The first time Albuquerque crossed my mind was in 2012, as Adam and I planned a quick road trip through the Southwest that would culminate with a week in Las Vegas with my parents, sister, and brother-in-law. We had a few non-negotiable destinations: Four Corners, Chaco Canyon, Monument Valley, and the Grand Canyon were required stops on our route. Albuquerque emerged as a nice starting point; located about four hours from Four Corners, New Mexico’s largest city was perfectly positioned to launch us westward. Over the years we have often talked about what a surprise Albuquerque was; our visit filled us with delicious food and some fun activities against a stunning natural backdrop.
This year, when we planned a different route for our Southwest road trip, Albuquerque was a destination in itself. During our visit we uncovered a lot of new sights, restaurants, and experiences that reminded us why we loved our previous visit so much. If you are looking for a great getaway in the USA’s Southwest, Albuquerque is a wonderful choice. Here are 10 items to add to your Albuquerque to-do list!
Petroglyph National MonumentLook closely—more than 24,000 images illustrate the more than 17 miles of rocks that comprise Petroglyph National Monument. Petroglyphs are historic rock carvings, and historians and geologists believe the Pueblo communities who lived in Albuquerque added them to the landscape before leaving the region. Some of the petroglyphs date to 1300 AD, with the youngest images likely added just 400 years ago. Although many images are clear with forms that are easy to identify—people and animals are among those most frequently seen—there is no confirmed information about why the petroglyphs were added or what message they are intended to convey. Today, a hike through Petroglyph National Monument is a great way to exercise your body and your imagination.
Begin your visit with a quick stop at the visitors center, where you can set the stage with a 20 minute video and grab a trail map before heading out to see the main attractions: the petroglyphs. Petroglyphs are only visible from trails that run throughout the area, so prepare to spend most of your visit outside (that means water, a hat, and sunscreen!). There are several trails that vary in length, which means you can see the petroglyphs in as little as an hour or spend a half day seeking out as many as you can find. We visited Boca Negra Canyon, a fairly easy hike along a trail system that took us past more than 100 petroglyphs. Rinconada Canyon has more to see (close to 400 petroglyphs on a 2 mile trail), but some of the trail system is undeveloped which can make for a more challenging hike. No matter how you choose to visit, a sunny day at Petroglyph National Monument is a perfect stop to make when in Albuquerque.
More Information: NPS.gov/petr
Try New Mexico Piñon CoffeeCoffee lovers rejoice: Albuquerque is home to your next favorite brew. Piñon nuts are prized in the Southwest; they are somewhat rare nuts that grow on pine trees and have an almost buttery taste. Piñon coffee roasts coffee beans together with piñon flavoring—they don’t use the actual nuts to avoid potential allergens—to create a rich, velvety cup of coffee. Unique and delicious, it’s worth seeking out—and in Albuquerque it’s not too hard to find.
We visited a New Mexico Piñon Coffee shop for an early morning cup of coffee and to buy a couple of bags to bring back home with us. Adam ordered a simple cup of piñon, which has a decidedly nutty taste that is noticeable but doesn’t overwhelm—and it tastes unquestionably natural as opposed to artificial. I had a piñon latte, iced with a bit of milk, that was equally delicious and refreshing on a warm morning. If you, too, are a coffee lover New Mexico Piñon Coffee is a great stop to include on an Albuquerque itinerary.
More Information: NMpinoncoffee.com
If there is anything tastier than top sirloin, sliced paper thin, coated with green and red New Mexican chile seasoning, my imagination isn’t advanced enough to process it. That’s why Mike’s Jerky was one of our favorite stops in Albuquerque. With almost 30 flavors of jerky lining the walls of their store, we were salivating as we walked in the door—and struggling with which flavors to purchase. Fortunately, Mike’s wife Brenda sensed our unbridled enthusiasm and told us we could try anything that caught our eye. We didn’t mean to take advantage of her generosity, but it wasn’t long before we were inhaling sample after delicious sample.
Mike’s Jerky is a family-owned business born from a passion for making jerky and sharing it with friends. It’s no surprise that Mike’s circle of friends has grown significantly: the jerky is unique in its texture and available in flavors to please any palate (if you enjoy spicy treats, the Christmas jerky is incredible!). We walked away with six bags of jerky, raving about how we could taste the quality in each bite and arguing over which ones were the best.
More Information: OldWorldJerky.com
If you’re curious about what flavors we tried—and which ones were our favorites—my dad wrote an article about our visit and our subsequent taste test. Spoiler alert: we enjoyed them all!
Guest Post: The Great Mike’s Jerky Competition: A New Mexico-Style Beef Jerky Taste Test
Albuquerque International Balloon FiestaPerhaps the single biggest attraction to take over the city each year, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is a true spectacle. Releasing more than 500 hot air balloon into the air—sometimes all at once!—the event brings thousands of people to Albuquerque each fall.
Attending requires some exceptionally early mornings (stock up on your piñon coffee in advance!). Parking fills quickly, and many people recommend arriving as early as 3:30 AM to get a spot for the mass ascension that takes place around 7:00 AM on weekends. You won’t want to miss that event, where you’ll see plenty of standard balloons as well as some with creative shapes launch and take flight. Visually, it’s unparalleled and well worth the early wake up call. Take a camera to capture the view as the sky is overtaken by bright colors as they float upward. It’s an experience you won’t soon forget.
More Information: BalloonFiesta.com
Drive the Musical Highway
Route 66 is a world-famous destination, and a small stretch of it actually sings the USA’s praises. Just outside of Albuquerque, heading east, set your cruise control to 45 MPH and listen carefully as the highway sings “America the Beautiful.”
Pay attention to the signs as you get close to the Musical Highway to know when to check your speedometer. If you drive too fast or slow, the song won’t play for you. If you drive just the right speed as your car passes over the rumble strips that cover metal plates in the pavement you will be treated to a quick song as you continue your journey. Don’t worry if you miss it or want to hear it again, though; we caught several cars turning around just after the Musical Highway and driving back to do it all again, and we didn’t hesitate to follow their lead!
Want to know more about the Musical Highway? Check out our dedicated post that shares more information!
Our Post: New Mexico’s Singing Road on Route 66
Walk Through Old Town Albuquerque
Albuquerque was founded in 1706, and there is no better way to experience it and learn more than to visit Old Town. Old Town Albuquerque combines history, modern attractions, and restaurants to provide a fantastic setting for a half-day or full-day experience. We really enjoyed our walk through town—and we found a few favorite places you might like, too!
► San Felipe de NeriThe oldest church in Albuquerque has kept its doors open to the community since the city was founded in 1706, and more than 300 years later it is still a beautiful, peaceful spot to visit. The original structure of San Felipe de Neri Parish was on the verge of collapse by the end of the 18th century, and a new one was constructed at the insistence of the governor. Be sure to explore the perimeter of the church for a hidden gem; a tree on the corner of the property has a colorful painting of the Virgin de Guadalupe carved into its trunk.
More Information: SanFelipedeNeri.org
► Church Street Café
If you are hungry for some tasty Southwestern cuisine, the Church Street Café serves some great dishes using authentic, local ingredients. Start with the green chile chicken soup, which has a nice kick without being too overpowering, before moving on to your entrée. We loved the Navajo taco—huge and filling—and the Pueblo burger served on Indian fry bread with red or green chiles. Save room for sopapillas for dessert, and look for the New Mexican wine selections (the St. Claire Pinot Grigio and the Blue Teal Shiraz were both excellent!).
More Information: ChurchStreetCafe.com
Close to the University of New Mexico, we love the Frontier Restaurant. They open early and close late—meaning you’ll get a great meal no matter when hunger strikes—and their menu features some New Mexican classics. I especially love the breakfast burrito with Hatch green chile and carne adovada, which is pork marinated in red chile sauce. Of course, you can’t go wrong with Adam’s favorite, a burger with Hatch green chile, or anything from their New Mexican menu. Frontier has been serving hungry college students for decades, and it’s a favorite for travelers and locals alike.
More Information: FrontierRestaurant.com
Try New Mexico WineWe were somewhat surprised to come across a couple of wineries located around Albuquerque, and as wine travelers we were excited to visit one but realistic about what the experience would provide. We’ve tried wine around the world from our home in Virginia to places like Uruguay and Croatia, and since New Mexico isn’t exactly recognized as an oenology capital we didn’t have high hopes for our visit. Oh, how Casa Rondeña put us in our place!
We loved all six wines on Casa Rondeña’s tasting menu, which included a lovely Viognier (Virginia’s state grape!) that offered notes of tropical fruit and honey. Our favorite—and the one that convinced us to buy a bottle—was the Meritage, a well-balanced blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc that was dripping with dark cherries and a hint of tobacco. We couldn’t say no to a sip of their port-style wine, which bore some striking resemblances to the ports we enjoyed in the Douro Valley. I left, Meritage in hand, feeling a bit humbled by just how well Casa Rondeña produces wine. Watch out, California—New Mexico is coming for you!
More Information: NMwine.com | CasaRondena.com
Pat Hurley Park
We’re always on the hunt for great viewpoints for photos and to take in the landscape of places we visit, and Pat Hurley Park offers an unbeatable view of the Albuquerque skyline. We made the park our first stop as we drove into Albuquerque, partially to stretch our legs (it’s a long way from Pie Town, where we started our morning!) and partially to get a sense of the city that would host our afternoon. If you have just a few minutes, drive up to Pat Hurley Park for some spectacular views and to see the Albuquerque skyline from above. If you have more time, pack a picnic and a frisbee and make an afternoon out of your time there.
Try the Local CandyBelieve it or not, Albuquerque has a pretty interesting candy scene, and you’ll have a few choices when it comes to satisfying your sweet tooth. We visited the Candy Lady in Old Town, where we loaded up on fudge made with New Mexico chiles and piñon logs, which are piñon nuts coated in tasty caramel. The Candy Lady has plenty of more traditional treats, too, but we were partial to the ones with a little more local flavor.
It’s also worth looking into another famous candy store, Buffett’s, which famously makes piñon rolls that have a unique brown sugar layer beneath the crunchy piñon nuts. We stopped by to try them, but unfortunately, they were closed that day—still, with so much buzz about their unique flavor profile it’s worth a visit when in Albuquerque!
More Information: TheCandyLady.com | BuffettsCandies.com
Where to Stay in Albuquerque
We decided to base our visit from the Hotel Albuquerque at Old Town, which is conveniently located just a quick walk from Old Town and within a few minutes of many of the spots we planned to visit. The hotel is gorgeous; our room was spacious, comfortable, and quiet, and everything from the towels to the shampoo were high-quality. The staff was terrific, too; Ali at the front desk made us feel at home right away with a great overview of the city and the hotel, and everyone seemed committed to making sure we had a great stay. We did—and we’re looking forward to another visit soon!
Our Post: Booking.com/albuquerque-at-old-town
If you’re looking for a hotel in Albuquerque, here are a few more to consider!
The American Southwest is an incredible place, and Albuquerque is a terrific city to experience the highlights. From great food to stunning landscapes, and from historic buildings to fun festivals, there are way more than ten reasons to visit Albuquerque, New Mexico—and we’ll be excited to plan another trip to add to our list in the future!
Leave a comment below and let us know if you have favorite spots in Albuquerque—and be sure to let us know if you are planning a trip of your own!
The American southwest has a lot of interesting places to visit. Explore a few more through these articles!
* From time to time, our travels are directly impacted by a service or company. This post includes our candid review of our experiences at various locations in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We selected these locations based on our own research and travel needs; we were not offered and did not receive compensation of any kind from them or any other party in exchange for our review. Learn more about our travel philosophy here.