Santa Fe, Part V

Eating a bad meal in Santa Fe is incredibly hard.  We ate out 2-3 times a day and had only a couple of duds.  Breakfast was usually eaten at the casita (another benefit over a hotel) but lunch and dinner were always out.  We ate a lot of Tex Mex but also found delicious pizza, salads, and one of the best burgers I've ever tasted.


Since we landed in Albuquerque around lunchtime, my husband had already scouted out a place to stop for lunch:  Duran Central Pharmacy Restaurant.  It is only about a 10 minute drive from the airport and as the name states, it is a restaurant inside a local drugstore.  But don't let that scare you off as it still has loads of character.  

When we arrived for a late lunch, the place was populated with locals lingering over their meals.  The food was probably the best (Tex Mex) we ate and the waitress was really helpful in tailoring menu items for the kids.  

We discovered the Pantry, a delicious family-run restaurant, by accident.  It was down the street from our first choice and when that turned out to be not what we had hoped, we decided to give The Pantry a try and I'm so glad we did.  The chips and salsa was first rate as was everything else that followed.  We obviously weren't the only ones who thought highly of this place - it advanced to the semi-finals in the Burrito Bracketa contest to identify the best burrito in the U.S. (Duran Central Pharmacy was also in this bracket but finished a distant second.)

Photo courtesy of the Pantry Restaurant

Photo courtesy of the Pantry Restaurant

Many people (and guidebooks) recommended The Shedbut after looking at the menu it seemed like a better place for two adults enjoying a long meal and not a family of four looking for a quick bite to eat.  Luckily, the Shed has a sister restaurant, La Choza, that fit the bill perfectly.  One tip:  get here early or make a reservation.  We arrived about 30 minutes after they opened and still had to wait 45 minutes for a table.  It was well worth the wait as evidenced by the fact that we were so busy eating that I didn't even manage to take any pictures!  

I had read rave reviews about Cafe Pasqual's and we decided to check it out for breakfast one morning.  Pasqual's is located in downtown Santa Fe and was filled with a nice mix of locals and tourists enjoying a quiet breakfast.  The dining room is funky and the kids enjoyed looking around while we waited for our food to arrive.  This guy watched over us as we ate:

We had a fantastic lunch from a taco cart on the Plaza in downtown Santa Fe.  Roque's Carnitas, is owned by a very sweet man, Roque Garcia, who makes each carnita as it is ordered.  The beef is thinly sliced, cooked on the griddle with onions and peppers, and topped with homemade salsa.  It is then piled into a tortilla and wrapped tightly in aluminum foil, perfect for eating as you walk or sitting at one of the picnic tables scattered around the Plaza.  Ava had the chicken (without the peppers and onions), which was also delicious, while the non-meateater among us enjoyed the green chile cheese tamales.  Be sure and wash it down with the homemade lemonade and watermelon juice.

Non Tex-Mex:

Do you ever eat somewhere on vacation and think why can't I have a restaurant like this in my town?  Vinaigrette was one of those places for us.  We loved it so much we ate there twice, which is unusual for us when we are on vacation.  The menu offers 15+ different salads and many of the ingredients are grown on the owner's farm in Nambe, 20 minutes north of Santa Fe.  While there is not a kids menu, there is mac and cheese (which is served with sliced veggies and apples) and at least two soups which change daily.   I still dream about the Nutty Pear-fessor...


One night we were tired of Tex-Mex  so we opted for pizza at Il Vicino.  The pizzas are the perfect size for 2 people to split with a salad on the side or a hearty meal for one.  There is indoor and outdoor seating and we took advantage of the beautiful weather to eat outside in the courtyard.  Even though it was a weeknight, the restaurant filled up quickly so I would advise getting here early.  


We ended our time in Santa Fe not with a taco or burrito but with a burger.  We had tried to go the Shake Foundation at least twice prior to this but finally had success on our last day.  It is very similar in feel to the Shake Shack as they serve only burgers, fries and shakes and while I can't speak to the shakes the burgers are every bit as good (maybe even better) than those at the Shake Shack.  It is made from a mixture of sirloin and brisket and served on a buttered bun.   They also offer turkey burgers, portobello burgers and a fried oyster sandwich which was perfect for our crew as two of us are not big fans of the traditional hamburger!  

Santa Fe, Part IV

The highlight of the kids' trip was the river rafting trip we took on the Rio Grande.  The trip takes you through a section of the river with class I - class III rapids and is so much fun.  Ava was unsure of the whole idea until she rode her first rapid and then she was a convert.  Our guide was the nicest guy and was very good with the kids, especially Ava.  I think he sensed her nervousness and was always looking for ways to get her involved and increase her confidence.  

There are many rafting tour operators in the area but Santa Fe Rafting was the only one who could accommodate our last minute reservation.  They are also one of the only rafting companies still in Santa Fe proper so you park at their office and they transport you by van to the river, pointing out sites and providing interesting facts along the way.  

Unfortunately the waterproof disposable camera we purchased did not take very good photos so I don't have anything to share from our time on the river.  Our guide told us after the fact that the rafting company sold plastic cases that essentially make your standard digital camera waterproof so that is a note for next time!  The trip down the river included beautiful scenery, a chance to get out for a swim (the kids loved jumping in the water off the front of the raft), an otter sighting and an Anasazi petroglyph.  

At the end of the trip the guides provided snacks and lemonade.  Then it was a quick change out of our wet clothes and a sleepy ride back to our car.

Santa Fe, Part II

We spent most of our week outdoors enjoying the amazing scenery Santa Fe and its surrounding environs had to offer.  All of the hikes we did are kid friendly in that they were neither too long nor too difficult and had plenty of features to keep everyone interested.

The first area we explored was Bandalier National Monument, which is a collection of dwellings that were first inhabited by Native Americans over 11,000 years ago.  The 1.2 mile trail is mostly paved and almost completely flat.  The kids loved climbing in and exploring some of the caves that were carved out of the soft volcanic rock.  


A couple of tips about this hike:  Arrive early (before 9:00 a.m.) and you can drive right into the park.  Any later and you have to take a shuttle bus to and from the site from nearby White Rocks which takes about 30 minutes.  By arriving early you also get the site almost to yourself and miss the midday sun which can be intense.

There is an additional .5-mile walk out to the Alcove House site.  It is well worth the walk just for the pleasure of walking through the forest and along a little stream and taking in the sight of the cliffs from afar.  


Unfortunately, the Alcove House site is accessed by 4 wooden ladders much taller than the one in the picture above and a series of stone stairs, which we didn't feel Ava could manage so we turned back.  

There is almost no signage along the way so be sure to stop in the information center and gift shop.  There are brochures and handouts that outline all of the hikes and give a clearer picture of who built the dwellings and how they lived.  The gift shop has a small book about Bandelier geared toward kids but it answered a lot of the questions Alan and I had as well so look out for that.  The shop has some cool postcards and a very good selection of books for both kids and adults.  There is a also restaurant to grab water or a snack.

The next hike was also to visit some cave dwellings but much less popular than Bandelier.  It is called Tsankawi and is about a 20 minute drive from Bandelier so the two hikes can easily be done in one morning.  It is a 1.5-mile loop and although it does require navigating some ladders, everyone managed with no problems.  The path is over tufa (a very soft type of volcanic rock) and as such you are walking in troughs carved out by the thousands of footsteps that have come before you.  Although Alan and I took to calling some of these troughs "ankle breakers," the kids loved that they were just the right size for them.


One of the most exciting parts of the hike was coming upon bits of ancient pottery scattered across the path.  In one spot we quickly found 4-5 pieces to add to the display someone had already begun.

A third hike in this area is the Valle Grande trail in the Valles Caldera National Preserve.  The caldera stretches over 22 miles across and was formed over a million years ago by a series of volcanic eruptions.  This hike is an easy 2 miles round trip through a beautiful forest and lots of wildflowers.  Then you come out of the forest to this...

We had hoped to spot a large herd of elk that roams the caldera but had to settle for small specks in the distance.  

We did all three of the above hikes in one day and although it may sound crazy, it is very doable.  We knocked out Bandelier and Tsankawi in the morning, grabbed a quick lunch in Los Alamos, headed out to Valles Caldera and were still home in time for a swim before dinner!

We took one more hike on our last day and it was my favorite one of the whole trip, to Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.  Most of the guidebooks list this as the top hike in the area and it definitely delivered.  We were advised to get an early start and bring lots of water and we were glad we did both.  The hike is a little over 2 miles total but there are some steep climbs.  You start by heading through a slot canyon which was unlike anything I've ever seen.

The kids loved scrambling up, over and sometimes under the rocks.  Along the way you get a glimpse of the rock formations for which the park is named.  Over time, water and wind have eroded the volcanic rock into these tent forms with little "hats" on top.

This is a very popular hike and I think we saw more people here than on the rest of our other hikes combined (another reason to get an early start).  At the top you are rewarded with the most amazing views and the knowledge that it is all downhill from here.

The whole hike only takes about 2-3 hours and we wanted to check out a hike to some hot springs we had read about but unfortunately it was too far of a drive.  One of the many things to put on our list of things to do next time!

Santa Fe, Part I

When I told people we were planning to go to Santa Fe there was usually a pause followed by the question, "What is there to do (with kids)?"  The answer it turns out is a lot, more than we could fit into a week visit despite our best efforts!  We travelled at the end of August and had the most amazing weather:  low 80's, no humidity and brilliant blue skies.



When we are on the road and will be in one place for longer than a night or two, we have found that it works best for us to rent a house or apartment.  Blessed with a very early riser (5:30), this allows everyone to get the right amount of rest without disruption.  We have used a few different websites to find places, but I seem to return again and again to HomeAway.  They have rentals throughout the U.S. and the world and we have rented places everywhere from Maine to Barcelona and have always been pleased.  

This time we chose a casita about 10 minutes outside of Santa Fe in the small town of Tesuque.  The property is in a small community right across the street from the Four Seasons and it was recommended that we go over and have a drink on the patio as the views are spectacular, but unfortunately it wasn't that kind of trip!  The casita was well appointed with two lovely patios, plenty of room to spread out and a washer and dryer.  Access to a washer and dryer is another benefit to renting our own space as it means we can travel with less and those inevitable spills and messes don't have to be washed out in the bathroom sink.  

One of the reasons we chose this particular spot was the community pool and it was a  highlight of the trip.  I've found that a pool can be a tremendous asset on any vacation with kids.  It is a great way to fill a couple of hours after sightseeing or burn off excess energy before bedtime.  We were lucky to have it to ourselves every time we used it, so it was like having our very own private pool.  And you couldn't top the view...