A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.Oliver Wendell Holmes
Let me start off by saying how much I love Albuquerque. I first went there to visit my boyfriend’s family and have since been back a few times. We always try to do something new in addition to our favorites each time we visit.
Growing up on the east coast and exploring mostly Europe, I was immediately blown away by just how beautifully different it is there. The east coast is basically a giant tunnel of green whereas the southwest is varying shades of brown and I just can’t seem to get enough of it.
Landscape and rugged terrain aside, I wanted to compile a list of my favorite things to do in town to help anyone planning a trip there. All of these are affordable and can be done on any budget. What’s required? A great sense of exploration, a dash of adventurousness, and a willingness to have a great time.
I’m not huge on shopping, but oh man do I love perusing handmade items. While some of the shops have your typical tourist items, many of the shops are operated by local and/or indigenous business owners. If you’re looking for unique jewelry, pottery, and art, you’ve got to explore Old Town.
There are dozens of shops and it’s a great place to spend a half day walking around and exploring. My favorite items are the small turquoise earrings and a southwest patterned blanket I got on our last trips.
What can you miss? The restaurants were nothing special to me. They seemed to be larger, generic chains and while they weren’t bad, I would much rather eat like the locals and go somewhere smaller and hole-in-the-wall.
I’m a cider and rum person. My boyfriend borderline lives off of beer. Wherever we go, we always visit one or several breweries to hang out, grab a bite and pint, and listen to music if there’s a band. The first time we went to Albuquerque, there weren’t many breweries. The last time we went? SO many more had sprung up seemingly overnight.
Marble Brewing and Boxing Bear Brewing were our absolute favorites. We will 100% be back not only for the food, and drinks, but for the awesomely fun atmosphere at both. Sadly, I can’t bring my dogs with me on an airplane, but both breweries are dog friendly and that, for me, will always set them apart from the competition.
We all have that friend who says we can walk there! Let’s go for a walk! That person is me. I’m pretty sure I’d say let’s walk (or bike) even if it’s miles away. Exploring on foot makes me so happy and I can always discover more that way. The last time we were in Albuquerque we sat around A LOT. Don’t get me wrong, I love my boyfriend’s grandparents and playing Scrabble with them SO much, but I’m a hyper person and needed to get my steps in. Stat.
That’s how we discovered (with the help of Google) the beautiful Three Sisters aka volcanoes the National Park Service owns and conserves. There are 3 volcanoes, don’t worry they are inactive. They look mostly like small hills due to erosion and the illusion of the gigantic mountains in the distance. We did the Black Volcano Loop and the Vulcan Volcano Loop. Overall we walked about 3 miles, but with the higher altitude it seemed much harder than it should’ve…I’m a fitness professional so go easy if you haven’t acclimatized.
Is it worth it though? YES. So much yes. The views are gorgeous and it’s something completely different than hanging out in town. You can also take the time to learn about the landscape around you through the signs the park service provides as well as the Native American history of the area. It’s a great half day or shorter adventure for everyone.
Sandia Mountains and Tramway
Alright adventurers, the Sandia Mountains are a ridiculous amount of fun no matter which season in which you decide to visit. In the winter, Sandia is great for skiing and snowboarding. Because the mountains are massive, you can go for 45 minutes without stopping. Don’t forget to rehydrate at the bar halfway down.
During the less icy months, there’s hiking on both sides of the range, overlooks, and a byway you can drive along to see views of Albuquerque from above. For those looking for more extreme sports, there are plenty of places to go hang gliding and rock climbing as well!
Want something a bit more chill but don’t want to sacrifice the views? Take a trip up the tramway. You’ll ascend in a tramcar over 10,000 feet to one of the peaks and get views of the 11,000 square miles surrounding the mountains. Yes freaking please.
You can’t have a list about Albuquerque without the Balloon Fiesta. Every October thousands of balloons in all shapes and sizes (seriously it’s mind blowing) ascend over the city in a balloon, you guessed it, fiesta. For nine days, there are scheduled and themed balloon rodeos that float over the dramatic backdrop of the Sandia Mountains and surrounding landscape.
You should 110% see this at least once. Last year there were almost 600 balloons with pilots from all over the world having a grand ol’ time in New Mexico. Flights tend to be pretty expensive this time of year and hotels are hard to come by. Try to travel a few days before the event starts and book much in advance to keep the prices as low as possible.
Petroglyph National Monument
Calling all history nerds! Get in your car and drive here. Get out of your car and start walking on the path. Peep on the rocks for designs and symbols created by Native Americans and Spanish settlers from 400-700 years ago. They represent both cultural and spiritual expression and this site is one of the largest in North America.
Petroglyphs were created by tapping on the rock with an instrument, like a chisel, to create a symbol. The lighter color is not paint (that’s a pictograph) but the lighter rock that was uncovered as a result of chiseling. The park has several miles of trails and over 25,000 petroglyphs throughout the area. Most were created between 1300s and 1600s but there are a handful that possibly date back to 4,000 years ago. How cool is that!?
Indian Pueblo Cultural Center
Albuquerque has so much Native American culture and they are not afraid to celebrate it. A visit to the southwest just isn’t complete without an educational experience. Don’t worry, it’s really interesting and entertaining. The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center features a museum and more where you can learn about one of the tribes that calls this area of New Mexico home.
Cultural dances are performed year round. Exhibits teach you everything you should know about this culture dating from prehistory to the present. Come hungry so you can experience the Pueblo-inspired meals with native-sourced ingredients. You can even check out books from their library and shop from local artists.
Optional Day Trips
Albuquerque is incredible. There’s no doubt about it. However, all of New Mexico is worth visiting. Below are a few of my favorite day trips you can take from Albuquerque to get even more out of your vacation.
There’s tons of things to do in Santa Fe. It deserves its own blog post, but that’s for another day. My favorite thing I’ve ever done in Santa Fe is Meow Wolf, an interactive art exhibit that is just excitingly weird. It’s 2 hours from Albuquerque and offers lots of museums, hiking/walking, museums, and art.
I cannot wait to go here. It’s a 4-hour drive from Albuquerque, but oh my goodness please go. There are over 110 caves to explore, surrounding trails to walk, and there’s even a wetland in the middle of the desert to investigate and spot lizards. Carlsbad caverns are not your average cage system.
Even though I’m an archaeologist and am ridiculously interested in anything that remotely resembles history, Chaco Canyon is on the top of several of my GO SEE THIS AS SOON AS POSSIBLE travel lists. The Native American Pueblo culture created cliff dwellings that exist today and they are knock your socks and pants off impressive. Think a smaller version of Pompeii, but Native American not quite as old. Pueblo Bonito is the most preserved and visited. It features over 800 rooms and the site is just plain impressive. It’s 4 hours away from Albuquerque, so buckle up and plan for a long drive, but know that it will be worth it.