How to Visit Santa Fe on a Budget

by  Teresa Bitler | Apr 30, 2014
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe, New Mexico / Sean Pavone / iStock

Santa Fe isn’t exactly known as a budget destination, but don’t let that deter you from exploring the 400-year-old city’s art galleries, stores, museums, and restaurants. With a little planning, you can visit on a budget – and still experience all that “The City Different” has to offer.

Where to Chow
Entrees alone at many of Santa Fe’s fining dining establishments easily top $35, but you don’t have to spend a fortune to eat well. For New Mexican cuisine, check out The Pantry, a local favorite serving spicy dishes like carne adovada ($9) and homey classics like meatloaf ($10) with veggies and mashed potatoes. Locals come here for breakfast, too, to indulge in huevos rancheros ($8) and breakfast burritos ($8).

Another option is Roque’s Carnitas, also a Santa Fe institution. From March to October, Roque Garcia serves charcoal-grilled carnitas ($6) wrapped in foil from his food cart parked on the Plaza. Add a drink for a dollar more and you have a satisfying, albeit messy, meal.

Where to Relax
Rooms on the Plaza aren’t cheap. Expect to pay at least $225 for a standard room in a four-star hotel during the summer. Venture out just a little, though, and the rates drop substantially. The Santa Fe Sage Inn, located across the street from the Railyard’s galleries and restaurants, has small, no-frills rooms ($85-$125) decorated with New Mexican flair. You can easily walk to the Plaza in under 15 minutes – or take the inn's free shuttle.

Alternatively, check out Old Santa Fe Inn ($160) and El Rey Inn ($105-$145), both located on historic Route 66, or chain hotels like Courtyard by Marriott Santa Fe ($99). If you're set on the four-star Plaza experience, visit the Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau’s website for specials.

Where to Shop
Santa Fe is known for its fun, sometimes quirky shops. While most can be pricey, if you shop smartly, you'll find good deals that won’t bust your budget. Start at Jackalope, which owner Charles “Darby” McQuade calls “Pier 1 on steroids.” The store boasts a rambling collection of international items alongside a prairie dog village. Search carefully to snag discounts on clay pots, rugs, hot sauces, and even lunch boxes decorated with Hindu deities.

At Double Take, add Santa Fe style to your wardrobe for less. Known for its vintage Western wear and wall of cowboy boots, the store sells gently used apparel of all kinds (not just Western), though prices aren't quite as low as those at Goodwill. You might find a pair of boots worth $300 going for $60, for instance. Watch for sales on aging or out-of-season stock.

What to Do
There’s plenty to do for free in Santa Fe. Browsing the city’s more than 300 art galleries costs nothing. Head to Canyon Road to find everything from Native American to contemporary crafts, and view more works at the New Mexico State Capitol without spending a penny.

Or, explore the city’s Catholic roots at San Miguel Chapel, considered by many to be the oldest church in the continental United States (donation suggested at the entrance). A short walk away, Loretto Chapel showcases a “miraculous staircase” with no visible means of support ($3). Docents at the nearby Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi will gladly give you a tour (donations accepted) of this active Catholic church.

And don’t miss Santa Fe’s excellent museums. The state-owned institutions – New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors, New Mexico Museum of Art, Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, and Museum of International Folk Art – charge a reasonable admission of $9 each. You can also purchase a one-day pass ($15) that allows admission to two of the four museums or a four-day pass for unlimited admission to all four ($20). But if you can time your visit accordingly, admission is waived every Friday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. in May through October, as well as the first Friday of the month from November through April.

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