Not too long ago, I used to live in New Mexico. For those thinking of visiting, here are my many recommendations for local curiosities and delicious food.
- Careful with your alcohol consumption – the elevation can make one drink feel like three!
- If you’re visiting in the fall/winter, bring your jacket – people are often surprised to learn that central and northern New Mexico can get snow and cold, due to the elevation
- In Albuquerque: careful when out and about, both in the daytime and at night – ABQ has a lot of crime, including violent crime and muggings
- In Albuquerque: Careful with your car – break-ins are common
To the east of Albuquerque, on Route 66
If you’re traveling through New Mexico along Route 66, I recommend stopping at Tinkertown Museum just outside of Albuquerque. It’s a fun, weird little collection.
While you’re in Cedar Crest area, you should hike the eastern side of the Sandia Mountains. One trail (I can’t remember the name) crosses the ridge to the western side of the range and ends in a lookout over Albuquerque, and the hike is gorgeous. I’d highly recommend this over the La Luz trail on the western side of the Sandias–LL is popular but can be dangerous (as in, people have died) for those unaccustomed to hiking in NM (nearly all NM hiking is SUPER hardcore – even trails marked “beginner” or “moderate” can be challenging).
The tram up the Sandias on the western side (part of the La Luz trail) is popular, and can be reached via car instead of hiking.
I should warn you that when you get into ABQ via the eastern side of Route 66, it’s really, really depressing. The further west you go, the more livable it gets.
Consider visiting during the annual Balloon Fiesta. It’s truly magical.
Some fun and delicious Route 66 stops & sights along the way through ABQ include:
- El Patio (just off of Route 66/Central on Harvard) for classic New Mexican cuisine. It’s much more laid back than the popular (and touristy) El Pinto, and the food is amazing. They often have Spanish guitarists playing on the patio in the evenings.
- A lot of the kitschy old hotel signs have been converted to public art – fun for a nighttime drive
- Forget the “Route 66 diner” tourist traps in town, and get to Frontier Diner at Cornell & Central
- For vegetarian food, Namaste (off of Yale) is a better bet than Annapurna’s (IMHO), and Vinaigrette near Old Town is really delicious
- Duggans Coffee for the best iced Americano and egg breakfast in town
- Anodyne in downtown is the chillest bar with a great beer selection
- 516 Arts is one of the best places for contemporary art in NM
- Old Town Albuquerque is cool for learning about New Mexican history, but if you have the time I’d recommend visiting Santa Fe (an hour north) to see a better example of Spanish colonial history
- In general, Albuquerque has a great craft beer scene. I personally loved Marble Brewing (try Marble Red) and La Cumbre (esp. Elevated IPA). Nexus Brewing wins for best food. Bow & Arrow Brewing is your bet for the nicest ambiance for an afternoon hang.
Bernalillo (just north of Albuquerque) & Jemez Springs
I used to live in a bedroom community called Placitas, which is nestled just north of the Sandia Mountain range, so I spent a lot of time in Bernalillo.
- The Coronado Historic Site in Bernalillo (just north of ABQ) is a great little museum for learning about the conquistadors, plus some of the ancient indigenous residents of the area. You can also walk down to the banks of the Rio Grande from the site.
- Kaktus Brewing is a funky place to spend the afternoon hanging out and playing with chickens (with great beer and kombucha to boot)
- The Range Cafe in Bernalillo is a local landmark, with delicious food
- On the drive into Placitas, there’s a trailhead just east of the shopping center. There are a bunch of trails back there that edge up against the Sandia foothills. The beauty is unparalleled – it’s hard to believe I once spent every morning hiking there with my dogs.
- If you have time, I HIGHLY recommend continuing north on Route 550 and visiting Jemez Springs. There are both natural hot springs within hiking distance of the highway, plus more developed hot springs in town.
- Meow Wolf alone is worth the trip. Full stop.
- The Tea House on Canyon Road has good vegetarian and gluten-free food, and great service.
- Ten Thousand Waves Japanese-style spa – you can do drop-ins during the day. Be sure to try the on-site restaurant – it’s a tad spendy but totally worth the price.
- The entire town is a monument to Spanish colonialism, very worth checking out the history museum – especially if you’re from a region of the US that think the Pilgrims founded America.
- Learn about the Pueblo Revolt before you go (here’s a great book on the topic, and here’s the Drunk History version), then think about Pope as you walk around town
- Skip the Georgia O’Keefe Museum and head to the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (MoCNA)
- Christmas Eve in Santa Fe is beautiful. All the galleries on Canyon Road open up their doors, and there’s a big street party with piñon logs burning and biscochitos and cider. Around 11 pm, the Basilica church bells ring and all the Catholics scurry into Mass, at a church that houses La Conquistadora, a Madonna (the first!) that was schlepped to the New World by the conquistadors (!!!)
Westward on Route 66
- Petroglyph National Monument to the west of Albuquerque is a great hike with amazing artifacts – as is El Malpais National Monument
- I’ve heard great things about Acoma pueblo, if you’re interested in visiting a reservation (I’ve never been)
- Pro-tip: there’s not a lot to do in Grants or Gallup