Those who have never been on an Indian reservation will be awestruck by Taos Pueblo (505/758-1028), more than 1,000 years old and barely changed since the Spanish arrived in 1540. There is a guide on hand to speak for the 1,700-odd Taos-Tiwa Indians who continue to live here, and to lead tours of the grounds and the Catholic church. The interiors of the adobe apartments are strictly forbidden to tourists, but a few are open as pastry or jewelry stores. The official tour divulges little information about native traditions; most are kept secret from outsiders. But the public is welcome at the tribe's ceremonial corn dances in June and the Taos Pueblo Powwow and the Feast of Santa Ana, both in July. For a calendar of feast days and information on Taos Pueblo and other pueblos in the area, order the "Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Visitors Guide" (call 800/793-4955).
High Road to Taos The only crucial stop along the 35-mile scenic route between Santa Fe and Taos is Chimayó, the village whose families have passed down the art of weaving for more than 150 years. The Chimayó weaving style is derived from Spanish and Mexican traditions, incorporating those of Central America and Native America. Most children won't want to spend too long contemplating these wonders, but it's worth a stop to see the European-style floor loom and the spectacular rugs made by seven generations of the Trujillo family at Centinela Traditional Arts (Chimayó; 505/351-2180). Of all the shops, this one is the best, and least known to tourists.
Bandelier National Monument and Puye Cliff Dwellings There's no shortage of enthusiasm or information among the staff at Bandelier (45 miles NW of Santa Fe on Hwy. 4, 505/672-3861), and in a short tour, either guided or self-guided with a trail map, families will learn about the ancient Puebloan Indians who lived in these cl around a.d. 1000 to the mid-1500's. You can climb ladders and peer into the caves that line the soft pink rock of the canyon; some have ancient carvings on the walls. The 30-minute drive north from here to the Puye Cliff Dwellings (Santa Clara Pueblo; 505/753-7326) is worthwhile if only for the dramatic sweep of mountainside between the two sites; the route is also far more beautiful than the highway to Santa Fe. The view of the caves from the road into the ruins is astounding. Exploring them, however, can involve climbing up some challenging, even treacherous, cliffside ladders.
where to eat
At least a dozen of Santa Fe's excellent upscale restaurants are less than perfect for children. (One of the best is Nellie's, in the Hotel Loretto.) But here are a few spots where you and your group will feel entirely welcome.
The place to be is Café Pasqual's (121 Don Gaspar; 505/983-9340; breakfast for four $50). Consequently, there's often a wait. But once you're seated, the food, colorful Mexican decorations, and cheerful atmosphere will make your day. Satisfy a sweet tooth with tamal dulce—a sweet corn tamale wrapped in banana leaves and served with black beans, mango, and a cup of Mexican hot chocolate.
If you're a huge fan of the chile, don't miss the legendary and often packed Tecolote Café (1203 Cerrillos Rd.; 505/988-1362; breakfast for four $35), where hot means hot. But a perfect antidote for the sheepherder's breakfast—a grilled mash of new potatoes, jalapeños, and onion topped with an egg, red and green chiles, and melted cheddar—is the café's biscuit-and-bread basket, served with whipped butter and raspberry preserves.
For a gourmet meal on wheels, look for Roques's cart—he usually parks on the corner of Washington and Palace Avenues from about 11 to 5, but there are no promises. The carnitas, tamales, and lemonade are a godsend. This is perhaps the best, and certainly the cheapest, lunch in town.
A dream version of Taco Bell, La Bell's (301 Jefferson St.; 505/986-8223; lunch for four $20) was opened by a Santa Fe chef who wanted to spend more time with her kids. The Mexican/New Mexican dishes are served in seconds but taste great. There's even a drive-through.
In a town where it can seem impossible to escape chili, the French Pastry Shop (100 E. San Francisco St., in La Fonda hotel; 505/983-6697; lunch for four $40) is a relief. Nothing here is spicy. The savory crêpes, such as the one filled with chicken, mushrooms, and béchamel sauce, make a delicious lunch. Of course, the sweet crêpes are irresistible. This is also a good place for café au lait.
If you want to relax even when your younger kids are throwing food and your older ones are rolling their eyes, the Plaza Restaurant (54 Lincoln Ave.; 505/982-1664; lunch or dinner for four $50) is your safe haven. This diner has been on the Plaza since 1918 and has nothing to prove. The food is very good, and some of it—like the meatloaf—is great.
Sick of burritos? Every Santa Fe resident under the age of 18 seems to put Il Vicino (321 W. San Francisco St.; 505/986-8700; pizza for four $20) on a list of favorites. The highest praise goes to the wood-oven pizzas and calzones.
The locals' choice for traditional New Mexican food in a no-frills setting is La Choza (905 Alarid St.; 505/982-0909; dinner for four $50). Try the green-chili clam chowder.
where to stay
Many of Santa Fe's best hotels, such as the Inn of the Anasazi, are geared to romantic getaways rather than family comfort. The following choices are most appropriate for families.
La Fonda 100 E. San Francisco St.; 800/523-5002 or 505/982-5511; doubles from $209. Much is made of the history of this adobe-style building, which lies at the end of the Santa Fe Trail. Many of the 167 guest rooms are haphazardly decorated and cared for. But those in the innovative contemporary wing are nicely outfitted with all-cotton mattresses and natural textiles. The courtyard pool is large enough for kids' play. But the primary reason to stay at La Fonda is to be directly on the Plaza, surrounded by restaurants, stores, and galleries.
Hotel Santa Fe 1501 Paseo de Peralta; 800/825-9876 or 505/982-1200; suites from $139. This 128-room hotel is more than half-owned by the Picuris Pueblo. With soft flute music playing in the sitting areas and an unusually congenial staff, the hotel may be the most peaceful place to stay in Santa Fe. The menu offers the only Native American food in town, and to top it all off, the 91 well-designed suites are ideal for families who want to stay in one room without sacrificing all privacy.