SANTA FE, N.M. —When we visited Santa Fe in the spring of 2005, it was a charming and romantic getaway for two.
A few years later, our twosome became a family of three.
When we planned a two-week trip around the Western U.S. this year, stopping a few nights in Santa Fe was enticing. But would the city be as cosmopolitan and marvelous the second time around, with our 2-year-old daughter in tow? I could only hope.
We love bed and breakfasts and found a great one a five-minute walk from the Plaza called Casa Cuma. When we stayed there four years ago it was cozy and perfect. Close to everything, fantastic breakfast, nice owners, an outdoor hot tub, a private room (Zapotec) with its own entrance — the ideal. But they don't accept children under 12. Arrrgh.
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So we shifted away from the B&B idea and looked for budget-friendly lodging with a smidge of charm. We were on our way to one option when we passed a darling little inn. "That one looks really cute," I said as we passed it. That was enough for us to U-turn back to check it out. The El Rey Inn has been operating since 1936, which is probably part of what I liked about it.
Do people travel much without reservations for lodging anymore? It doesn't seem like it. But there's something impulsive and fun about showing up in a town and having no idea where you'll sleep that night. I also like the nostalgia of walking in to see how good a rate you can bargain, without using an online service to hunt down the best price. This can go seriously awry if every place you like is full. But that wasn't the case this time.
We stayed in a mini-apartment essentially. It was bright and airy with a walk-in closet, a full kitchen, dining table and chairs and a lovely Spanish-style bathroom with two sinks. The El Rey grounds are large with an outdoor heated pool, an indoor hot tub, a small playground, lots of roundabouts and water features around property filled with bouganvillea and other lush plants and flowers. And a hot breakfast is included.
Our daughter loved the modest playground — as long as there's a swing, she's happy. We also spent a nice few hours in the pool. And it was homey, and economical, to make dinner in our room.
But eating out is a huge part of vacation, and one of my favorite parts. The highlight of our 2005 trip was a dinner event at El Farol, the oldest restaurant and cantina in Santa Fe. The place features a Flamenco dinner show with bistro style seating. We sat with a young couple from Albuquerque and hit it off immediately. We had delicious food, great wine, lively conversation and sat four feet from the Flamenco dancers who shook and stomped the stage just before we were served dessert. It was a fabulous night that we recall with joy. No way were we going to be able to do that again with a 2-year-old.
Luckily there are many great options when it comes to dining in Santa Fe. We returned to our lunch spot from four years ago, The Shed. Just off the Plaza and behind the Prince Patio courtyard, The Shed has been serving food since 1953. Both times we've been there The Shed has been bustling, but we've never had to wait more than 20 minutes for a table. Tall visitors beware: the doorways are low enough that you have to duck as you are led through the restaurant into one of the nine intimate rooms for your meal. Because The Shed has small rooms, it's not as loud as it seems at the entrance. But kids are fine as it will go mostly unnoticed if they're a tad loud. They have a good kids menu, and the food here is still wonderful — a nice combination of spicy and gourmet. Plus the margarita was a refreshing treat.
We had to hustle out without dessert because we were going back to a wellness center called BODY for massages. We had a great experience there last trip as the massages were relaxing and inexpensive, compared to some hotel spa treatments. You won't find high-end relaxation areas or hot tubs and steam rooms to accompany your treatment at BODY. But the therapists are skilled and friendly, and massage is all we wanted. The center offers childcare for ages 9 months and up at $3.50 per half hour, so we were set to let our daughter have some fun in the kids' area.
As is often the case, she had other ideas. She promptly fell asleep on the seven-minute drive from The Shed to BODY. The therapist and the rest of the staff were incredibly accommodating, allowing me to keep the stroller with my sleeping child in the room. And the massage was heaven.
One of the draws of Santa Fe is the art, and much of it is concentrated along Canyon Road. Gallery after gallery lines both sides of the street. We enjoyed strolling through many of them previously. I was pleasantly surprised that it was still possible to wander through some galleries with a toddler. The employees were generous to our daughter, going out of their way to point out colorful pieces or other things she might like. And she enjoyed running around some of the courtyard areas and looking at statues — "Look Mommy, there's a frog! And that's a bunny!"
Back at the Plaza, we walked over to Saint Francis Cathedral to admire the architecture. Officially called the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, it was built between 1869 and 1886. The structure has truncated square towers, which were planned to be topped with 160-foot steeples. But the steeples were never built, so the towers have an unfinished look.
The Plaza is home to the Palace of Governors, the oldest public building in the United States (1610). There's a state history museum in it. We toured that museum in 2005, but doing it again with a little girl didn't seem a good idea. We decided to split up. So the little one and I shopped the jewelry and other goods from local artists in front of the Palace of Governors while her dad took in the museum inside.
It's a lot more fun, and more challenging, to shop for wares with a young child. Watching her point to everything with excitement and say "That one is pretty" or "I like THIS one" made me smile, and I caught some of the artisans looking amused too. Amidst all the silver and turquoise, she picked out a bronze Kokopelli tree ornament. Seeing it every holiday season will ignite fond memories of this trip.
When we reunite at the appointed time, our little one looks up and says, "Why is Daddy frowning?" Because he said he could have spent five hours in the museum instead of two. There's a large, multimedia addition of the state history museum that opened this year, but he only got to see a fraction of it because no one mentioned this "hidden" section and he ran out of time.
As we headed out, we passed the central library and stopped in briefly. It's a quaint building that smelled just like you expect an old building of books to smell, and a place I'll be sure to spend a few hours on our next trip to Santa Fe.
It might take another four years, but by then our daughter will be reading.
IF YOU GO
WHERE TO STAY: Casa Cuma Bed and Breakfast, 105 Paseo de la Cuma, Santa Fe. Rooms, $145-$195. 505-216-7516 or casacuma.com
El Rey Inn, 1862 Cerrillos Road, Santa Fe. Rooms and suites, $84-$165. 800-521-1349 or elreyinnsantafe.com
WHERE TO EAT: El Farol Restaurant and Cantina, 808 Canyon Road, Santa Fe. 505-983-9912 or elfarolsf.com
The Shed Creative Cooking, 113 1/2 E. Palace Ave., Santa Fe. 505-982-9030 or sfshed.com
SPA: Body, 333 Cordova Road, Santa Fe. 505-986-0362 or bodyofsantafe.com
MORE INFO: Santa Fe Tourism, 800-777-2489 or santafe.org