Monday, July 15, 2024

Is Santa Fe, NM a Good Place to Live? Pros and Cons

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Nestled in the heart of the enchanting high desert of New Mexico, Santa Fe stands as a city uniquely intertwined with history, culture, and natural beauty. Renowned for its distinctive adobe architecture, vibrant arts scene, and a spiritual ambiance, living in Santa Fe is an experience marked by a tapestry of positives. 

From the breathtaking landscapes of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the thriving arts community, the city draws residents seeking a blend of tranquility and creativity. However, living in Santa Fe, NM comes with its own set of pros and cons, each playing a role in shaping the overall experience for its residents. Whether you’re planning to buy a home in Santa Fe, NM or rent an apartment in the city, this guide full of insights from locals will help you make an informed decision about making this city your home.

Downtown Santa Fe, New Mexico. Santa Fe is the capital of the state of New Mexico. Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in the United States and the oldest city in New Mexico. Santa Fe is known for world-renowned art galleries, southwestern food,music and fine dining and its scenic beauty

Pros and living in Santa Fe, NM

1. Beautiful landscape

“As a local landscape photographer, I find that there are endless ways to find inspiration in Santa Fe,” shares Mike Wardynski Photography, a local photographer that specializes in nature and landscape photography. “From the ancient adobe architecture to the ever changing sky, there is beauty all around Santa Fe. One of my favorite things to do is watch a dramatic sunset unfold from any number of local trails. It’s also fun to be a tourist in my own town. Santa Fe has over 250 art galleries and just about all of them are filled with world class artworks.”

“Santa Fe’s location in the high desert at the termination of the Rocky Mountains has many mountain ranges that surround the city,” says Daniel Quat of Daniel Quat Photography, offering unique personal and professional photography. “Ideal for both winter and summer sports, Santa Fe’s diverse landscape invites activities like cycling, hiking, skiing, horseback riding, and snowshoeing. With stunning views and Rio Grande trail rides, the region boasts sacred Native American sites such as Tent Rocks, Lake Abiquiu, Ghost Ranch, Bandelier, Bisti Badlands, White Sands, Taos Gorge, and Chaco Canyon. Situated at 7500 ft, the high desert climate ensures a pleasant four-season environment, with temperatures rarely exceeding 90°F or dropping below 20°F. The dry conditions deter mosquitoes, but a summer rainy season, fueled by Monsoons from the south, replenishes lakes and underground aquifers.”

Pecos River
Photo courtesy of Daniel Quat Photography

2. History and culture

“In 2005, Santa Fe earned the distinction of being recognized as America’s inaugural UNESCO Creative City, a testament to its diverse community comprising individuals from across the globe,” explains Ana Pacheco of History in Santa Fe, a local historian of three decades , as well as author, publisher, editor and local tour guide. “Throughout the year, the capital city offers all types of art and cultural activities. Santa Fe’s mountain vortex and ever-changing light provides the ideal backdrop for the creative soul. Since its founding in 1610,  Santa Fe has been a beacon for those seeking artistic and spiritual growth.”

Elaine Ritchel, founder and lead guide at Santa Fe Art Tours, providing art gallery tours that weave in history, culture, and architecture, states that “Santa Fe is an incredible place for art lovers. It’s home to around 250 galleries and several museums, which is very rare for a city this size. The variety of art is also astonishing––within a block or two, you can see Spanish Colonial art, historic Western painting, Pueblo pottery, and contemporary abstraction. There’s something for everyone, and I never tire of exploring Santa Fe’s arts districts. Santa Fe has a special sort of magic, and I love sharing it with others.”

“Santa Fe is a place for misfits, cowboys, and creatives alike, fostering a culture that blends diverse elements of old roots and new spirit, explains Sean Ham, owner of ICONIK Coffee Roasters. “At ICONIK, we live by the motto ‘It takes all kinds,’ a sentiment that perfectly mirrors the inclusive essence of Santa Fe itself. In this city, embracing a myriad of backgrounds and perspectives is not just encouraged; it’s an integral part of what makes Santa Fe truly unique.”

“New Mexico is a melting pot of cultures and hence provides many cultural celebrations and traditions throughout the year, says Daniel Quat. “As a photographer I can photograph all of the following: Indian Market, International Folk Art Market, Spanish Market, Wine-Chile Festival, Fiesta in Santa Fe, Film Festival, and the burning of old man gloom at Zozobra in the fall. There are many beautiful cultural and historic sites including old forts, pueblo Indian homes (Taos), and 11 Northern New Mexico Indian Pueblo Reservations, which sponsor Native dances and festivals throughout the year.”

“I love the vibrant art scene – we have everything from formal museums to small pop-up galleries and shows,” explains Caitlin Richards, business manager at Santa Fe Spirits, a premier artisan distillery. “First Friday Art Walk downtown and on Canyon Road, and Last Friday Art Walk in the Railyard district will showcase some of everything Santa Fe has to offer.”

Early morning street scene in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

3. Events and celebrations

“Santa Fe is a place to slow down, to enjoy the seasons,” says Ann Church, co-founder of Villages of Santa Fe, an exercise and balance training program to help prevent falls. “In Santa Fe, Christmas transforms the city into a magical wonderland. On the enchanting Christmas Eve, Canyon Road exclusively welcomes holiday carolers and festive strollers. Along this charming pathway, hundreds of luminarias grace the adobe walls of homes and galleries. These luminarias, crafted from petite brown bags filled with sand and adorned with a tiny votive candle, emit a gentle, warm glow—flickering and illuminating the path. Farolitos (small bonfires) invite you to stop, warm your hands, and sing Christmas carols.”

“Santa Fe offers some great events throughout the year including 4NM, a program we developed that supports non-profits and charities that align with our brand,” says Brian Lock, President of Santa Fe Brewing Co. “There is one event produced each season including Spring Run Off, Desert Party, Oktoberfiesta, and Winter Market, featuring live music at both venues on the SFBC campus and activities for kids. There is no cover charge but there is a suggested $10 donation per person which all goes to the charities associated with the specific event.” 

4. Indoor and outdoor activities

“In 1999, I made Santa Fe my home, and it has been a perfect fit,” says Soma of Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen, a local restaurant specializing in meals made with fresh, natural, and whole foods. “The abundance of hiking trails and yoga studios in the city aligns perfectly with my interests. I’ve been fortunate to have an amazing yoga teacher, Yoga Ma, whom I’ve been studying with for many years. During the winter, you’ll likely find my husband on the slopes, armed with his gold pass for skiing. Our daughter attends NMSA, the local arts high school, where she excels in playing the viola and is an active member of the Youth Symphony Orchestra. We are grateful for so many things living in this beautiful town, and the list continues to unfold the longer we live here.”

“One of the highlights is the not-to-be-missed annual event, Wine & Chile, along with anything happening at our delightful Farmers Market,” explains Chef John “Johnny Vee” Vollertsen, the creator of the Las Cosas Cooking School and author of the ‘Cooking with Johnny Vee’. “In my free time, I enjoy offering hands-on cooking classes at Las Cosas Kitchen Shop.”

“Santa Fe offers so many outdoor options for the recreational enthusiast including skiing, biking, hiking, fishing, and frisbee golf,” shares Brian Lock. “Additionally there are nightly entertainment venues that offer everything from Flamenco dancing at El Farol to live music. The Bridge at Santa Fe Brewing Co. hosts outdoor concerts from May through October with incredible sunset views and a variety of local food trucks serving up the best fresh, local cuisine. Don’t miss the chance to explore the outdoor beer garden and take a tour of New Mexico’s largest brewery.”

High angle shot of a bright yoga studio

5. Excursions

Hot air ballooning is a popular activity in Santa Fe. The region’s picturesque landscapes, including canyons and desert terrain, make it a scenic and memorable location for hot air balloon rides. Some local companies, such as Santa Fe Balloons, offer balloon flights, providing residents and visitors with a unique way to experience the beauty of the area.

“A lot of people don’t realize that Santa Fe is a mountain town,” states Bryan Deutsch, director of operations at Sky Railway, a historic rail between Santa Fe and Lamy, NM that includes entertainers, music, great food, and drink. “Situated at the southernmost tip of the Rockies, our city boasts its own Ski Basin and offers breathtaking hiking opportunities during the warmer months.”

6. Shopping

“As a new resident in Santa Fe, I highly recommend visiting the beautiful clothing consignment shops which are more like exclusive designer boutiques than resale stores,” says personal stylist Linda Waldon, who helps clients promote self-expression and sustainability through fashion. “And, the best part is you’re sure to find unusual pieces of fashion expression that you’ll cherish for years to come. You can find anything from gently worn cowboy boots to an elegant vintage Yves Saint Laurent gown.”

7. Volunteer opportunities

In Santa Fe, consider volunteering at Kitchen Angels, a nonprofit with a 31-year history of preparing and delivering nutritious meals to homebound individuals. With a commitment to freshness, they operate a commercial kitchen and serve approximately 200 clients daily. As a volunteer-driven organization, Kitchen Angels welcomes those eager to contribute to their mission of supporting the community. 

8. The restaurant scene

“With over 200 restaurants in our town of 90,000 residents, the dining options are abundant,” explains Chef John “Johnny Vee” Vollertsen. “For a memorable night, Geronimo is a must-visit, offering a complete package of decor, food, service, and an extensive wine list. If you have another evening to spare, Joseph’s of Santa Fe impresses with creative, locally inspired dishes and a trendy atmosphere. La Choza is perfect for classic New Mexican cuisine and great margaritas, while Paper Dosa stands out with its unique South Indian menu. Sasella offers inspired modern Italian cuisine, though it comes with a higher price tag. Cafe Pasquals, reminiscent of Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse, serves fantastic food for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Legal Tender, a cool historic saloon 19 miles from town, offers simple and delicious fare like Green Chile Stew. And for burger enthusiasts, Bobcat Bite is your go-to for a variety of mouthwatering burgers.”

There’s also fine dining options, such as The Compound Restaurant, a cherished favorite among residents. Established in 1966, this historical venue has been under the ownership of Chef Mark Kiffin since 2000. The following details delve into the restaurant’s historical roots, design, and Chef Kiffin’s notable impact on the Santa Fe community. 

Sky Railway’s Bryan Deutsch recommends Tia Sophia’s, a family-owned restaurant renowned for some of the town’s finest breakfast burritos. He also suggests El Farol, Santa Fe’s oldest restaurant, celebrated for its exceptional tapas. “Make sure not to overlook the Alcacofas – a must-try dish,” states Deutsch.

“Marcy Street, located just a block from the historic Santa Fe Plaza, is a bustling street full of great restaurants and shops,” shares Maggie Wack of ArtfulTea, a loose leaf tea company based in Santa Fe. “One of our favorite under-the-radar gems for great Mexican food in a town overflowing with Southwestern style food is Tres Colores. They serve up fresh, authentic street food from Veracruz and Oaxaca. Marcy Street also features plenty of other excellent dining, including La Boca and Horno, great shopping at stores like Los Poblanos, TOKO, WearAbouts, and J Justice Necessities, as well as numerous art galleries, the main city library, and even City Hall.”

“I love getting a Frito Pie from Five and Dime on the Plaza—it’s the perfect, budget-friendly lunch,” states Bunny Terry, blogger and podcaster at I Love New Mexico. “Enjoy it on a Plaza bench while people-watching. The sixty-year-old unchanged chile recipe poured over Fritos and topped with onions and cheese, if you prefer, is a delicious way to hang out downtown.”

Bunny Terry goes on to share, “I love the prime steaks at Market Steer, owned by a former World Championship Breakaway roper turned meat expert. The chef, a young rancher from southeastern New Mexico, creates innovative sides like green chile risotto. In March 2024, Market Steer will move to the old El Meson space with a new bar, The Tack Room, retaining old favorites.”

Whether it’s breakfast or lunch, ICONIK and any of the Pantry restaurants are go-to favorites. Their diverse food offerings create a delightful experience, making them ideal spots to meet up with friends and potentially forge new connections.

“Santa Fe’s food scene is a gluten-free dream,” states Emily, recipe blogger at Gluten Free & Glorious, providing gluten-free recipes, products, and more. “Dedicated spots like Sweet Water Harvest, Apothecary, Catch Santa Fe Poke, Nath’s, and Revolution Bakery cater to gluten-free needs. Joseph’s Culinary Pub offers an almost entirely gluten-free menu, including delightful house-made dinner rolls. The Shed, accommodating gluten-free diners due to the owner’s celiac connection, is a must-visit. Reservations are recommended for this Plaza gem. 

“As a food photographer, I take great delight in dining and photographing these beautiful venues,” shares Daniel Quat. “Sazon takes the top spot, owned by James Beard Chef of the Year awardee Fernando Oleo, offering an unparalleled gourmet Mexican experience. The Compound on Canyon Road enchants with elegant fare in an extended adobe compound. Local favorites like Cafecito, The Tea House, Museum Hill Café, and Midtown Bistro offer delightful salads, empanadas, teas, and gourmet delights. Don’t miss Kakawa, our organic chocolate shop, serving homemade hot chocolates, truffles, and tempting treats.”

Friends out to eat

9. The neighborhoods

Santa Fe is a city of diverse and vibrant neighborhoods, each contributing to the city’s unique charm. Historic Eastside, with its adobe homes and narrow streets, captures the essence of Santa Fe’s past. The Railyard District, a vibrant and evolving area, blends contemporary art galleries with trendy eateries. In the Canyon Road Arts District, art enthusiasts find a haven, with its myriad of galleries showcasing diverse artworks. South Capitol, characterized by its eclectic architecture, offers a mix of residential tranquility and proximity to the downtown scene. Meanwhile, the Northside neighborhood provides a peaceful retreat with scenic landscapes and a taste of the city’s natural beauty. Together, these neighborhoods create a mosaic of culture, history, and lifestyle, contributing to the distinctive character of Santa Fe.

“If you’re in the market for a home in Santa Fe, everything depends on whether you’re looking for views or walkability,” explains Bunny Terry of I Love New Mexico. “The best sunrise and sunset views are found in North and South Summit, surrounded by the alpine forest east and north of downtown Santa Fe. Luxury homes in these areas often sit on at least an acre, offering vistas of both the Sangre de Cristos and the Jemez ranges. On the other hand, if walkability is a priority, the historic eastside, including Canyon Road and East Palace, provides traditional architecture and proximity to the historic Santa Fe Plaza, making it ideal for short-term rentals.”

10. The weather

Characterized by four distinct seasons, the city is renowned for its abundance of sunny days, averaging over 300 days of sunshine annually. The mild, high desert climate provides warm summers and crisp winters, making outdoor activities enjoyable year-round. The pleasant spring and fall seasons offer a perfect balance, with comfortable temperatures that invite residents and visitors alike to explore the city’s scenic landscapes, outdoor festivals, and cultural events. 

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Cons of living in Santa Fe, NM

1. Cost of living

The cost of living in Santa Fe, while reflective of the city’s cultural richness and scenic allure, tends to be relatively high. The beautiful scenery comes at a price, particularly in housing where real estate costs can be steep. In fact, the median sale price of homes in Santa Fe is $554,000, nearly $150,000 over the national median.

The demand for homes with distinctive Southwestern architecture contributes to the elevated housing market. Additionally, everyday expenses such as groceries, utilities, and healthcare are often above the national average. While residents may find the higher cost of living is offset by the city’s unique charm, artistic ambiance, and a strong sense of community, it’s crucial for newcomers to carefully consider their budget and weigh the trade-offs that come with embracing life in this culturally rich, but financially demanding destination.

2. Allergies

Santa Fe’s enchanting high desert landscape, while captivating, comes with a notable consideration for those susceptible to dust allergies. The fine particles prevalent in the dry desert air can be a trigger for allergy sufferers, causing respiratory discomfort and other allergy-related symptoms. Residents and visitors alike often find relief through proactive measures, such as using air purifiers, keeping windows closed during windy days, and staying informed about local weather conditions. 

Shot of a young woman blowing her nose with a tissue at home

3. Insects

The forests of Northern New Mexico face a threat from the Bagrada bug, a stink bug notorious for causing significant damage to landscaping. In urban settings, various cockroach species also thrive due to the favorable climate, presenting ongoing challenges. The region also contends with issues related to drywood termites, particularly during the swarming seasons of spring and summer. Beyond insects, residents should be mindful of encountering scorpions, rattlesnakes, giant centipedes, and black widow spiders in the area. 

Is Santa Fe, NM a good place to live? Final thoughts

Santa Fe’s historical charm and vibrant arts scene undoubtedly stand out as major draws, creating an environment that fosters creativity and a deep connection to the past. However, as with any locale, Santa Fe carries its own set of challenges. The high cost of living, limited employment opportunities, and the occasional struggle with the harsh desert climate may pose considerations for prospective residents. Deciding to make Santa Fe home requires a thoughtful consideration of these factors, aligning personal preferences, and recognizing the city’s distinctive characteristics. Despite its imperfections, Santa Fe stands as a dynamic and culturally vibrant community where the benefits frequently surpass the drawbacks. 

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