Parents’ Travel Guide: What to Do in Santa Fe With Kids

Home to exceptional art, delicious Southwestern cuisine and incredible outdoor recreation, this high-desert New Mexico town is an exciting place to visit with the whole family.

Sep 26, 2014
Family hiking in the desert in Santa Fe, New Mexico
Breathing in the piñon-scented air and taking in the brilliant blue sky, you feel the sacred energy of the Santa Fe's dynamic history.
Photography courtesy Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts

Santa Fe is a study in contrasts: sophisticated art—the third-largest market in the U.S.—in what feels like a small town. An upscale, worldly elite gathered in a down-home, sparsely populated state. Hot summers and snowy winters (yes, you can ski in Santa Fe—and nearby Taos, too). Haute restaurants to rival NYC next to greasy spoons. The high, dry desert under a vast ocean-like sky. The authentic feel of the earthen-hued, low-slung adobes, an intentionally planned community designed by clever architects decades ago.

It’s a place where folks dine outside on the flagstone patio most of the year. You and the kids won’t help but to be lured outside for myriad adventures in the piñon-dotted hills smelling of sage and cedar.

Why go

  • Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe. Nestled in the serene hills overlooking the Sangre de Cristos and Jemez mountains, though only 10 minutes from the downtown plaza, the Resort is ideal for families with tweens and teens. A former dude ranch to the stars, the property feels tranquil and intimate with just 65 casitas set on 57 acres (23 hectares).
  • The fascinating blend of Anglo, Native American and Hispanic cultures. At 400-plus years old, Santa Fe is one of the United States’ oldest cities.
  • Se habla Español. Practice your Spanish here, if you like. The natives up north speak an intriguing dialect that harkens back to Spain and the Don Quixote era.
  • Sunny skies 360 days a year.
  • The light. Photographers and painters go on about it, and it really is extraordinary.
  • A true original. Santa Fe is an interesting, special place, quite unlike the rest of the U.S. Many have heard of it, though not so many have visited. It is not crowded, nor over-touristed; it feels authentic and original.

What the kids will love

  • The Resort’s new Adventure Center. This will be your year-round base camp for planning guided outdoor trips around Santa Fe and northern New Mexico with the help of Adventure Partners.
  • Snowshoeing, skiing and snow boarding in the winter.:Santa Fe is high, at 7,200 feet (2,195 metres) above sea level, which means you can ski well into March.
  • Getting outdoors in the spring, summer and fall. Go hiking, mountain biking, fly fishing, river rafting on the Rio Grande or horseback riding, or lounge on the Resort’s desert-scape pool deck and Jacuzzi perched up on a hillside. The Experience Assistant also leads complimentary morning hikes through the 57-acre property, with views that span 360 degrees.

What you will love

  • Arts and culture. Four Seasons can connect you with a guide to tour the colourful galleries along Canyon Road and around town: see paintings, sculptures, religious, Hispanic and Native American art, multi-media, bronze—you name it. Or just explore on your own. Gallerists are often unexpectedly welcoming to kids, even offering spontaneous art lessons.
  • The festivals. August’s Santa Fe Indian Market is world famous, and September’s Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta is a foodie favourite. And there’s the open-air Santa Fe Opera that offers special kids’ programming in summer. The Resort’s Experience Assistant is on hand daily to help plan your cultural walking tour, day trip or glass blowing lesson.
  • Nearby Taos. If you have time, consider a day trip north to investigate the art scene in high-mountain Taos, about three hours north by car.
  • The Spa. Moms will want to spend a day here, or at least a good part of one; it’s fitness center adjacent if you want to combine exercise with some R&R. Book a curative session of the regionally inspired bodywork.
  • Shopping. Precious boutiques and intriguing specialty shops reign here; i.e., knives, Day of the Dead paraphernalia, Russian nesting dolls, belts, rocks and minerals, Mexican painted wooden fruit, Provence textiles, local lavender. You’ll find high-end designer cowboy boots, eclectic Santa Fe style wear, silver-and-gem baubles, turquoise, chile products, and ceramics. One of our favourites is Nambé, a local company crafting stylish metal alloy wares for house and home.
  • The food. Southwestern cuisine is celebrated for a reason—it’s delicious, inventive and fiery. You would need several weeks to sample all of the upscale offerings, family restaurants and truck stop chile-fix favourites.
  • A small town feel. Downtown Santa Fe is very compact, so you can pretty much see the whole place on foot. This makes your trip easy and carefree, with little time spent in the car or shuttling here and there.
  • Location. Santa Fe is one short airplane stop away from Scottsdale, Arizona. Make your trip a Southwestern family tour with stints in Santa Fe and at the lovely Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North, set in the exotic Sonoran Desert. Though nearby, these two destinations and landscapes are quite distinct.

Look for

Roadrunners. They are shy, but they do call New Mexico home. See if you can spot one—or a wiley coyote—on your outdoor family adventure.

Eat this

Dine in
Executive Chef Andrew Cooper thoughtfully and skillfully riffs on Southwestern cooking at the Resort’s Terra restaurant, a local favourite. Fresh, seasonal and local is his passion. Not only can you dine here, you can tour the Santa Fe farmers’ market with Chef Cooper or join him for his interactive “Chef’s Table” in the kitchen. The dining room itself feels understated chic, with its poured concrete, gray flagstone walls, muted tones and welcoming open-flame fireplace.

Try the fork-tender, green chile-short ribs served with wilted chard and wild mushrooms in a coffee reduction, or the decadent scallops with duck and foie gras ravioli drizzled with luscious port-infused cherries.

Your kids will love the salmon fish tacos and the “gooey-crispy” quesadilla for dinner; and at breakfast, the fluffy housemade waffles with fresh berries. Mom and Dad, order the Santa Fe-style chilaquiles: sunny side up eggs over smoked bacon, onion, cilantro and queso fresco—plus avocado and sour cream—over chewy corn tortilla strips. Tip: Add “Christmas” (that’s half red, half green chile).

Dine out
Ask the Concierge for the latest hot spots, but here are our top recommendations:

Set aside your special night out or family celebration for Geronimo, Santa Fe’s best among the galleries of Canyon Road. The elk tenderloin is a must; wash it down with a bottle of wine from the award-winning list.

Locals swear by The Shed—cosy, funky and vibrant, set in a rabbit-warren adobe downtown—for the best chile in town. Be sure to make a reservation—this place is always packed.

For breakfast, the best choice is Cafe Pasqual’s. You must line up early to get a table at this tiny, festively adorned corner joint, but it’s worth it. We are partial to the Huevos Rancheros. Send the kids to Doodlet’s across the street while you wait for the most astonishing gift trinkets imaginable.

Gather with friends at comfort fare spot Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen for margaritas (they have more than 100 varieties) and chicken enchiladas. Cheap, authentic and tasty.

Take the kids for a sunset beverage up at Coyote Cafe’s rooftop cantina patio, just off the plaza—it’s laidback and a lovely place to enjoy margaritas, chips and salsa.

5 family to-dos

1. Endless outdoor adventure. There’s a reason Four Seasons just opened an Adventure Center on the Resort property: Santa Fe is made for family outdoor fun. The personable Hans Loehr and his Adventure Partners, exclusive to the Resort, are ready to show you the way. Loehr’s team includes 12 guides with backgrounds in fields such as archaeology and geology. “Our guides weave the story,” he says.

You and the kids might try a three-hour outing, single-tracking down 10,300-foot tall Mt Baldy on Santa Cruz Super Light full-suspension mountain bikes—a 3,300-foot descent, with a stop for bouldering at “Hans’ Hideaway.” Or you might choose a snowshoe trek through the Aspens; the “secrets of Los Alamos” with an author on the subject; or a three-hour Rio en Medio hike to waterfalls.

Or, you might try an intimate experience at the unexcavated Native American villages of Tsankawi, next to the famed cliff dwellings of Bandelier National Monument. In this untouched area, the kids will spot arrowheads and pottery shards in the red soil. For an unforgettable experience, climb up into a cave with your Native American guide as he begins chanting.

Private access for trips to Georgia O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch in Abiqui will begin this summer. Guests can customize a trip with Loehr, or choose one of the available offerings. Wrapped in are flora and fauna learning, plus educational fun, such as tasting Mayan chocolate with a local artisan.

2. Cook with the chef. The Resort recently revamped its kids’ Chef’s Table programme, a youth version of the interactive adults’ programme. Chef Cooper invites groups of up to 10 into the kitchen for a half-day session of cooking, prepping, chopping and calling out orders, just like the pros. Then everyone sits down to savour the meal they’ve just cooked together at the swanky new kitchen dining table.

3. Glass blowing. Art is a big part of the scene in the City Different. You and the kids can get in on it by mastering glass blowing at Prairie Dog Glass. Learn the basics and leave with your own vase. Another option is delving into bronze sculpture creation at Shidoni Foundry and Galleries, located near Four Seasons. Ask the Experience Assistant for details.

4. Go horseback riding. Take the kids riding through the Cerrillos Hills at sunset, past old silver and turquoise mines. We recommend heading to Broken Saddle Riding Company for the laidback wranglers and smooth-trotting Tennessee Walkers.

5. Stroll downtown. Make a day of it! Even if the kids aren’t really shoppers, they’ll want to spend hours browsing the trinkets at Santa Fe’s outdoor markets, exploring the Loretto Chapel and its “miracle” staircase, perusing the Native Americans’ turquoise wares on the plaza and sipping virgin piña coladas on the roof deck at the Coyote Cafe at sunset. They may even want to stop in to see the celebrated paintings at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and historical artefacts at the 17th-century Palace of the Governors. Just follow their lead—and see where it takes you.


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