A World Class Event

Santa Fe County’s calendar of exciting year-round events draws visitors from around the world. Arrive early for world class opera performances during the summer in a striking, state-of-the-art open air theater. The Santa Fe Opera might seem like an unlikely setting for serious tailgating, but dedicated patrons have been bringing everything from elegantly themed tables to multi-course homemade meals for elaborate pre-opera festivities.

Santa Fe Opera

Tailgating Tips for the Santa Fe Opera

The Santa Fe Opera has long reigned as one of the world’s leading summer opera festivals, held in the stunning open-air Crosby Theatre surrounded by the dramatic foothills of the Rockies. But the pre-opera gatherings in the two-tiered parking lot are equally as famous at the venue’s acclaimed opera performances. Drawing opera aficionados dressed to the nines whose tables are set for royalty, tailgating at the Santa Fe Opera is a longtime and cherished summer tradition.

We’ve compiled some essential Santa Fe Opera tailgating tips to ensure that your tailgate experience is enchanting.

Dress Up, or Down

One of the biggest decisions for a Santa Fe Opera tailgater might be choosing what to wear. Rest assured, the Crosby Theatre has no dress code, and this means almost anything goes. You’ll see women wearing ball gowns and jewels, and others dressed in faded jeans and comfy shirts.  Men may sport tuxedos with waist coats, or jeans and cowboy boots with a Stetson hat to match. Carnival masks, top hats, wigs and other accessories abound. Perhaps the most fun you could have dressing up for this opera is to customize your wardrobe for that night’s performance. For instance, don a sailor’s outfit for Richard Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, about a fated sea captain in search of a bride to break the curse that haunts him. A performance of Bizet’s Carmen would be well-suited by a colorful gypsy outfit. The turquoise sky’s the limit when you’re dressing for the Santa Fe Opera tailgate.

A Moveable Feast

Just about any kind of finger food, from cheese and crackers to chips and dips, works well for a tailgate. But this isn’t just any tailgate, so most opera-goers elevate the fare with elegant multi-course dinners. You’ll see fancy spreads of salads, cold salmon with dill and sliced steaks, as well as colorful pasta dishes and decadent desserts. You can order prepared foods such as these at local restaurants and grocery stores, but making your own tailgate feast can be infinitely more fun. Especially if you create your menus to match the opera of the night. Puccini’s Tosca, which opens the Santa Fe Opera’s 2023 season, calls for a tailgate of Italian fare. Think antipasti platters of fontina and mozzarella cheese, beef carpaccio, olives and roasted vegetables accompanied by crusty bruschetta or pasta fredda, a hearty cold pasta dish tossed with shrimp.

The first performance at the Santa Fe Opera took place on July 3, 1957, with Puccini’s beloved Madama Butterfly, which is set in Japan. It’s been a festival favorite ever since. A tailgate offering of a sushi selection is the perfect fit, along with udon noodles. Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro is an equally popular opera at this festival, having been performed for nearly 20 seasons. Spanish tapas would make an ideal tailgate feast before this opera.

For a French opera such as Puccini’s La bohème, set in 1830s Paris and centered on the Bohemian lifestyle of a poor seamstress and her artist friends, you could put together a Parisian meal of St. Andre, Camembert and other gourmet French cheese, country patés and baguettes, followed by quiche Lorraine with bacon and Gruyère, and scrumptious profiteroles for dessert.

If you don’t have time to put together your tailgate food, the Santa Fe Opera offers ready-made tailgate picnics. Order them by 3 p.m. two days before the performance you plan to attend. (These sampler and dinner boxes are not available on August 13 and 20, 2023.)  Find more info here: santafeopera.org

Park It

The best tip for the Santa Fe Opera’s tailgate is to get there early, by 5 p.m., about three hours before performance time, so you can nab a good spot in a parking lot.  Some picnic tables next to the parking lots are available, but it’s more fun to tailgate directly in front, or back, of your vehicle. Either way, the views of majestic mountains and memorable sunsets are just as thrilling as the opera performances themselves. It’s also fascinating to see the table setups, food, and outfits of other tailgaters. (Note that charcoal fires are not permitted.)

The Setup

From two folding chairs set in front of a cooler that doubles as a table to folding tables lined up for 20 or more guests, tailgate setups at the Santa Fe Opera are a far cry from burgers and dogs served out of the back of a station wagon. Experienced hosts cart in everything from candelabras and chandeliers to elaborate flower arrangements. The table settings feature fine china, real silverware, champagne flutes and party favors on linen tablecloths. But you don’t have to compete with the extravagant décor. Some opera-goers simply set up chairs in the back of their pickup trucks and spend more time people-watching than setting up and cleaning up.

The Wrap-up

Most opera performances last three hours, so consider wrapping up your tailgate feast with coffee or black tea. If you’re interested in attending a free Prelude Talk about the opera you’re there to see, they’re held one hour before the performance starts, in the onsite Stieren Hall, so you’ll have to end your tailgate before then.

Once you’ve experienced the pageantry of a Santa Fe Opera tailgate party, set against a backdrop of beautiful mountain scenery, you’ll likely find yourself planning an encore.



This world-class opera, housed in a spectacular outdoor theater north of Santa Fe, is internationally renowned for cutting-edge production and flawless casting. Enjoy stellar performances beneath a starry New Mexico sky, as the beautiful music and compelling drama are perfectly matched with stunning sunsets.The electronic libretto system is one of only two in the world, and provides audience members with a simultaneous translation of the opera right in their seats. 

For a more intimate opera experience, the Santa Fe Opera offers these exciting opportunities:

Backstage Tour

Discover how an Opera production comes together in a revealing “behind-the-scenes” tour, which explores many of the production and front-of-house areas. 

Meet the Main Players

This weekend of world-class artistry, held both onstage and behind the scenes, introduces you to leading singers, designers and directors over the course of three days in an all-inclusive package.

Family Nights

Family Nights make coming to the Opera a more accessible experience for all, and provide an incredible opportunity for families to purchase tickets that would normally cost $100 or more.

Celebratory Dinner

Celebrate with the creative team at dinner and listen to the stage director share insights on the evening’s opening night performance.

Apprentice Showcase Scenes

The Santa Fe Opera's Apprentice Program for Singers is internationally recognized as one of the finest programs of its type.

For a complete schedule or to reserve a seat, call or visit the website

301 Opera Drive
Santa Fe, NM 87506

Santa Fe Opera