The otherworldly charms of New Mexico are enchanting at every turn. Vast stretches of desert and mountains hint at centuries of life that came before us, and the pueblo-style architecture and multi-cultural arts scene immerse you in other cultures.
Where else can you hike for petroglyphs, travel from 70 to 30 degrees in a span of 15 minutes, view mind-blowing art, and shop for “Breaking Bad” merch in the same day? Not to mention savoring the beloved green and red chiles and a margarita.
The area is so easy to explore that our group had 20-some experiences over four days and I’m already looking forward to a return trip.
A few fun facts: These cities are high in elevation, with Santa Fe topping out at 7,000 feet and Albuquerque at 5,300 so, make sure to allow time to adjust to the climate, and watch the tequila consumption.
Most days are sunny. Red and green chiles are a base for so many dishes, and if you’re ever asked whether you want red or green chile sauce, feel free to respond “Christmas,” which means a mix of red and green.
You’ll learn a lot on a visit to either of these places; both cities reflect a mix of Native American, Hispanic, Mexican and Anglo cultures in a way few other cities can offer.
Here are a dozen ways to jump into this wonderful western experience.
See our related story: Mother-Daughter Weekend to New Mexico at Tamaya Resort
• Explore Old Town.
Many journeys to New Mexico begin with a flight into Albuquerque’s airport, so this metropolitan city is an ideal first stop. Head to Old Town, a hub of history, culture, good food and some quirky activities.
We checked into Hotel Chaco, a AAA 4-Diamond property full of architectural wonders and local art. It’s across the street from the area’s first food hall, Sawmill Market, and a few blocks from charming Old Town.
Shops, restaurants, street musicians, and historic buildings are situated around a square and side streets in the Old Town area, all in an unmistakable New Mexico architecture.
Have breakfast at Blackbird Café, tucked into a courtyard with a fountain and colorful tiles all around. Albuquerque Museum in Old Town features exhibits that celebrate indigenous cultures and contemporary art coming out of New Mexico; its first-rate gift shop is a good stop for souvenirs.
• See ancient art.
More than 20,000 images – some mysterious, some recognizable – are carved into stone at the Petroglyph National Monument. It’s close enough to Albuquerque to keep you in the general area, but the two-mile walk along Rinconada Canyon Trail feels like you’re farther out of town.
The path leads you through hilly areas covered in volcanic rock, desert plants, fascinating vistas, with well-marked signs and information about what to look for.
• Soar to 10,000 feet above sea level.
The Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway is the number one attraction on Tripadvisor for New Mexico, and it’s easy to see why. Riders check in to the visitors center in its desert setting, board the tramway and experience a 15-minute semi-harrowing ride, traveling above acres of city and mountains as the topography changes. The 10,378-foot peak is surrounded by rocky crevices, snow-topped ski areas, and a stunning vista of the city.
• Enter “Breaking Bad” territory.
Fans of “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” know that the action took place in Albuquerque, so what better way to see the city than through an official “Breaking Bad” TV Tour?
For three crazy hours, you can tour in a replica RV just like Walt and Jesse had, and tour filming sites from around the city such as Los Pollos Hermanos, Jesse’s and Walt’s house, various nefarious places of drug business and the car wash. You end the tour at the official “Breaking Bad” store and museum in Old Town, full of memorabilia and photo opps that will please all BB/BCS fans.
• Explore Route 66.
The 66 Diner along historic Route 66 offers a step back in time at this one-time Phillips 66 station that’s now a diner, full of all the good nostalgia feels (and food). Vinyl booths, a vintage jukebox, plenty of ‘50s memorabilia, and workers dressed of the era are part of the treat. Make sure to get a milkshake.
• Drive the turquoise trail.
Head up to Santa Fe, but skip the highway and traverse the rugged, off-beat sights found along Highway 14, aka the Turquoise Trail. This 50-mile stretch links Albuquerque and Santa Fe, offers beautiful vistas of central New Mexico, and also passes by the artsy town of Madrid, well worth a stop.
• Savor an inn and historic chapel in the heart of Santa Fe.
The pueblo-style architecture of the Inn and Spa at Loretto will win your heart – and if budget allows, ask for a suite that comes with a wood-burning fireplace and balcony for an extra treat.
The inn is ideally situated among all the sites of Santa Fe, including the beautiful Loretto Chapel next door. It’s a spacious, friendly hotel with lots of areas in the building to explore.
• Browse for art, visit a museum.
Santa Fe is an art lover’s paradise, and certainly the epicenter of southwestern arts culture. Canyon Road includes a half-mile of adobe-style art galleries – more than a hundred – representing a variety of art styles and budgets, so make sure to browse this fascinating street.
The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum pays tribute to one of the art world’s leading women artists, while the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture goes deeper into the perspectives and creations of indigenous peoples of the southwest. But that’s not all…the Railyard Arts District is a newer section with warehouse-sized galleries full of thought-provoking art – some of our favorites in the city.
• Have a margarita and dive into southwestern cuisine.
The Santa Fe Margarita Trail is a passbook that illustrates the many varieties of margaritas around town, where to find them, and even gives you a $1 discount on each one.
• Indulge in local cuisine.
A good place to start is Café Pasqual’s (so good we went twice on our trip), where the locals head for breakfast, lunch and dinner, sampling specialties such as Mole chicken enchiladas, Catalan stew and plantain chips with avocado sauce. Join a group at the communal table like we did, and make new friends.
• Experience Meow Wolf.
Yes, maybe Meow Wolf could be included in the art category, but it goes beyond art as a sensory activity like no other. The 70 rooms in the House of Eternal Return (the title for Santa Fe’s version, which is the original) are somewhat like a haunted house-within-an-art-warehouse vibe.
The whole family can go since it’s all-ages, although prepare to get lost from your peeps, since there are secret portals and doors that lead to areas you had no idea existed…and once you’re there, it’s a cacophony of sound, video, interactive objects, and so much to look at.
Make a reservation in advance because it’s popular. You’d hate to come home and have your friends say, “What?! You didn’t go to Meow Wolf?”
For more information, Visitalbuquerque.org, Santafe.org
– Lisa Mowry