Just a short drive from Santa Fe, the Española Valley and nearby Northern New Mexico destinations offer plenty of incredible places to explore, dine and unwind. Snow starts to melt on the mountains. Hiking trails become more traversable. Low lying purple flowers pop up from the greening grass. In the warm high elevation sunshine, patio restaurants dust off their umbrellas and open for libations and delicious southwestern cuisine. Spring in New Mexico is truly a beautiful time of year.
The city of Española is about a 25 minute drive due north of Santa Fe and has been called the Lowrider Capital of the World. The annual coming out day for Española Lowrider scene is Good Friday and it is absolutely something that should be on your radar. With Easter around the corner, and Holy Week upon us, tens of thousands of pilgrims journey through Española to El Santuario de Chimayo, a historic church. Look out for pedestrians on this sacred journey.
Many enjoyable things to see and do are also just a bit further north, especially if your sense of adventure is calling! Whether you are interested in relaxation, venturing further into the outdoors, or wining and dining at some really stellar spots, here are a few of our recommendations.
Española and Española Valley are places full of beautifully vibrant culture and deep-rooted New Mexico history dating back centuries to Native cultures before colonial times. Though they do not pop up on the tourism radar as often as Santa Fe, the valley and surrounding areas play host to so many incredible natural hiking trails, cliff dwellings, restaurants and treasures that you wouldn’t expect to find, but will absolutely love.
In our opinion, some of the crown jewels of New Mexico are outdoors. With elevations in this area ranging from five thousand feet up to thirteen thousand feet at our highest peak, you are able to experience a mind-boggling change in scenery and plant life.
Some of our favorite places to enjoy the outdoors, explore, and kick back are destinations like Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu Lake. Ghost Ranch was home to Georgia O’Keeffe, one of the most significant artists of the twentieth century, and inspired countless artistic works with its breathtaking views. The way the golden hour sun hits its rock formations that jutt out of the flat mesa is something otherworldly. In addition to checking out the education and retreat center, the land around Ghost Ranch is beautiful for exploring, and has lots of hiking trails.
Abiquiu Lake which is about ten minutes from Ghost Ranch is another local favorite. It’s not often you stumble upon large lakes in the desert, but here the water that meets the red desert rocks makes for a great place to relax. Make sure you stop at Bode’s on the way for sandwiches and again on the way back to get ice cream at Frosty Cow in their parking lot!
The Puye Cliff Dwellings are often referred to as “A place between earth and sky.” Here, you are able to enjoy awe-inspiring pueblo architecture and panoramic views, giving you a taste of history in this truly special place. If the idea of hiking in the mountains is something you want to dive deeper into, we suggest Nambe Falls and other hikes in the Santa Fe National Forest. Camping is even an option for the avid outdoor habitue!
There is something very special about the high desert — the history, the earth, the mountains, all of it culminates into an environment that speaks to one’s soul. If you are looking for some places to just reflect and relax, you are in luck! One of our not-to-be missed relaxation locations are the mineral springs at Ojo Caliente. The natural hot springs and mineral pools have been healing minds and bodies for centuries. The resort also offers full spa treatments, lodging, and an on-site restaurant.
If you are looking to relax but want to try something a little different, Float Los Alamos specializes in sensory deprivation tanks which involve lying in a spacious, dark tank floating atop a supersaturated Epsom salt water solution. Experience the sensation of truly letting go.
If you are looking for some fun that is a little different, here are a few things that might spark your interest. Española has been called the Lowrider Capital of the World and it is part of a history that runs deep within the city’s veins. The annual coming out day for Española Lowrider scene is Good Friday and it is absolutely something that should be on your radar. After that, weekend meet ups are regular. Be on the lookout for these rolling art pieces!
Speaking of Good Friday, during Holy Week there is an annual pilgrimage to the Santuario de Chimayo. Tens of thousands of pilgrims make their way to the historic church. If you are driving in New Mexico during Holy Week you are sure to see them walking.
There is a great bowling alley at Cities of Gold Casino which is always a lot of fun. In Abiquiu, there is another treasure that you won’t want to miss especially if you are a fan of lavender! Purple Adobe Lavender Farm has planted 2500 plants in beautiful rows and has a tea house on site. Did you know that lavender grown at a high altitude produces a finer, sweeter grade of lavender oil?
There is an incredible organization that calls Española home, Moving Arts Española. They are driven by their mission statement of supporting local students, ages 3-18, through high quality, affordable performing and visual arts education — and they have a stellar spring show coming up! With events happening from April 20th – May 12th it is absolutely worth stopping by, seeing the hard work the students put into their performances, and supporting such a treasured community gem.
What Should I Eat?
Now, on to the most delicious part! There are so many incredible places to eat in the area, we wanted to give you a heads up on just a few of them.
For breakfast or a sweet treat, Lovin’ Oven Bakery is the perfect start to your day. Grab a donut or a cinnamon roll and coffee before venturing out for the day. Big Dawgs Chuckwagon Cafe is a place that is open early for a hearty breakfast and also serves up lunch and dinner.
For traditional New Mexican cuisine you will want to check out El Paragua, a staple in Española for almost 50 years. Its remained family owned and operated and has been a Northern New Mexico favorite for locals and travelers alike. JoAnn’s Ranch O Casados has a relaxed atmosphere and has been serving authentic New Mexican cuisine with robust and exotic flavors since the beginning. La Cocina (which is owned by the mayor of Española!) and El Parasol are also local favorites — make sure to try tacos at both and make your choice, red chile or green?
Angelina’s Restaurant is another delicious New Mexican spot, we recommend the stuffed sopapillas! It also has vegetarian friendly options. Tortas Rainbow is definitely a great place worth checking out. If you are looking for a dinner option we really love Gabriel’s, the guacamole made table side is a perfect appetizer. We know just how lucky we are to have so many amazing local spots to eat, you might want to plan a whole trip just for food!
Drinks? What about Drinks?
Another thing we are proud of in New Mexico besides the abundance of delicious food is the beer! The brewing companies here really have their libations on lock and Blue Heron Brewing Company is no exception. The family owned and operated brewing company has a taproom in Española as well as Riconada and boasts a large selection of beers that you will want to sample with their delicious menu.
Though we are head over heels in love with so many different places in Española and Española Valley, we couldn’t add every single one of our favorites — the list would go on forever. These are just a start. We hope you use some of these as a starting place and discover some of your own favorites on your adventures.
A Note on Española Valley Weather, What to Expect
In the spring months the weather in the high desert can change quickly and fluctuate in temperature with lows in the 30s and highs in the 70s. There has always been a saying that you can experience all of the seasons in a matter of hours, so pack accordingly and don’t get stuck outside sunburned and then caught in the rain or snow! Layers are your best friend at seven to ten thousand feet. Even if you feel cool and comfortable, be aware that we are closer to the sun and you can sunburn quickly. Sunscreen is crucial and pick up a wide brimmed hat. Pack a light jacket and hit the road, Northern New Mexico’s majesty awaits!