Ever think of visiting Santa Fe with your kids? Though it may not seem so at first glance, Santa Fe is a wonderfully vibrant place to visit for families with children. With a mild climate all year round and tons of sunshine, Santa Fe is a city steeped in cultural history. It’s a place that speaks to the artisan and the adventurer in all of us.
I spoke to various artisans, locals, and shopkeepers, and found that everyone had a story to tell. A story of how they came to Santa Fe. Perhaps they arrived in the ‘60’s in a VW microbus, or via a cross-country bicycle trip, or just fell in love with it when visiting one of the local ancient cliff dwellings.
Santa Fe can inspire creative aspirations in little ones. It’s for the future artisan and the budding adventurer. Santa Fe is a beautiful blend of pueblo revival architecture, a mix of the Native American and early Spanish influence amidst a vibrant green and brown high desert landscape. It was founded in 1607 and was once the capital of Spain’s and Mexico’s territories north of the Rio Grande. Santa Fe is home to the third largest art market in the United States. It also has the benefit of being an extremely walkable city.
Check out some of the activities in Sante Fe for families.
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Inspire the Artisan
Taking a stroll down Canyon Road is like taking a stroll through an art gallery. There are nearly 240 galleries located in Santa Fe. All manner of sculpture and art with varying styles from Southwest to contemporary modern can be seen from the road. Even if you’ve got toddlers that you don’t want to take into the galleries, there is plenty of colorful outdoor whimsy to keep short attention spans at bay.
What not to miss: Giant horse head sculpture
The Georgia O’Keefe Museum is the only museum in the United States that is dedicated to an internationally-known female artist. The museum showcases O’Keefe’s paintings, drawings, and sculptures. As art museums go, it is accessible and kid friendly. O’Keefe’s art runs the gamut from her trademark large paintings of flowers, to abstractions, and landscapes. The museum regularly houses new exhibitions such as the current, “Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams: The Hawai’i Pictures.” Volunteer docents are on-hand to give in-depth tours, though if you’ve got kids in tow, know that they can potentially run 1.5 hours.
What not to miss: Discovery guides and sketchbooks that your kids can carry around the museum. Check the website for youth and family programs such as “Dramatic Play and Art” and early openings just for families with children.
If you’ve got kids who are budding photographers, photographic opportunities abound in Santa Fe. Popular spots include the Loretto Chapel with it’s miraculous free standing staircase, the nearby San Miguel Mission (1610) which is the oldest church in the U.S., and the various galleries along Canyon Road. The 1800’s era St. Francis Cathedral is hard to miss at the end of Cathedral Place and is filled with beautiful stained glass.
Meet a craftsperson
Walk the downtown Santa Fe plaza, a traditional Spanish-American colonial town center. Surrounded by boutiques, shops, and galleries, you’ll find locals and tourists alike milling about the town’s central green space.
The Native American Vendors Program is the place to stroll through to find one of a kind handmade wares made and sold directly by Native American artists. Located in the portal of the Palace of the Governors (1610), the building is the oldest continuously occupied structure in the United States. It is adjacent to the plaza and the New Mexico History Museum.
Looking for something that is heirloom quality? Check out the John Rippel U.S.A. shop just off the main plaza on Old Santa Fe Trail. The shop sells hand-engraved and hammered sterling belt buckles made by John himself, as well as unique jewelry such as the reversible flip ring crafted by local artisans such as Gloria Sawin.
What not to miss: Stop and take the time to have a conversation with the local artisans. Get a sense of place and learn about their craft.
Stoke your sense of adventure
Got kids with a sense of adventure and a love for the outdoors? Santa Fe has a myriad of outdoor activities for the hiker, skier, mountain biker, fisherman, or white water rafter. Start with a walk along the river, or walk up to the Cross of the Martyrs to get an expansive view of the city. If you want to head further afield, Bandelier National Monument is about an hour outside town and has a number of cliff dwellings that are fun for kids to explore. If you’re looking for some guided adventures for the entire family, check out Santa Fe Walkabouts. They offer hiking, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, and scenic cultural tours.
One highlight of my trip was the off road adventure in the six-wheeled Pinzgauer vehicle along the old Route 66. The Pinzgauer is a unique all-terrain vehicle which is named after an Austrian breed of horse.
The views of the high desert are expansive and stunningly beautiful. You’ll get a chance to marvel at the old unpaved route 66, the remains of the original El Camino Real, and various petroglyphs from the early inhabitants of the area.
The friendly and knowledgeable owners and guides Georges and Sue make the trip engaging and educational. You’ll learn about the different periods of history, including the Native American and Spanish cultures.
What not to miss: Any of the guided adventures at Santa Fe Walkabouts
Play and learn
Kids need play and exploration time. The Santa Fe Children’s Museum is an engaging place and a great stop to do something that is entirely kid-centric. Do your kids like creepy crawlie bugs? The vast insect collection is remarkable. Let them play in the huge outdoor sand pit, build some creations at the LEGO station, play with magnets, splash at the water area, all while having fun learning about science via the interactive exhibits. Located one mile south of the Plaza.
Santa Fe has plenty of family-friendly restaurants, many with outdoor seating. First on your list should be the casual Cowgirl BBQ. Why? It’s got “The Mother of All Green Chile Burgers,” a great selection of craft beer, AND an outdoor playspace for the kids! The menu has a wide variety of items, including some vegetarian options.
For a quick, fun, and not so healthy lunch, check out the Five and Dime at the edge of the plaza. It may look like a general store, but head to the back and it’s got a snack bar that sells frito pies. What’s a frito pie you ask? Hot steaming chili and cheese thrown into a fritos chip bag! Anthony Bourdain ate it, and so did I.
Looking for a romantic dinner or a fantastic breakfast? Check out Luminaria, located at the Inn and Spa at Loretto. The patio and veranda also lend a great outdoors atmosphere on warm nights. I recommend trying the blue corn pancakes with piñon syrup. Luminaria is a Conde’ Nast Traveler’s 2012 World’s Best, Gold List award recipient.
Find more family-friendly restaurants in Santa Fe.
Santa Fe has a wide variety of accommodations. The Inn and Spa at Loretto is a solid choice. Stay near the plaza in this distinctive pueblo revival style hotel modeled after the Taos Pueblo. This posh inn and spa is within walking distance to all of downtown, next to the historic Loretto Chapel, and made it on Travel + Leisure’s 500 World’s Best list. There is a refreshing outdoor pool, and some of the rooms have balconies, which offer views of the city and the sunrise. The spa is top notch, having earned a Reader’s Choice award from Conde Nast Traveler.
What not to miss: The miraculous steps at the adjacent Loretto Chapel. The blue corn pancakes with piñon syrup for breakfast at Luminaria restaurant.
Tip: If you’ve got light sleepers (kids or adults), request a room on the side opposite from the cathedral, as the bells can tend to ring loudly.
Another great alternative which we recently reviewed is the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi.
Check out other Santa Fe hotels on trekaroo’s booking.com site.
Traveling to Santa Fe
Santa Fe is easily accessible via plane, train, or automobile. The Santa Fe Municipal Airport is accessible via flights from Dallas, Denver, and Los Angeles via American Eagle and United Airlines. Another option for the multi-modal traveler would be to fly into Albuquerque and take the one hour drive. Better yet, skip the car and grab a ride on the New Mexico Rail Runner train, which runs 7 days a week between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. See http://nmrailrunner.com for the schedule.
Disclosure: Thanks to JLH Media, the Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau, Loretto Inn, and Sony Electronics for hosting this trip. All opinions are my own.