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Family trips don’t always have to be expensive and these five destination won’t break the bank.
What can I say about Santa Fe? It’s a hot destination, especially this time of year when the average daytime highs are in the mid-80s.
But I’m not talking about the temperatures or even the fiery-hot cuisine. (Beware of the salsa!) Santa Fe is now an all-around great place to be for other reasons, especially if you’re traveling with your family.
We’ve visited Santa Fe twice — once, for a week in 2015 and again for a month in March. Both times we discovered a side of the oldest state capital in the United States that few people experience, let alone write about.
If you go, you should consider seeing the touristy side but then immersing yourself in the more authentic part of New Mexico’s capital.
Santa Fe is for families — and tourists
Let’s start with the touristy stuff, of which there’s plenty. You absolutely have to explore Santa Fe Plaza, the town square, which is filled with antique shops and restaurants. During the summer, there’s entertainment on the weekends. Then make your way up to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, the mother church of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.
There’s no shortage of terrific museums, including the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, the New Mexico Museum of Art, and the New Mexico History Museum. If you have time and transportation, check out the Museum of International Folk Art on Museum Hill.
And don’t just stay in town. Check out the Jeep tours from Santa Fe Mountain Adventures, which take you off-roading into the hills near the city.
Santa Fe for the rest of us
On our second visit to Santa Fe, I thought we would do more of the same — museums, city walking tours, maybe a few more restaurants. Wrong. Our vacation rental on the outskirts of town wasn’t an easy walk to the plaza, which forced us to plan our daily hiking excursions more carefully.
A new path had opened along the Santa Fe River, which allowed us to hike out of town and see a different side of Santa Fe — a little less developed and natural. Plus, with spring in full bloom, it was an experience for all the senses, beginning with an eruption of bright yellow forsythia just after the last snowstorm.
We also discovered the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market, and on weekends we would built meals around the seasonal items we found there. They have this obsession with rice, beans and lavender at the market, which I guess is a Santa Fe thing. Our favorite vendor was Intergalactic Bread Company & Space Sauce, which made a mushroom pastry that was, well, out of this world.
I have a cousin who works as a firefighter in nearby White Rock, so we also had an opportunity to visit him and see Bandelier National Monument. The cave dwellings in that park are considerably older than anything you’ll find in Santa Fe, but it’s also a good opportunity to learn about native cultures.
At about the same time all of this was happening, we were getting new reports from 23andMe that we had a small percentage of Native American DNA, so that made things extra interesting. Who knows, maybe our relatives lived here hundreds of years ago?
After a while, we settled into a comfortable routine of walking into town, ordering tea at Sky Coffee near the train station, checking out the latest books at the Santa Fe Public Library, and then walking to Sprouts grocery store or to the La Montañita Co-op, which has the best ginger snaps this side of the Rockies.
And then I discovered that in addition to my cousin, I had an old friend who lives just outside of town. This was becoming a social visit to Santa Fe. Over time, we began to feel less like tourists and more like residents.
Of course, we never were residents. After our month ended, we packed everything into our Honda and headed back to Arizona, our home for the next few weeks. Ah, the life of nomads!
But if we learned anything from our time in Santa Fe, maybe it was this: The perfect destination feels a lot like home.
Christopher Elliott’s latest book is “How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler” (National Geographic). He edits the family adventure travel blog Away is Home. You can follow his adventures on Twitter or Facebook.
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