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The wild west still lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Our family felt it the moment we started walking past adobe structures, lining a brick sidewalk, in the old town square. Cowboys tipped their hats in our direction as we passed by. We basked in their warm welcomes.
My family came to “The City Different,” the name given to Santa Fe because of its mix of Native American, Spanish, and Anglo style structures, in search of new adventures and a great camping experience.
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The Culture of the Wild West
Something about the wild west demands a sense of connection to the rawness of our ancestor’s land. Whether it is the karst canyon ledges, flat open desert terrain, or mental images of wild horses roaming the landscape, you can only appreciate it once you have arrived in Santa Fe, NM.
As the capital of New Mexico, Santa Fe has several cultural institutions dedicated to educating, preserving, and fostering an understanding and appreciation for the various nations, tribes, and pueblos that dot its gentle yet rugged landscape.
In fact, the state of New Mexico, nicknamed the Land of Enchantment, and specifically Santa Fe County, is one of the largest havens for Native Americans in the United States.
Best Time To Visit Santa Fe
To escape the big crowds and tremendous heat waves, the best time to visit Santa Fe is in the late spring and early summer. Wildflowers bloom during this time. The surrounding area is a mecca for all things outdoors, horseback riding, rafting, rock climbing, hiking, and even cross-country skiing. Though fall from September to November brings tons of festivals and events before the cold snap hits so, really, it depends on what you’re looking for.
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Santa Fe Family Activities
Santa Fe is the perfect place for friends and family to cherish some quality time together. There’s so much exploration to do and history to discover. Families can’t miss the following fun things to do.
Santa Fe Children’s Museum
As parents of two rambunctious little boys, we loved the Santa Fe Children’s Museum. This is a great place for kids to be free and enjoy all the fun activities and interactive exhibits. For our two little workers, the Discovery Construction Zone, the Sandbox (complete with a mud kitchen), and the Lookout Tower were absolute favorites.
My family happens to think that haphazardly slinging paint from its original container onto a piece of paper makes us little artistes. Not so much; however, if your family considers themselves to be art lovers, then a pottery experience at Paseo Pottery is a must. The local artists are exceptionally talented and fun individuals who offered us a fun and cultural look into the world of pottery art. Although we each had the opportunity to use the potter’s wheel, shaping the clay into our own expressions of art was more our style. The best part was that we found it to be suitable even for our young kids.
Pecos National Historic Park
One of the other highlights during our southwestern adventure was exploring the Pecos National Historical Park. Bring your kids to see and experience an unforgettable Civil War Reenactment that is always open and free to the public.
Here at Pecos National Park, there are many trails to follow, but for families with younger kids, the Ancestral Sites Trail is an easy loop of just over one mile that leads you past the Pecos Pueblo and adobe-constructed mission church. Along the way, enjoy the great views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range and Glorieta Mesa along the way.
Santa Fe Plaza
Santa Fe, NM is one of the best places our family has visited in a long time and we especially loved the small town charm that pervades this desert space. We enjoyed walking (I mean, running) all around the Santa Fe Plaza (yes, its downtown), which is well known for its lively atmosphere (although I take pleasure in reporting our family turned it up a few notches).
Front and center in Santa Fe’s historic downtown is the plaza’s central park, where Native American artists sell unique creations including everything from liquid light glass, turquoise and silver jewelry, apparel (such as tribal clothing, hats and leather goods), and an array of fantastic souvenirs from your typical keychains to hand-carved Zuni Fetishes.
Connect with your Spirit Animal the Zuni Way in Santa Fe, NM at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Here’s how to do that with kids!
This area is surrounded by New Mexico’s traditional adobe buildings and is next to several fantastic attractions, such as the Palace of the Governors, the New Mexico Museum of Art, and the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.
Museums Even the Kids Will Love
There are some things you just can’t miss if you make it out to Santa Fe. Head on over to the Museum of Indian Arts located on Museum Hill (home to four world-class museums within walking distance of one another). The Museum of International Folk Art is steps away and hosts the world’s largest collection of international folk art. Visit the permanent collections on display at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum for a look into the life of one of America’s most notable artists.
When you’ve had your fill of art galleries, it’s time to have some real fun with a visit to Meow Wolf. Here your kids will love exploring over 70 rooms of interactive art that will explode your imagination beyond recognition.
Before the end of April, six awesome ski locations, all within an hour and a half of Santa Fe, are available for thrill-seekers. For our kids, the mountains at Ski Santa Fe proved to be super friendly with the perfect white powdery terrain to suit all proficiency levels.
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We booked a kid-friendly adventure with Santa Fe Mountain Adventures. The staff here are wonderful and I don’t think we will ever forget our trek to Bandelier National Monument where we had the opportunity to visit ancient Pueblo ruins. This particular adventure is exhilarating for all ages. Even older kids will love trying to distinguish the various petroglyphs painted throughout the homes carved within the canyon walls.
Also, about an hour south of Santa Fe, visit the Wildlife West Nature Park to view desert wildlife. Since its beginning, the park has played an important role in rescuing, rehabilitating, and even providing permanent care to those animals unable to return to the wild.
Where To Eat In Santa Fe
The Santa Fe Farmers Market is open year round and is a great gathering place to meet locals while your family walks around savoring the local delicacies and treats while stocking up on fresh seasonal produce, toiletries, and herbal remedies.
We love eating like the locals, so even though you can find some pretty snazzy upscale dining options in downtown Santa Fe including all kinds of fare from American to Indian, head on over to Los Magueyes Mexican Restaurant or the colorful La Fogata Grill for some delicious meals created by the mexican grandmother you never knew you had.
When You Go
Getting To Santa Fe From LA
If you do not have enough vacation time to make this a road trip, then you can find cheap direct flights from Los Angeles (LAX) to Santa Fe (SAF) with American Airlines.
Where To Stay In Santa Fe
Our family camped eight miles from Santa Fe in Hyde Memorial State Park. Reserve your own very special nomadic stay HERE in a private yurt that sleeps up to six people – complete with access to the park trails, a fire ring, and a nearby restroom.
Twenty minutes north of Santa Fe, Rancho Jacona is a fantastic, budget-friendly place to spend several days with kids while discovering all there is to do in and around the oldest capital city in the United States. The 12 animal-inspired casitas (little homes) make for a tranquil yet communal space in this pleasant 17th-century family-friendly homestead.
If you’re looking for something a bit more upscale but not too fancy, try the Hotel Santa Fe. Owned by Native Americans, guests love the hotel for its spacious rooms. Set in the Railyard District, the hotel offers unique cultural experience with on-site ceremonial dance performances, historical storytelling and an on-site gift shop featuring hand-made crafts.
If mommy wants a spa treatment after all that desert adventuring, try the Inn and Spa at Loretto. Built at the end of the historic Old Santa Fe Trail high in the spectacular Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the Inn and Spa at Loretto is an architectural recreation of the Taos Pueblo, a national historic landmark.
Santa Fe is a great place to spend time together as a family. With its strategic location at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, adventure patiently awaits your family.
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