If your mental picture of Santa Fe is high-end shops, adults-only fun and art galleries in the desert…well…you probably wouldn’t be wrong. What you might not know is that Santa Fe has an array of kid-friendly activities. Texas Traveling Mom Jill recently visited and has the full scoop on things to do in Santa Fe with kids.
Santa Fe is has been on my travel bucket list for a loooong time. I’d always imagined my Santa Fe getaway to be sans kids. My hubby and I would sleep late, eat leisurely meals where no one asked me to cut their food or wanted me to take them to the potty. We’d shop, we’d laugh, we’d absorb the culture and all the fun, grownup vibes in this oh-so-charming Southwestern city. As life would have it, our first visit to Santa Fe was with our kids. Despite everyone telling me that Santa Fe is an “adult’s town,” we found a surprising number of things to do in Santa Fe with kids. Here are some of our favorites:
1. Museum of Indian Arts and Culture
The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture is a premier repository of Native art and material culture and tells the stories of the people of the Southwest from pre-history through contemporary art.
No photography is allowed inside the museum. There are some lovely sculptures outside the venue which you can photograph. The museum exhibits are “hands off” although there is a children’s area full of things your kids can touch.
Admission is $7.00 for New Mexico residents (first Sundays are free) and $12.00 for non-residents. Children under 16 are free, which is a big bonus for families. Docent-led tours occur roughly three times daily. Call the museum in advance to confirm times, but they are generally 10:30, 1:00, and 3:00, subject to docent availability.
The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture is included on the New Mexico Culture Pass, which I strongly recommend checking out if you’re going to spend some time in New Mexico. The New Mexico Culture Pass includes single admissions to museums and historic sites across the state. At $30, it’s an awesome deal. I recommend looking at this before planning your trip to Santa Fe.
2. Museum of International Folk Art
The Museum of International Folk Art contains the largest collection of folk art in the world. Pretty cool, huh? Exploring folk art is a great way to learn about people and culture. There’s such a diverse collection of things at this museum we could have easily spent several hours exploring.
What I loved most about the Museum of International Folk Art was the amount of hands-on activities for kids. As with most museums, there’s a lot of “don’t touch,” but it’s nicely balanced with things they can get tactile with. Check their website for info on current exhibits.
Admission is $7.00 for New Mexico residents and $12.00 for non-residents. Children under 16 are free. The Culture Pass includes the Museum of International Folk Art. Free docent-led tours are available daily at 10:30, 11:30 and 1:00. Check with the museum the day of to confirm tours.
Other area museums include the Harrell House Bug Museum, The Georgia O’Keefe Museum, and the New Mexico History Museum.
3. Meow Wolf
Meow Wolf is…well, it’s hard to describe but I’ll try. It’s a trippy, hands-on art activation that is fun for kids of all ages. If a multi-dimensional mystery house with secret rooms and passages to hidden realms sounds interesting to you, then don’t miss Meow Wolf. Everyone we talked to in Santa Fe either asked us if we planned to visit Meow Wolf or told us we needed to go, so make sure you add it to your list of things to do in Santa Fe with kids.
Older kids and adults will really get into solving the mystery but younger kids will see this as a giant playground with lots to discover. Plan on several hours inside Meow Wolf if you want a shot at solving the mystery. I recommend visiting at around 3:00 p.m. Right after opening and early evening tends to draw more crowds, so try mid-afternoon.
I also recommend sturdy shoes and dressing for an active, fun time. I wore flip flops and carried a backpack and found both unsuitable to climbing and sliding…and yes, there are ways to get around most of the climbing and sliding if that isn’t your thing, but I suggest activewear.
4. Santa Fe Mountain Adventures
If you are looking to get out and get adventurous, check out Santa Fe Mountain Adventures. I love getting outdoors but as a mom traveling alone with young kids, planning safe, appropriate day hikes is challenging. You can research and hope for the best, but why do that when you’ve got some professional adventurers that will take care of the details for you?
We did the Petroglyphs and Historic Route 66 tour in the Pinzegauer. A Pinzegauer is a Swiss Army transport vehicle that is awesome for off-roading. The tour we did took about two hours and picked us up and dropped us off at our hotel.
The Historic Route 66 tour is classified as easy…it’s mostly riding with an short walk to check out the petroglyphs. Our guide, Fritz, was awesome and it was fun to get outdoors and learn a little more about Santa Fe.
Santa Fe Mountain Adventures recommended closed-toed shoes for our tour. I recommend long pants and hiking boots, if you’ve got them. This isn’t “go out and buy hiking boots” level but I had packed them and wished I’d have put them on for our tour.
If you want a longer-day activity or something more challenging, Santa Fe Mountain Adventures has some other options as well. Explore their website and see what appeals…we loved our tour in the Pinzegauer and will definitely look at doing a longer, more adventurous tour on a future visit.
5. San Miguel Chapel
The San Miguel Chapel is touted as the oldest church in the United States. This adobe structure was built by Tlaxcalan Indians from Mexico under the direction of Franciscan Padres between 1610 and 1625.
San Miguel is an active church. San Miguel offers Latin Mass at 2:00 p.m., and Ordinary or New Mass at 5:00 p.m. on Sundays. The Schola Cantorum of Santa Fe sings Vespers and a Gregorian chant Mass every third Sunday of the month at 4:00 p.m. The Chapel is open during most of the week for prayer and for visitors.
The website does not list an admission price but we paid $1.00 each to enter. Exploring the church doesn’t take a great deal of time. Kids are welcome to ring the bell inside the church, which is pretty awesome. You may take as many photos inside as you like.
6. The Miraculous Staircase at The Loretto Chapel
The staircase at the Loretto Chapel is something of a mystery. No one understands who built it, what kind of wood was used and the general physics of its construction.
When the Loretto Chapel was completed in 1878, there was no way to access the choir loft twenty-two feet above. Carpenters were called in to address the problem, but they all concluded access to the loft would have to be via ladder as a staircase would interfere with the interior space of the small Chapel. I know…you’re probably thinking this was some not-so-great planning. I thought the same thing.
Legend says that to find a solution to the seating problem, the Sisters of the Chapel made a plea to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. In answer to the Sisters’ prayer, a man appeared at the Chapel with a donkey and a toolbox looking for work. The carpenter completed the staircase, then vanished without pay or thanks. After searching for the man (an ad even ran in the local newspaper) and finding no trace of him, some concluded that he was St. Joseph himself, having come in answer to the Sisters’ prayers.
The design was innovative for the time and some of the design considerations still perplex experts today. The staircase has two 360 degree turns and no visible means of support. Questions also surround the number of stair risers relative to the height of the choir loft and about the types of wood and other materials used in the stairway’s construction.
For more Santa Fe trip planning tools, check out one of the two Tourism Santa Fe Visitor’s Centers, located on the Plaza at the Plaza Galeria (66 East San Francisco) and the Rail Yard at the Santa Fe Depot. Check out the State of New Mexico Visitor Center, which is located right across the courtyard from San Miguel Chapel.
Where to stay in Santa Fe
We recommend family-owned Inn of the Governors in downtown Santa Fe. The Inn of the Governors is within walking distance to many local shops, restaurants and other attractions.
We stayed in a Family Suite which offered two double beds plus a spacious living area with a balcony and a fireplace.
The hotel lobby is really fun to explore. It has beautiful furnishings and it’s luxurious without feeling pretentious. There’s a daily tea and sherry hour from 4-5 p.m. where you can enjoy tea, sherry, and some delish homemade Biscochito, which is similar to Biscotti.
The Inn of the Governors offers a free Santa Fe Kid’s Crawl Package so make sure you ask about that when you make your reservation. Your kids will receive a package of crayons and a coloring book drawn by a local artist. Parents, check out this coloring book and don’t write it off as “kid stuff.” The coloring book is a guide book that gives your family suggestions on things to do in the city. The Kid’s Crawl Package also includes a family admission to the Harrell House Bug Museum, so make sure you check it out!
Also check out the attached Del Charro restaurant and bar. The food is delicious. There’s an adults-only bar area and a family-friendly dining room. I recommend the blue corn chicken enchiladas and the stuffed green chile cheeseburger.