January 3, 2018 — Many people are intrigued with the idea of retirement to one of America’s oldest communities – Santa Fe, New Mexico. They are attracted by the beautiful mountains, the dry air, the charming old architecture, and the abundance of art. In this article we will discuss our recent retirement scouting trip to Santa Fe – what we learned about retiring there along with its pluses and minuses. We also hope that our Members who are familiar with the area can give their opinions and advice too.
Spanish explorers came to this mountainous area in northwest New Mexico and were followed by mssionaries in search of souls – the native Americans, the Pueblo people. These native Americans visited the area in search of game for thousands of years, then a few hundred years before Columbus discovered America settled here to farm and live in cliff dwellings and pueblos. Spanish settlers arrived about 1600 and in 1610 Santa Fe became the capital of the territory, the oldest State Capitol in the U.S. They built its charming downtown with a central plaza in the Spanish style. There you can find the Palace of the Governors, St. Francis Cathedral, several very old churches, and an abundance of shops and art galleries.
In the twentieth century the area became very popular with writers, artists, and retirees. They came to Santa Fe for its dry mountain air and beautiful scenery. The City sits at the edge of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which can be seen from most parts of town. There is now a strict architectural code; homes and buildings use traditional techniques and styles, now known as the Spanish Pueblo Revival look. They are usually flat roofed, clad in earth-toned stucco, and very charming. The downtown is centered on a historic open plaza surrounded by upscale stores, gift shops, restaurants, and museums.
Native American artisans spread their wares out on the sidewalk on one side of the square. A block away the St. Francis Cathedral and its lovely park provide more to the town center.
If you are one of those people who hates humidity, Santa Fe is the place of your dreams. The terrain is desert and the air is very dry – average annual rainfall is about 14” and it feels like there is no humidity in the air. Thanks to its very high elevation (7200’) the average January temperature is 30.5 while the average July temp is 70.
Retiring to Santa Fe
AARP has an office in Santa Fe, which gives you the idea that Santa Fe is a popular place to retire. The climate and scenery are big attractions, and so is the very lively cultural scene. It attracts an upscale crowd, some of whom come seasonally seeking cooler summer weather, popular festivals like the Fiestas de Santa Fe, or the possibility of winter sports. There is certainly plenty to do both in and out of doors. It is a popular tourist destination with many popular festivals and holidays that can bring very large crowds. We visited here in the Christmas holiday period and lines at popular restaurants were very long.
Where to Live
Santa Fe has an interesting mix of homes in various neighborhoods. The streets are old and rarely straight, many have dirt/gravel paving. Beautiful low adobe style homes often stand behind natural stockade fences with desert landscaping. Most seem to have private courtyards as extensions of the living areas. In addition to single family homes there are some small scale condo and apartment complexes. We were surprised at the number of active adult and retirement communities in the Topretirements database for Santa Fe – 13. There is at least one life care community with an ideal location in the heart of town. The Zillow Home Value Index is currently $316,500, making real estate more expensive than the national median of $200,000. Small homes in town seem to be available from the $300’s, nicer ones will approach or go over $1 million. Properties in the hills going up to the mountains are often multi-million dollar trophies.
What to do
Art is a very big focus here, starting with the Georgia O’Keefe Museum in the heart of downtown. This distinguished American artist spent the latter part of her life capturing the New Mexican scenery and life in her distinctive style. Museum Hill on the southeastern edge of town offers a complex of interesting museums including: Museum of International Folk Art, Spanish Colonial Art Museum, and the S.F. Botanical Gardens.
Other Museums downtown include those for Contemporary Native America Art, Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, New Mexico Museum of Art, and the NM History Museum. Canyon Road is a half mile stretch of gallery after gallery which attract collectors from all over the world. Every style of art is represented, although the emphasis is on contemporary and southwestern art. The Santa Fe Opera has a majestic site a few miles north of town and a busy season from to June to August.
Hiking is very popular: from St. John’s College you can ascend trails on the mountains for great views stretching to Los Alamos and farther. There are some 80,000 native American archaeological sites in the area including many with National Parks – the cliff dwellings at Bandelier are an easy hike about an hour away. Santa Fe even has its own ski resort at its northern end with some great trails. Taos, the famous ski resort is 2 hours north. The town is filled with restaurants and the food is at a high level. In addition to the many restaurants popular with tourists, locals enjoy unpretentious New Mexican spots like Altrisco Cafe.
Cost of living
Being a very desirable place to live and retire, the corollary is that it is more expensive to live in Santa Fe than in many other areas of New Mexico and elsewhere. Real estate is pricey, but not totally out of reach. At 8.7% the total tax burden in New Mexico is the 37th highest of all the states, property taxes tend to be low too. Prices in restaurants seem reasonable – our bill for 8 people in one popular restaurant was just over $200 with tip.
The New Mexico Rail Runner Express offers commuter rail service to Albuquerque, quite an advantage for a retiree who wants to take advantage of Albuquerque for a day trip. By car the same trip is just over an hour on I 45. Santa Fe Trails operates bus service within Santa Fe. Most parts of town are walkable. There are public parking lots sprinkled around town but Lyft or Uber is often the best way to go if the walk is too far.
Medical resources here are very good. There are two hospitals in town: Christus St. Vincent and Santa Fe Indian Hospital. Albuquerque has many more a short distance away.
Pluses and minuses
– An incredibly beautiful setting in a desert mountain landcape
– Very little to almost no humidity
– A vibrant art scene second to none on a pound per pound basis. If you love art, particularly shopping for it or just browsing, this is the place for you
– Moderate temperatures thanks to its high altitude
– Tremendous outdoor possibilities: hiking, skiing, fishing, and biking (mountain or road).
– It is very crowded in tourist season and when big festivals like the Fiestas de Santa Fe or Native American crafts are in town
– The high altitude is probably not good for people with circulation or heart problems
– We found the dry air too much for our skin – couldn’t wait to get back to humid Florida
– A fairly expensive place to retire
There is definitely a group of people who would love retiring here – either for part of the year or permanently
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