Cover image photography credits: David Marlow. Image provided by the Inn of Five Graces.
New Mexico’s capital city will take your breath away, and not just due to its high elevation. Located at 7,199 feet above sea level, Santa Fe is the highest capital city in the United States and it’s the second oldest city in the country. Known as “The City Different”, the influence of Native American, Spanish and Mexican cultures, a wealth of arts and culinary offerings and a beautiful landscape make this a winning destination for families to uncover.
1. Take a Hike. Hoofing it around Santa Fe is only limited by your stamina and your desire to explore. Popular hiking areas include the Dale Ball and La Tierra trails, as well as the Galisteo Basin Preserve, about a 25-minute drive south of the city. Hike the Santa Fe National Forest trails through an alpine setting filled with aspen, pine and fir trees. The Four Seasons Rancho Encantado, just ten minutes from Santa Fe, offers hikes through its Adventure Center, including a complimentary hour-long hike on the Camino Encantado Trail along ridge behind the resort.
2. Sample Some Heat. Sit down at just about any of the more than 200 restaurants in and around Santa Fe and you’ll be asked, “Red or green?”, considered the official state question and one you’ll be asked when ordering many of the dishes. This refers to the chile pepper (spelled with an “e” in New Mexico) used to season sauces and dishes ranging from mild to wildly hot. Answer “Christmas,” if you can’t decide and try a little of each. Bring your appetite. Acclaimed restaurants range from casual options such as The Shed on the Santa Fe Plaza and Opuntia Café near the Santa Fe Railyard to fine dining at the Compound, Sazon, Dinner for Two and Restaurant Martin.
3. Climb the Cliffs. Travel about an hour by car from Santa Fe and you’ll reach Bandelier National Monument, where Ancestral Pueblo people lived from approximately 1150 to 1550 CE. Their homes were cliffside, carved into the volcanic tuff (soft, breakable rock). Several of these dwellings along the base of the Frijoles Canyon can be reached by climbing a series of steps and wooden ladders, making this a wonderful place for families to explore. Visit the museum in visitors center before or after hiking the 1.4-mile Pueblo Loop Trail. Those with additional energy to expend can add on the half-mile hike out to impressive Alcove House, only accessible by ascending up 140 feet via ladders and steps.
4. Step Back in Time. El Rancho de Las Golondrinas is a living history museum located 20 minutes south of Santa Fe. Visitors will learn about the Spanish explorers and colonial settlers who traveled to this area as early as 1610. The ranch itself dates back 300 years, a stopping place along the Camino Real – Royal Road to Mexico City. There are 34 historical buildings to explore, spread across 205 acres, some dating back to the early 1700s. Take a guided tour or explore on your own; costumed volunteers are frequently on hand for demonstrations and hands-on activities such as rope making, wool carding and candle making.
5. Travel Off Road. Venture outside of this southwestern city for a not-to-be-missed opportunity to enjoy the beautiful natural surroundings. Santa Fe Mountain Adventures is one of several local companies offering 4×4 tours into a mountainous landscape filled with pinon, juniper, sage and cacti including prickly pear and cholla. The two-and-a-half-hour trip to Diablo Canyon offers dusty, bumpy off-road thrills and incredible views, including a short hike on foot between the canyon’s vertical basalt cliffs.
6. Get Your Art On. In a city with approximately 85,000 residents it’s difficult to believe there are more than 100 art galleries, just on the half-mile stretch of Canyon Road, covering everything from paintings and photography to textiles, jewelry, glasswork, pottery and sculpture. You can also view art in the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, the New Mexico Museum of Art, IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Art, SITE Santa Fe, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art and the Wheelwright Museum, just to name a few. Children of all ages will love Multiple Visions: A Common Bond at the Museum of International Folk Art, full of more than 10,000 objects representing more than 100 countries on six continents, organized in colorful dioramas filling a vast exhibit space.
7. Solve a Mystery. For a quirkier but no less inspiring experience with art, head to Meow Wolf’s first permanent installation, House of Eternal Return, featuring more than 70 rooms filled with artists’ interactive and immersive installations that follow a fictitious storyline of a family who disappears after experimenting with interdimensional travel. It’s an explosion of colors, lights and sounds, optical illusions, secret rooms and passageways – hours of fun for all ages.
8. Soak in Nature. Soothe your senses during a few relaxing hours at Ten Thousand Waves Spa, located ten minutes from downtown Santa Fe and inspired by Japanese mountain hot spring resorts. Enjoy all manner of spa treatments or reserve one of seven private hot tub suites and bring the kids along. Grab an elegant lunch or dinner before or after treatment at Izanami restaurant, a popular spot for locals and tourists alike.
9. Cook Up a Storm. There’s no better way to learn about local cuisine than to don an apron and create your own culinary masterpiece. Santa Fe School of Cooking has been instructing through demonstration and hands-on classes since 1989. Come alone or as a group, to make everything from salsas and corn tortillas to rellenos, tamales, tacos and the ubiquitous red and green chile sauces.
10. Get Wet. Drive one hour north of Santa Fe to Rio Grande River Gorge Visitors Center, near Taos, and take a trip with Kokopelli Rafting Adventures, one of several companies taking groups on the Rio Grande. Float trips with mild rapids are perfect for those with young children, providing an opportunity to look for wildlife, learn to paddle and even jump in for a swim. Those in search of thrills should opt for the five-mile Racecourse trip, more physically demanding with a minimum age of 7 years (possibly older, depending on the water level).
11. Sleep Among Masterpieces. There’s a wide array of lodging options in Santa Fe but two with inspiring artwork will get you in the spirit to explore this culturally rich capital city. La Fonda, just off the Santa Fe Plaza, boasts more than 1000 pieces collected since its inception in 1922. There is original artwork in every hotel room, along with impressive installations in the lively public spaces and along every hallway. For a more secluded stay, with service second to none, the Inn of Five Graces exudes luxury. Opened in 1993, its suites are filled with luxurious textiles and furnishings reflecting Ira Seret’s signature style while spacious bathrooms feature wife Sylvia’s incredible tile mosaics. Those inspired to bring this style home will find furnishings and architectural antiques from more than a dozen countries housed in the nearby Seret & Sons’ more than 70,000 square foot warehouse.
12. Catch an Outdoor Opera. The Santa Fe Opera draws some 85,000 annually during its summer season, both for inspiring views and equally impressive performances during its highly acclaimed summer season. The covered theater, open on three sides, frames the stage with panoramic views of the Jemez and Sangre de Cristo mountains. An Electronic Libretto System translates the opera into English or Spanish on the back of each of the 2,126 seats and 106 standing room spaces. Opera goers frequently park and tailgate pre-performance, bringing picnic dinners to the parking lot.
Long after you return home from this treasured southwestern city, the smell of juniper and sage will linger in memory, as will the tastes, sights and sounds of a magical place visited and revisited by many.
For more information on Santa Fe, visit www.santafe.org or call 800-777-2489.