Off-Site Destinations for the Adventurous*
If you're a non-ham spouse, or are interested in taking a break from geek-speak, or are looking for places to explore before or after you attend the Albuquerque Duke City Hamfest and Convention, feel free to begin planning your adventures here. (All website links should open in a new tab.)
Old Town and Vicinity
The New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science (1801 Mountain Rd., NW, 87104) is worth checking out. Exhibits include astronomy (the planetarium), the Ice Cave, the Volcano, and paleontology (check out the Jurassic Hall and the Cretaceous sea). (Open daily: 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.; admission $8 adults, $5 children.)
Just across the road is the Explora Museum (1701 Mountain Rd., NW, 87104), a fantastic museum for kids of all ages to learn all about science, with lots of interactive displays (Open: Mon - Sat: 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.; Sun: 12 p.m. - 6 p.m.; admission $8 adults, $4 children.)
Slightly further west on Mountain Road, you will find Albuquerque’s famous Old Town, which has many things to see and do.
The Albuquerque Museum (2000 Mountain Road NW, 87104) is Albuquerque’s museum of local history and art. The art collections include work by Georgia O’Keeffe and Luis Jimenez. The historical exhibits are themed in the following way: La Villa de Alburquerque (not a typo, the originally spelling); Spanish Colonial and Mexican history; 16th - 20th century agriculture and ranching; Territorial Period and 20th century military history; the arrival of the railroad; ballooning, aviation and automobile travel; and Route 66. (Open: Tuesday - Sunday: 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.; admission $6.)
Old Town Plaza and the streets around it are well worth a visit for its unique New Mexican feel (and if you’re into shopping, there are plenty of galleries and curio shops that line the plaza). If you are interested in turquoise and silver jewelery or pueblo pottery, Native American sellers still set out blankets on the sidewalks, as they have for decades, so you can have a direct look at the offerings. You can also take ghost walks of Old Town (at night), which set off from near the plaza. There are also history tours if you’re not into ghosts. More info here.
Around the plaza is San Felipe de Neri Catholic Church (2005 North Plaza NW, 87104), one of Albuquerque’s oldest churches (the current structure dates from 1796) and there is a gift shop and museum.
Just beyond the plaza is the utterly unique American International Rattlesnake Museum (202 San Felipe NW, Suite A, 87104). This museum offers a great opportunity to learn about rattlesnakes and see them up close and personal (the museum boasts the most different species of rattlesnakes on public exhibit in the world). It also holds a wide variety of memorabilia and an excellent gift shop! (Open: Monday - Friday, 11:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.; Sunday, 1 p.m. - 5 p.m.; admission $4 for kids, $6 for adults.)
You may be tempted, before you leave Old Town, to visit The Candy Lady (424 San Felipe NW, Albuquerque, NM, 87104), a fixture for over 30 years. (Open: Monday - Saturday, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.) You can get handmade chocolate red and green chile fudge, piñon and pistachio brittle, as well as "Breaking Bad" merchandise.
South of Old Town is the Albuquerque BioPark complex, which includes the Botanic Gardens and Aquarium (2601 Central Ave NW, 87104). A visit is highly recommended; the botanic gardens are vast and beautiful with a wide range of topography, from the Japanese Gardens to the Children’s Garden. The aquarium is also impressive. (Open daily: 9 a.m. - 5 pm; admission: $14.50 adults, $6 children. Or you can get a combined ticket with the zoo for $22 and $8. See below)
Further southeast is the Albuquerque Zoo (903 10th Street NW, 87102). The zoo is impressively large and varied, featuring an enclosed South American rainforest habitat, a Madagascar lemur habitat, the African plains, the Big Cat Walk, a reptile house, and enclosures for large birds including Bald Eagles. (Open daily: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.; admission: $14.50 adults, $6 children.)
The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center offers a unique insight into the Native American cultural history of New Mexico. The restaurant is also worth a visit, serving traditional food like Indian fry bread and Navajo tacos, etc. (Open: 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.; admission: adults $8.40, children $5.40.)
The Unser Racing Museum celebrates the auto-racing careers of three generations of Unsers at locations from Pike's Peak to Indianapolis and its famed Indy 500 "Brickyard." The museum hosts a fabulous collection of race cars, pace cars, and racing motorcycles. Fancy yourself a hot driver? Try out the museum's race simulator. The museum is located at 1776 Montaño Rd., NW, Albuquerque. It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $6 for seniors and military, and free for young people under 16, accompanied by an adult.
Dietz Farm Plaza in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque (a sort of village within the city limits in the north valley) boasts some great reasons to visit it, including Bookworks (4022 Rio Grande Blvd NW, 87107, Open: daily, 9 a.m. - 6 p.m), Albuquerque’s premiere independent bookstore (there’s a small branch in the ABQ Sunport Airport). Indeed, it is a great venue for local shopping, though the small parking lot can sometimes get clogged. There are several locations around the city, but while in Dietz Farm Plaza you may wish to visit Flying Star whose cakes, desserts, coffees and other drinks are Albuquerque legend.
A state park, the Rio Grande Nature Center (2901 Candelaria Rd., NW, 87107) is a great family-friendly attraction; nature-lovers and bird-watchers will find it especially interesting. (Park: open daily 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.; Visitor Center: Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.; Saturday - Sunday 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.) There are a variety of walking/hiking trails to take as well as a bird-viewing area.
For the truly posh and urbane experience, you need look no further than the St. James Tearoom (320 Osuna Rd. NE, Bldg. D, 87107). The St. James Tearoom began its life at a different location in 1999. The tea is loose-leaf, freshly brewed, and delicious (and can be bought in the shop, though it never tastes as good when you brew it at home). Furthermore, you can eat scones with jam and cream. It is a fun experience that we would recommend to everyone. All bookings are by reservation only.
If you’d rather skip the tea and go straight to the wine, you could try Casa Rondeña Winery (733 Chavez Rd NW, 87107). A beautiful vineyard and winery in Los Ranchos in a picturesque setting. (Tasting room open: 12 p.m. - 7 p.m. daily.)
If you’re feeling trendy, you can visit the beautiful Los Poblanos Organic Farm (4803 Rio Grande Blvd, 87107) and have a meal (it’s on the 2013 list of Top 10 Hotels for Food Lovers) and then tour the working farm and lavender fields. (Open: Wednesday – Sunday, 5 p.m. - 9 p.m., by reservation.)
It has been said that New Mexico is a melting pot of three cultures: the Native American, the Anglo, and the Hispanic. If you visit the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, you can find its equivalent at The National Hispanic Cultural Center (1701 4th Street SW, 87102), which includes a library, exhibitions, and an art museum. It also presents many events throughout the year, ranging from films to live performances, all, naturally, with a Hispanic flavor. (Open: Tuesday–Sunday, 10 a.m - 5 p.m.; admission: $6, free for kids.)
University & Route 66
There is much to see on the University of New Mexico, including the Duck Pond and the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology (open: Tues-Friday: 9 a.m.- 4 p.m., Sat: 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.), one of the top anthropology museums in the country. Architecturally UNM is an interesting mish-mash, with many of the buildings in Pueblo Revival style, including Zimmerman Library.
Across Central from UNM is The Frontier (2400 Central Ave SE, 87106), an Albuquerque institution since 1971 (Open: 5am – 1 am). The western kitsch-style décor must be seen to be believed, and you can still get delicious New Mexican food for reasonable prices. We recommend the fresh-squeezed orange juice, iced tea, hamburgers, sweet rolls, and tortillas.
Nob Hill is the name given to the area on Central Ave near UNM. It has developed a distinctive character, somewhat student-y (lots of good eateries line Central in this area) but also trendy, with lots of upmarket shopping opportunities.
There are a number of British-style pubs in Albuquerque--we're told the most authentic is Two Fools Tavern (3211 Central Ave NE, 87106) -- but we know for sure that O'Neill's (4310 Central Ave SE, 87108) hosts a regular pub quiz! (Open: 11 a.m. - midnight)
Albuquerque has a baseball team, the Albuquerque Isotopes, which is the Triple-A farm team for the Colorado Rockies. The Isotopes play at (where else?) the Albuquerque Isotopes Park (1601 Avenida Cesar Chavez SE, 87106). Good games and good food in a great stadium at affordable prices.
Buffett's (7001 Lomas Blvd NE, 87110), ranks among the best chocolatiers in the world. Like the Candy Lady, they specialize in piñon products and brittles. A family-run business since 1956, Buffett's has a slogan—our candy is made to eat, not to keep—which emphasizes it is best enjoyed fresh! Look for the giant candy cane. (Open: Monday - Saturday, 9 a.m. - 6 p.m.; Sunday, 12 p.m. - 5 p.m.)
If you need upscale eateries and/or shopping, try ABQ Uptown (corner of Louisiana Blvd NE and Indian School Rd NE) or the Coronado Center (6600 Menaul NE, Suite 1, 87110).
If you’re looking for a unique New Mexican gift or want to stock up on red or green chile, you can find a variety at Chile Traditions (8204 Montgomery NE, 87109). They also sell New Mexico Piñon Coffee. It is a locally-owned and operated store with a focus on NM products.
You have a nuclear option among your destinations: the New Mexico Museum of Nuclear Science and History (601 Eubank Blvd. SE, 87123). Previously known as the National Atomic Museum (due to New Mexico’s history with nuclear development), it provides a window for all ages into the history and science of nuclear development. (Open daily: 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.; admission: $12 adults, $10 children.)
If you're up in the air over what to do, consider visiting the Anderson Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum (9201 Balloon Museum Dr., NE, 87113). Albuquerque hosts the International Balloon Fiesta every October, an un-missable event. If you are unable to visit during the Balloon Fiesta, you can learn about the history of hot air balloons in an eye-catching setting near the base of the Sandia Mountains in northeast Albuquerque. (Open: Tuesday - Sunday, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.; admission: $6 adults, $3 children.) Please note, if you’d like to try riding in a hot air balloon, you can arrange this through Rainbow Ryders.
There are many parks and open space areas in Albuquerque, but perhaps the nicest are found in the Sandia Foothills Open Space. Particularly recommended is the trailhead at Indian School and Copper.
The Tram (30 Tramway Road NE) is the longest tramway in the US—it ascends to Sandia Peak, 10,378 feet above sea level. It yields impressive views. (Open daily: 9 a.m. – 9 p.m., weather permitting; admission: $25 adults, $15 children.)
Wildlife West Nature Park (87 N. Frontage Rd, Edgewood, 87015) rescues and rehomes injured native animals (including porcupines, black bears, cougars, owls, coyotes, roadrunners, turtles, bobcats, mule deer, raccoons, etc.) that cannot be released into the wild. It is staffed by volunteers with the habitats constructed by paid young people as part of the Youth Conservation Corps. It’s a 20-minute drive east of Albuquerque. (Open daily: 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.; admission: $9 adults, $5 children.)
Madrid (pronounced “MAA-drid”) is a picturesque village almost equidistantly north of Albuquerque and south of Santa Fe on the Scenic Turquoise Trail (Highway 14). Located in the oldest coal mining region in New Mexico, Madrid was originally called Coal Gulch when it was settled in the 1890s. You can access Cerrillos Hills State Park from Madrid, and within the village there are many quaint and quirky shopping and dining opportunities.
Petroglyph National Monument (Visitor Center, Unser Blvd. NW at Western Trail, GPS Lat: 35.139 GPS Long: -106.711, 87120) encloses the one of the largest petroglyph (stone + image/pictogram = carving on stone) sites in North America, on the west side of Albuquerque. You can view up to 100 petroglyphs in Boca Negra Canyon (1 hour hike), 300 petroglyphs in Rinconada Canyon (2 hour hike), 400 petroglyphs at Piedras Marcadas Canyon (1.5 hour hike), and just look at the volcanoes on a 2-hour hike. Native Americans and Spanish explorers alike carved into the volcano stone between 400 to 700 years ago. Parking permits are $2.
Also to the west of Albuquerque is Acoma Pueblo, which has been continuously inhabited since 1200 AD, perhaps earlier. While the exploration of Acoma involves three of the biggest names in Spanish conquest history of the area—Cabeza de Vaca, Francisco Coronado, and Fray Marcos de Niza—Don Juan de Oñate is tied infamously to Acoma, having fomented the massacre of the late 16th century, the Pueblo Revolt, which had long-lasting repercussions for Spanish-Indian relations in the area. San Esteban del Rey Mission, built later, survives to this day. You can visit Sky City Cultural Center & Haakú Museum and Sky City Casino at Acoma.
National Parks (Outside of Albuquerque)
One of the most striking features you’ll notice as you arrive in Albuquerque are the Sandia Mountains east of the city (“sandia” means watermelon, which is believed to refer to the rose quartz pink color of the mountains at sunset). It’s a short drive from the base of the Sandias to the Crest and an enjoyable one, though be prepared for sudden changes in weather. Sandia Man Cave is a steep hike up NM Road 165; the cave shows evidence of occupation from 9,000 to 11,000 years ago and the remains of various Pleistocene mammals (such as mammoth, mastodon, sloths, and camels). You can also visit Sandia Pueblo.
Jemez Springs (Latitude N 35° 45′, Longitude W 106° 41′, and Elevation 6,306′) is a great destination on a beautiful drive from Albuquerque (it will take just over an hour). On the drive, you will have many opportunities to turn off into scenic by-ways and view the natural beauty of the area. You can also visit the Jemez hot springs, view various galleries in Jemez, visit the Jemez historical site (the ruins of a 500-year-old village), and have lunch at Los Ojos Restaurant and Saloon.
About 1.5 million years ago, a volcanic eruption shaped the area of the Valles Caldera National Preserve, north of Jemez Springs and west of Los Alamos. You can camp, bike, hike, fish, and ride horses within the area—or, if you’re short on time, just drive by it and stop to get out and take some photos. You will need permits for fishing and horseback riding, but otherwise, entrance is free.
Santa Fe is the state capital of New Mexico (and is the smaller sister city to Albuquerque, our friendly rival). Santa Fe is known as much for its artistic community as it is as the home of the state legislature. There’s far too much to see for us to go in to detail here so please check out this website. Santa Fe is about an hour’s drive north of Albuquerque, or you can take the Rail Runner. You can buy tickets online or on the train. While marketed in part as commuter rail, the Rail Runner gives a pleasant and less-than-frenetic ride through pueblo lands. You pick it up in downtown Albuquerque, with the Santa Fe depot as the last stop. You could also take it to Belen, Isleta Pueblo (south of Albuquerque) or Sandia Pueblo, if you wished. Timetables can be found here. A day pass from Albuquerque to Santa Fe costs just $10.
North of Santa Fe is Taos, a charming town bordered by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. In Taos you can visit Taos Pueblo, historic churches and the plaza, the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, the Earthship, and the Kit Carson Park and Cemetery. The Pueblo is still inhabited and like Acoma, has been for at least 1,000 years and played a role in the Pueblo Revolt.
Interested in astronomy? The National Radio Astronomy Observatory's Very Large Array hosts three free, 50-minute tours on the third Saturday of the month (what a coincidence!). The tours start at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m. It takes about two hours to drive to the observatory, which is about an hour west of Socorro, NM. It's one of the world's premier radiotelescope arrays.
*Listing courtesy of Leslie McMurtry and Jamie Beckwith Wilches