Get into the spirit of Santa Fe during the holidays
"Red, green or Christmas?" That's the question you'll be asked each time you sit down for a meal in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Although it is the time of year for festive conversation, this question has nothing to do with holiday decor. It's all about the chiles, the ubiquitous culinary symbol of this southwestern town.
Chiles are served with breakfast, roasted and served alone as appetizers -- they're even dipped in chocolate. Every restaurant offers you the choice of red chile sauce, green or a combination of the two. To opt out of the chile would be sacrilege, and why would you? The chile is part of this town's flavor, and why not spice it up on vacation?
Santa Fe is so different from what we see, smell and experience back in the Midwest. From the adobe houses to the smell of the pinon trees burning in the kiva fireplaces, Santa Fe makes you feel like you've really gotten away.
But the direct flight to this town just over an hour from the Albuquerque Airport, means feeling far away on vacation is within easy reach.
Santa Fe is particularly charming during the holidays. The city's unique blend of Indian and Hispanic culture is reflected in the seasonal traditions so different from ours in Chicago.
Farolitos, candles placed in paper bags, light up the night as they line the walkways and rooftops of the adobe homes and Spanish-style churches, giving the city an even more spiritual quality than it normally has.
New age is old school in this town, where generations have embraced everything from yoga and meditation to holistic medicine. But during the holidays, the spirit of Christmas takes over the town, where long-held Catholic traditions still reign.
Santa Fe may not seem like the perfect choice for kids. Gallery hopping and shopping? Most kids would rather take a pass. But that's just some of what this city of different, as it calls itself, has to offer. Here are the best family-friendly recommendations for a spectacular Southwestern adventure.
Where to stay
A great choice for families is Bishop's Lodge, a sprawling resort three miles north of downtown Santa Fe with on-site horseback riding and hiking at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Adobe villas feature southwestern decor and fireplaces. The hotel lobby, restaurant and bar offer a welcoming Western-themed spot to relax.
If you want to stay in the heart of Santa Fe, directly on the Plaza, surrounded by restaurants, museums and shops, choose La Fonda. This historic hotel features beautiful art, a fun outdoor pool and Jacuzzi and delightful western and Native American themed furnishings.
Where to eat
If you want to start your day like a local, head over to Tia Sofia's. Local leaders and politicians gather each morning at this iconic favorite, home of the breakfast burrito.
Consider having lunch at another Santa Fe institution, Cowgirl BBQ, a budget-friendly stop for burgers, and, you guessed it, barbecue. Parents will not only love the western-themed decor, but the outdoor enclosed play area for kids ... yeehaw!
Looking for a romantic night out? Head a block north of Santa Fe's historic Plaza to Il Piatto, where rustic Italian is fused with New Mexican cuisine. Chef and owner Matt Yohalem showcases local produce throughout the menu. Ever thought you'd enjoy eating straight chile peppers? You'll be surprised to find out just how delicious they are, if you order the pan roasted chiles appetizer.
What to do
Teens might enjoy an art gallery stroll along Canyon Road.
If you decide to attempt these artistic pursuits with your older kids, the Nedra Matteucci Gallery is a must. It features more traditional art, including pieces by Georgia O'Keefe, along with Western and Native American themes. There's also a bucolic sculpture garden at this gallery, that really feels more like a museum inside a lovely southwestern home.
Afterward, make a sweet stop at Kakawa Chocolate House, a charming kid-friendly cafe featuring a vest menu of hot chocolates and sweet treats, including chocolate covered chiles. Kids will enjoy sitting at the child-sized table and chairs.
Too young for the gallery tour? Head straight for the Museum of International Folk Art, a treasure trove of toys and miniature models that will delight all ages.
When it's time to get out of town, head for the mountains. Ski Santa Fe, a half-hour north of downtown, is home to some great ski slopes. There's no on-site lodging, but it makes for a great day trip. The mountains of Santa Fe are also home to some amazing petroglyphs. Take a hike and see for yourself. Better yet, consider hiring a guide like Karen Denison, of Outspire Hiking, who'll lead your family right to them.
Whether you decide to take it outside, or chill out indoors at the galleries, museums, and world-class restaurants, Santa Fe is a unique way to celebrate the holidays.
• Find more great family travel insights at TravelingMom.com, where Andrea Guthmann writes as Midwest TravelingMom.