25 Things We Love About Santa Fe Right Now

There is such a thing as toxic positivity, and we’re not really about that at SFR. You likely know us from taking on tough stories all the time, for not just accepting that things are well. But there’s also such a thing as searching out the good because it feels nice. For looking around one’s community and naming that good. Each year, with our 25 Things We Love About Santa Fe Right Now issue, we do just that. And in the midst of a seemingly never-ending and evolving pandemic—well, it just seemed like we could use some good things. That’s why we’re singling out film fests and delicious pizzas, aritsts and music, trains, cannabis and more.

We’re hopeful to at least temper some of the sadness going around, but also to remind readers about our annual Best of Santa Fe reader poll, which will pop up before you know it. Nominate the things you love at sfreporter.com/bosf starting Feb. 1.

1. Historic trains, gimicky trains, train-trains—we got ‘em.

The opening of a new George RR Martin-affiliated scenic train sent waves through the transportation nerd fandom—we love giant mechanical things that move and make loud noises while they do it. Each time a new mechanical monstrosity shakes the tracks, we’re shaking too. As it turns out, Santa Fe and our Northern New Mexico region is awash with trains beyond the classic commuter Rail Runner Express. Those willing to take a drive up to Chama can catch the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, which is owned by the states of New Mexico and Colorado. Ever imagine spending New Year’s Eve on a train? Make it reality on Sky Railway, champagne and all. Martin, of Game of Thrones fame, and his friend Bill Banowsky, who owns the Violet Crown movie theater, partnered to invest in the rolling stock formerly owned by Santa Fe Southern to run excursions. The dragon-decorated trains are already proving a big hit. Sure, we’re all still dreaming of the day we’ve got high-speed railways all over the state and beyond, but in the meantime we’ll take what we can get. (Riley Gardner)

2. Traffic congestion is a breeze compared to other metros

No one loves to sit in traffic. Not even with endless opportunities to pass the time on the phone that you’re not supposed to be using behind the wheel. So, we love that Santa Fe’s traffic is really not that bad—even on Fridays at lunchtime, when we’ve been utterly frustrated with the increased volume of vehicles.

“The congestion experienced on Santa Fe’s streets is minimal compared to that experience in larger metropolitan areas, such as Los Angeles, California; El Paso, Texas; or even, New Mexico where congested peak periods last for at least a couple of hours,” reads a summary by the Santa Fe Metropolitan Planning Organization. “The peak periods where congestion is most noticeable in Santa Fe aren relatively short, approximately 30-minute ranges starting around 7:30 am and 5 pm.”

Despite population growth and surges in tourism, car counts for the city have not spiked upward overall. In fact, on most roadways they had declined even before major pandemic declines last year. Agua Fria near Frenchy’s, for example, had 13,000 trips per day in 2010, roughly 11,500 in 2018 and 11,000 last year. (Julie Ann Grimm)

3. Museums free for NM resident on the first of every first Sunday of the month

Access to art and history and all the amazing things cooped up in museums should be as open as possible. What’s the point of keeping society’s most beautiful treasures locked behind doors that only some people can see? SFR can think of a few reasons—that rant is for another time—so instead why not celebrate what pretty-good access Santa Fe’s museums do provide community members. Santa Fe’s four state museums—New Mexico Museum of Art, Museum of International Folk Art, New Mexico History Museum/Palace of Governors and the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture—remain free every first Sunday of the month with proof of residency. Winter is the perfect time to stroll around a quiet museum pondering what that sculpture is supposed to mean. Jan. 2, Feb. 6 and March 6 are the next three free Sundays. (William Melhado)

4. Teen centers, at last

Residents of the underserved Southside have been asking for a center dedicated to serving area teens for years and the city is finally responding. Construction began in September shortly after the approval of a $9.2 million contract. The city-run center, located across the street from the Southside branch of the Santa Fe Public Library, is set to open in spring 2023. In the meantime, the local chapter of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America is stepping up, with the opening of a teen center, called The Club, at Santa Fe Place mall in October. Those involved say it could be part of the solution to youth violence in the area. The center features computers and Wi-Fi for kids to do their homework, two gaming rooms, a stage for young musicians, a cafe and a classroom space. Now, more cool things for the Southside, please. (Bella Davis)

5. Vital Spaces keeps on keeping on

With original co-director Hannah Yohalem moving on earlier this year, Vital Spaces’ leadership is now solely in the hands of hip-hop champion Raashan Ahmad, and the local nonprofit that finds and assumes control of otherwise empty buildings to rent out as affordable artists’ space has done some notable things of late. By the time you read this, you’ll unfortunately have missed its holiday market, but that doesn’t take away from the ongoing Community Art Closet project that provides free materials for creators in need, a citywide exhibit from last summer featuring over two dozen local artists, special one-off events, exhibits on the Midtown Campus or the daily ways in which artists in need can interface with ‘em. Oh, it’s not all roses—we hear, for example, the waiting list for space is a doozy and the nonprofit’s flagship Otero Street HQ sadly kicked the bucket to make way for a new downtown hotel. Even so, Vital Spaces still has a foothold on the Southside in the old Outlet Mall, its Midtown happenings and, if everything so far is a good indicator, a bright future in Santa Fe. (Alex De Vore)

6. No more guns in the Roundhouse

And then there were 20—and New Mexico, at long, merciful last, was not among them. It came to pass, oddly enough, the day after Halloween, when the Legislative Council voted 8-5 (with majority Democrats in support and Republicans opposed) to overturn the state’s longstanding game of footsie with firearms enthusiasts that allowed open and concealed carrying in the Roundhouse and its adjoining complex in Santa Fe. The upshot: Now, only 20 states allow weapons inside buildings where often-hostile political debate is de rigueur. (What could go wrong?) Never mind that it took an armed mob storming the US Capitol and the subsequent fear—and taxpayer dollars spent to secure against threats real and perceived—it spawned in statehouses from Santa Fe to Albany for our leaders to see the light. We’re just over the moon here at SFR that a central gathering point in our attempt at self-governance in this city will no longer include the specter of guys in cowboy hats and dungarees striding onto the Senate floor with perfectly specced-out AR-15s slung over their shoulders while law is being made. (Jeff Proctor)

7. Downtown food truck park reliably stocked

Rather than a once-in-while pop-up, the gravel parking lot across the street from the Roundhouse and from Kaune’s on Old Santa Fe Trail has become a reliable spot for a plethora of food trucks. Right now it’s Fusion Tacos, Craft Donuts and Bo’s Authentic Thai. Though at press time the parking situation was condensed due to half the lot being used for Christmas tree sales, that will roll up as soon as Santa’s sleigh fades from view. We’ve been to food truck parks in larger metropolitan areas that take vast amounts of space, but outside of occasions at the Meow Wolf HQ, the “park” concept had yet to really bloom here. The fact that they’re not clustered with others shouldn’t keep you from some of the best, permanently parked food trucks around. Here’s looking at you, El Chile Toreado on Early Street and Pollo Asado in the Cheek’s/Arcade News parking lot, to name a pair of our faves. (JAG)

8. Santa Fe’s second-hand shopping scene

SFR and second-hand stores go hand in hand: SFR’s most popular distribution location is Savers, where 355 copies of the print edition get scooped each week. Between the western-wear thrift stores, used book venues and other second-hand boutiques, Santa Fe has good options for buying not-new things. The consensus seems to be that those with lots of expendable cash—abundant in Santa Fe—supply these used stores with quality clothes, kitchen appliances and furniture because, well, rich people love buying new things. Of all of Santa Fe’s thrifting options, one super cute boutique stands out: Kitchenality.

“People who know Kitchenality, love it,” says Dwayne Trujillo, the development officer for Kitchen Angels, the meal delivery nonprofit that runs the used kitchen store. “It’s all quality stuff and we sell it at affordable prices…and 100% of the profit goes back into the program.” (WM)

9. Reunity Resources keeps the community fridge stocked

A new community fridge from Reunity Resources is providing folks with fresh veggies and fruits, eggs and yogurt, pasta, beans and more. It opened in August at 1829 San Ysidro Crossing and runs on donations (both direct and in the form of cash, allowing Reunity staff to shop for food for the fridge) from Santa Feans, along with some produce from Reunity’s fields. “Especially with all of the sort of exacerbated community hunger since the pandemic, having a place that’s 24/7 access and no questions asked felt really important to me,” says Reunity Resources Program Director Juliana Peterson Ciano. She hopes it’ll spawn a network of community fridges throughout Santa Fe, adding to a national movement. Similar initiatives have popped up in, for example, New York and Florida in recent years. Stop by, leave what you can and take what you need. (BD)

10. City golf course keeps it for the people

Look, we know this one might seem a little out of place; we are an alternative weekly newspaper, after all, that was founded back when radicals knew how to protest, like, wars and stuff as opposed to throwing nuttys at school board meetings over teaching historically accurate social studies in public schools. But we’re just gonna say it: We love the city-owned Marty Sanchez Links de Santa Fe (205 Caja del Rio Road, off NM599.) It’s an unpretentious, affordable, come-as-you-are oasis in a city with plenty of elitist sneer where you can play a naturally-socially-distant game that, at places unlike Marty, has the most elitist sneer. Roll out for 18 holes on a cart ($50 for New Mexicans, which is a steal) or play the nine-hole “Great 28″ for half that, and you’ll get everything that’s worth keeping about golf and none of what should have died a painful death long ago about golf culture. (JP)

11. Workers are getting what’s rightfully theirs

There’s been a lot of talk this year from business owners and industry lobbyists about how no one wants to work. One strategy to solve staffing problems? Pay people more. Lots of local businesses have raised wages in recent months, and some owners say they’re now fully staffed up because of it. Who would’ve thought? Take Ohori’s Coffee Roasters. Employees saw their pay increase in October, in some cases by 10%. Owner Tai Ayers says the company slightly raised prices to make the change. Some other examples include cannabis company Ultra Health, which is adopting a $15 minimum wage starting in January, and Presbyterian Healthcare Services, which raised its Santa Fe wage to $19. Santa Fe City Council also hiked the wage floor for city employees to $15 per hour this fall. Another glimmer of hope: John Deere workers won a pay raise last month after striking, and thousands of other workers across the country are either on strike or threatening it, demanding better pay and working conditions. (BD)

12. Venues require vaccinations or negative COVID-19 tests

In an effort to make an inherently risky activity safer, Meow Wolf is requiring concert attendees to show either proof of vaccination—two doses of Moderna or Pfizer, or one J&J shot—or a negative COVID test. I saw Grouplove in November (my second show since the pandemic began, after Gary Clark Jr. at an outdoor venue two months before) and got to sing and dance my heart out to “Tongue Tied,” reveling in the joy of some early 2010s nostalgia, all while feeling at least some reassurance. The Lensic Performing Arts Center downtown and the Center for Contemporary Arts have similar policies, yet in some states, such measures aren’t possible. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in October banned vaccine mandates for all entities in the state, including for employees and customers at private businesses. I didn’t see a single maskless person in the crowd at the Grouplove show, either, so that helps. (BD)

13. Why ski when you can climb here year round?

While many are eager for the coming of snow and the subsequent arrival of ski season, there is a comparable group out there quietly reveling in perfect climbing conditions in Northern New Mexico. The Land of Enchantment may not have the granite cliffs of Yosemite or a smattering of craggy 14ers in the state, but climbers here enjoy some of the best conditions all year round to get outside. Even though temperatures drop at night to single digits, when that sun is out it might as well be late spring—most days—ideal weather for spending time in nature, clamoring around on cliffs. The sheer number of different climbing spots within an hour or two of the city, baking in the sun’s elevated radiation, make Santa Fe a climber’s paradise (don’t tell anyone.) Winter Wall in Diablo Canyon gets sun all day while Capulin Canyon in the Jemez Mountains offers perfect cracks that look too good at golden hour. (WM)

14. Weed City, USA. Population: You

Local cannabis users planted their first legal crops for personal use this summer, which led to a skunky late October crouched over tables with sticky fingers as they trimmed flower.

New Mexico’s legalization of cannabis for all adults fully rolls out in April, when licensed producers are first allowed to begin retail sales. Santa Fe’s medical cannabis providers have been ramping up, opening additional locations and making plans to open consumption areas under the provisions of the new law. While the City Council was among the slowest of the five biggest cities in the state to approve zoning for new cannabis ventures, it finalized rules in late September. The city requires 300 feet between cannabis businesses and schools and 400 feet between individual businesses. The state Cannabis Control Division, part of the Regulation and Licensing Department, issued the first new production licenses in mid-December, but so far, none are in the City Different. (JAG)

15. Vegans have at least two really good dedicated choices

Santa Fe’s food landscape used to be the absolute worst for vegans, with many being forced to eat bread and chile and...end of list. These days, though, folks who don’t eat animal products have at least two new dedicated businesses to patronize, and both are honestly excellent. If it’s a full-on meal you seek, the relatively new Plant Base Café serves up completely vegan options across three sprawling menus including American, Italian and Mexican foods. That’s not even getting into desserts. And though the Southside restaurant still has a ways to go in terms of in-person service, takeaway items like Beyond Meat tacos, cauliflower “wings” or vegan pizzas don’t disappoint. When it’s time for something a little sweeter, Plantita Vegan Bakery offers up chocolate chip cookies, special one-off cakes and treats, plus incredibly popular and fruity hand pies. Don’t forget the bagels, either. (ADV)

16. Wonky, but effective bike paths

Santa Fe’s streets are not made for bikers. Drivers in New Mexico seem unable to share the road with cyclists, few streets have designated bike lanes, goat heads and broken glass litter the shoulders. So if it wasn’t for the wonky system of bike paths that allow wheeled users to traverse the porkchop that is Santa Fe, cycling around the city would be a non-starter.

Bailey Newbrey, owner of Sincere Cycles off West Water Street, says tourists renting bikes from his shop struggle to navigate Santa Fe’s bike paths. “I think at any major intersection signage would go a long way,” he tells SFR. While the city does have a map of the bike paths, that doesn’t make crossing St. Michael’s Drive any less treacherous. But for commuters and those familiar with the routes, Newbrey concedes the trails reflect the spirit of Santa Fe: “effective but quirky.” (WM)

17. More fresh bread than we can eat

We got totally into baking our own bread during the pandemic and then got totally, pardon the pun, burned out on it. So, we turned to the experts. Why take two days and 15 kitchen timers to bake a loaf of sourdough when for a few dollars you can have one right now and it will be perfect? The question is rhetorical.

We love that one can grab a Sage Bakehouse loaf from a number of local grocery stores, but we prefer to hit the bakery early in the morning (it opens at 7:30 am Mondays through Saturdays—the most expansive hours of any bakery in town) and choose from what’s cooling on the wire rack. Friendly workers will slice it, split it, bag it and send you away with a smile.

Newcomer Wild Leaven has expanded from Taos to take over a tiny building that shares a parking lot with Concrete Jungle on North Guadalupe St. We picked up a couple loaves the first week they were open and are very likely to go back. Lastly, SFR offices relocated from downtown to Pacheco Street in November 2020 and our neighbor Bread Shop is also holding it down with hot loaves. (JAG)

18. Micro, minus the managing

Some of the ideas that come out of here are just the right ideas, you know? Take No Name Cinema, a venture so cool SFR did an entire feature about them. Whereas Santa Fe is awash with cinematic projects (minus whatever the heck is going on with the Regal on Zafarano), sometimes a town isn’t complete until the underground cinema peoples pitch their tent. Well, in this case it’s a warehouse: No Name Cinema may be tiny, but it’s the coolest little venture to see films like queer arthouse classic Pink Narcissus or the curiously named Do You Think Jesus Liked Hard Boiled Eggs. Never heard of any of those? That is precisely the point—general audiences aren’t the target. In some cases the audience isn’t the target at all. No Name Cinema is a great example of the evolving cinematic landscape outside of the bummer that is corporate entertainment—and out of little ol’ Santa Fe, too. (RG)

19. The best fests

On that note, we’re a town that loves cinema. We’re an oasis for out-of-Hollywood productions, and we’re certainly better than that pesky little Atlanta. But we’re kicking butt in screenings too—if you throw a dart at a calendar there’s a good chance you’ll land on or close to some film festival. The Santa Fe Film Festival might be similarly named to the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival, but that just means ample opportunities. Perhaps the Madrid Film Festival is more your kick, and our friends up in Taos host the Taos Shotz Film Festival and the Taos Environmental Film Festival. Whew, hold on, we’re catching a breath. Also, not to talk about ourselves here too much (but also to do that), SFR is hosting our own 3-Minute Film Festival coming up on Dec. 29 at CCA. Yes, we’re in the game too. Long live the local festival circuit. (RG)

20. The pizza situation here is outta control

Get ready to flip out over Cosmic Pie Pizza, a pop-up-esque pizza joint from chef Chris Van Dyne that operates sporadically beside/within The Betterday Coffeehouse to serve up, among other options, Detroit-style pies. It’s a new-ish take on pizza that first came to Santa Fe through stalwart Back Road Pizza and has since spawned Door 38 and the aforementioned Cosmic Pie. That’s already three places in about two sentences. So while we’re talking pizza, have you been by Upper Crust lately? The crust is magnificent, and the same goes for the fresh salads on offer. What about Pizza Centro in all its somehow chewy and crispy glory? We’ve even been known to down a deep dish from Pizza 9, and whenever humanly possible, you know we’re going to order the Greek pie from Pizzeria Espiritu. We’re also down with Pizzeria da Lino’s thin and tasty buffalo mozzarella pies, and you could do a lot worse than the pizza menus at Il Vicino and Tune Up Café. Come to think of it, we have more pizza options in Santa Fe than even seems possible, but when it comes to the holy trinity of bread, sauce and cheese, there might not be such a thing as “too much.” (ADV)

21. NIMBYs are outnumbered

Crikey, there’s a live one! Like old shows on Animal Planet, we can easily identify NIMBYs (for the uninitiated, “Not In My Backyard”) in the wild. They tend to speak in code: It seems “this will block my view of the mountains” has gone out of fashion. “Where will the water come from?” is the new go-to, making identification easier than ever. Sure, anyone could consult actual organizations to answer this very question, but what’s better than a mere social media comment you have no intention of researching? Perhaps one can be NIMBY-lite: that skepticism of any sort of development being for people who live here and instead being for rich out-of-towners who hang around during tourist season. But for every NIMBY in Santa Fe, we’ve got two young YIMBYs, thank the Lord. No one can blame anyone for wanting to keep things safe and affordable in the place they call home. But no one can be safe and nothing remains affordable when people have nowhere to live. (RG)

22. Santa Fe Brewing ups its cocktail IQ at the HQ

Simply put, Santa Fe Brewing Co. makes good beer, so it’s no surprise that the company’s new cocktails are delicious, too. One of our favorites is the “fizzle dance,” with vodka, prickly pear liqueur and ginger beer. The addition, rolled out in late November, is only possible because the Legislature reformed the state’s liquor laws earlier this year. Under the legislation, Santa Fe Brewing has to use local liquor, which it’s getting primarily from Tumbleroot Brewery and Distillery. While the offerings have expanded, the company is staying true to its roots; the main inspiration for the menu was “what can be efficient and not overwhelming for our staff, so they can still focus on interacting with customers, and focus on the beer side,” says General Manager Alana Harris. The Beer Hall at HQ is the only Santa Fe location serving cocktails as of now. Oh, and grab some birria tacos from Fusion Tacos while you’re there. (BD)

23. Free Blue Buses rides to Ski Santa Fe

SFR is a big supporter of all things free (hence why SFR’s print edition and website remain paywall free.) And public transit is one of those things that should probably be free. The North Central Regional Transit District’s 255 Mountain Trail route carries riders from South Capitol Station deep into the Santa Fe National Forest. The Blue Buses that make the trip to Ski Santa Fe transport between 6,000 and 10,000 riders each year but Jim Nagle, a spokesman for NCRTD, anticipates that number will increase now that the bus is free. So instead of schlepping up that windy, wintery road, skiers can take advantage of a free lift. As an added incentive, Nagle adds, riders will get a $5 token to spend at Ski Santa Fe when they take the bus. That benefit goes into effect “when Ski Santa Fe opens the top of the mountain,” says Nagle. (WM)

24. Non-rich artists can sort of thrive now

Isn’t the art world fun? A whole entire industry based on believing “experts” about value, plus the wonderful world of flipping assets, make for a labyrinthian parade of nonsense stacked against the sort of indie artists most regular folks would rather support. Enter COVID-19 and a universal plea from lesser-known creators for assistance. Since the lockdown began, it’s been a breeze to pick up prints from folks like Future Fantasy Delight visionary Nico Salazar, watercolor genius Zahra Marwan and printmaker Terran Last Gun. There was the original custom skate deck from multi-disciplinary illustrator and sculptor Dylan Pommer, the hand-cut paper skull from the brilliant Ian Kuali’i and even an original photograph by Arizona’s Douglas Miles—not local, no, but still awesome. All those works together still clocked in at less than a single cloudy landscape at some big time Canyon Road gallery, and the system remains imperfect, though you should see the walls around here. (ADV)

25. We’re dirty and we love It

Maybe it’s the weird post-hippie vibe we’ve got going on, but there’s a lot of thought about the land here. We don’t mean the surface-level aesthetic (but dang, that’s nice), but what’s going on underneath all that beauty. Groups like Santa Fe-based New Mexico Healthy Soil Working Group are making a big effort to remind people why soil health matters in our day-to-day lives. If you want to know how deep the roots go, check out their regular series “Soil Stories” where local farmers and ranchers share how important healthy soil is to everyone. In our desert climate, healthy soils obviously mean better yields, but also better water retention and better longevity. If you wanna get the ball rolling on getting your soil in shape, you can check out the New Mexico Department of Agriculture’s Healthy Soil Program. As it turns out, it’s not difficult to make sure even our dusty soil is thriving. Santa Fe’s agriculture can even prosper. Thank God for our little soil geeks—we really appreciate you teaching us. (RG)