With its stunning desert and mountain backdrop, arts and culture scene, and a bit of that Wild West aura, Santa Fe has long been a favorite of travelers and retirees — though it’s not usually considered a first choice for families. A recent weeklong trip to the Land of Enchantment dispelled that myth for us. We were pleasantly surprised to find loads of kid-friendly activities, including art museums, foodie experiences and gorgeous hikes.
Family-Friendly Things to Do in Santa Fe
Museums and More
Given Santa Fe’s highly regarded arts scene, we knew we wanted to give our kids a tiny glimpse of that world. With so many museums, it felt hard to choose which ones to visit and even harder to know which ones might be a hit. We reminded ourselves that less is more and that we’d try to enjoy and explore at the kids’ pace. In the end, we went for the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum downtown, as well as the International Museum of Folk Art and Santa Fe Botanical Garden on Museum Hill.
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
Having been to the O’Keeffe museum several years prior, we knew that its small size was a plus for holding shorter attention spans. The kids were presented with sketchbooks and pencils upon entrance, and this prompt definitely enhanced our visit. Our 7-year-old, especially, walked the rooms slowly and deliberated over which painting to copy and sketch. She eventually chose to create her own version of one of O’Keefe’s calla lilies with a good deal of focus and effort. Our younger one wasn’t as interested in sketching, but we managed to make a game of spotting colors and shapes with him. (Picking up a postcard in the gift shop to send to Grandma also helped.)
Santa Fe Botanical Garden
We started the next morning at the Santa Fe Botanical Garden, which also is small in scale and therefore easy for little legs to walk through. The garden serendipitously had several animal sculptures strewn through its grounds, which made for an impromptu scavenger hunt as our kids checked off each bronze statue of a bear, pig or hen we encountered. The garden paths, which meander through fruit trees, native desert plants such as yucca and Mojave sage, felt cool and breezy even on an early August morning.
International Museum of Folk Art
Across the street from the gardens is the International Museum of Folk Art. We found it to be one of the most kid-oriented museums during our trip, not only of its subject matter, but also because there are several stations and spaces for children to engage with the exhibitions. The extensive collection includes some 130,000 objects from 100 countries, but we spent the majority of our time in the Girard Wing, wandering through displays of dolls, puppets, masks, weavings and more. We tried to ask the kids what the dolls might be doing or what kind of story the weavings might be telling. Even if they didn’t understand it all, the idea that these handmade objects came from all over the world and told stories of those cultures resonated with them.
So much of New Mexico’s appeal is intertwined with its food heritage, from chiles and piñon nuts to posole and anise-infused biscochitos (cookies). Kids can access this food heritage too, and one of the best places to start is at the year-round Saturday Santa Fe Farmer’s Market at the Railyard. During our visit, we walked through stall after stall of vegetable and fruit farmers selling purple okra, peaches and even straw wreaths featuring flowers and chiles; bread and cheese purveyors (we left with some yummy feta); and artisans selling baskets, art and jewelry in the indoor market pavilion.
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We didn’t have time for a family cooking class at the Santa Fe School of Cooking (next visit!), but one of our most memorable foodie excursions included the chocolate elixirs at Kakawa Chocolate House. Choose from Mesoamerican-style drinking chocolates infused with dried chiles and herbs, similar to what Montezuma would have drunk, or sweeter European-style chocolate. The housemade horchata is also delicious.
Some of our favorite family-friendly eateries during the trip included legendary Café Pasqual’s, Vinaigrette and SweetWater Harvest Kitchen, all of which are committed to sustainable practices and sourcing locally grown and organic ingredients as much as possible.
Without a doubt, one of the highlights of our weeklong New Mexico trip was hiking through the slot canyon at Tent Rocks. About 45 minutes west of Santa Fe, we found ourselves among otherworldly cone-shaped rock formations created by volcanic eruptions that happened 6 to 7 million years ago. Time and erosion have taken their toll, leaving behind a slot canyon that visitors can hike through. Our children loved it and even our nearly-4-year-old son managed to keep up.
We didn’t make it all the way to the top, but we were still glad we came and did what we could; we would absolutely have regretted it otherwise. (Be sure to pick up a Junior Ranger guide while you’re there.) Santa Fe Mountain Adventures specializes in customized, guided hikes, including to Tent Rocks, as well as mountain biking excursions, whitewater rafting and more.
Editor’s Note: Photos by Tanvi Chheda except where noted.