Santa Fe – Knowing What to Expect

"The City Different" is not interchangeable with other towns . . .

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Some say that Santa Fe is an acquired taste. . . like oysters or scotch or posole. Others will tell you that Santa Fe is paradise, perfect, everyone must love it. Perhaps both views bear some truth, but one thing about Santa Fe is certain: "The City Different" is not interchangeable with other American towns whose major livelihood is cultural tourism. Numerous efforts at attracting tourism and publicizing Santa Fe's many attributes have given some people the feeling that, whether they're really drawn to it or not, they should come to Santa Fe.

Those same efforts at garnering national press and attention have made others feel that Santa Fe is becoming—or unfortunately has become already—trendy and crowded. In other words, a place to avoid at all cost! All the publicity in the world won't change the fact that for many tourists, Santa Fe is something other than what they expected, and secondly, that Santa Fe cannot withstand unlimited tourism. As more and more people are drawn to Santa Fe with expectations of finding a resort atmosphere, the small mountain town's systems begin to groan.

Perhaps the town's most appealing aspects are also its nemesis: downtown's narrow streets and picturesque plaza; eons of history baked into the dust-colored adobe buildings; the romance of the slightly raw American West combined with worldly sophistication brought by 17th century Spaniards and more recently by artists and art collectors from around the world. Such attributes are the subject of numerous travel magazine articles luring vacationers to New Mexico; they become Santa Fe's nemesis when great numbers of visitors arrive with unattainable expectations: wild west souvenir shops, the active excitement of a resort town whose "theme" happens to be Santa Fe's history and romance, streets broad enough to accommodate behemoth tour busses, or a toasty desert landscape in January. Such things do exist in the Southwest . . . but not in Santa Fe.

Santa Feans are not xenophobic! Santa Feans want to share their city and its cultural heritage . . . but Santa Fe is not for everyone. Understanding the temperament, the seasons and the rhythm of this unusual city may be the first step in determining if it's the place for you. A question often asked is "Should we bring the children to Santa Fe?" If you're planning to stay at Rancho Encantado or The Bishop's Lodge or another wonderful ranch or mountain resort; or if your intent is to spend your time hiking, or biking or skiing, the answer is: "definitely." But consider Santa Fe's temperament as well as your interests. One of Santa Fe's "personalities" is that of a passive art town; it is shyly enveloping and an oasis for those wanting to spend languid time meandering, contemplating the mountain and the visual arts that thrive in its shadow, pondering those unknowns that for decades have drawn the world's artistic people. In truth, Santa Fe is essentially an art community that does not have something for everyone. And it is an adult city—more often delightful to parents than to children.

This isn't to say that Santa Fe is without sizzle! In varying degrees from simmer to sizzle, Santa Fe is a great town to visit. But which is the best time for you?


The heat of the summer combined with the excitement and color of Indian Market, Spanish Market and musical extravaganzas such as the Santa Fe Opera remote site, the Desert Chorale and the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival make the summer months spectacular and vigorous. While the greatest concentration of major art exhibits and receptions are scheduled for the summer "high season," the crush of people and festivities may discourage some serious art buyers. This is the time for those with a lot of stamina, for the summer months are the fullest and most frenetic time in Santa Fe.

Fall and Winter

A languor descends on Santa Fe in autumn. Fall is a wonderful time to walk in Santa Fe; the weather is mild, the chamisa is in full, sun-drenched bloom. The summer's exuberant Opera and Chamber Music Festival give way to the fall/winter seasons of the Orchestra of Santa Fe, the Santa Fe Symphony and Las Fiestas de Santa Fe. Autumn also brings many art collectors who have waited for the summer rush to pass. Winter is mild and sunny . . . often. It's important to remember that this is a mountain community with peaks as high as 12,000 feet and winter weather that can provide surprises. Winter is of course the season of great mountain skiing . . . and there's no place that glows like Santa Fe at Christmas time. It is the time when Santa Fe is blanketed in rich Hispanic traditions: a time of luminarias and farolitas, of the drama of Las Posadas, of music and emotion. December and January also offer a concentration of unequaled events such as Feast Day dances, Vespers and Matachines dances at the neighboring Indian Pueblos.


Spring brings the bursting beauty of new growth in the high desert, waves of lilacs and art galleries feeling perky as they look to a new season. The only truly grumpy month is March, with its erratic temperatures, dust and cold winds. For many collectors, the quieter times of spring, fall and winter offer an experience of higher quality: art gallery personnel have more time to be attentive and informative, restaurants are able to offer more leisurely service, and in general, the pace of the city is calmer.

Santa Fe hasn't yet become unbearably trendy. Each season offers a rich experience on many levels to those visitors who seek something more . . . or actually, less . . . than the endlessly supplied activities of a resort town. Santa Fe can be seen as beautiful and picturesque even on a superficial whirlwind visit. For those able to spend several days, or to return during each of Santa Fe's seasons, the rewards will include discovery of historic narrow alleyways and hidden courtyards, deeper understanding of multiple cultures and art forms that have existed for centuries in northern New Mexico, and perhaps a close encounter with an artist who may spend hundreds of hours on a single painting, weaving, sculpture or piece of pottery. The experience can be magnificent and unforgettable. Knowing which of Santa Fe's seasonal personalities—if any—will best suit your personality is one the keys to enjoying Santa Fe.

By Pamela Michaelis, founder of The Collector's Guide and former host of “Gallery News” radio show on KHFM 95.5 remote, classical radio in Albuquerque.

Originally appeared in
The Collector’s Guide to Santa Fe and Taos - Volume 5

Related Pages

About Santa Fe article

A City Made for Walking article

Collector’s Resources

Santa Fe

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