Española is about 20 miles (30 km) north of Santa Fe on US Highway 285. Following any of the routes into town, you'll pass through, or by, one of the Indian pueblos that are the main attraction of the area (see under Get out). There is no commercial air or rail service.
Drive -- carefully and suspiciously. Northern New Mexico has an unfortunate and well-deserved reputation for problems with drunk drivers. The problem is at its most severe on Friday and Saturday nights, but potentially fatal DUI encounters can occur at any time of any day. As a consequence, this isn't a good place to bike or walk along roadways.
There is a free bus service. The North Central Regional Transit District "Blue Buses" provides free bus service Monday through Friday with routes that connect the counties and communities of Rio Arriba (Espanola), Santa Fe, Taos and Los Alamos.
Most of the interest in Española resides in what's around it, rather than in the town itself. However, the area can be photogenic under good lighting conditions; Ansel Adams' famous "Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941," considered by some the finest photographic black-and-white print ever made, was taken just north of Española. Bring your camera and see what you see.
Pueblo art (pottery and jewelry) is available in a few places in town, but better at the pueblos themselves. Several significant potters at Santa Clara Pueblo have galleries easily reached from New Mexico route 30, south of town on the way to Los Alamos. San Juan Pueblo, on the north side of Española, also produces pottery that can be bought at a small shop there.
Angelina's, 1226 N. Railroad St. (just off NM 584 west of the Rio Grande bridge), +1 505 753-8543. 7 days, 7AM-9PM (9:30 on Friday and Saturday). A long-time local favorite that recently moved to a new location. New Mexican and American; service can be spotty, but nobody complains about the green chile. Good for breakfast.
El Paragua is the best place in town for "New Mexican" cuisine (stuffed sopaipillas with red or green chile, etc.). 602 Santa Cruz Road, near one of several starting points for the "High Road to Taos;" 505-753-3211. Lunch and dinner.
La Cocina - New Mexican & American
Dandy Burger, 424 South Riverside Drive, ☎ 505-753-4234. open early close late. Great burgers fries and other fried food. Cheap and fast. $5-$10. edit
Three Native American pueblos border the town: Santa Clara Pueblo and San Ildefonso Pueblo on the south, Ohkay Owingeh (formerly San Juan Pueblo, and still so listed on many maps) on the north. Several other pueblos (Nambe, Pojoaque at the town of the same name, Tesuque) are nearby. All are good sources of American Indian arts and crafts; Santa Clara and San Ildefonso are particularly noted for fine black and red pottery. Santa Clara also contains the Puye Cliff Dwellings, an interesting archaeological site (fee -- seems to be closed at the moment owing to residual forest-fire damage). Several of the pueblos host casinos.
Taos, Santa Fe and Los Alamos with Bandelier National Monument nearby are all short drives from Española. The primary route to Taos follows the Rio Grande and passes a number of picturesque little villages, many with seasonal fruit stands. (Don't bother with the peaches at these; in the main, they're not local products but are trucked in. Much of the other produce, however, is of local origin, including apples and chile.) This stretch of the Rio is excellent white water, but there are more outfitters/tour operators in Taos and Santa Fe than in Española.
Española is the gateway to much of the red-rock country of north central New Mexico made famous by artist Georgia O'Keeffe. The small town of Abiquiu is northwest on US Highway 84, with a pleasant motel and attached restaurant (Abiquiu Inn, Cafe Abiquiu) and Abiquiu Lake, a man-made lake on the Rio Chama that can offer some boating and fishing, depending on the level of the lake (it's often drawn down in fall and winter to prepare for spring runoff). Ghost Ranch, O'Keeffe's famous estate, lies beyond, with a small visitor center. There are a number of hiking and photography opportunities in this area.
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