September 2008. Most of the United States had plunged into deepening recession with the failure of a string of banks and brokerage firms brought down by toxic mortgage loans and Wall Street ambitions. The repercussions were immediately felt worldwide, with worse still to come. Everyone had been affected in one way or another: a home foreclosure, a lost job in a shrinking economy, a tightening of credit and purse strings, and a general mood of apprehension worldwide.
But even in the midst of this crisis, it was not all gloom and doom. In fact, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, they were celebrating what many see as an exciting new milestone in the long, convoluted history of the New Mexico capital: the opening of the long-planned Railyard Park and farmers’ market in the historic Guadalupe District and the spectacular new Santa Fe Community Convention Center in downtown. The Railyard and Convention Center were just the first in a string of grand construction and redevelopment projects whose completion coincides with the 400-year anniversary of the founding of the city. By May 2009, other critically acclaimed, multimillion-dollar projects had opened, including the refurbished downtown Plaza and the state-of-the-art New Mexico History Museum. Santa Fe’s new attractions were given a big boost by the opening of the New Mexico Rail Runner train service between Albuquerque and Santa Fe on December 17, 2008. In a stroke of amazing serendipity, 60,000 passengers between the two cities rode the train in the first month alone, boosting local businesses even as others went out of business elsewhere in the country.
Over a decade in the planning, these cultural infrastructure projects have begun to fulfill Santa Fe’s promise as a cultural capital, a promise given a big boost by the city’s designation in 2005 as one of only three UNESCO “creative cities” in the world. For Santa Feans, it confirms what they already know: Santa Fe is unique. Since the late 19th-century, artists, architects, scientists, and thinkers have been attracted to this 7,000-foot-elevation, high-desert town for its glorious mountain setting; healthful air and seductive light; rich mix of Hispanic, Indian, and Anglo cultures; and laid-back lifestyle. Like a spicy salsa, made of native ingredients sparked with unexpected new exotic additions, outsiders have brought with them a variety of skills and institutions, from the Museum of New Mexico to the Santa Fe Institute, cultural events, new markets and businesses, and festivals beloved by locals and tourists alike, as well as new ideas that have become woven into the life of the city.
“These projects have moved us toward creating a slower but more equitable economy that will remain strong,” said Santa Fe’s hardworking mayor David Coss, a veteran of the exhaustive planning and construction process that led to Santa Fe’s redevelopment projects. But that doesn’t seem so strange in a city that has always been far removed—both literally and metaphorically—from the rest of the country for centuries. Change comes slowly here, and often painfully, as people with many differing views struggle for consensus. While western towns around it have boomed and bust, Santa Fe has deep roots that have allowed it to endure over generations and ride the swells of passing political and cultural storms elsewhere. That is the true appeal of the City Different.
Northern New Mexico is a land of conquest and reconquest, sometimes accomplished by forceful means, other times without a drop of blood spilled. The region has changed hands and complexions many times, starting with the Pueblo Indians, whose agrarian, cliff-dwelling forebears settled the region as far back as the 1st century b.c.
Pueblo culture as we know it today took root at the beginning of the 14th century and flourished—until its first encounter in 1540 with Europeans, who brought guns as well as a new world of diseases against which the natives had no natural defenses. Through force in some cases and friendly but firm persuasion in others, Spanish conquistadores, priests, and settlers claimed the region in the name of the motherland and the Catholic Church, only to lose it in 1680 in the Pueblo Revolt (see our History chapter). Spain reconquered the New Mexico Territory in 1692 and held onto it until 1821, when Mexico won independence from Spain and claimed the territory as its own. But the Mexican flag flew over New Mexico only 27 years, to be replaced by the Stars and Stripes after Mexico lost a two-year war with the United States. It ceded the territory in 1848 to its young northern neighbor in accordance with the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
We’re the first to admit it. Santa Fe thrives on its contradictions, and one of the most basic is this: Why is it that a town that prides itself on its mañana attitude offers more things to do than a place three or four times its size? Don’t worry if Santa Fe’s many options to spend your time seem overwhelming—they are!
The diversity of attractions here, coupled with the community’s natural beauty, bring visitors back year after year. Between 1.2 and 1.4 million visitors come to Santa Fe annually.
As you explore Santa Fe, you’ll find many superlatives: the biggest adobe office building, the oldest bell, the largest sculpture garden in New Mexico, the largest collection of contemporary American Indian art, the only museum dedicated to a woman artist of international stature . . . and that’s just for starters.
Santa Fe offers so much that if you’re making your first trip, we recommend that you take a city tour. You can take walking tours of all sorts, ride an open-air tram, or climb aboard a big bus. A few hours with a well-trained guide will not only give you a better appreciation for the tremendous historic and cultural riches you’ll find here, but it can also help you avoid spending any of your precious vacation time getting lost or searching for a parking place. Attractions are divided into logical categories: churches, museums, historic buildings and districts, other attractions, tours, and visitor information.
In addition to information here, please see our Kidstuff chapter for information on family-friendly museums in Albuquerque and Los Alamos. Parks and national forests near Santa Fe are covered in the Parks and Recreation chapter. Special events at listed attractions are listed by month in the Calendar of Events chapter.
We’ve done our best to include up-to-the-minute information about hours and admission fees of the attractions we list, but if you’re on a limited budget or a tight schedule, please call to see if anything has changed since our book was published.
Despite its reputation as a cultural mecca and town of retirees, Santa Fe also welcomes kids with all sorts of fun things to do. Not only will they be busy but they’ll also learn something here, too!
Like adult visitors, children have two basic sets of options: things to see and to do in town and attractions and adventures in the big outdoors surrounding Santa Fe. Among the highlights of the city is a museum designed and constructed just for kids, complete with a special child-size door. Santa Fe has a river to walk along, parks to explore, an Audubon Center, scenic railroad tours, the new high-tech New Mexico History Museum, swimming pools, an ice-skating rink that’s open year-round, places to in-line skate and skateboard, and a bowling alley. The Genoveva Chávez Center on Rodeo Road offers lots of family fun—swimming, diving, a big-screen TV, the above-mentioned ice rink, and classes galore. The mountains and foothills surrounding Santa Fe are rich with opportunities for family picnics, hiking, skiing, and mountain biking. If you didn’t bring bikes, you can rent them in town. And don’t forget the sunscreen!
In the spring and summer, parents and kids can take a raft trip, spending a day on the Río Grande or Río Chama having fun and getting wet. Many commercial rafting companies are based in Santa Fe and offer a variety of options from gentle floats to white-water excitement. Please call first and ask if there are age requirements; some trips don’t accept the youngest children. (See our Parks and Recreation chapter for more on rafting.) Horseback riding is another popular option. Trail rides through a variety of terrains, breakfast trips, and campfire rides are available from several businesses and resorts in the area for children more than seven years of age. Many stables also offer riding lessons for children.
Fishing, surprisingly to some people, is as much a part of summer here as it is anywhere in the United States. Children younger than age 12 can fish for free in New Mexico. In the Santa Fe area, opportunities for lake fishing—which is often easier for young children—include the Cochití, Abiquiú, Santa Cruz, and Monastery Lakes. Nambé, Santa Clara, and San Juan Pueblos have public fishing lakes. If you want your kids to try stream or river fishing, the Río Grande between Santa Fe and Taos, off Highway 68—especially near Pilar—is worth a visit. Or cast your lines into the Pecos River and streams that flow into it in the Santa Fe National Forest outside the community of Pecos, off I–25 on Highway 63, about 30 miles east of Santa Fe.
In the winter you and your kids can have fun together at the Santa Fe Ski Area, which offers an extensive program of classes for children, or along cross-country trails in Santa Fe National Forest and elsewhere. You can go sledding or tubing in Hyde Park, north of Santa Fe on Highway 475. Take a look at our Parks and Recreation chapter for other activities and destinations that are ideal for children.
As you might expect in this community of artists, art activities are a big draw. Kids can study everything from painting and pottery to drama and dance. We mention a few of these schools in this chapter, but be sure to check the phone book or specialized publications for children for more suggestions. Santa Fe children can put on their own shows or go to professional theater, opera, and music productions. Some groups offer special free concerts just for children. Many of the city’s events include children in wonderful ways. The Fiesta de Santa Fe, a community celebration each September, invites kids to walk in their own parade. Both the Spanish and Indian Markets, major summer arts-and-crafts shows, have exhibitor spaces dedicated to children who are also artists.
And, if Santa Fe seems a little too different at times, don’t worry: Our community has the comfortable old standbys—movie theaters, video arcades, and malls where teens can meet their friends. For more information, the Santa Fe New Mexican, (505) 995-3839, offers a “Family Attractions” category in its Pasatiempo calendar each Friday and “Best Bets for Kids,” on Thursdays. A special Kids Summer edition is published in April. Two specialized free publications, New Mexico Kids! and Tumbleweeds, present pages of ideas, suggestions, and insights into services and activities for children in the Santa Fe areas. (See our Media chapter.) We’ve done our best to make sure all information in this chapter is current, but the phone numbers are listed for your convenience if you wish to double-check any information. In addition to the information here and in our Parks and Recreation chapter, you’ll find more suggestions in our Attractions and The Arts chapters. Have a good time and remember: Before you know it, your little ones will be all grown-up.