Sign me up, Santa Fe?
May 10, 2012 12:07 PM   Subscribe

We're considering moving to Santa Fe. Tell us what we should know and where we should live.

My boyfriend has been offered a job in Santa Fe with a start date somewhere mid to late summer. We are currently living in DC, where we have been for about 5 years and while we love what the city has to offer, we are about ready to pull up our stakes but aren't sure Santa Fe is the right place for us.

About us:
  • Age: 26 and 30
  • Likes: going to concerts-- bluegrass, 'indie' (like Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, etc.), being outside (camping, hiking, hammocking), having options when it comes to restaurants/bars, watching sports (especially baseball and college football).
  • We have a small dog.
  • We don't know anyone in the city, so having opportunities to meet people easily are a bonus (like, bar trivia or intramural sports).
  • We live near the H Street area in DC and have really liked the feel of East Nashville, if that helps.

Where do we want to live? Where do we want to go? Are there cool music venues or is the opera the only game in town? Are there things to do other than go to tourist traps and museums?

Note: I have seen this post, but it's from 2005. Surely things have changed (?)
posted by Flamingo to Travel & Transportation around Santa Fe, NM (22 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Current dc resident here who would kill to move to santa fe! The two are nothing alike - you won't find anything like h st in santa fe. There's great food in santa fe, but I don't think it's the place to go to live a young urban lifestyle, and certainly not the cerebral/wonky dc version of that. But if you want to live in the most beautiful city in the US surrounded by jaw dropping nature, go to Santa Fe.
posted by yarly at 12:22 PM on May 10, 2012

Since answering that 2005 question I've visited Santa Fe a few times, but only for a day or two at a time. Not much has changed. However, I have two friends (a couple) who moved to Santa Fe in 2010 who are about your age and seem similar to you. They didn't much like it and moved away as soon as they could. The biggest problem was social, I think, just not many people roughly their age and interests. Santa Fe is pretty sophisticated, but it's still a small town in northern New Mexico. And Albuquerque is too far away to spend much time. There's definitely a locals Santa Fe scene, including live music and hang outs and stuff. It's just small.
posted by Nelson at 12:32 PM on May 10, 2012

Best answer: There are many options for restaurants/bars until 9, but you'll find that very little is open late compared to what you're used to. Concerts, too -- things have improved since Meow Wolf started running shows, but Santa Fe is still a sleepy, make-your-own-fun kind of town. Fortunately, the outdoor entertainment couldn't be better: hiking, biking, skiing, and camping opportunities are spectacular around here. I don't think you'll have trouble meeting people, either, as southwesterners are pretty outgoing (although I'll warn you in advance: spectator sports are not a big deal here. You can attend college/AAA games in Albuquerque, but the closest pro teams are in Denver and Phoenix, and most people in Santa Fe couldn't care less).

If you want a remotely active nightlife, the best (only?) place to live is within walking distance of the plaza/downtown area. This is also the most expensive part of town, but stay anywhere else and you'll have to drive in order to do anything at night. That said, I think people from The Big City are apt to overestimate the "anything" there is to do in Santa Fe... if I were you I'd seriously consider a long vacation here before you pull the trigger on a move. Some people love the pace of New Mexican life, and some people really, really do not.
posted by vorfeed at 12:38 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Santa Fe is a small town, it will be a shock to move here. The culture here is a bit different. Nothing like DC or Nashville. Things don't stay open late. There's not a whole lot going on, but if you are engaged and look you will find that there are some people in your age group that are out doing interesting things.

The concert scene in Santa Fe has its ups and downs -- though this year I've seen the Pixies (at the Santa Fe Convention Center) and Andrew Bird (the Lensic) and have seen good concerts indoor and outdoor at (currently called) Santa Fe Sol. There are smaller venues as well (concerts put together by a local arts collective, MeowWolf). Heath Concerts and Sunshine Theater seem to bring the most bands into town. Plus there are free concerts during the summer at the Plaza and up at St. John's College. The Reporter (local free weekly) lists lots of stuff to do. Albuquerque is an hour away and often larger name acts end up there (or at the casinos) -- their local free weekly The Alibi.

There are complaints (as with any small town) that there aren't enough things to do socially. And things do close quite early here, it's sort of a joke. Look into events held by MIXSantaFe, which is a group of people trying to make things happen in Santa Fe.

Sports in Santa Fe... the new Mountain League team the Santa Fe Fuego just had their first home game yesterday. There's also minor league baseball happening in Albquerque (the Isotopes), again just an hour away. Albquerque also has other sports happenening, because of UNM (football, basketball, etc). I think a new indoor football league started playing in Rio Rancho as well.

Camping and hiking galore out here. There's a lot of land. And a lot of it's empty. One thing that surprised me camping here is that A LOT of people have campers. I usually only car camp though, so I'm sure once you're out and about in the woods where campers can't go you won't see them.

Santa Fe has dog parks and walking paths. Beware that there a coyotes and bobcats. But, in general Santa Fe is dog friendly.

If you've never been out here before, come visit before you make any decisions. It's some of the most beautiful country, but it's also a small town in northern New Mexico. It was voted to be a good town for hipsters in some magazine recently (it is also regularly voted to be a good place to retire). I moved here in 2008 and am happy, but I know it's not for everyone.
posted by backwords at 12:40 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

I moved to Albuquerque from Chicago. I lived there for six years in my early thirties. I found ABQ to be a big let down on the things to do list. Santa Fe is way, way sleepier.

If I were you I might go ahead but only with the understanding that it's temporary. A couple years and off you go to a new place.
posted by FlamingBore at 1:14 PM on May 10, 2012

I grew up in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, but currently live in DC. Just saying, if you have some flexibility on moving don't rule Albuquerque out! Very different vibe than Santa Fe, but the area around old Route 66 downtown and in Nob Hill is pretty spectacularly awesome. And way cheaper.

It has a vibe along the lines of H Street with lots of music venues, bars, restaurants, cool funky shops et cet.
posted by forkisbetter at 1:17 PM on May 10, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses so far!
A few followup questions:
--Do people commute from Albuquerque to Santa Fe? What's that like traffic/time-wise?
--Is the general consensus that Albuquerque is better/hipper/more interesting than Santa Fe?
posted by Flamingo at 1:21 PM on May 10, 2012

Best answer: I live in Santa Fe and will give my unvarnished opinions. You want to live on the east side. You may be temped by the middle, the Casa Solana's etc and just keep walking east. Much better recreation, closer to the hills, its cooler in the summer, much less crime, better schools, etc etc etc.

In the things to do category its all about outdoor recreation. Taos is great skiing, but 2+ hours away. Ski Santa Fe is close and fun on a good day. Summer recreation has great peaks in the Pecos, and southern Colorado is pretty close. There is also a lot of neat desert stuff within an hour or 2. From my house I can be out on a 5 day backpack in the Pecos in under 20 minutes - hard to beat that!

The opera is totally fantastic. People come from big cities expecting "3rd world charm" and are totally surprised.

The food is great, and the museums might be tourist traps but we still go regularly. In terms of city size to culture/restaurants etc I think Santa Fe is really hard to beat.

Albuquerque is a giant cesspool. It has zero redeeming qualities about it. Some people think you can get the 'big city experience' there, with a job in Santa Fe, but the only big city experience you will get is an hour commute and lots of crime. If you want the big city experience, get the hell out of New Mexico.
posted by H. Roark at 1:24 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm about your age. I lived in Santa Fe for a summer and have visited many times. I passionately love it - to the point where I can hardly stand to be in Albuquerque; I just drive to Santa Fe as soon as possible after arriving!

One of the things I love about Santa Fe is what a charming, small town it is. It has an incredible level of art, culture, and cuisine for its size. It has a slow pace and is unlike anywhere else I've ever been. However, if you want to live in a city you will NOT like living in Santa Fe. Absolutely visit before you make this decision.

As for Albuquerque...if you like living in DC and you're looking for another city to live in, this is really not it. It's just another mid-sized, mid-America city, granted with southwestern flair. The outdoorsy stuff is good but the city isn't going to impress you.

If you want to head west, what about the Pacific Northwest? Or the Front Range of Colorado - I have settled in Denver and there's a great mix of hipness, young people, culture, and mountains.
posted by TrixieRamble at 1:32 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

People do commute from ABQ to SF (and there's even a train now), but in my opinion ABQ is just larger than Santa Fe, not inherently more interesting -- it suffers from the same problems regarding things to do, just slightly less so due to the increased size of the town. If you're going to be working in SF you'd be much better off "commuting" to ABQ for specific things-to-do like shopping and concerts, rather than living in ABQ and commuting to work in SF every day.

Agreed that Denver might be a better fit if you want big-city-things-to-do in the southwest.
posted by vorfeed at 1:49 PM on May 10, 2012

Another for Denver. Like I mentioned I grew up in Chicago, lived in ABQ for six years with lots of time in Santa Fe. I've also lived in Boston and spent a lot of time in LA, San Francisco and Detroit.

I now live in Denver and I love it. If you can pull that off you might find a really awesome fit.
posted by FlamingBore at 2:34 PM on May 10, 2012

Response by poster: I don't know why that post was deleted but... Denver is NOT an option. Boyfriend was offered a job in Santa Fe. Thanks.
posted by Flamingo at 3:51 PM on May 10, 2012

There is more to do in Albuquerque than Santa Fe, mostly because the population is larger (half a million compared to about 70,000 in Santa Fe). I'm not sure either is hipper or more interesting than the other.

About half of my office commutes from Albquerque/Rio Rancho. It takes about an hour on average, but can take maybe 50 minutes if you hit everything right. Driving on 25 is not the most pleasant experience in the world, but nothing like driving in DC traffic. People here are bad drivers, but there are bad drivers everywhere. Weather can be a factor, especially in the winter. There is also a commuter rail, the Rail Runner, which runs fairly frequently, but may not fit a work schedule exactly.
posted by backwords at 3:59 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I grew up in the southwest(including several years in Albuquerque), and have never been thrilled with Santa Fe. It is just another small New Mexican town with a thin veneer of hipness/cool flavor, and Taos has a thicker veneer over less substance. The reality of New Mexico is great scenery but a lot of poverty, a lot of...i guess I would say tribal (not Native american in particular more of tribal in the political organization sense)view of life. I love New Mexico and if I have ever have Fuck You money I may just buy a section in some obscure corner of the state (Catron County is the current leader for me, has been for years) and disappear. The population density is going to be shock. The state is bigger than than New England but only has about 1.5 million people. And those are concentrated heavily in the Rio Grande Valley, from Santa Fe to Las Cruces. It is a great state if you like outdoor activity-not just hanging out in the park though. More like camping/backpacking/hunting/fishing kinda stuff. Santa Fe is right in the middle of some of the best scenery in NM, the San Juans, the Sangre De Cristos, Valle Grande and you are pretty close to Chaco Canyon and Monument Valley also. When I say close I mean it takes less than a day to drive there. Like I said, New Mexico has lots of land, not a lot of people. And then the last issue that might be a shock to you is the water, or rather the lack of water. The big river in the State is the Rio Grande, and it usually flows less than 1000 cubic feet a second for most of the summer fall and winter their. This isn't much if you are used to the eastern seaboard. You can go MONTHS without rain with dust storms and the jack rabbits carrying canteens (a common joke around there).
All that being said I like it there and it always feels like home, but then I grow up in the desert and mountains of the southwest and can usually get along with most of the people their, although I bear a special hatred for a certain kind of rural rancher that thankfully has pretty much died out. If you have any more questions about the place or culture send me some mail and I will try to answer them.
posted by bartonlong at 4:52 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I love Santa Fe, and it's absolutely not for everyone. The people who are happiest here connect to it based on what's here. The people who quickly grow to hate it started by loving what's here but assuming they would also eventually find the stuff they liked where they came from, and it's not always true. I moved here from the New York City area (where I'm not from either) and it couldn't be more different, but that's part of what I enjoy about it. New York City is a far better New York City than any other place will be, and Santa Fe is far better at being Santa Fe. People who would Santa Fe if only it were more like, say, L.A. or Chicago, quickly get frustrated. People who enjoy Santa Fe for what it is do just fine. If a genuinely active nightlife is important to you, you may not like it though.

That said, there's a lot more stuff going on than people know about. I play music and consider myself halfway well connected and I still find out about some of the coolest stuff only after it happens. You have to dig a little at first. And if you like, say, jazz, it's kind of bleak, but there's Americana and folk and bluegrass and rock and blues and I've been to more than one pickin' party. (Not playing though. I'm a snob.) National acts come through Albuquerque and regional casinos, there's tons of free music over the summer, and there are several small but tightly knit bar/music communities at places like Cowgirl. There are people out all the time supporting certain bands or certain venues, and they get to know each other. If you happen to like what those scenes have, you could be quite happy and make lifetime friends. If you don't, maybe you won't.

I actually like Albuquerque a lot, but I mostly wouldn't do the commute. It's an hour each way, give or take, and everyone I know who's tried it got burnt out on it. For my money, I'd rather spend that 10 hours a week on something else. But if Railrunner is an option, at least you could read, and the drive's really not unpleasant. I regularly go down to ABQ during rush hour, and it's still 75mph most of the way. Nob Hill in ABQ has more stuff going on than all of Santa Fe on any given night though. Santa Fe's not a bad food town and there are plenty of happy discoveries to make, and there are lots of pockets of happy, hip people, but you'd have to judge for yourself.

It's hard to gauge your nightlife meter from your description above; if your happy nightlife consists of being out all night every night, you might not like it here. If your happy nightlife consists of being able to have a good meal or drinks and music a couple of times a week, you'd be happy anywhere including here. There's stuff going on, but it's different than midatlantic-stuff-going-on, mostly in the sense that it's tamer and there's less.

If outdoor stuff tips the scale, I find it amazing. I spend my weekends hiking or visiting historical sites and taking pictures or just being out. Camping, biking, hiking, probably whatever you like is all easy accessible and very cool. Some people move here for those specific things, and if you're that kind of person you might be very happy. No real issues with dog friendliness here, but you do have to watch for snakes in some places during the warm months. (Not as bad in Santa Fe as Albuquerque, the elevation seems to make some difference.)

It's probably trite but I'd also suggest a visit. Rent a house through Kokopelli or someone like that who manages tons of vacation homes and live near downtown for a week. You'll know pretty quickly how you feel about it here. I knew within hours that I wanted to live here one day and I finally did, but I've had friends or family who have visited several times and can just barely tolerate it. (People from Portland who complain about rain, for example, but miss it when they're away from it.)

Feel free to memail me for more also. I've been here 6+ years, so I'm halfway between comfortably settled and still figuring out the basics.
posted by mullicious at 5:21 PM on May 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I went to college in Santa Fe, so, a little different of an experience than being a working professional (although I did work the whole time), but that still counts, right? I absolutely loved it, but again, being in college meant all my friends lived there too and all my social needs were met mostly by going to people's houses and hanging out more so than going out and meeting people.

Santa Fe is definitely not a city- it has a larger presence than many towns with similar or larger populations, because it is such a well-known place that people love to visit, but it really is a sleepy town in a lot of respects. Want to eat after 9pm? Good luck, unless you're down with fast food (in which case skip the chains and go straight to Burrito Spot on Cerrillos... mmm).

I do think it's a fantastic place to live if your natural surroundings mean a lot to you. Something I still really miss is the physical landscape of that part of New Mexico, and for me that aspect made up for the relative isolation of it, compared to big-city life. If you enjoy hiking, camping, or just being someplace where breathtaking scenery is all around you, then Santa Fe has a ton to offer you.

However, I ended up not staying after graduation, even though I think in a lot of respects I would have been very happy in that part of the country, because of some of the limitations posed by Santa Fe's small size, both socially and jobwise. Like the people upthread who mentioned that socially you might find it very dull, I found that I didn't really end up making any friends outside of college, even though I did socialize plenty with my coworkers. It didn't seem like there was a really large core of young professionals living in the town, and I think that's because local industry is so reliant on tourism- many Santa Feans either are locals who work for the hotels, restaurants, etc or they are wealthy older people who have bought houses (or summer homes) to retire to. It's not the kind of place that draws young people from nearby- if anything, Denver and ABQ fit that profile better.

Nevertheless, I wouldn't really recommend living in Albuquerque and commuting to Santa Fe- Albuquerque isn't really a big city either, and it also doesn't have the amazing natural beauty that Santa Fe has, so I don't think the trade-offs would be worth it. If anything, you might enjoy living in Santa Fe and going down to Albuquerque whenever something interesting is going down there (good acts do make their way through there)- it's not like Albuquerque has so much going on that you'd want to be around every night to take advantage of it.
posted by Aubergine at 5:40 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

If I could live anywhere, it would be Santa Fe. It's weird to see people refer to it as a small town. In my book, a small town is a couple thousand people.

It's difficult to overstate the natural beauty of the area. The city itself is beautiful as well. If you want to spend a large part of your leisure time outside, it's a good place to be. On the other hand, if quickly finding a group of peers will be a priority after moving, being there could turn into a drag.
posted by BigSky at 5:52 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Favoriting and nthing mullitious upthread...

The people who are happiest here connect to it based on what's here. The people who quickly grow to hate it started by loving what's here but assuming they would also eventually find the stuff they liked where they came from, and it's not always true.

...pretty much nails it.

How can you cope with wind? Thirty mph sustained winds with gusts to fifty on bad days. Last year was the the craziest god damned windiest year ever. At least out of my nearly forty years in SF. The wind in the southwest would actually drive settlers to this region insane back in the days before insulation and wifi. It will exacerbate any respiratory allergies you may have and if you dont have any expect them to develop once youve been here for a while.
posted by No Shmoobles at 7:55 PM on May 10, 2012

Best answer: I’ve lived here all my life, and I love it. The thing that gave me pause about your question is the night life requirement. Santa Fe is definitely not the place for that. Albuquerque can offer more options since it’s bigger, but I’m still not sure it would satisfy one more accustomed to a vibrant city. FWIW, I don’t like Albuquerque and only go there if I need access to a real mall. I would agree with the "live in Santa Fe, commute to Albuquerque for fun" approach.
No Shmoobles and mullitious are right; love it for what it is, divest yourself of expectations about what you think it could/should be. It seems to me that some folks from the East coast really struggle to adjust here. The pace of things is much slower. We call it the land of mañana for a reason. There is a huge dichotomy between the wealthy and the poor and a lot of unspoken tension between the Hispanic and Native American cultures that have been here forever and the Gringo culture which has been “invading” since the 60s. If you want to buy furniture or go to a proper mall or visit a big box bookstore you aren’t going to have many options here. No Shmoobles is right to mention the wind. The wind can be *nasty*.
OTOH, you will never breathe cleaner air. The scenery is truly breathtaking. Come autumn, when the aspens turn, I am always filled with such joy and gratitude that *this* is where I get to be. The food is excellent and you can find variety if you dig for it. You’re going to have to get used to eating chili, though, and *not* that damn, tomato based, imposter Texas chili. Chili in New Mexico is exclusive to New Mexico. I can’t describe it well enough to do it justice, but I can say that we’re addicted to it and we eat it ALL THE TIME. I love the cultural diversity in spite of the concurrent social tension. I love that I can drive not-to-far and escape the sound of traffic.
I believe you could move here and be happy, but be prepared to learn a different way of living.
posted by omphale27 at 2:43 PM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I miss it like hell and that Beirut song makes me bawl. That said, there is only laughable nightlife, minimal concerts and other events, and few sports bars. It is not that sort of place and I don't think it's going to change anytime soon. It does have excellent food, good coffee shops, and a few good seedy bars (oh, and good theatre!). There is wonderful hiking, parts of the city are great for walking, and it's very dog friendly. There are a lot of older hippies, a lot of artists, a lot of intense readers (St. John's is there), a lot of native New Mexicans. It's a really relaxed town, and there are lots of people growing vegetables and keeping bees and going out to Galisteo with telescopes for all night star-watching parties and building gigantic horse heads. So it's quiet, but it's not sleepy or dead by any means.

I don't know what your budget is, because some parts of Santa Fe are crazy expensive. If you can live on the east side, it's really gorgeous. I would look in the area bounded roughly by Cordoba, Old Santa Fe Trail, Alameda, and Galisteo. There are also nice places a little north of the plaza in the Fort Marcy area. The railroad area by REI and Tune Up is also nice and becoming a lot more popular. Those are the most walkable areas (although you will need a car or a bike in Santa Fe).

(For the wind, take up power kites. No, really.)
posted by ke rose ne at 4:55 PM on May 11, 2012

Best answer: "You’re going to have to get used to eating chili, though, and *not* that damn, tomato based, imposter Texas chili. Chili in New Mexico is exclusive to New Mexico."

(You've lived in SF all your life and you spell chile with an i?)

Sante Fe is an odd place, really. In some respects, it's has the footprint of a much, much larger city. (The greater area's population is somewhere a bit over 100K, though the city proper is quite a bit less.) It has far more art-and-culture related stuff going on all the time than a city its size normally does. Although it was partly a function of my age and that I was in college and my ex-wife was very active in this respect, while I lived there in the early nineties I saw more memorable things in a short amount of time than I have anywhere else, including the eight years I lived in Austin, TX. In one year, I went to lectures by Oliver Sacks, Murray Gell-Mann, Daniel Dennett, and watched a retrospective of Loony Tunes cartoons with Chuck Jones as an honored guest who took questions afterwards from the audience. I looked at more art than I did later. And not the predictable southwest stuff, either.

On the other hand, in many other respects, especially including night-life, it's very obvious that it's a small town. It really does die after nine-o-clock. I'm a night-owl and it's not just a lack of nightclubs, but just nothing is open later at night.

And it's parochial. In odd ways. Some of that is apparent in previous comments about Albuquerque. I'm a native Albuqerquean (though I didn't grow up here) and I've always found the mutual animosity between ABQ and SF to be tiresome and generally ignorant. It's undeniable that for a city of ABQ's size, which is pretty big now (the whole metro area is somewhat under a million), it's barren in some important ways and, worse, a lot of it is ugly in that whole suburban southwest US metro way. But it's big enough, and shares enough DNA with Santa Fe, to have quite a bit of quirky and interesting subcultural stuff going on if you care to look for it. And a lot of things in that respect that big cities (with big universities) have that Santa Fe definitely lacks.

I found a lot to dislike in the contemporary, non-native Santa Fe culture of anglos-driving-Range-Rovers. I mean, a part of me despises that aspect of Santa Fe. But you'll find that kind of thing in every trendy, arty little place. Santa Fe is worse in that it's been building this structure in earnest for forty years, but so have a lot of other places. Even so, and echoing what some others have written, if you have any sort of propensity for, well, a communion with the "land", then there's something almost mystical about Santa Fe. I say this as a native New Mexican who spent my entire childhood and early adulthood in the mountains of northern New Mexico. But I found that living in Santa Fe had just some additional indefinable beauty to it. Like many people, I tend to prefer Taos...but it's even smaller. There's no reconciling the fact that Santa Fe is a small town for anyone who likes the big city. And although I think some people above are underestimating what's available and cool in Albuquerque, I have to say that even for me ABQ is too small. So if you think that's going to be a problem for you, then it probably will be. But it has everything to do with whether or not you actually avail yourself of what large cities have to offer. If you don't, or don't care, then Santa Fe at 100K is in many respects more like a city of 250K, and with ABQ added in, you won't feel like you live in the boondocks. But only if, for you, the difference between the boondocks and the city isn't about the things that cities in the 1.5M and above have to offer.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:02 PM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Most everything was helpful, so many "best" answers. Thanks everyone! (I might hit you all up again for questions regarding best dive bars, chile restaurants, etc. later.)
posted by Flamingo at 6:52 AM on May 14, 2012

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