Coming into town for the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta? Here’s something fun to do in between morning ascensions and evening balloon glows: take the Rail Runner to nearby Santa Fe.
Of course you could drive to Santa Fe too, but traffic on I25 between Albuquerque and Santa Fe can but very bad, especially during the fiesta. Why not sit back instead and relax and enjoy the views of the desert and the Native American Pueblos as you travel?
The Rail Runner stop nearest Balloon Fiesta Park is the Los Ranchos/Journal Center stop. Overcrowding can be a problem at peak times, so if it’s equally convenient you might want to consider boarding in Downtown Albuquerque to get the best seat possible.
The Rail Runner is clean, affordable, with comfortable seats, courteous train staff and there’s even wireless internet. The trip takes about 100 minutes, so you may want to bring something to do along the way, but if you bring your camera please don’t take any pictures on the reservation land.
If you catch the Rail Runner downtown, the 9:35am train will be the best. It gets into Santa Fe at 11:15am, perfect for an early lunch. In fact, the train lets off right by one of Santa Fe’s popular restaurants, Tomasita’s. You’ll want to head straight there and beat the lunch rush; it can be very busy. Tomasitas is reasonably priced; if you’re looking for Red or Green chili or both on the same plate (called Christmas), this is the place.
If you prefer to go without chili for lunch, the Flying Star Cafe on the other side of the tracks is a popular NM Eatery as well. Flying Star has an original menu the features modern twists on popular comfort foods.
Whether you have lunch right away or not, at some point you’ll want to catch the free shuttle to the historic plaza. There are plenty of good places to eat there too. You’ll see signs like this that lead you to where you can catch it. The shuttle runs every 15 minutes.
There is plenty to do on the historic plaza. You can browse through art galleries and shops, shop for handmade native American jewelry, grab lunch or a french pastry for a snack, or just hang out in the plaza and people watch. One of my favorite places to see is St Francis Cathedral.
There are several trains to back to Albuquerque in time for evening events. The 4:15pm is the first, but if you miss it there is an express train at 5:04pm. Just make sure you don’t wait too long to catch the shuttle back to the train, no doubt it will be busy. You might want to get in line at 330pm to insure you are on time for the 4:15pm.
Of course, you can take the train any time you’re in town, but I think it’s a perfect half day trip during the Fiesta.