Santa Fe is a whole lot more than railroad cars and turquoise — although we’ve certainly got those, too. It’s actually the second-oldest city in the country (and the oldest state capital), having been inhabited in some capacity since all the way back in 1607. That lengthy legacy makes sense to those of us who call it home today. Pay a visit to the so-called “City Different,” and you’ll quickly understand why New Mexico is known as the Land of Enchantment. Whether you’re after eats, arts, history or adventure, Santa Fe’s got you — and your family — covered. Here are the best spots in Santa Fe for travelers with kids.
Where to stay
Yes, you’ll definitely want to hit the famous Santa Fe Plaza while you’re in town, touristy or no. But to get a more authentic taste of local life, the Railyard’s where it’s at. With a bevy of boutiques and breweries and a 50-years-running Farmer’s Market, this neighborhood is pretty central to the Santa Fe scene — and the scenic Sage Inn is immediately adjacent.
Along with its stellar location, this hotel offers pet-friendly accommodations, a heated outdoor swimming pool, and on-site dinner and drinks, though you’ve certainly got lots of delectable and walkable off-site options as well. And speaking of walking, you’re still only about 15 minutes from the Plaza on foot thanks to Santa Fe’s compact size. Of course, you can always take the complimentary hotel shuttle, adorably known as the “Sage Coach,” if you or the kids don’t feel up to a stroll.
What to eat
You can’t leave New Mexico without eating some Mexican food, and for a kid-friendly, no-frills local staple, it’s hard to beat Tomasita’s — vespecially since it’s just a few minutes’ walk from the Railyard Park and playground. With locally-sourced, GMO-free ingredients, you won’t feel guilty about feeding your family corn chips and salsa… or following that appetizer up with the scaled-down Mexican classics, like enchiladas and chalupas, available on the kids menu. (Don’t worry; you’ll also find burgers and chicken strips for young spice skeptics).
Looking for a different kind of spice? It’s worth driving out of downtown to pay a visit to Jambo’s, an African-Caribbean fusion joint that’s been glowingly reviewed on The Food Network. Even if your kids are adventurous, menu items like goat stew and might raise an eyebrow — but I defy you to find an eater picky enough to turn down cinnamon-dusted plantains.
Spend more than three minutes in Santa Fe, and you’ll hear someone say the words “Meow Wolf.”
No, you’re not having auditory hallucinations — and it’s not just a local eccentricity, though we do have lots of those. Meow Wolf is actually a place, and a hoppin’ one, at that. Think the name is strange? That’s just the start at this sprawling, immersive art installation, which transports you and your family from suburban Santa Fe into an interdimensional adventure.
Honestly, it’s pretty hard to describe the Meow Wolf experience, but suffice to say it’s an absolute can’t-miss here in town. The exhibit’s imagination-intensive fun is perfect for kids and adults alike. Don’t Google it too much; just go. Tickets are $25 for adults and $19 for children 14 and under. (Totally worth it.)
Reconnect with nature
To be sure, there are enough urban adventures in New Mexico’s capital to keep the whole family busy for days. But one of the best parts of the southwest desert is, well, the desert — and the unmissable mountains that ring Santa Fe, offering unparalleled views and surprisingly easy hiking access.
A drive up to the Santa Fe ski area only takes half an hour from downtown, and there are hiking trails to suit every age and fitness level. We recommend starting with Aspen Vista, especially if you happen to be traveling in fall. And if parents can steal away for an afternoon (or if your kids are old enough to handle a short hike — and, you know, possible exposure to nude adults), you might consider the slightly longer drive to the Jemez Mountains, home to some of the most pristine natural hot springs in the world.
Looking to experience the sublime without getting your feet dirty? A trip to Ten Thousand Waves is well worth the money, whether you’re there for a massage, a soak, a snack, or all three — and you’ll get the hot springs experience without coming anywhere close to “roughing it.” This Japanese spa is uniquely inclusive, allowing well-behaved children in its public tubs. The only caveats: Your kid has to be out of diapers, and certain baths will be reserved for adult use only during peak hours.
Explore the arts
Northern New Mexico is well-known for its artistic history — a legacy that goes well beyond its most famous resident painter, Georgia O’Keeffe. Today, such writers as George R.R. Martin and Cormac McCarthy call the area home, and ceramicists, jewelers, and other visual artists continue to create beauty in the high desert.
Although a simple walk down Canyon Road is sure to scratch your art itch and then some, it’s worth the small cover fee to have a look at the famous collections at the New Mexico Museum of Art or the Museum of International Folk Art. Anticipating (and hoping to engage) young visitors, most of the art establishments in town offer activities and tours geared specifically toward children — the Free Family Art Activity series at the O’Keeffe is especially popular.