Tailgating the Santa Fe Opera Like a Local

Experience the Santa Fe Opera the local’s way! Every summer, opera aficionados and opera newbies alike flock to the City Different to experience the moonlit magic of the open-air Santa Fe Opera and its impressive collection of performances. Today, we will share a few tips on how to enjoy it like a Santa Fe local by joining in on Opera tailgating! 

Timing Your Arrival

Timing is everything once you arrive at the Santa Fe Opera parking lot! Arriving early is about more than just securing a spot; it's your ticket to a stress-free tailgating setup and will allow you to soak in the breathtaking views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains before the show begins. Aim to have your tailgating picnic spread ready at least an hour before the performance to enjoy the experience fully and without any rush. It’s an experience unlike any other - and a local’s favorite! Since the Santa Fe opera season is short, you’ll want to make the most of your time whenever you attend a show!

If you plan to go with a group of friends & family in multiple cars, it is best to meet up in a designated location (like the DeVargas Center) and caravan up the hill so you can park together. The Opera has a parking crew, and you will be assigned a space as you arrive. Cars are parked side by side in the order they arrive.

Local tip: It is ideal to park on the upper lot for the views, closer to the bathrooms, and easy entrance to the Opera House!

The parking lot opens three hours before performances—just enough time to perfect your charcuterie board, light your candles, switch on your fairy lights, and pop open a bottle or two of vino in good company! Spaces fill up quickly and are on a first-come, first-served basis… so plan to be an early bird and enjoy it the locals' way! To be parked in the upper lot, you must arrive by 6:00 pm or at least 2 1/2 hours before the show. This may seem early, but when you get set up and are eating, socializing, and taking in the views, you will be glad you got there early!

Explore the 2024 Santa Fe Opera Season Calendar!

What to pack?

What's on the packing list? Think of this as your chance to blend an outdoor picnic in the park with a sprinkle of luxury dining. A few Santa Fe Opera tailgating essentials are:

A chic tablecloth

Your best (or most travel-friendly) dinnerware

Camp chairs or comfortable seating

Portable table

Candles or fairy lights to add a touch of romantic ambiance

A delicious picnic spread

Warm layers or blankets as the desert cools down in the evenings

Trash & Recycling bags

Food storage containers for whatever you don't finish!

Some days, you might even experience all four seasons in one go! And don't forget an umbrella— Mother Nature loves a surprise, especially during summer! Given its open-air venue setting, this is particularly important to remember when tailgating at the Santa Fe Opera. Santa Fe Party Rentals  has a nice selection of tailgating gear available for rent at reasonable prices.

Start packing up your tailgate at least 30 minutes before show time so you have time to enter the venue; people watch, hit the restrooms, find your seat, and enjoy the last of the sunset as the show begins in Santa Fe’s stunning open-air Opera House!

Dress code: Santa Fe Formal

Since the July weather in Santa Fe can be pretty unpredictable, layers are strongly encouraged. Don’t let the fancy venue and world-renowned performers intimidate you - there are no rules on what to wear - think “Santa Fe” Formal - dresses, hats, coats, shawls, jeans, cowboy boots - you can go as casual or as formal as you like of course, but there is no dress code requirement. 

Come comfortable and prepared for weather changes, and be ready to have a brilliant evening underneath the New Mexico stars! Blankets and cozy gear are always encouraged.

The Food Scene

Santa Fe's culinary scene steps up its game with a generous array of catering options and restaurant specials designed with opera tailgaters in mind. Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Sprouts, and local favorite grocery store Kaunes are reliable picks for all your charcuterie and beverage needs, along with ready-made bites. Still, we also encourage you to explore local favorites that offer opera-specific menus. A few that we recommend are:

Santa Fe Opera Tailgate Picnic Packages

Cowgirl BBQ Santa Fe Catering

Bishop's Lodge Opera Tailgating & Fine Dining Packages

The Deli at Sassella's Charcuterie Platters

Navigating Transportation

If you plan on indulging in a few drinks, hiring a driver for the evening is best to enjoy your Opera experience to the fullest. Uber, taxis, and local ride-sharing options are plentiful and easy to organize. 

If you're looking for a cozy Santa Fe vacation rental or need tips on navigating the city, our passionate team of locals is here to help you make the most of your Santa Fe Opera adventure!

Why Locals Love it

Opera tailgating is one of our favorite summer traditions because it blends all the things we love about our city in a way that's uniquely Santa Fe. Come together with the community to experience the arts, revel in the beautiful outdoors with a mountain view, and enjoy a picnic before the show begins. Cheers to that! 

To order tickets, visit the Santa Fe Opera’s website at santafeopera.org or call the box office at (505) 986-5900.
Our team has frequented the opera tailgating experience many times (we’re huge fans!), and we are happy to help however we can. Just ask - we are so excited to welcome you to Santa Fe!