Over Labor Day weekend I took my daughter on a quick trip to New Mexico. We had nearly four days at our disposal, splitting our time between Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Taos. The first and last nights were in Albuquerque, with the other two at the Hyatt Place Santa Fe. We spent far more time than expected in Albuquerque, enjoying the many things to do in New Mexico’s largest city, leaving us but a day to really see Santa Fe. But we would make the most of it!
Visiting the Loretto Chapel
If there’s one iconic place to see in Santa Fe, it’s the Loretto Chapel. With its beautiful and mysterious “hanging” spiral staircase, it’s worth the (unexpected) admission fee. There are plenty of other places to start your visit of Santa Fe, but this is a great choice. It’s plenty beautiful from the outside as well.
The chapel is small, and there are usually plenty of other people taking a look, which was the case when we visited. You can enjoy the stained glass and other art if the staircase isn’t enough to wow you. It’s truly amazing. I have no idea how it functioned so well, with no apparent support.
You unfortunately cannot climb it, otherwise I would have absolutely headed up to the loft. But given that it is a tourist attraction and the traffic up and down the staircase would be substantial, I’m not surprised in the slightest.
Once we’d concluded our visit to the Loretto Chapel, we headed to the plaza, along the way we stopping by the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. Don’t pass up a visit to this church.
I loved the light, the airiness, and the unique style, which is traditional with a whole lot of Southwestern influence. We admired the stained glass, the art, and just sat for a while. There is a fountain/pool in the middle, which I am guessing serves as an infant baptismal for this Roman Catholic church.
Santa Fe Plaza
From there we made our way to the Santa Fe Plaza itself, which isn’t far. I love the Pueblo-style architecture of Santa Fe. It’s so interesting to realize that New Mexico’s history (at least the historical account of European presence and influence) predates so much of the rest of country. Santa Fe is technically America’s second oldest city, which is rather incredible. It was founded right around the same time as the Jamestown colony.
We’d picked either a good day or a bad day to visit the plaza, depending on what your priorities are. There were tents all over the place. Apparently there is a street fair that happens over Labor Day weekend, and we were here in the middle of it.
We browsed for a while before moving on to the Palace of the Governors. As we’d seen in Albuquerque around the Old Town Plaza, there are many Native Americans selling handcrafted jewelry and other wares, much of which includes the use of turquoise stone. The stone is a distinct part of the Navajo and other indigenous Southwest tribes’ art.
New Mexico History Museum
We couldn’t escape Santa Fe without visiting at least one museum. I’m generally keen on seeing museums, although my wife and daughter would both rather not spend all day in them. I will say my interest really depends on the museum, what it contains, and how the information is presented.
The New Mexico History Museum is interactive enough that my daughter did enjoy it. There are plenty of areas that are just art and artifacts, but there are audio and visual presentations as well. This one took her by surprise, as matching your hand with the print on the wall activates the audio in this section.
We spent about an hour and a half at the museum, seeing what we could before moving on to have lunch.
A Rained Out Hike Means…Chocolate?
The afternoon was supposed to be spent hiking the Dale Ball Trails, about 10 minutes from old town Santa Fe. However, the weather did not cooperate. It seemed fine in town itself, but the clouds looked foreboding up toward the hills. Sure enough, we got no more than a mile or two outside of old town when the rain hit. And it wasn’t just drizzle. It was torrential. I couldn’t believe how different the weather was in the hills versus in town. The rain never hit like this back in Santa Fe itself (although it ended up raining a little).
Instead, we found ourselves looking for something to do. Luckily, I’d already identified a backup option: Kakawa Chocolate House. If you enjoy specialty, high-quality chocolate, this place is for you. Kakawa Chocolate House specializes in a unique offering of different drinking chocolates, but they also offer truffles and other candies.
We enjoyed a cup of the drinking chocolate and a couple of their truffles. The drinking chocolate is extremely good, albeit intense. I’m glad we only ordered one cup, as it was too much for my daughter.
Wrapping Up the Day at Railyard Park
With most of the day behind us, I decided we’d make a final stop at Ralyard Park before grabbing dinner and heading back to the hotel. What I didn’t expect was the giant polar bear sculpture, made out of welded together sheets of metal.
My daughter loved it. Sometimes it’s the silliest things that end up being some of the fondest memories. I have no idea why this was placed in the park. But it is super cool.
There’s not much to Railyard Park. But if you have younger kids who want to run off some energy, it’s an option. There are slides and a small playground.
Railyard Park also hosts a farmers market and an aritsans market, as well as SITE Santa Fe, an art museum. We were too late to enjoy the latter, and there wasn’t anything else going on the day we visited. But it could be much more than just a quick stop for the kids, depending on how you plan your visit.
I thought about heading back to the plaza for dinner, but kids have simple requests. We opted for fast food. Plus, it’s far cheaper than a restaurant dinner.
With only one day to spend in Santa Fe, we managed to see some of the highlights. I don’t feel like we really dug into everything New Mexico’s capital has to offer, but I’m sure we’ll be back at some point. I really enjoy the desert, as it is so different from where we live, and has a real beauty that I enjoy. We’d see some of that our next day during a morning hike before our visit to Taos!