Nestled in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Santa Fe is the heart and soul of New Mexico’s art culture. When you take a step out of your Santa Fe vacation rental, you’ll become steeped in Southwestern history, and surrounded by pueblo-style architecture that reflects a 1610 Spanish colonial influence. Crooked streets and adobe landmark monuments surround the historic Plaza Square. Boasting the third largest museum system in the country, Santa Fe welcomes your family to explore its culture, history, and traditions, while you bask in the warmth of the “Land of the Enchantment.”

1. The Harrell House of Natural Oddities and Bug Museum

Delightfully bizarre, more than 100 specimens of bugs, fish, tortoises, snakes, and hand-fed tarantulas board at the Harrell House. Thousands of mounted specimens line the walls, and dinosaur bones rattle as you pass by. The museum also has a great gift shop with dinosaur models, robot and science kits, original art, and fossils.

2. Meow Wolf Art Complex

Enter the Meow Wolf Art Complex, and enjoy an innovative art exhibit with your family. Upon entering, you’ll receive a small bit of information about a lost family. It’s your job to explore and investigate as you walk, climb, and crawl through a fantasy world in search of answers about the family’s whereabouts. This fun quest is sure to excite everyone in your family.

3. Santa Fe Children’s Museum

Jam-packed with interactive exhibits, the Santa Fe Children’s Museum offers a world of excitement for young kids, tweens, and teens. Young kids can star in their own rock band and puppet show, or they can spend time exploring the scientific principles of magnets and motion. Outdoor fun is abundant at the gigantic outdoor Rubik’s Cube or aboard a wooden ship. Let your children cool off in the water play and bubble area. If they still have energy to burn, head over to the large sandbox area and build some castles.

4. El Rancho de las Golondrinas

Get a taste of the Spanish colonial and territorial life as you tour this fascinating living museum. Mingle with period-dressed residents, and learn the history of the area as you walk through the Southwestern-style adobe buildings. The kids can mix up a batch of bread and then watch it bake in a ‘horna,’ the historic New Mexican outdoor oven. El Rancho de las Golondrinas hosts a number of festivals throughout the year. A favorite of youngsters is the Fiesta de los Ninos, where storytellers and puppeteers induce lots of smiles and the make-and-take crafts are a big hit.

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5. Wiford Gallery Wind Sculpture

Nestled just off Canyon Road, this spacious outdoor sculpture garden takes your breath away. World class artists present awe-inspiring works of art, including oil paintings inspired by Van Gogh and Matisse, wind sculptures designed with superb mechanical integrity, and stone landscape art created from materials found in the local terrain.

6. Bandelier National Monument

Get a bird’s eye view of ancient cliff dwellings that are 140-feet above the canyon floor and accessible by ladder or on foot. As you follow the paved and dirt pathways in the valley along the stream, challenge the kids to spot the petroglyphs carved in the cliffs, which give them an exciting glimpse into ancient forms of communication.

7. The Railyard District

Once the epicenter of railroad transportation in Santa Fe, this district is now the center for fun. Take a walk along the tracks as you browse one of the largest farmers’ markets in the country. Picnic in the shady groves, then relax while the kids climb, slide, and play on the natural structures.

8. New Mexico Wildlife Center

Dedicated to public wildlife education habitat conservation, this center rehabilitates native wild animals. Eagles, owls, hawks, bobcats, and reptiles live in peaceful protection, and it’s easy to get up-close views of these animals as you stroll the outdoor grounds. The center hosts special events year round, so be sure to ask about current events when you visit.

9. Museum of International Folk Art

At the Museum of International Folk Art, colorful displays of indigenous works delight the imagination, especially popular art relating to the Mexican holiday, Day of the Dead. Rows of brightly colored altars and skeletons nearly dance off the tables, and there’s an astounding collection of intricate miniature and multicultural toys. This museum houses the largest collection of folk art in the world, and you won’t want to miss it.

10. Santa Fe Mountain Treasure Hunt

Explore this beautiful landscape, get some exercise, and learn about hand-held GPS tracking as you set off to discover hidden treasure at Santa Fe Mountain Treasure Hunt. A guide gives you clues then takes you through the Santa Fe National Forest, where you identify flora and fauna from the clues. Entertaining and educational, the treasure hunt ends when the kids discover a special shoebox filled with trinkets.

11. Santa Fe Balloon Rides

Experience the thrill of floating over Las Barrancas, The Ravines, in a hot air balloon, a memorable, once-in-a-lifetime experience. You and the kids can help inflate the balloon, then the experienced pilot will give you a pre-flight briefing so you know what to expect. The balloon and gondola become one with the wind as you soar, and there’s surprisingly little motion or movement. There are no power lines or obstacles to obscure your view of the spectacular Southwestern beauty beneath you.

12. The Plaza

Deemed “the heart of Santa Fe,” the Plaza is the central gathering place in town. The historic American Indian War Memorial obelisk at the center of the tree-lined Plaza makes it difficult to lose your bearings as you pick up a snack from a food vendor, pop into a boutique for a sun hat, or stop and admire the goods at one of the many festivals. Bring a chair or blanket to the Plaza, and settle in at one of the 75 free nightly summer concerts at the bandstand and enjoy a variety of rock, blues, jazz, and mariachi musical performances under twinkling fairy lights.

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