For the last four years that we lived in the United States, we made it our mission to visit all 50 states (check out all of the states here). One by one, we have slowly been crossing them off our list and New Mexico is the third to last state for us to visit!
There is some debate about what constitutes having "been" to a state, but we believe that to truly say that you have been to a state and experienced it, you should spend a decent amount of time there. At the very least have one meal there, and preferably enjoy exploring it for a weekend. Neither of us had been to New Mexico before, and having heard so much about the incredible scenery and Native American culture, we couldn't wait to experience it ourselves.
Albuquerque is the largest city in New Mexico, so it was an obvious choice to get the first taste of New Mexico. The city is most famous for its Balloon Fiesta which occurs each October, but there are so many fun things to do in Albuquerque year-round. Since Albuquerque has on average 310 sunny days a year - there is really no bad time to visit! If you're in a hurry, skip to our 5 Top Travel Tips to enjoy the 5 best things to do in Albuquerque or keep reading for the full experience.
We worked with Visit Albuquerque to be able to share our weekend getaway with you and were hosted by Hotel Chaco and Nativo Lodge. Our meals and excursions were compensated as part of our Albuquerque experience. We are excited to share our trip with you and all opinions are our own. Thank you for supporting the businesses that support us!
Where to Stay in Albuquerque
We spent our first night in Albuquerque at Hotel Chaco, a brand new luxury hotel, inspired by Chaco Canyon. Located less than a block from the Albuquerque museum and within walking distance of Old Town, it is a great place to stay to take in all the fun things to do in Albuquerque.
After a busy day exploring, you can cool down at the pool area and ring in the evening with an in-house wine tasting, or dinner and a drink on the rooftop, which offers expansive views of Albuquerque. These rooftop views are something that I could never tire of!
The rooms are very spacious and thoughtfully designed; perfect for a restful sleep as you prepare for the next day of the best things to do in Albuquerque.
For our second night, we got to experience true New Mexican Native American artwork at Nativo Lodge. Their uniquely decorated artist rooms feature art work by contemporary Native American artists. No two artist rooms are the same! We stayed in the Essence of Life room which was created by Garrett Etsitty and features two gorgeous wall paintings of a hummingbird.
Half way between Albuquerque and the Sandia Mountains, Nativo Lodge is a great pet friendly hotel in Albuquerque for those who want to explore the areas around Albuquerque and enjoy local art work.
Where to Eat in Albuquerque
Largest Restaurant in New Mexico - El Pinto
Being in Albuquerque, I really wanted to try some New Mexican-inspired cuisine. Saturday evening, Kyle and I went for a romantic dinner at El Pinto - a Mexican restaurant outside the city with beautiful patios surrounded by lush gardens and a very Instagrammable entrance walkway.
El Pinto is the largest restaurant in New Mexico and I was completely overwhelmed by the never ending dining tables and patios! Each of their five patios has a slightly different vibe to them, depending on the atmosphere you are looking for. We just might have to go back to experience all five!
We toasted to our weekend in New Mexico and enjoyed what felt like three baskets of tortilla chips with delicious house-made salsa. As mains, we tried the stuffed sopapillas - a traditional dish in Spanish heritage regions, and the New Mexican Red Chile Ribs. I couldn't decide whether I wanted my sopapillas with their home-made green or red chile. The waitress suggested I try both which is what the New Mexicans call "Christmas style." Experiencing eating chiles is definitely one of the best things to do in Albuquerque.
Both were delicious and we were way too full from the tortilla chips to finish it all or enjoy dessert!
Fine Dining in Albuquerque at Ten 3
If you're looking for the perfect place to have dinner with an incredible view - Ten 3 is your spot! They opened their doors for the first time on August 17th and we were super excited to be dining with them on their opening weekend! Ten 3 is located at an altitude of 10,300 feet, at the top of Sandia Peak, which provides for the most amazing dining views. To reach the restaurant you need to take the Sandia Peak Tramway (one of the best things to do in Albuquerque!), which you can read more about below.
We started our dining experience with delicious cocktails, a bread basket full of home-made creations, and a goat cheese flan. Fun fact: because there is less oxygen in the air at higher altitudes, it is said that you feel the effects of alcohol quicker. Ten 3 takes this into consideration and serves their drinks with slightly less alcohol content than you might typically find. Don't worry if you think you are getting short-changed, you will still feel the effects!
Kyle and I tried the crispy skin chicken and the red chile buffalo short rib which were both outstanding! If you have never tried buffalo I can highly recommend trying the Ten 3 variation which was so delicious that I was about to steal Kyle's plate!
While you're at Sandia Peak - make sure you walk around the top and enjoy the views outside the restaurant as well!
Things To Do in Albuquerque
Albuquerque has so much to offer, it is a shame to not explore the city for at least a full weekend. Here are our top things to do in Albuquerque that you can’t miss out on.
ABQ Trolley Tour
There is really no better way to see the city and all its sights than from the comfort of a trolley with the ABQ Trolley Tour. The Best of Albuquerque tour is a narrated 1 hour and 45 minutes tour that takes you to Old Town Plaza, the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, along Route 66, down Nob Hill, and more! It is an incredibly informative tour and you will get an appreciation of the many different neighborhoods in Albuquerque.
This was a great activity for us to complete at the beginning of our visit as the tour highlighted the many neighborhoods and sights all around activity so that we could properly plan the rest of our weekend of all the great things to do in Albuquerque.
The highlight of the tour by far was exploring the street where Breaking Bad was filmed and admiring all the filming locations. There is something about seeing famous TV locations in real life that fascinates me - especially if they are from Breaking Bad!
Explore Old Town
After you get a feeling of the city with the ABQ Trolley Tour, you get dropped off at Hotel Albuquerque which is only a few steps away from Old Town. Walking through the streets of Old Town felt somewhat surreal as the pueblo style houses are something you don't get to see every day, and one of the great free things to do in Albuquerque.
The unique architecture together with the colorful decorations and the blue doors gave me the feeling of being in a totally different country. This is the place to shop the various artisan shops filled with jewelry, rugs, pottery, and other souvenirs.
Admire Local Street Art
Another one of the free things to do in Albuquerque! The city has a rich art scene and the city actively promotes murals and street art. This became very evident as we completed our trolley tour, but also as we walked around the streets of Albuquerque as you could find colorful murals at almost every corner. What is unique about these murals compared to other cities is that many of them represent some portion of Albuquerque's rich history.
Some of my favorite murals were obviously the one’s full of turquoise!
Visit the Turquoise Museum
One of the best-kept secrets of Albuquerque is the fact that they have their very own Turquoise Museum - all owned and operated by the Zachary family. Now, if you follow us on Instagram, you will quickly understand how spending time at the Turquoise Museum is an absolute must for me. In addition to my love for everything and all things turquoise - seeing turquoise jewelry on display around the Albuquerque Old Town shops peaked my interest in the gem stone even more.
If you're not familiar with the gem stone turquoise, you will have to believe me when I say that it comes in many more shapes and forms than you could imagine. The museum presents the Zachary family's own collection which includes everything from raw stones, furniture, weapons, lighters, chandeliers, and all kinds of jewelry.
They also have several interactive stations which teach you how to differentiate the different grades, cuts and polishes of turquoise as well as how to tell the difference between real and fake turquoise! At the beginning I struggled to differentiate between real and fake turquoise, but quickly picked up the skills.
I learned so much at this museum, that turquoise is part of so many cultures around the world, but is one of the lesser known gem stones. Needless to say that I could have spent all day at the museum - gazing at the beautiful pieces - and splurging on something for myself.
Sandia Peak Tramway
The best views of New Mexico are from the top of Sandia Peak, which is 10,678 feet (3,255 meters) high and overlooks 10% of the state (that is twice the size of Connecticut!). Getting up there is super easy with the longest aerial tramway in the United States, the Sandia Peak Tramway. It's a short 15 minute ride and the views get better by the minute, easily making it one of the most popular things to do in Albuquerque.
On the way up, our guide told us all about the Sandia Mountains. They have some incredibly steep drops, rock walls for climbing, and diverse wildlife. He also highly recommended we watch the sunset from the peak, which did not disappoint.
As everyone is trying to catch the last rays of the day at the peak, the trams after sunset have the tendency to be very full. As such, we took an earlier ride back and enjoyed stunning views on our way downhill.
When you explore Sandia Peak, you can buy your tickets at Sandia Peak Tramway online in order to skip the line when you're at the base station. Don't forget to bring an extra layer of clothing, as the peak is easily a few degrees cooler than the city. Even more so once the sun sets.
If you're planning a weekend getaway in Albuquerque, make sure you read our 5 top travel tips on how to best explore all of the things to do in Albuquerque below and let us know how you liked the city!
The Next Trip Top 5 Tips for a Things to do in Albuquerque for the Weekend
1) Water and sunscreen.
As Albuquerque gets 310 days of sun a year and is located in the desert, days can get very hot. Make sure you always carry enough water and sunscreen with you for all of the things to do in Albuquerque. We know this may seem a bit boring, and there are signs saying so everywhere, but we really mean it! It reached 100F (38C) during our trip!
2) Try the local chiles - yes both red and green!
The New Mexico chile, or Hatch chile, is a big deal in New Mexico. Everywhere you go in New Mexico you will find something on the menu with either red or green chile in it, even at McDonald's. If you can’t decide your favorite, you can always combine them in the same dish which is called "Christmas style." An absolute must-do on the list of things to do in Albuquerque!
3) Start your days early.
As we mentioned above, it gets really hot in Albuquerque. To avoid the heat and still get the most out of the city, plan to start your day with the sun! The heat of the afternoon really takes a lot out of you and is not as pleasant to explore the city. That is if you can bear the heat at all. Explore in the morning, refresh yourself indoors in the afternoon, and get back out there in the evening for some amazing New Mexico sunsets.
Speaking of sunsets, visit Sandia Peak 1-2 hours before sunset so that you will get to wander around the peak in full daylight and also get to enjoy a beautiful sunset over the desert before heading back down. The sunset from Sandia Peak is incredible and evolves through many different colors and shades as the sun sets over the desert horizon.
5) You’ll need a car.
While Albuquerque does have public transportation, if you plan to explore all the neighborhoods and take in all of the things to do in Albuquerque, it makes the most sense to get a rental car. It makes it so much easier to get around the city, the various neighborhoods, and up to Sandia Peak. Plus, you have your own personal sanctuary of air conditioning wherever you go!
Pin this blog post to your U.S. city destinations boards to save all your ideas about the fun things to do in Albuquerque!
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