Santa Fe is Child-Friendly, Too
By Michaela Cavallaro Boston Globe
December 18, 2011 SANTA FE – This city’s reputation with tourists is built on high-end art, a vibrant tri-cultural history, and chili so hot it will leave tears running down your face. The combination does not scream “child-friendly.’’
But in fact, New Mexico’s capital has lots to offer families with small children – starting with museums and restaurants that not only tolerate but encourage visits from the short set. Residents of Santa Fe in the mid-1990s, my husband and I recently returned with our 5-year-old daughter. And while it took us a little while to reconcile the favorite activities of our 20s with our new roles as responsible parents, we managed to balance our competing interests and come up with a slate of activities that was fun for everyone.
Local performer Annie Rose, also known as the Flower Fairy, visits with Skylar Cook, 5, at the Santa Fe Children’s Museum.Foremost among them: the Museum of International Folk Art, one of four institutions set atop Museum Hill, a 10-minute drive from the downtown Plaza. If you had the good fortune to have a baby sitter nearby, you could spend an adult day absorbing a multitude of exhibits at all four museums, most of which focus on Spanish and Native American art and culture. If that’s not an option, follow in our footsteps and plan a shorter but still worthwhile outing for the family to the folk art museum. In addition to ever-changing exhibits full of fascinating eye candy and cultural history, the museum has an astonishing permanent collection populated by an enormous array of village scenes from around the world. Children are fascinated by the figures and scenes – essentially folk art Playmobil villages – while adults will ponder the combination of wealth and eccentricity that led Alexander Girard to collect more than 100,000 objects and personally install them in his namesake wing.
If the kids need room to roam after using their inside voices for a while, consider heading a mile down Old Pecos Trail to the Santa Fe Children’s Museum. A uniquely Southwestern take on the institution, it includes a large outdoor play area featuring gardens, a giant sandbox, and a focus on local flora and fauna. Inside, you will find children’s museum staples, including a hands-on water-play area, a small display of snakes and creepy-crawly critters, and a kiosk with mirrors and water-soluble face paints – the highlight of the place for our daughter. (A close second: a visit with local performer Annie Rose, the Flower Fairy, and her basket of cuddly live bunnies.)
The Children’s Museum is also home to the Slurpmarine, a cafe housed in a restored Airstream trailer that opened just after our visit. In keeping with the hippie ethos that runs strong in Santa Fe – nicknamed the City Different – the Slurpmarine has a full array of gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian menu items.We had eagerly anticipated spending many of our meals at restaurants specializing in New Mexican cuisine, especially since the emphasis on beans, cheese, and those addictively spicy chilies makes it relatively easy to adapt for less sophisticated palates.
Still, we ate at a few restaurants that were particularly welcoming to our daughter – and delicious to boot. Back in the ’90s, we had loved Tia Sophia’s, a local favorite just blocks from the Plaza. We knew we would be able to get a good meal there and were pleasantly surprised to find an extremely child-friendly waitstaff and a small library of children’s books for browsing while you wait for your meal. We chowed down on enchiladas topped with red or green chili – just ask for “Christmas’’ style if you want both. Our daughter happily ate a plain burrito with rice, beans, and cheese. The piece de resistance was an after-lunch sopaipilla, a puff of fried dough eaten with your hands and dipped in honey. Our daughter still dreamily mentions it today.
We also had good luck at Counter Culture, an off-the-beaten-track spot for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or coffee. It’s slightly disorganized – there’s that hippie vibe again – but offers lots of healthy options, plus racks of magazines you can peruse at your table. And no one blinks an eye if your child has a meltdown just before dinner.Though we made most breakfasts ourselves – we had reserved a three-bedroom condo with a full kitchen – we did indulge in one decadent New Mexico-style brunch.
The original Plaza Café operated on the Plaza from the early 1900s to 2010, when a kitchen fire shut it down. Fortunately, the Plaza Café Southside sticks to the original’s strengths, with top-notch diner fare – French toast, huevos divorciados, a teddy bear pancake – in an unassuming strip mall location south of town. And, crucially, it has both a kids’ menu and a full bar.We had heard about the Fort Marcy Hotel Suites from a friend, who advised that a living room, kitchen, and multiple bathrooms would go a long way toward making our family vacation successful. Even better: The three-bedroom rental came with gorgeous views of the Sandia Mountains 60 miles south in Albuquerque and the Sangre de Cristos just north of town, plus, to our daughter’s delight, use of the complex’s pool and hot tub. What’s more, we paid just $300 a night, a veritable bargain for the summer high season, especially given that we could walk to the Plaza in about 10 minutes. (The Villas de Santa Fe offer slightly more upscale lodging just a few blocks away from Fort Marcy Hotel Suites, with a two-bedroom suite going for roughly $285 a night in high season.)Another perk of the Fort Marcy suites: We were just up the hill from a recently remodeled playground and gym complex, also called Fort Marcy, that sells visitor passes for $5 a day.
A good round of swinging proved helpful in resettling our daughter after a stop at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, which she deemed “boring’’ despite the fact that a docent offered her a copy of “My Name Is Georgia,’’ a lovely picture book biography of the artist, to borrow while the adults tried to take in an exhibit about the relationship between painting and photography among 20th-century American artists.
If we had had more time, we would have shaken off the whining with an adults-only drive up toward the Santa Fe Ski Basin to Ten Thousand Waves, a mountainside Japanese-style spa where you can bask in a private hot tub under the brilliant night sky, then roll your mellow self inside for a massage. Instead, we spent our last night in Santa Fe at the Railyard, a formerly scruffy part of town that has been spiffed up in recent years. Now it’s home to a thrice-weekly farmers’ market as well as an REI store and a branch of the local Second Street Brewery, which that day had rolled up its garage-door style walls to let in the afternoon breeze. A friend’s band was playing original country-rock tunes up front as the adults drank pints of India Pale Ale and our girl watched a few other kids run around on the outside patio. She ordered a “hamburdog’’ from the children’s menu and we asked for one last hit of green chili on our cheeseburgers before we headed back east.
If you go… What to do
Museum of International Folk Art 706 Camino Lejo505-476-1200www.internationalfolkart.org Colorful rotating exhibits and an astonishing permanent collection, plus a children’s play area. Adults $9; children age 16 and under free.
Santa Fe Children’s Museum 1050 Old Pecos Trail505-989-8359santafechildrensmuseum.org Indoor and outdoor play areas with a gentle educational focus. Admission $9 per person; children 12 months and under free.
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum 217 Johnson St.505-946-1000www.keeffemuseum.org Exhibits focus on O’Keeffe’s work and her connection to American modernism. Adults $10, age 18 and under free.
Ten Thousand Waves 3451 Hyde Park Road 505-982-9304tenthousandwaves.com Indulgent indoor and outdoor hot baths and spa services. Private baths start at $29 per person; prices vary for spa services.
Where to eat
Tia Sophia’s 210 West San Francisco St.505-983-9880Traditional New Mexican cuisine for breakfast and lunch. Entrees $5-$8.
Counter Culture 930 Baca St.505-995-1105Eclectic healthy eats. Cash only. Entrees $6-$15.
Plaza Caf é Southside 3466 Zafarano Drive505-424-0755plazacafesouthside.com Diner-style dining with New Mexican flair. Entrees $8-$15.
Second Street Brewery at the Railyard 1607 Paseo De Peralta No. 10505-989-3278www.secondstreetbrewery.com Friendly brew pub, entrees $8-$21.
Where to stay
Fort Marcy Hotel Suites 321 Kearney Road888-575-2775www.allseasonsresortlodging.com One-, two-, and three-bedroom condos with heavy New Mexican decor. From $250.