Spendy Santa Fe on the Cheap

by  Steve Larese | Jan 21, 2015
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe, New Mexico / Sean Pavone / iStock

Santa Fe, New Mexico, is known for its luxury hotels, fine dining, high-end spas, and art galleries. While this all may come at a price, there are plenty of things to see and do in Santa Fe that are nearly -- if not totally -- free. Here’s a rundown.

The Scenery
Santa Fe is a beautiful city to stroll, with centuries of overlapping architectural styles. Make sure to see the Miraculous Staircase within the Gothic Revival Loretto Chapel near the Plaza. Built in the early 1880s, the 22-foot-tall spiral staircase uses no nails or central support, and still astounds carpenters to this day. Legend has it that St. Joseph built the staircase after nuns prayed for a modest way to ascend to their choir loft. Cost to enter the chapel is $3, and photos are permitted.

The Great Outdoors
At 8,300 feet, Hyde Memorial State Park is the gateway to the Santa Fe National Forest and the Pecos Wilderness. The area is a favorite of hikers and mountain bikers in the summer, and sledders, snowshoers, and cross-country skiers in the winter. During the fall, no place is better than the Aspen Vista trail for viewing aspens turning brilliant yellows and reds, beginning in late September. Many other mountain trails abound near Santa Fe.

Close to town is the Dale Ball trail system, a favorite of bikers and hikers. Explore the 135-acre Randall Davey Audubon Center and Sanctuary at the end of Canyon Road, where guides lead free birding walks every Saturday at 8 a.m..

The Window Shopping
Free to enter and filled with reasonably priced treasures from around the world, the Tesuque Flea Market is a wonderful mashup of artisans, craftspeople, traders, and collectors who have set up shop in the shadow of the renowned Santa Fe Opera to sell Native American jewelry, African art, Tibetan singing bowls, museum-quality art being sold direct by the artist, Oriental rugs, fine art photography, crystals, beaded cowskulls, vintage western wear, and more.

The Museums
For $25, a New Mexico Culture Pass gets you into 14 New Mexico museums and monuments statewide, including the New Mexico Museum of Art on the Plaza and the Museum of International Folk Art at Museum Hill. Even without the pass, Santa Fe’s museums are a bargain at $9 or so for admission.

The New Mexico History Museum is free 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Fridays May through October, and the first Friday of the month November through April. The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian at Museum Hill is always free.

Those younger than 18 can visit the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum for free, and students 18 and older can pay $10 with I.D.. Regular admission is $12. This stunning museum that showcases the work of New Mexico’s perhaps best-known artists is well worth it.

Parking can be an expensive hassle in Santa Fe’s narrow streets and crowded garages. Locals know to park for free in the P.E.R.A. parking lot by the Santa Fe Visitor’s Center, across from the State Capitol. The capitol houses an impressive collection of New Mexico art throughout its four floors that is free and open to the public.

The Galleries
While you may not be able to afford the museum-quality artwork offered in Canyon Road galleries, it’s free to stroll this historic street that has more galleries per square mile than any other place in the world. Take a seat by the huge kinetic sculptures displayed in colorful flower gardens. If you’re in Santa Fe on Dec. 24, check out the famous Christmas Eve Farolito Walk, when Canyon Road is aglow with thousands of candles placed in paper sacks, a traditional New Mexico decoration.

The Happenings
Plenty of events throughout the year are free and showcase Santa Fe’s history and cultures that have shaped the nation’s oldest state capital. June’s Rodeo de Santa Fe parade, August’s Santa Fe Indian Market, September’s Fiestas de Santa Fe, December’s Las Posadas and others are free and show true Santa Fe.

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