My husband, 8 year old son, and I took our first ever domestic trip as a family to Santa Fe, NM for Spring Break this year. While I wasn't sure how much my beach-loving self would feel in the thin mountain air (Santa Fe is the US's third highest elevation capital city), as I started to research family-friendly activities, I got really excited about the possibilities. Everything we did exceeded my expectations; needless to say, we were all fully enchanted by the Land of Enchantment.
Here is my list of must-dos for a family vacation in Santa Fe:
Day and half-day trips from Santa Fe
Bandelier National Monument
We followed the advice I’m going to reiterate: arrive early! Not only did it guarantee us a parking space, we hit the trail early and got to climb ladders and explore the cave dwellings without crowds or waits. The rangers were helpful and since it was my kiddo’s first visit to a National Monument, he got a passport and his first stamps. Pleasantly surprising, the cafe at the ranger station was a great stop for lunch—don’t miss it. LEARN MORE
One mile north of Taos is Taos Pueblo, a living Native American community. The multi-storied adobe buildings of the Pueblo have been continuously inhabited for over 1000 years. Tours are run regularly throughout the day by donation and the village has beautiful shops located inside the buildings, a fantastic coffee shop, and a restaurant with Frito pies and fresh fry bread. Not too far is the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, which is worth a side-trip. On your way to Taos or on the way back, stop by the Classical Gas Museum, a fun roadside stop that you can explore even if the main building is closed. LEARN MORE
Cerillos and Madrid
About half an hour south of Santa Fe, Cerillos and Madrid are neighboring towns on the Turquoise Trail. In Cerillos there’s a very cool, dusty shop selling rocks and arrowheads and teeth and walking through the door feels like stepping back in time. Down the dirt road is Blackbird Saloon, which is a Wild West throwback with modern, rustic food, and a bartender who will slide a lemonade down the bar if you ask. A few minutes away is Madrid, a walkable downtown area with shops, a biker bar and restaurant where you can have a root beer on the patio next to an ancient freight train engine, and Connie’s Photo Park, a kitschy fun spot where you and the littles can pose with your heads in hand painted cutouts.
Ski Santa Fe
If you happen to travel to Santa Fe during ski season, Ski Santa Fe is close to town and has classes and rentals for kiddos. My son took his first snowboarding lesson while his dad hit the slopes (and Mom took a separate, more low-key day trip to the soaking pools at Ojo Santa Fe—a must-do if you can get away for a bit; kiddos under 13 aren’t allowed, unfortunately).
There’s hiking and vistas for days on Georgia O’Keeffe’s historical Ghost Ranch, which also served as inspiration for many of her well known works. We did the 90 minute horseback riding tour that was kid- and beginner-friendly. While we didn’t see much wildlife, the group before us saw wild elk, a coyote, and a few snakes, but even if “all” you see is nature, it’s worth the drive out.
El Santuario de Chimayó is known for its side chapel where the dirt floor is reputed to have healing powers. You’ll want to visit el pocito, the small pit of holy dirt many people claim possesses remarkable curative powers. Chimayó is famous for the weavings of the Ortega and Trujillo families; you can visit shops and learn how the weaving is still done today. And make sure to look for Chimayo chili powder—it’s only grown from original heirloom seeds passed down from generation to generation, so outsiders can't quite hybridize and grow their own version of it. And because of the small harvest batches, it tends to sell out quickly. LEARN MORE
In Santa Fe
Santa Fe Culture:
- Georgia O’Keeffe Museum: Believe it or not, this is the only stand-alone museum in the US devoted solely to a woman. That alone is reason to go and support, but it’s also a wonderful collection of her lifetime of work. We went in the morning before our trip to Ghost Ranch, which made it a full circle O’Keeffe day. Ask for their kid’s guide to keep your little one engaged.
- Museum of International Folk Art: This was the only other museum we got to visit in Santa Fe and it is now one of my favorite museums of all time. If you love miniatures and could obsess over dollhouses, dioramas, and other beautiful and intricately designed scenes, you’ll want to spend a few hours. And of course they have scavenger hunts for kiddos, complete with prizes.
- Meow Wolf: One of Santa Fe’s modern must-sees, Meow Wolf is a dream for kids and grownups alike. There’s a mystery you can work on following clues to solve, but it involved a bit too much focus for our team, so we just enjoyed exploring all the hidden passageways, rooms, interactive displays, and artwork. A family could easily spend 1-3 hours here, more if you break for lunch at the cafe.
Santa Fe Kid-Friendly Shopping:
- Bee Hive Books: a sweet bookstore designed specifically for kids with rooms of books and reading nooks
- Meteorite, Mineral, and Fossil Gallery: a combination store and museum, there are rocks, stones, minerals, and fossils guaranteed to wow
- Doodlet’s Gift Shop: a super sweet gift and toy shop packed to the brim with little delights… out of which my son chose a whoopie cushion
- Native American Market at the Palace of the Governors: Native artists have been selling handmade jewelry, accessories, and home goods for generations, including hand-beaded earrings and copper guitar picks
Santa Fe Kid-Friendly Food and Drink:
- Bumble Bee’s Baja Grill: The self-proclaimed “slowest drive-through in the world” has lots of options for everyone (including vegans and vegetarians), good food, and a fun, casual atmosphere for dining in or picking up to go
- Kakawa Chocolate House: Cases of homemade chocolates, ice cream and sorbet, and elixirs (just don’t call them hot chocolate!)
- Crash Murder Business: A coffee shop with standard coffee drinks, burritos to go, and creative concoctions all names after groups of animals, including a kid-friendly steamed milk drink topped with a rainbow of edible glitter
- El Rey Court/La Reina: El Rey hotel is a renovated throwback motor lodge with a chic, elevated, hipster vibe. During warmer months, they have a pool that you can visit for the day. Le Reina, the bar, has snacks and living room/lobby and outdoor seating, but check the schedule for when they have their pizza pop-up out back.
(Mostly) for the grownups:
- Santa Fe Salt Cave: I love a sound bath and I was thrilled to discover that my stay coincided with Santa Fe’s monthly WalkingStar Sound Healing event. It was an incredible experience.
- Ojo Santa Fe: I took a car to Ojo and bought a day pass to enjoy their many pools and tubs. It was a gorgeous, relaxing day.
- Good Folk: a small shop with an impeccably curated collection of locally-made folk art (we brought home a two-headed snake after inquiring about the one hanging in our rental)
- Wahoo! Vintage: A small shop with a great mix of vintage boots, belts, coats, cowboy scarves, and snap-front rodeo shirts
- Shiprock Santa Fe: Shiprock Santa Fe gallery, located on the historic Santa Fe Plaza, is rooted in the rich artistry, cultures and traditions of the Navajo and other Native American tribes of the Southwest. Their curated collection of historic and contemporary Navajo rugs and blankets, Native American jewelry, Pueblo pottery, sculpture, basketry, folk art and fine art by leading Native American artists.
- Keshi the Zuni Connection: Keshi (kay-SHE) is the traditional greeting of the Zuni Pueblo people who live in western New Mexico. Keshi maintains personal relationships with individual carvers, jewelers, and potters and buys directly from the Zuni people, which is reflected in their reasonable pricing and authenticity (any employee will happily tell you the full story of the art and artist of every single piece in the shop).