Road trip to Santa Fe: Where to eat, sleep and explore with your family |

Road trip to Santa Fe: Where to eat, sleep and explore with your family

Caramie Schnell
Special to the Daily
Native American artists sell their jewelry and other wares under the Palace of the Governors historic portal on the Santa Fe Plaza as part of the Native American Artisans Program. The Palace shares a campus (and admission) with the New Mexico Museum of History.
Courtesy Brenda Kelley / Tourism Santa Fe |

If you go …


• Drury Plaza Hotel (828 Paseo De Peralta, 505-424-2175, — Rates start at $119 per night (during offseason) and include free hot breakfast, free happy hour at night with hot food and cold beverages, free Wi-Fi, a heated rooftop pool and hot tub and a 24-hour fitness center. This family-friendly hotel is very conveniently located adjacent to the St. Francis Cathedral Basilica (a great spot for a family photo at dusk), a half-mile from the Georgia O’Keefe museum and a mile from the children’s museum.

• Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi (113 Washington Ave., 888-ROSEWOOD, — Rates start at $315 per night. Each room features a gas-lit fireplace, wireless internet access, luxury bath amenities and more. Located a block from Santa Fe’s downtown plaza, this boutique hotel has 58 guestrooms and a luxe, quiet vibe. The hotel celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, and there are some fun celebrations on tap.


• Meow Wolf House of Eternal Return ( — Open at 10 a.m. every day but Tuesday. Tickets are $12 for kids and $18 for adults.

• Bandelier National Monument ( — The visitor center is open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. There’s a $20-per-car entrance fee.

When I wrote about Santa Fe, New Mexico, five years ago, I used the word sojourn. That’s because it was an autumn girls’ trip with a friend from college and it was just that, complete with leisurely meals, decadent spa visits and plenty of quiet, introspective time spent wandering galleries and museums and absorbing the city’s mesmerizing energy.

Much has changed in my life in the years since; in mid-March, I returned to The City Different, this time with my husband and our 2-year-old in tow. The 400-year-old city was bustling with spring-breakers. While the trip wasn’t exactly a sojourn, it still felt like a getaway, and our family of three came away refreshed and fully satiated.

At just around a 5 ½-hour drive from Vail, Santa Fe is a family vacation worth taking. Here’s some advice on where to eat and what to see (in that order) because really, isn’t that what you want to know when you’re headed to a new vacation spot?


Shortly after arriving in Santa Fe and checking in at the Drury Plaza Hotel, we walked to a plaza, a few minutes away. Since it was spring break, Native Americans were selling their wares mid-week. Beautiful jewelry, including lots of silver and turquoise, was carefully displayed on colorful blankets in front of the adobe Palace of the Governors, which has an impressive history: It was built by the Spanish as a government building in 1610 and remains the country’s oldest continuously occupied public building.

It was on the plaza that afternoon where we met an artist who used to live in Telluride who recommended a few restaurants to check out while we were visiting, including Back Street Bistro (, a spot that’s been featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” (Guy Fieri’s signature decorates the wall above a doorway in the back).

When we visited a few days into our trip, we found the unassuming eatery filled to the brim with locals, likely because the food is fantastic and super fast. Try a New York-style Ruben sandwich, but don’t skip the soup. Owner David Jacoby, dubbed the Duke of Soup, presents eight soup selections daily, but the Hungarian Mushroom is a staple. Beware, they’re only open for lunch, and they only take cash or check.

For classic New Mexican fare, including some of the hottest red chili around, stop into the ever-popular Tomasita’s, located in The Railyard. This spot is kid-friendly, with crayons and a kids’ menu, as well as fresh veggies and dip that your server will bring out immediately if your toddler looks to be on the verge of a meltdown following the wait to get in on a Friday night.

At The Old House, inside The Eldorado Hotel, executive chef Tony Smith serves up seasonal fare using local ingredients, including a killer roasted beet salad with New Mexico Chile green chili goat cheese and decadent bar bites, such as Kobe beef and cheddar sliders and pork carnitas street tacos.

For a fancy date night, check out the Anasazi Restaurant, located inside the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi. Start with the tender charred octopus appetizer, and then move on to guajillo-berry crusted salmon with baby beets, parsnip and tamarind sauce. Don’t skip dessert — the flan is a memorable experience and a far cry from what you’re likely envisioning.

Time your drive home to correspond with a meal at El Paragua in Espanola, about 20 miles from Santa Fe. This family-owned joint has been featured everywhere from Sunset magazine to the New York Times. The food is truly authentic and awesome: unapologetically spicy salsa, freshly fried chips and tortillas made homemade on an antique stove while you watch.

Opt for the Mexican Combination plate, with posole, an enchilada, a taco, a tamale, rice and beans — it’s enough to feed two people at lunch if you aren’t starving. Be sure to ask for the homemade preserves (pineapple pear when we visited) to spread on the light and fluffy sopapilla served alongside.

There’s no shortage of amazing food in Santa Fe. The hardest part is narrowing it down. We already have a list going for our next trip: Italian food at Piccolino’s, chicken enchiladas Christmas-style at The Shed and some of the healthier fare at the Tune-Up Cafe.


Meow Wolf Art Complex’s House of Eternal Return installation opened to the public in mid-March. Prior to opening, “Game of Thrones” creator, longtime Santa Fe resident and supporter of the project George R.R. Martin promised the exhibit would “be like nothing you’ve ever seen before,” and he couldn’t have been more right.

One hundred and thirty-five artists collaborated to create 70 different spaces. This multimedia experience is a combination jungle gym, haunted house and immersive art exhibit that unfold in a magical narrative that appeals to kids and adults alike. We felt as if we’d stepped into a video game full of doors and portals that constantly led to other worlds.

Stop by the Georgia O’Keefe Museum (217 Johnson St., to see some of O’Keefe’s work, as well as work by her contemporaries. This strong, stubborn painter’s love affair with New Mexico was immediate: “When I got to New Mexico, that was mine,” she once said.

While I didn’t make it this trip, the New Mexico Museum of Art (107 West Palace Ave., has a large, impressive collection — everything from bright woodblock prints of native Santa Fean Gustave Baumann to an upcoming exhibit titled “Con Carino: Artists Inspired by Lowriders” that starts May 21. The museum is free on Fridays from 5 to 8 p.m., May through October.

Take the time to drive to Bandelier National Monument, around a 45-minute drive each way, where you can burn off some of those aforementioned calories. As groups of mule deer munched on grass 30 feet from the trail, we marveled at the ancestral pueblo dwellings located at one of the National Park Service’s oldest sites (1916). The main loop trail (1.2 miles) in Frijoles Canyon is easy to conquer while carrying a little one in your arms or in a pack. Older kids will dig climbing ladders into several of the small, carved rooms and imagining what it must have been like to live tucked into the side of the cliff face year round.

If you’re in Santa Fe on a Saturday, then the Farmers’ Market (www.santa is a must-visit. We stopped in before leaving town and splurged on gifts — a bracelet and tea for my mom; Heidi’s raspberry red chili jelly for a few friends — and food to bring home for the week, such as green chili pesto flatbread from Intergalatic Bread Co., organic apples, four types of chili powder, dried beans and more. Budget some time for this stop — it’s worth absorbing.

Freelance writer, editor and public relations professional Caramie Schnell can be reached at

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