Meow Wolf's Española Valley & Northern New Mexico Guide

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.

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.

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.

Good Friday in Española shows that lowrider season debuts with a bang each spring. Photo by Kate Russell

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. If you're looking to visit Taos, check out our guide here.

What’s Happening?

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.

red and whtie rocks of New Mexico landscape
Ghost Ranch, home to Georgia O'Keefe, one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century still holds inspiration for all who visit.

Outdoor Fun

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 jut 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 against red and white rock canyons
Abiquiu Lake, also a favorite spot for Georgia O'Keefe, is a welcome oasis for springtime visitors. Walking trails surround the blue waters who beckon a swim when the weather warms.

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!

Springtime opens up the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, its breathtaking views and old time charm. Climb aboard for a trip back in time!
Inside the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, one truly feels carried away into history.

Another really incredible place to check out is Chama, New Mexico, a small town in the nearby Rockies. If you are a fan of trains, you must ride the seasonal Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad.

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.

The Puye Cliff Dwellings, a national historic landmark and home to the ancestors of the Santa Clara pueblo people offers stunning views and a chance to climb inside history.
hot water coming from metal pipes into a hot spring pool
The waters at Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs have been deemed sacred by Northern Pueblo tribal communities. Arsenic, Iron, and Lithia are just some of the mineral springs available. Photo courtesy of Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa.


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.

person walking past a pool with sunlight reflecting on it and the canyon behind
In additional to soaking pools and mud baths, a warm large relaxation pool and stunning desert views will calm your soul. Photo Courtesy of Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa

Something Different

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!

Española is the lowrider capital of the world and Good Friday marks the opening of lowrider season. Get your cars or bring your sense of appreciation to Home Run Pizza to witness the meet ups. Photo by Kate Russell
The lowrider scene in Española showcases works of art that need to be seen up close to be appreciated in full. Photo by Kate Russell

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 regularly, it is absolutely worth stopping by, seeing the hard work the students put into their performances, and supporting such a treasured community gem.

The inside of El Paragua is the definition of cozy. Operating in Española for over 50 years, this family owned favorite serves up New Mexican cuisine with excellence. Photo courtesy of El Paragua.

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.

El Paragua
In any season, El Paragua is a go-to staple in Española. Photo courtesy of El Paragua.

For traditional New Mexican cuisine you will want to check out local favorites La Cocina (which is owned by the mayor of Española!) and El Parasol — make sure to try tacos at both and make your choice, red chile or green?

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.

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!

Blue Heron Brewing Co. is a family owned and operated brewing company has a taproom in Española as well as Riconada and boasts a large selection of beers you will want to unwind with. Photo courtesy of Blue Heron Brewing Co.'s website.

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.

Abiquiu Lake offers stunning views even if the water is still too cool to take the plunge. Remember spring weather shifts quickly, so always pack a sun hat and light jacket!

A Note on Española Valley Weather, What to Expect

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!