Which is nicer: Albuquerque or Santa Fe?

I ask this because my wife and myself, from British Columbia, Canada, are going to be spending a week driving around northwest New Mexico (including the Four Corners area) in May and are wondering which city it might be nicer to spend time in. We’ve probably got time for both (our itinerary isn’t worked out yet), but I suspect we’ll want to spend more time in one than the other.

We love places that have authentic culture and architecture, good food, history, and friendly people. We love to walk and explore and aren’t big on normal “touristy” kind of things. I think “interesting”, “authentic” and “friendly” probably stand out as things we value in particular. In general we like the feeling of small towns, but big cities can sometimes be fun too.

And just to throw one more question into the mix: Do people recommend Taos? We were in Sedona last year and couldn’t get out of there quickly enough, for most of the reasons given above. Is Taos any more authentic and less touristy than Sedona?

Anyway, there you go. Any thoughts would be much, much appreciated!

We did a vacation in Santa Fe a few years ago. The food was great and the hiking in and around the area was very nice. It is a real artist community with lots of original works that are quite nice.

Albuquerque was just a ‘big city’ so we didn’t spend much time there, but the two are close enough that in a week you can easily do both, splitting your time between them.

We never made it up to Taos so I can’t advise you on that. I hear they have some nice river rafting up there in the summer, but that’s the sum total of what I know of the place. Santa Fe did strike me as being authentic though.

It has been nearly a decade since I’ve been to Sedona and it was getting pretty touristy even back then. It sounds like the place has really gone downhill now. That’s too bad as I really liked it there when I went, but I could see the inevitable Disneyland-ification coming.

If you are in Santa Fe, go ahead and drive up to Los Alamos and Bandelier National Monument. After spending the morning walking around the ruins at Bandelier, head back to Los Alamos and have lunch at Hill Diner (1315 Trinity Drive) and spend the afternoon at the Bradbury Science Museum. This was part of our trip to New Mexico two years ago and everyone in the family really enjoyed the day. We stayed at the Old Sante Fe Inn.

Links are below:



Never been to Santa Fe, but I’ve heard Albuquerque described as “the poor man’s Mos Eisley.” I can get behind that.

Do both. They’re maybe 40 minutes away from each other. I found Santa Fe to be much more yuppie-oriented than Albuquerque, but both were fun in their own way. Never made it to Taos. Plenty of pueblos to visit—the Eight Northern Pueblos are online here, if you’re into that sort of thing. I liked San Ildefonso and Santa Clara Pueblos for visiting, photographing the mesa and buildings (Definitely check on the rules/fees for doing that) and buying pottery. If you don’t feel like driving to Gallup, the trading post outside Ildefonso has better prices on fine pottery than the boutiques in Santa Fe.

I highly recommend the O’Keefe Museum and New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe. The hot air ballooning museum and national museum of atomic science and history in ABQ looked interesting but we didn’t have the time. Ditto any tours of Los Alamos.

Be wary of the spicy food; if a New Mexican is telling you that it’s hot, it’ll eat through sheet steel. That said, I loved Sadie’s and El Pinto in ABQ; and the Atomic Grill in S.F. If I was a little more flush, Cafe Pasqual’s in S.F. is supposed to be outstanding.

I had a blast and can’t wait to go back.

Please take the time to drive the “loop” (highways 64/38/522 via Eagle Nest, Red River) east of Taos, then take US-64 west, across the Rio Grande and up to Chama. It is one of the most scenic roads in the southwest.

I did NM last April. Santa Fe was okay, but not all that great, really. Albuquerque’s just another city. The best time I had was going to Tent Rocks, which is not far from Santa Fe. Carlsbad Caverns were good too. From what I’ve seen, population centers in NM, such as they are, aren’t all that hot, so you should stick to Mother Nature. Haven’t been to Taos, though.

I believe the expression is “no contest.”

Scenic route map is here.

Take the Turquoise Trail between Santa Fe and Albuquerque (#25 on the map).

The Jemez Mountain Scenic trail (#10 on the map) is nice too, as it will take you by the Valles Caldera.

There are a few hot springs in the area if that interests you.

Edit: This pagehas links to descriptions of the scenic route with much more infomation.

That’s funny because it’s not. They have it in their city planning laws that all of the buildings have to look like the old historic part of town, so even if you build a 7-11, you have to give it the adobe look. In Albuquerque they (the people in general) aren’t so worried about pretense.

I’ve been to both cities a few times and Santa Fe felt way more contrived and commercial, to the point where we really didn’t enjoy it and avoided it for our most recent visit to the state. We didn’t like San Diego for the same reason. The gaslight district (San Diego) felt too planned out and contrived to appeal to visitors. Santa Fe felt “designed to meet tourist expectations.”

I enjoy Albuquerque more just because there was a greater diversity of stuff and people. The smaller Albuquerque galleries had more challenging work. Like Albuquerque is where the university age proto-beatniks and “starving artists” live, and Santa Fe is where the hippies went after they became investment bankers.

Santa Fe is however in a much better location for a whole whack of stuff - closer the the gorge, to Taos, to river rafting, better bike tours, mountains, pueblos, Bandelier, Los Alamos, and have a fantastic outdoor opera house (if that’s your thing). Taos is a lot like Santa Fe, but a lot smaller. If you’re in Santa Fe and don’t like it, you probably won’t enjoy Taos. ETA: IMHO, Taos residents are “keeping it real” more than their SF counterparts.

If you’re into outdoorsy stuff Taos has decent outfitters and a lot of the ski resorts have alternative activities in the summer, like horse back riding tours (the kind where you don’t actually need to know how to ride, you just have to be able to sit on the saddle).

Basically, I think Aluquerque is the cooler city, but Santa Fe totally has the better location for stuff to do in the area. Albuquerque and Santa Fe are so close, I’ve never been to the state without visiting both.

Oh, that last sentence should read “I’ve never been in the state and not been able to visit both.” As I said, we actively avoided Santa Fe last time, but we drove through it on our way to fun stuff .

Some earlier threads about New Mexico:


I had to read the poll title before voting - Which is a nicer place to VISIT?

Now, if the question had been which is a nicer place to LIVE, then Albuquerque is the easy answer.

Albuquerque was far and away my favorite town in New Mexico. I’ve both been as a tourist and have lived there for a short period of time. My favorite things about it were: 1) the food, 2) it’s not as pretentious as Santa Fe and 3) the historic and other sites are just as spectacular as those found in Santa Fe without being as expensive.

Also, it’s near some really wonderful spots like Sandia Peak (which I’ve hiked a couple of times and is where my husband proposed), Bandelier National Park and a few other places. Though Santa Fe is generally pretty close to those spots, too. Oh, and it’s also easy driving distance of Santa Fe if you decide to go there.

I reiterate: that you’re a tourist, the Santa Fe area has more to offer, but we actively avoid visiting the city itself because we think it’s contrived to the point of suck (to us, it feels like a shopping mall).

Wow, what fabulous information! Thanks all. I suspect more opinions are going to show up before we’re through. I’m judging from the response that both places have their charm and suspect we’re going to have to visit both to make our own determination. Thanks for caring enough to give your thoughts! I almost feel like an honorary New Mexican. :slight_smile:

Santa Fe is more tourist-y. Especially wealthy tourists. When California became too expensive in the 80-90’s many of that state’s residents moved to Santa Fe. There is a mix of rich people trying to ignore the tourists, celebs trying not to be recognized, Poor people and wannabe rich people catering to the tourists, and tourists trying not to look like tourists while keeping a sharp eye out for celebs. It just seems a bit…pretentious?..contrived? It almost seems to me that people say Santa Fe is cool, and the art is worth the asking prices because they don’t want to be the odd one that says otherwise? It is not not polite to giggle at the women of a certain age wearing 30# of silver and turquoise jewelry, peasant skirt, and Georgia O’Keefe hat. They are as ubiquitous in Santa Fe as the umbrella and hat ladies are in Vienna.

Albuquerque is a city filled with people earning livings for the most part unrelated to tourism or art. Yeah, there is a bit of that, but while Albuquerque would suffer a bit if tourists stopped coming, Santa Fe would crash.

If you are a Doper because you are Geeky, here are some places you might like:

National Atomic Museum in Albuquerque. Stuff like replicas of the only nuclear bombs ever used in warfare assembled from actual spare parts. Horrific to be sure, but there is a ton of science behind them, and much of it came from Los Alamos and Sandia National labs.

Taos Gorge and Earthships. A pretty cool arch bridge over a deep narrow gorge. Just up the road a mile or so is where a bunch of hippies are building earth sheltered dwellings out of tires. They have one set up that you can tour and as in information center…mostly to keep the curious from roaming about the community proper.

The big Radio Telescope is worth stopping at if you are already down that way, but not enough to go out of your way for. I have been there maybe five times and the wind was always honking with gusts to mother honking.

If your into bicycling there is a trail along the Rio Grand that stretches through all of Albuquerque north-to-south with only a few level crossings. You can also ride ~40 mi. down the Rio Grande to Belen and take the Rail-Runner train back. (No tandems allowed on train though)

If you like wine, there are some little vineyards that are worth a stop.

If you are into motorcycling, there are some nice twisty roads I can recommend.

If you have 4WD I can recommend some spectacular back ways that will actually get you somewhere.

Carlsbad Caverns is cool, especially if they are still running primitive tours of the smaller caves.

When deciding remember–you always need to take the *left turn *at Albuquerque.


By the way, I regret to inform you when you visit the Bradbury Science Museum, you are not allowed to ride the bombs ala “Dr. Strangelove” as that is a very common request. I know because I asked. I’m sorry, but I thought that was extremely lame considering both are just copies. At least at the National Atomic Museum where the parts themselves have some historic value, it seems reasonable you wouldn’t let people ride those :frowning:

Santa Fe: Small city feel. Touristy. Expensive.

Albuquerque: A big but “real” city. :wink:

Stop by Sadie’s (best Mexican food) and Kelly’s Brew Pub (for beer, obviously) when you’re in Albuquerque. :slight_smile: