Discover the must-see attractions in Santa Fe that are sure to saturate your vacation with excitement, originality + cultural exploration.
New Mexico has been coined “The Land of Enchantment” for good reason. A sky that often resembles a watercolor masterpiece at sunset, awe-inspiring displays of Native American history, and food that you’ll happily gain a few pounds to enjoy abound in this diverse terrain. Adding to the appeal is Santa Fe, the capital that was founded in 1610 and offers a vibrant arts scene, world-class cuisine, a tapestry of stunning hiking trails, and Spanish colonial architecture that makes you feel as though you’ve stepped into a new world.
Santa Fe is especially dear to us as this is where Bailey spent the first eight years of her life. So while Santa Fe isn’t typically thought of as a family destination, Bailey’s childhood is proof that Santa Fe is like a geographical unicorn, in that it pleases art loving adults, kids that just want to have fun, and families with an affinity for time in the outdoors.
Here's where you need to go to craft a Santa Fe vacation that will please all members of the family.
Travel Tip: Because Santa Fe is about 7,200 feet above sea level, your family might experience symptoms of altitude sickness. Drinking lots of water and planning plenty of time for rest (as the high altitude can cause fatigue) will help your bodies manage this shift.
Santa Fe Plaza
For the most iconic Santa Fe experience, start with a meal at The Famous Plaza Cafe then meander around the Plaza where you’ll find treasures sold by Native American vendors, galleries featuring everything from fine art to high end sculptures, and shops offering Kachina dolls, pottery and other popular New Mexican memorabilia. If you wander down any street leading off the Plaza you’ll find a multitude of museums, landmarks and kid-approved books and other souvenirs.
Tip: There’s a parking garage on the corner of San Francisco and Sandoval that usually has spots, is a fair price, and is only two blocks from the Plaza.
Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return
Enter a psychedelic trip gone right at this 22,000 square foot immersive multimedia art dreamland, as you try to solve a cryptic mystery. Meow Wolf is housed in a past bowling alley owned by Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin; but luckily, this fantasy world - the brainchild of 150 artists - is free of GOT gore, instead possessing captivating layers of "creative chaos" and a sprinkle of creepiness (and it's all interactive.) Because of this, Meow Wolf has achieved the difficult feat of being adored by both children and adults.
If you're looking to test your mystery-solving abilities, plan to hang out at Meow Wolf for awhile, as there are clues sprinkled throughout the space offering insight into the sci-fi-esque disappearance of a fictitious family. Or you can just wander through the seemingly endless maze of surreal spaces, creating your own narrative as you go.
Tip: Don’t be dissuaded by the line, it’s almost always there. But to minimize your wait time, buy your tickets online and arrive around 8:30am, before it opens. And they’re closed Tuesdays.
Another Tip: This is an easy place to lose your group. To minimize discord, assign one adult to each kid and set a meeting place and time so you’re not worried about getting separated.
As you walk through the sandy bottom of Diablo Canyon it’s not uncommon to see multiple climbers gripping the crags, holes and cracks of the soaring rock face jutting into the sky. This otherworldly area is not just a haven for climbers, but a dream for photographers, as the light is always shifting, creating ever changing patterns on the intricate tapestry of rocks.
There's also an assortment of no-belay-needed rocks to climb, helping to shift your perspective, or offer children a fun way to safely participate in the climbing. If you’re primarily there for the visuals, we recommend turning around when the canyon ends - but if you crave a workout you can hike the river bottom until you reach the Rio Grande, which is about three miles (6-ish miles round trip.)
Santa Fe Children’s Museum
The site of Bailey’s fondest memories from childhood, Santa Fe Children’s Museum is a kid-friendly utopia with its bright ambiance and captivating interactive exhibits, making it an ideal place to spend a chill day relaxing and playing. The open layout of this museum is perfect for families, as it’s easy to keep an eye on kids popping from one exhibit to another, giving parents the luxury of posting up in one spot while kids experience the joy of pseudo-independence.
However, adults won’t be sitting for long as exhibits like the massive bubble table, magnet station and other intriguing areas are hard to resist. Other popular sites include a puppet stage, epic lego station, and outdoor area with instrument installations. Plan to spend at least a few hours here, as it’s hard to pull kids away.
Ski Santa Fe
Another nostalgic destination for Bailey, as this is where she spent nearly every weekend of her childhood (during ski season), either nestled in a corner of the lodge or being bribed with Rolos to ski down intermediate runs. Only 30-minutes from downtown Santa Fe, this ski area is easy to access and offers gorgeous views of Aspen-covered vistas as you wind up the Sangre de Christo Mountains. A family-friendly mountain, Ski Santa Fe is easy to navigate with seven lifts and 83 trails that are kind to all levels of skiers and boarders, as 20% are beginner, 40% are intermediate and 40% are advanced.
And here’s the best part, the lift tickets are around $80 for adults during the regular season, which is super appealing compared to the majority of other ski resorts which easily charge double. If you’re visiting in the Fall, Santa Fe Ski is still worth a visit as the changing Aspen leaves create a vibrant mosaic of yellow, orange and red. During many weekends in the Fall you can score the ultimate scenic experience by riding the chairlift to the top of the mountain and reveling in a sea of colors.
Tip: Be sure to check out the summit, which sits at 12,075 feet and offers remarkable views of the surrounding mountains.
Ten Thousand Waves
On your way down the mountain from Ski Santa Fe, be sure to stop at this tranquil Japanese spa where you can enjoy a soak in a private outdoor hot tub that’s coupled with a personal cold plunge and sauna. To save money, Ten Thousand Waves offers a communal area with a massive hot tub, cold plunge and sauna. Utilizing this area on a cloudless night is awe-inspiring, as you can soak under a canopy of stars.
Adding to the appeal (for families) is the fact that the tubs are child-friendly (with the exception of children in diapers), and those under 4 feet tall get in for free. If you want to maximize the pampering, spa services such as massages, facials, wraps and more are offered.
Santa Fe Farmer’s Market
This is an ideal place to not only procure fresh produce, but to find one-of-a-kind Santa Fe novelties being offered by local artisans who you can chat up to learn the history of their product. This is easily one of the most eclectic and entertaining farmer’s markets we’ve ever been to, as there are so many unusual products to discover.
Enhancing the ambiance is live music, fascinating people watching and endless samples - so come hungry! There's a Saturday market held year round, and a Tuesday and Wednesday market hosted during summer months. As these markets (especially on Saturday) are usually crowded, keep the kids close by. And bring cash because some vendors don’t accept credit cards.
Tip: If you’re a fan of spicy, don’t miss out on the roasted hatch chilies.
Museum of International Folk Art
Home to the world’s largest collection of international folk art, this museum is like a playground for those intrigued by the creations of the wildest, and most innovative minds of more than 100 countries. The bright, eclectic nature of many of the exhibits allows it to be one of those rare museums that engages the interest of all ages, a feat amplified by in-gallery art-making activities and the Tree of Life Children’s Play Area, which includes discovery boxes, miniature tree houses, puppets, a make-a-tree activity, and books.
To gain insight into the exhibits, utilize a free iPod Touch that provides a multimedia tour of certain exhibits, or hop on one of the complimentary docent-led tours.
Bandelier National Monument
For a full immersion into Pueblo culture, check out Bandelier National Monument. You begin in a small museum offering insight into the area you’re about to explore, which was home to the Ancestral Pueblo people. Next, purchase a $2 guide that provides information about the various landmarks you’ll see as you walk along a creek leading to circular Pueblo ruins and a large kiva. The trail then cuts up towards the canyon wall where you’ll have the chance to crawl up ladders, enter cave dwellings, and get a glimpse into pueblo life. This is a great place to explore with kids, as the main loop is only 1.2 miles.
Shidoni Gallery, and Sculpture Gardens
Reach the perfect place for a picnic on a warm Spring day, by following a winding road that borders the Santa Fe National Forest and leads to the pueblo village of Tesuque, just north of Santa Fe. Once there, you can spread your blanket on the expanse of grass at Shidoni, or snag one of the picnic tables scattered throughout the sculpture garden, which is a tranquil park-like environment with a small creek and massive bronze, steel, copper, and iron creations that are so compelling kids will even stop to stare.
The gallery and gardens combined feature one of the largest collections of contemporary sculptures in the Southwest. This destination is a must if you want to experience the majesty of Mother Nature coupled with visionary metalworks that emanate creativity.
Note: They're closed Sunday and Monday.