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Away to Santa Fe With the Kids

My husband and I agree on most things, except for Paris. He argues Paris is best left to the adults, and that bringing the kids might ruin our next trip there. With so much to see and taste, I couldn’t imagine leaving the kiddos behind. But the argument goes on. Leaving me to wonder, are there places in the world — safety aside — that are best left to adults only?

Santa Fe is one of the places where some may side with Brian. The third largest art market in the country (only behind New York and Los Angeles), Santa Fe is a mass of galleries on Canyon Road and museums nearby the Plaza. Places where, any parent can tell you, could be a potential disaster with kids.

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But, like arguments I’ve made for kids and fine dining, I say this about adult-adored locations: If kids never have experiences not tailor-made for children, how will children ever learn to become well-traveled and curious adults? Life is not all Disney World and Legoland, right?

So I said to hell with the adult-only destinations theory, packed the kids into the car and embarked on the just-long-enough, six-hour drive from Aspen to Santa Fe to give the city a go.

Here are five things I learned while spending a successful weekend in Santa Fe with kids:

1. Book a Room Downtown

Although my children have grown out of the napping stage, at ages 9 and 6, they still need a little downtime during a hectic day. We booked our stay at the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi, a boutique hotel steps from Santa Fe’s Plaza. With historic charm on the outside, but with warm, neutral colors and clean lines in the remodeled guest rooms, everything in Santa Fe was at our fingertips just steps away from the hotel’s front door. The staff welcomed the kids with plush robes and puzzles (which they actually assembled several times a day – halleluiah!), cookies and Navajo-legend bedtime stories during turndown.

We opted for breakfast at the hotel each morning, which I highly recommend. Not only was it delicious, who in their right mind wants to try and find a breakfast spot in a new town when the kids are famished? There is no swimming pool here, which meant we spent our hours out and about, exploring, eating and doing, instead of swimming. And when things got too hot, or their legs started to tire, we were able to quickly return back to the cool, quiet comfort of our room to recharge before the next item on our Santa Fe “to-do.”

2. Hit the New Mexico History Museum First

From the architecture to the colors to the vibe, everything in Santa Fe is different. To get ourselves acquainted with the city and to help us understand the Native American history on which we were treading, on our first morning we walked across the street from the Rosewood to the Palace of the Governors and the New Mexico History Museum. From the ancestral pueblos to the Spanish colonists to nuclear scientists, the kids and I strode through three levels of fascinating first-hand accounts of the Santa Fe experience. With dozens of multi-media and interactive exhibits from which to choose, the kids’ curiosities were piqued, and the questions they generated from this morning-long exploration continued throughout the trip.

3. Schedule a Docent at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

One of the reasons for our Santa Fe trip was to see the place where the artist Georgia O’Keeffe spent so much of her life, and where she died. You see her work in the landscape of Northern New Mexico, in the sunsets and the flowers of the Southwest. So of course, we had to visit the museum dedicated to her work. At the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, we were led through the current exhibits by a docent named Mary. She provided much needed insight into the artist’s personal life and her years of prolific painting. She was also able to answer questions right away when the kids needed to know something immediately – like where the bathrooms were.

Art museums can be tough for kids, but this is museum houses a manageably sized collection, and the staff pleasantly armed the kids with sketch pads before touring. When my conversations with Mary became too boring for the little artists, they were able to sit and draw, inspired by the work of O’Keeffe all around them.

4. Encourage the Kids to New Foods

I couldn’t wait to get my hands on some green and red chile while I was in Santa Fe. But because this was a solo-mom trip, and I couldn’t handle extended whining over food alone, I tried to balance the dining choices between new and exciting and tried and true.

Around the corner from our hotel was The Shed, a popular courtyard eatery shaded by sprawling trumpet vines. I got my red chile – smothering two delicious blue corn tortilla and cheese enchiladas — while my elder son ordered just the cheese, grilled. (The youngest was having a “misunderstanding” as he later called it, and chose to skip lunch and sulk in the corner of the courtyard to prove an unknown point.) Of course I offered some of my enchilada and red chile to my older son, who at first turned it down. But by the end of the meal he began to dip his tortilla chips into the sauce, first wondering how hot it was, why it was so red, and how it was made. (One small step for Mom; one giant leap for picky eaters everywhere!)

This was not the end of the experiments in Southwestern dining. On the final night in town, we donned our blazers and ate at The Patio at the Rosewood Inn at the Anasazi — a great regional meal in a beautiful setting. But the boys’ desserts were enormous and had them needing to run after the final course, which they did, through the kitchen to meet the chef, Juan Bochenski. They were (this time) escorted by the unbelievably patient maître d’, Thomas, while I finished my glass of Sancerre. We all left happy.

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5. Shop for Art, Shop for Bear Claws

I was pleasantly surprised at the interest my kids showed in galleries. After a brief reminder on how to look with their eyes and not touch with their hands, we walked through several galleries with works that were both fragile and expensive. Some gallery owners seem pleasantly surprised to have kids looking at the work and personally showed them around, while others were visibly annoyed by our presence, but it didn’t matter. We had a chance to see artists from around the country and most were definitely worth seeing.

On the last day, the kids chose a gallery that featured cartoons from artist Chuck Jones. They loved the whimsical drawings of characters that they and I both recognized and loved. It reminded us that “art is everywhere and everything,” and it doesn’t have to hang on pristine walls to qualify. The kids even wanted to shop! Armed with $5 each, after several visits to jewelry stores and tchotchke shops, they chose a bear claw necklace and a handmade bracelet from the Indian Art Market, both pieces you will see them wearing proudly around home even today.

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