Tom’s Tips on the Santa Fe Opera Scene: Discovering America’s Ultimate in Summer Opera

By this time, every opera lover knows that each summer something very special is happening in the world of opera  – in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  The Santa Fe Opera presents a season of five operas all summer in its resplendent outdoor (but covered) opera house-in-the-desert in the hills just north of Santa Fe.  It is hard to imagine a more delightful summer setting with the wildly colorful sunsets to the West and the 12,000 foot Santa Fe Peak to the East – all in an enchanting opera center which includes everything you might need.

Some patrons arrive early to enjoy an elegant Tailgate dinner – some with candles, ice buckets of champagne and wine, flowers, and crystal glasses.  Your Tipster has been enjoying the Santa Fe Opera now for more than two decades, and he is also in New Mexico on business often, so here are his suggestions and recommendations.

Getting to Santa Fe

You can’t fly into Santa Fe on commercial flights (except the small puddle-jumpers).  You need to fly into Albuquerque (airport code ABQ), whose attractive, in places stunning, airport is decorated with Southwestern art, and filled with good restaurants, bars and shops.  If you are renting a car, take a bus directly from the baggage zone to the Rental Auto plaza, which is also most attractive.

To drive to Santa Fe, take Interstate 25 North to Santa Fe (signs tell you exactly where to go). The drive takes slightly less than an hour with a lot of terrific Southwestern scenery along the way.  Get off of the freeway at Saint Francis Drive (NOT Cerrillos Road), heading west into town.  THEN turn right on Saint Francis Drive, then take a right on Paseo de Peralta, which encircles old Santa Fe (reminding me of a miniature “Ringstrasse”).  From Paseo de Peralta you can get to everything.

There are convenient shuttle busses going from the Albuquerque Airport to Santa Fe.  These are operated by the Sandia Express Shuttle (888.775.5696,

One can use Amtrak ( to get to Albuquerque’s marvelous old train station, and you can arrange shuttle service from there to Santa Fe.  Amtrak’s Southwest Chief also stops at Lamy, a town 18 miles south of Santa Fe.  You can arrange for transportation from Lamy on the Lamy Shuttle (505.982.8829) to Santa Fe.  But caveat: It’s a long, long train ride from almost everywhere and the Orient Express does not get to Albuquerque.

Getting to the Opera

There is a most convenient opera pick-up van that I have used for years, as parking near the opera involves a long walk (sometimes, when it is raining, a very long walk) in the full parking lots downhill from the opera house.  It also presents the dilemma of a snailpace slow exit after the opera, as there is only one lane to accommodate three large parking lots of cars.

My advice: Take the Bus! South Western Adventures (505.455.2700) charges $25 a person round trip and will pick you at at your hotel in old Santa Fe and deposit you at the opera box office plaza.

If you are driving from Santa Fe, just get back on the Paseo de Peralta and go to North Guadalupe. Go North on Highway 84/285 (the signs say Taos). Guadalupe merges into 84/285.  You cannot possibly miss the well-marked Opera exit.  From the Paseo it takes about 10 to 20 minutes to get there and to park, and another 15-20 minutes of walking.


As might be anticipated, Santa Fe has many fine lodgings in classic Santa Fe style.

[Below right: the Inn and  Spa at the Loretto, photograph by Tom.]

A superb choice is the famed Inn and Spa at the Loretto, which looks like a great Pueblo and is adjacent to the beautiful stone Loretto Chapel. It has excellent dining and many art galleries, with all of the “action” of old Santa Fe outside the door.  I have dined here countless times and often have stayed here as well. (800.727.5531,

The largest hotel is the very elegant, high-end Eldorado, 309 W San Francisco St (800.955.4455,, which dominates the west end of the old town.

Very comfortable in the tradition of old Santa Fe, with lovely, flowery, fountain-filled courtyards, is the Inn on the Alameda, 303 W Alameda (888.984.2121,, at which many opera friends, who want to splurge a bit, often stay.

[Below: The La Plazuela Restaurant, in the courtyard of the La Fonda Resort; photograph by Tom.]

In old Santa Fe is the legendary, historic La Fonda at 100 E San Francisco, 800.523.5002,, which has a fabulous tower-bar overlooking all of Santa Fe and a wonderful Indian painted, stained-glass enclosed restaurant, La Plazuela, absolutely setting the standard of how a Santa Fe restaurant ought to look.

The Rockefeller Resorts., has the swank, top-of-the-line La Posada de Santa Fe at 330 E Palace Ave; 866.331.7625, but this one is pricey.

Most of the national chains have properities in the surrounding environs, most on Cerrillos Road (in an area that does not remotely look like the image one has of Santa Fe).  A recommendation on Cerrillos Road, where inexpensive rates are usually available is the Lamplighter Inn at 2405 Cerrillos, 800.767.5267, across the street from a large shopping mall, and about ten minutes from the Old Town.  Further out is a classic Holiday Inn at 4048 Cerrillos, 505.4646, having that chain’s usual amenities.


[Below right: Santa Fe style cooking at the Coyote Cafe; photograph by Tom.]

Food is an art form in Santa Fe, which has a wealth of fine dining spots.  Some are famous for inventing now-popular Santa Fe style cuisine, like the nationally famous Coyote Cafe and Rooftop Cantina, 132 W Water St, 505.983.1615.

Also recommended is the Santacafe surrounding an elegant Territorial style 19th century building.  There, many opera singers dine on their off-nights, as do many others you saw at the opera.  It is at 231 Washington Avenue, 505.984.1788,  Their menu is online, and reservations are imperative.

[Below left: one of the wall decorations at the Coyote Cafe.; photograph by Tom.]

In the Eldorado Hotel (noted above) is a highly recommended eatery of high Santa Fe style: The Old House, 309 W San Francisco (505.995.4530,  Another of my favorites is the very affordable Pranzo in the Sanbusco Center at 545 Montezuma. Book early (505.985.2656)

Perhaps the most opulent restaurant is The Compound at 654 Canyon Road, 505.982.4355.  There you will find elegant tables with white tablecloths, gourmet cuisine, and often Santa Fe Opera cast parties!

For wonderful al fresco dining in the very shadows of the Loretto Chapel (described in the Sightseeing section below), resonant church bells ringing, fountains splashing, “Kiva” fireplace, white linens, is Luminaria in the garden along side the chapel overlooking a remarkable sculpture garden, featuring a very USA menu and a terrific bar — we picture this to entice your visit — you’ll be back again and again like many other opera-goers!

[The Luminaria Restaurant behind the Loretto Chapel; photograph by Tom.]

There are many other fine places to eat in Santa Fe, and restaurants change frequently there.  However, the group listed above are my particular favorites for opera nights.  Don’t miss dinner at La Fonda’s La Plazuela, whose atmosphere is unsurpassed. Be sure to book early (505.982.5511).  You will see why!


If you are not dressed in Santa Fe style, you will look out of place, rather like showing up in a a black pin-striped suit on Waikiki Beach! Nearly everyone has on something of Santa Fe, with virtually every lady jingling with silver, turquoise or red coral jewelry.

A great many shops are available to help you look Santa Fe! And there are a seemingly endless array of art galleries.  One of the most elite – that will have original Georgia O’Keeffe, Frederick Remington, Thomas Moran, Thomas Hill, etc. – is the Gerard Peters Gallery (1011 Paseo de Peralta, 505.954.5700,

Outstanding for fine Indian-made silver, jewelry, fabrics belts, etc. is Packard’s on the Plaza (505.983.9241 or 800.648.7358,, across the street from La Fonda).

[Below: Dried peppers and geraniums in front of a shop in Taos reflect the ambience of Northern New Mexico; photograph by Tom.]

The old town is very small, and as you walk up and down the charming, narrow streets, you will be treated to innumerable interesting shops.  Don’t miss the many (most upscale) shops on famed Canyon Road. By all means get the large glossy-paper super-deluxe Santa Fe catalogue (the best in the USA) from  It’s available everywhere in town.

For you dog-fanciers, don’t miss Emilia Poochie, whose dog gladrags are fabulous – at 708 Canyon Road, #3, 800.627.0599, And a truly exceptional collection of architectural items, doors, marble fountains, table, etc. from India and adjacent lands, as well as Southwestern fabrics of all kinds is the campus of Seret & Sons, 224 Galisteo, 505.988.9151,


[Below right: the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi; photograph by Tom.]

Santa Fe is indeed a destination itself and it doesn’t disappoint.  Certainly see the great Cathedral Basilica of St Francis of Assisi (324 Cathedral Place).

[Below: the Cathedral Basilica, photograph by Tom.]

Also recommended is the gorgeous Loretto Chapel at 207 Old Santa Fe Trail (with the excellent Luminaria Restaurant, described above, just in back).

Also plan to see the Museum of Fine Art (107 W Palace Ave; 505.476.5072), as well as the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum of Art at 217 Johnson Street, 505.946.1000,, (the O’Keeffe gets my three stars!).

Museum Hill is the location of three fine Museums –  the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art (750 Camino Lejo, 505.982.2226,, Museum of Indian Arts and Culture (Camino Lejo at Old Santa Fe Trail,, and the Museum of International Folk Art (706 Camino Lejo, 505.476.1200,

Other Music

Performing concurrently with much of the opera season (for your “off” nights) is the celebrated Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival (239 Johnson St; 888.221.9836, and the Santa Fe Desert Chorale (800.905.3315,

Most certainly see the Maria Benitez Teatro Flamenco at the Lodge at Santa Fe (866.435.2636, 505.955.8562).  This is as good as flamenco gets in the USA.  Maria Benitez (, 505.982.2645) performs around the nation, including performing in operas.  For Santa Fe Opera she appeared recently in its explosive production of Bizet’s Carmen.

Side Trips

[Below left: the Chimayo Sanctuary; photograph by Tom.]

A very easy and extraordinarily beautiful drive is to Chimayo, just north of the opera, where you will want to experience the quite special Santuario Chimayo, where, it is said, the earth has curative powers.  Pope John Paul II came to find out, as have thousands of pilgrims, in this site often called the Lourdes of the Southwest.  You will see some of the discarded crutches and canes of persons who experienced recoveries – an emotional site.

Nearby, and not to be missed is the Rancho Chimayo Restaurante, 351 NM County Road 98, in a large old family home serving authentic Northern New Mexico cuisine (505.351.4444). [Note: this restaurant is temporarily closed, due to reconstruction after a destructive kitchen fire. It is expected to reopen in mid-September, 2009.]

The drive up to Taos is utterly spectacular through the Gorge of the Rio Grande and takes about an hour and a half. Go up US Highway 84, past the opera.  In the forgettable town of Espanola, take US Highway 68 to Taos.

[Below: the Gorge of the Rio Grande; photograph by Tom.]

Topping the dining scene (especially lunch) in Taos is Doc Martin’s at the venerable, old and adorable Taos Innon the main road through town (there’s no other way to go!) at Bent St, parking in the rear. It is filled with curiosities and historical pieces, including an antique Spanish madonna.

[Below: the Madonna in Doc Martin’s Restaurant; edited image, based on a photograph by Tom.]

It is New Mexico style at its best — and authentic — with a superb menu including smashing Southwest dishes, fine wine list including extraordinary New Mexico wines (hint: Gruet chardonnay which gets *** from me), full bar and reeking with charm.

[Below: Doc Martin’s Restaurant in the Taos Inn; photograph by Tom.]

I and many others lament the loss of the popular and delightful Apple Tree Restaurant in Taos where I often saw the great southwest painter R C Gorman plus many from the opera crowd who clearly knew where to go.

East of Santa Fe and only about 45 minutes driving distance are the Pecos Mission ruins – surely one of the most dramatic ruins sites in America, sitting on a high slope overlooking the Valley of the Pecos River and surrounded by drop-dead beautiful desert scenery.  It is worth the effort to visit Pecos National Historic Park, which has a good museum.

[Below: the ruins of the Pecos Mission; photograph by Tom.]

For an easy, but hugely rewarding short drive from Santa Fe, go up to Santa Fe Peak (12,000+) in the lush Santa Fe National Forest, which is but 14 miles from the Plaza in Old Santa Fe.

You just head north on Washington Street, crossing the Paseo de Peralta with the vast, pink Scottish Rite Temple on the northwest corner, and turn right on Artist Road (the sign says to  Hyde Park and also Highway 475).

Voila! You are on your way through the very striking scenery, soon arriving in the great forests of aspen trees which turn Day-Glo yellow in the Fall.  Next come lofty pines, flowering meadows, running streams and spectacular distant scenery.

[Below left: a vista in the Santa Fe National Forest; photograph by Tom.]

When you arrive at the Santa Fe Super Chief Ski Lift, park and walk about.  The chairlift runs on weekends throughout the summer and affords a fantastic experience, riding up to the summit where it is possible to see 150 miles into Arizona, Colorado and most of New Mexico. Indeed, you are so high and it is so clear that the curvature of Mother Earth can be observed.  It can be jolting to realize we have such a small planet!

If you are visiting Taos, there is an equally easy drive up into the Taos Ski Area, which also is spectacularly beautiful.

FYI.  We recommend and praise some of the hotels, restaurants and stores in the Santa Fe area.  Rest assured, we neither receive nor accept “consideration” or other gratuities for any of these mentions.  (Would we have credibility if we did?)  Your Tipster has dined at all of these restaurants many times, knows all of these hotels and stores, and makes these recommendations from years of satisfied personal experience.  You may notice some places that would like you to visit them are missing; not everything is praised.