Last Updated on June 7, 2023
The International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta celebrated its 50th year in Albuquerque in 2022. Unfortunately, foul weather prevented many ascensions while I was there. When Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate, what to do in Albuquerque, NM?
Come with me as I share my suggestions for what to do in Albuquerque, NM when the balloons aren’t floating – and even when they do fly, there are countless activities to keep you entertained in the off hours.
- What to do in Albuquerque, New Mexico
- Getting to Albuquerque
- Dining In Albuquerque
- Petroglyph National Monument
- Casa Rodeña Winery
- ABQ BioPark
- Public Art in Albuquerque
- National Hispanic Cultural Center
- Historic Old Town
- Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm
- Turquoise Museum
- New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science
- Indian Pueblo Cultural Center
- Tablao Flamenco Albuquerque
What to do in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Getting to Albuquerque
Albuquerque, New Mexico’s largest city, is centrally located in the state, about 64 miles southwest of Santa Fe, the state capital. Albuquerque is 419 miles northeast of my home in Phoenix, 576 miles east of Las Vegas, Nevada, and 449 miles south of Denver, Colorado – in other words, it’s out there! New Mexico is the 5th largest state by land area in the U.S., following only Alaska, Texas, California and Montana.
Albuquerque International Sunport is known for its cultural décor and southwest architecture. Serving five million passengers per year by eight major carriers, Sunport offers non-stop service between Albuquerque and more than 20 destinations around the country.
Dining In Albuquerque
Albuquerque restaurants are known for their Southwest, Mexican and New Mexican cuisine, but the city is large and cosmopolitan enough to provide dining options for all tastes. Here are my favorites.
If you’re looking for breakfast restaurants in Albuquerque, we’ve got you covered there, too.
Sawmill Market is a collection of food and beverage vendors and merchants selling their wares with distinct personalities, all under one roof. This venue is a lively destination with shops for coffee, sushi, taprooms, floral design, ice cream, and more.
In a former life, the Sawmill Market was home to American Lumber Company which milled lumber, doors, and shingles and grew into the largest manufacturing company in the Southwest. It started as a 110-acre complex in the Sawmill District in 1903 when the logging industry was booming in New Mexico.
In 1958, Paxton Lumber Company had offices and warehouse space in the district, but the district fell into disrepair once the lumber industry declined.
The historic lumberyard building was transformed into a food hall, outdoor gathering place, and community gathering hall in 2019. Today, the district is in revival mode returning the neighborhood to a vibrancy it enjoyed in the early 20th century.
With New Mexico becoming a popular shooting location for Hollywood and the swanky Hotel Chaco located across the street, don’t be surprised if you see celebrities frequenting Sawmill Market during their downtime in ABQ.
After wandering the market, my husband and I selected Flora Restaurant for drinks, appetizers, and dessert. Our meals were colorful and flavorsome.
MAS Tapas Y Vino
Inside the Hotel Andaluz, MÁS Tapas Y Vino is a full-service restaurant serving three meals daily. My husband and I toured the hotel’s ground floor while waiting for MÁS to open. Spectacular design, artwork, and alcoves piqued our interest.
Being our first experience with authentic tapas dining, we didn’t know what to expect. Imagine our delight when Richard, the Sous Chef, presented plate after colorful plate of traditional Spanish cuisine. He served them with flair, explaining what each dish was. Everything was utterly delicious.
Another delight was learning the restaurant’s colorful plates were created by local artisans. Richard told us that the restaurant not only uses locally-sourced foods and high-quality ingredients, they support local businesses wherever possible and that extended to even the serving platters.
Level 5 Restaurant
Level 5 Restaurant on the roof of Hotel Chaco delivers a spectacular view overlooking Albuquerque along with their community-fused and sustainably minded cuisine.
My husband pressed the elevator button for Level 5, and we were whisked to the rooftop to meet a friend for drinks before dinner. Even with the restaurant’s open floor plan, there are options for more private dining and conversations in their alcoves. We chose a table under a heater outside as the weather that grounded the hot air balloons was whistling through the valley.
Level 5’s Chef Marc Quiñones conjures up an array of Southwestern themed small and large plates guaranteed to tantalize the palate. Dishes like Chorizo wrapped Diver Sea Scallops with Lavender-Corn Pudding and Champagne Mousse are favorites, and it’s a venue we thoroughly enjoyed.
Petroglyph National Monument
Begin your visit to Petroglyph National Monument at the Visitors Center where you’ll learn about the significance of the Native American and Spanish settler’s influence on this volcanic landscape. The Monument just on the western edge of town protects one of the largest petroglyph sites in North America.
These petroglyphs are powerful cultural symbols that reflect the complex societies and religions of the area’s tribes. Three partly paved and self-guiding trails allow easy exploration of the carvings while minimizing human traffic impact. Water, picnic tables, and restrooms are on every trailhead.
I chose the Boca Negra Canyon trail because it was close to the parking lot and easily accessible. A path with handrailing made it a breeze to get up close to the fascinating petroglyphs.
Most images were made 400 to 700 years ago, with some pictures estimated to be as much as 2,000-3,000 years old. Early people discovered that chipping away the thin desert varnish on the rocks revealed a lighter gray beneath, leaving long-lasting marks.
Pro Tip: DO NOT touch the petroglyphs!
Pro Tip: There is no trail access at the Information Center. You must drive to a trail system.
Casa Rodeña Winery
Established in late 1995, Casa Rodeña Winery began as a family operation by vintner John Calvin and his two sons, Ross and Clayton. They opened their tasting room two years later and added a winery building, with a commemorative Tricentennial bell tower, in 2004.
The Mediterranean-style architecture of the winery, its sumptuous wines, and its lovely atmosphere sporting wonderful wine-music, art, and family philanthropy showcased the very best of the exquisite New Mexican culture.
While the picturesque tasting room accommodates many tasters, the grounds are the perfect backdrop for a snack and a glass of wine.
Vintner John Calvin’s passion for world music and architecture mirrors his love for his vines and winemaking. The readers of Albuquerque The Magazine voted Calvin Best Vintner and Casa Rodeña Best Winery for seven years from 2011 through 2017.
Their Wine Club, named 1629, celebrates the Franciscan monks who brought the first vines into New Mexico in 1629.
Sitting along the Rio Grande River near the downtown, the ABQ Bio Park, is comprised of a zoo, botanical garden, aquarium, and Tingley Beach area. Tingley Beach offers fishing in ponds, wildlife viewing, paths for running and walking, and model boating opportunities.
We opted for a visit to the zoo where we enjoyed watching bright coral-colored flamingos, playful penguins, large Grand Cayman Blue Iguana, and the statue-like Komodo Dragon. The Zoo boasts an excellent conservation program and proved to be a great place to spend a full day enjoying nature.
Public Art in Albuquerque
Public art helps give Albuquerque a cosmopolitan flair. MurosConnect does exactly what it says, linking Albuquerque artists together with Albuquerque walls and buildings.
They process artist request for venues and those property owners requesting murals. Today, there are over 500 murals in the city showcasing their artistry.
I love a good scavenger hunt, and you can scour the city on foot or by vehicle to experience the public art or just follow a downloadable map from the MurosABQ website.
National Hispanic Cultural Center
The National Hispanic Cultural Center is a large performing arts complex celebrating Albuquerque’s rich Hispanic heritage. The Center features an art museum, genealogy center, and gift shop. In addition, the 20-plus-acre campus also houses a branch of the Spanish Embassy, the Spanish Resource Center, and Instituto Cervantes.
Founded by the Spanish government in 1991, the Instituto Cervantes’ mission is to promote the teaching, use and study of the Spanish language and to contribute to the advancement of Spanish, Hispanic and Latin American cultures throughout the world.
The massive plaza of the National Hispanic Cultural Center is paved with bricks and sports many fascinating features. What I found most interesting, besides the fountain with a long tubular waterfall, were the many individual bricks with patron donor names imprinted.
Historic Old Town
Old Town Albuquerque is the 316-year-old cultural heart of the city with 150 shops, restaurants, and galleries featuring Southwestern artwork, Indigenous pottery, and classic New Mexican food.
Vendors display jewelry on the sidewalks with easy eyesight and reach. It was hard for me to decide which pieces should end up in my collection.
The ubiquitous chili pepper ristras hang from doorways and shops along every street and seem to be emblematic of New Mexico or perhaps the entire Southwest. The ristras are sometimes used for decorations and bring good luck and health. They are also great additions to a variety of Southwest dishes.
Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm
The lovely Los Poblanos Inn is surrounded by lavender fields, enormous cottonwood trees, and formal gardens. Ancient Pueblo Indians originally inhabited this area in the 14th century. They came from Puebla, Mexico, and were called “Poblano.”
Once the private residence of Albert and Ruth Hannah McCormick Simms, this ranch house was renovated to create the LaQuinta Cultural Center for community events. It was commissioned in 1934 as a guest house but was later used for civil, social and cultural purposes and included an art gallery open to the public.
Today the property is a 45-room lovely historic inn and organic farm in the heart of the Rio Grande River Valley. It is widely considered among New Mexico’s greatest cultural treasures. The inn and farm include 25 acres of picturesque lavender fields. Towering cottonwood trees provide shade to its beautifully restored buildings and guest houses.
The visit here was truly magical as we even got to view a successful ascension of balloons from the Fiesta field in the distance when we arrived.
After our enlightening farm tour, where we learned about their beekeeping program, garden produce, and property maintenance, we enjoyed a satisfying and delicious lunch in their restaurant, Campo, followed by shopping in the Farm Shop.
Lavender carried the day and I was amazed just how many ways this flowery herb can be consumed or put to use.
The collections at the Turquoise Museum represent stones from over 100 mines on six continents. Five generations of the Zachary family have owned and operated their famous turquoise businesses.
From mining, collecting, and trading turquoise, jewelry, and Indian arts and crafts, their mission today is to educate the public about precious blue and green rocks.
The superb displays in their museum are eye-catching, especially the chandelier made with chains of delicate turquoise.
New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science
If dinosaurs are your thing, you will be happily terrified when you stand in awe of the animated Tyrannosaurus Rex in the Land of the Beasts dome at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science.
Because my husband is a retired space flight engineer, he particularly enjoyed the Mars rover exhibit and other planetary exhibits. The Planetarium program was another highlight with reclining seats as we learned about the constellations.
Indian Pueblo Cultural Center
The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center features authentic dance performances in its courtyard and native foods from the Indian Pueblo Kitchen restaurant onsite.
We toured the indoor museum between performance sets. We learned about the 19 Pueblos in New Mexico. Native American representatives stationed in the lobby answered many questions from guests about customs and culture.
Tablao Flamenco Albuquerque
Hotel Albuquerque is the home of Tablao Flamenco Albuquerque, where you will experience electrifying dance performances on Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons. Dinner is served before the evening performances.
Albuquerque is the Flamenco Capital of the United States. Flamenco is a culturally significant and UNESCO-protected art form.
Dramatic deep red lighting illuminates the stage during dinner. Five empty black chairs set expectations for the dancers soon to share their passion and energy on the platform.
Pro Tip: Tablao Flamenco Albuquerque guests receive complimentary valet parking.
Pro Tip: No photography is allowed during the performance. While I was disappointed not to have photos from this event, the memory of the performance is seared forever in my mind.