosts a thriving mix of homes and businesses.
Tucked into Pacheco Park are a dozen or so specialty home décor and design shops, making it the perfect place to indulge your inner design geek. Nothing here is run-of-the-mill. In this tightly packed square, you can purchase (or just admire) a range of unexpected and truly wonderful finds: high-end fixtures at Santa Fe by Design, unusual lighting at Form + Function, traditional twig shutters at Sombraje, finishing touches at the Accessory Annex and much more.
A little down the road on Second Street is the newly opened Midtown Bistro, which is off to an impeccable start and is one of the most exciting arrivals to the area in years. Then there’s the original Second Street Brewery, holding down the corner with a crew of loyal regulars. Across the street are the Lena Street Lofts, which house a number of small businesses, including Back Road Pizza that appeared on “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.” Lena Street itself is home to Santa Fe’s strongest cup of joe (at Iconik Coffee), as well as several other independent boutique shops and businesses.
Other spots that make this neighborhood worth the trip: the Pantry Restaurant, a Santa Fe favorite for decades and a fantastic breakfast spot; Chocolate Maven, where the window into the bakery makes for fun mealtime viewing (and you can order their infamous chocolate sack); and Jambo, an African/Caribbean restaurant so popular with locals it can be hard to get a table, no matter how many times it expands its dining room.
If you go:
With the exception of St. Mike’s, parking in this section of town is almost as big a drag as parking downtown. If you find a spot, take it. There are also many pedestrians and bicyclists (owing to several nearby trails), so be watchful as you cross intersections. One final word of warning: The dirt road leading out of Second Street Brewery’s parking lot looks like a tempting short cut to St. Michael’s, but it’s a trap! The road has the biggest potholes in Santa Fe, and that’s really saying something. Don’t take this route unless you have a high–clearance vehicle. Seriously.
The Mid-City neighborhood is one of Santa Fe’s fastest developing areas situated near the intersection of Cerrillos and Siler Road, but it also includes areas of Rufina and Agua Fria. Something of an industrial/commercial mishmash, it’s unassuming, unpretentious and solidly good. If the Plaza is Santa Fe’s cultured and venerable grandfather, Mid-City is his hard-working, blue-collar grandson. It’s a bit dirt-under-the-fingernails. Populated by upstart businesses that are unadorned and marked by bare-bones practical simplicity, this neighborhood sticks its finger in the eye of the high-rent downtown dominators.
Here craftsmen, chefs, cooks, brewers and tradespeople just do what they do—and do it very well—without making a fuss about it. Case in point: Chef Josh Gerwin of Dr. Field Good’s Kitchen, who regularly purchases, butchers and cooks an entire locally grown organic goat and serves it up to patrons at a reasonable price. Another example: Alicia’s Tortilleria. If Santa Fe’s inexplicable devotion to $8 organic blue corn tortillas sometimes leaves you scratching your head (I’m looking at you, visitors from southern New Mexico!), head over to Alicia’s Tortilleria, where the tortillas are hot and pillowy and sold right off the line, as they should be. (And they’re best enjoyed immediately. Good luck making it home without tearing into the bag and snacking on a few!) Their full menu of authentic Mexican meats are as tasty as they are comforting—and they give a spicy kick in the mouth to anyone seeking a chile fix.
Peppering this industrial cityscape is an mélange of other must-stop spots, including Santa Fe’s newest brewery, Belgian-style Duel Brewing. Just off Cerrillos, there’s Jackalope, a retail store that seems to sell just about everything, in a funky, offbeat setting and always with a sense of humor. Among the intrepid art studios that have chosen to move away from the accepted downtown or Railyard locations, Prescott Studios is probably the best known. Its characteristic large-scale moving metal animal sculptures are very popular all over town. (I suppose an eight-foot neon pink metal flamingo probably draws enough attention, regardless of where your studio is located.)
If you go:
As Santa Fe moves south and away from the Plaza, neighborhoods become less walkable and more spread out, but parking becomes a non-issue, so bring a car.
Santa Fe’s Southside is great for escaping the crowds, getting off the beaten track and experiencing something new. What’s considered the Southside is a very large, sprawling section of the city, the boundaries of which vary widely depending on whom you ask. But, generally speaking, anything south of Richards Avenue (including Rodeo Road, Zafarano Drive and Airport Road) qualifies as being a Southside locale.
Here you’ll see many bigger, less crowded duplicates of downtown restaurants: Plaza Café, Kohnami and Cleopatra’s Cafe all have larger, airier branches near the Regal Cinema. You’ll also find several Southside originals like Capitol Grill and the Ranch House, whose smoked meat mastery is so superb, their meat so meltingly tender, it could send even die-hard vegans off the straight and narrow. If you’d like to see a brewery or distillery instead of a tasting room, the Southside is the place to go. Blue Corn, Santa Fe Brewing Company and Santa Fe Spirits all produce their wares here.
There are also, admittedly, many chain stores, but intermingled with strip malls and big-box warehouses are hard-to-find gems that are worth the search. For example, turn down Airport and you may check your GPS to see if you’ve stumbled into a border town. Loudly painted advertisements proffer refrescas, mariscos and comidas galore. Multi-cultural Santa Fe is on full display in this section of town, as you’re likely to hear more Spanish than English and spot more taco carts than you can shake a churro at. This is the part of town to visit if your tastes run toward the exotic. Looking for some pig’s head tacos? Cow tongue? Pork stomach? La Cocina de Doña Clara’s got you covered.
Even farther on the south of town, the smallish Fashion Outlets of Santa Fe offer big outlet bargains in a manageable size. Load up on deals at Le Creuset or check out New Mexico jewelry designer Carolyn Pollack. Here Santa Fe’s bona fides as a foodie town are evident once again. There’s no Chick-fil-A or Dairy Queen; even the grub at our outlet mall consists of tantalizing French bistro food from Café 25.
If you go:
Definitely do bring a car and a sense of adventure. Don’t bring your expectations of what Santa Fe is “supposed” to be.