Understated and Sophisticated, Santa Fe, New Mexico Boasts a Rich Heritage, Great Restaurants, Unique Architecture, an Artsy Vibe and a Hint of Mysticism
Cost of Living: Above the National Average
Founded in 1610, Santa Fe (population 85,000) is a favorite with artists, historians, musicians, writers, opera lovers and the occasional celebrity, as well as retirees. It is the oldest capital city in the United States and the oldest European community west of the Mississippi. A somewhat remote place, the city sits at 7,000 feet above sea level in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains' Sangre de Cristo mountain range in north central New Mexico. This is a high desert, and outside of the city limits, there really is not much but prairie, mountains, scrub brush, cacti and coyotes (and a few historic sites). Inside this unique city, though, a wonderful world of art, music, architecture, cuisine and culture awaits.
Sophisticated, understated and a little rustic, Santa Fe exudes an ambiance not found in many other U.S. towns. Anglo, Mexican and Indian cultures, mixed together with Catholicism and pagan traditions, create a slightly mystical ambiance. Bunches of brilliant red chili peppers are for sale at roadside stands. Brightly painted wooden doors bedeck century-old dwellings. Elegant art galleries beckon from nearly every street. Colorful flower pots adorn window wells. Five-star, open-air restaurants with well-worn floors and tiled porticos serve everything from northern Italian cuisine to eye-watering spicy chili rellenos.
Forty-two percent of residents are age 45 or better, and nearly 45% of residents hold at least a four year college degree. Plitics lean decidedly to the left. The crime rate meets the national average. The city has grown by 50% within the last decade or two, and the cost of living is 20% higher than the national averag.
The median home price is $335,000, and the majority of homes, even new ones, are adobe or adobe style (Spanish Pueblo) with a tile roof, a courtyards and garden walls. All residential construction adheres to building codes that first began in the 1920s and were codified in the 1950s to preserve the city's unique architectural heritage. There are numerous gated enclaves, some established and some new. Las Campanas and Aldea de Santa Fe are both attractive communities and popular with retirees, as is the historic district on the east side of town.
When it comes to taxes, New Mexico is a mixed picture. Social Security is taxed, but up to $8,000 of it may be deducted as part of the state's overall retirement deduction. To qualify, single filers must have an adjusted gross income less than $28,500, and married couples filing jointly must have an adjusted gross imcome of less than $51,000. People age 65 or better with a modified gross income of $24,000 or less may qualify for a low-income comprehensive tax rebate. Seniors may also receive an income tax exemption of up to $3,000 for unreimbursed medical expenses. People who have less than $16,000 annual income may receive a $125 (single) or a $250 (married) property tax rebate. The annual taxes on a $335,000 home are approximately $2,300. The state sales tax is 5.12%. Prescription drugs are exempt.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Artists' love of Santa Fe has transformed it into the world's third largest art market with nearly 300 art galleries and art dealers. Each August the juried Santa Fe Indian Market, held in the Old Town Plaza, attracts 1,200 Native American artists from 100 tribes and is the place to find authentic, high-quality Native American art. More than 100,000 people attend the Market each year. The centuries-old Santa Fe Fiesta, a celebration of the city and its people, is the oldest community event in the country. The sprawling, year-round Santa Fe Farmers' Market started in the 1960s and is still going strong.
The outdoor Santa Fe Opera is world famous, attracting renowned guest artists, and it has a vibrant summer season. The six week long Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival brings in musicians from around the globe. The New Mexico Symphony Orchestra and Chorus presents a full schedule, and there are several theater and dance companies. The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum houses 1,100 of her sculptures and paintings, and the Institute of American Indian Arts has the nation's most comprehensive display of contemporary Indian art.
There are dozens of historic sites in and around town, from ancient Native American ruins to Spanish Colonial churches, including the wonderful Loretto Chapel. Not to be missed is its "miracle staircase." According to legend, in 1872, the Bishop of the Santa Fe Archdiocese commissioned a chapel for the Sisters of Loretto, but the architect in charge died before he could build a staircase to the choir loft. The Sisters prayed for a way to reach the loft and one day a stranger appeared. He locked himself in the chapel for three months and with just a few primitive tools, fashioned a beautiful, 20-foot high spiral staircase with non-native wood, no nails and no center support. He disappeared before the Sisters could thank him, and even today, the staircase is considered impressive (although historians now think the mystery man was a French woodworker who imported the staircase from France).
Old mining towns, cattle ranches and a Civil War battlefields are all within a few miles of town. New Mexico's warm climate allows for year-round outdoor recreation, and national and state parks in the nearby Sangre de Cristos provide an abundance of hiking, camping, bicycling and fishing venues. The Santa Fe Ski Area, 16 miles from downtown, has a 12,000 foot summit and 40 runs. Several local golf courses are open year round.
Santa Fe Trails Transit provides public transportation. The regular adult fare is $1.00, but people age 60 or better ride for 50 cents. Albuquerque International Airport is an hour away and is served by most major airlines. Interstate 25 runs north to Denver, Colorado (six to seven hours away) and south to Albuquerque (one hour away).
Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, the primary medical facility and is accredited by the Joint Commission. It also accepts Medicare patients. Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque, 65 miles away, and Los Alamos Medical Center in Alamos, 35 miles away, are also accredited by the Joint Commission. Santa Fe also has a VA outpatient clinic, but the nearest VA hospital is in Albuquerque.
The city's Division of Senior Services has a good selection of programs and activities, including classes (painting, ceramics, fitness, woodworking, etc.), trips, tax assistance, Meals on Wheels, congregate meals, transportation, Senior Olympics, health screenings and more. It also operates seven senior centers.
The elevation here helps moderate the summer heat, but in July, temperatures can still reach the 90s or higher during the day. January temperatures can dip into the 20, but the average day temperature is 45 degrees. On average, the area receives 13 inches of rain and 25 inches of snow per year. The sun shines 300 days of the year, and on the comfort index, a combination or temperature and humidity, Santa Fe ranks well above the national average.
For all of its low key charm, Santa Fe has some drawbacks. The city is somewhat isolated, although it is not far from a major interstate. The area is dotted with Juniper trees, which can trigger allergic reactions. Some people think Santa Fe is pretentious, and there is some resistance to newcomers. The city also has obvious class lines. A middle class does not really exist, at least not in large numbers. Some people chafe at the restrictive building codes. Tourists come in droves.
Even with these issues, and they are not insignificant, Santa Fe is still a little bit mystical and a little bit magical. For retirees seeking a liberal, laid back Southwestern destination, one bursting with history, art and intriguing architecture, Santa Fe might even be a little bit perfect.
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