Albuquerque (and New Mexico in general) is one of those beautiful places that are typically overlooked by crowds, and therefore provide such a wonderful escape with many pockets to enjoy all by yourself. I recently returned to Albuquerque with the family in tow to attend a family friend’s graduation. Our schedule was tight, so we had to hit the ‘best of’ in just a couple of days while working in visits with friends. If you find yourself in the Duke city with just a few days, here’s my must-see list of how to spend your time.
Day 1: Nature + Food
We started our day with a quick breakfast at Frontier, an institution in Albuquerque that caters to folks from every walk of life (especially the college students across the street at the University of New Mexico). Never a dull experience and always beyond filling, this is THE place to kick start your Albuquerque adventure and get an intro to some New Mexico basics (Carne Adovada, Breakfast Burritos, Green or Red Chile on everything, etc). It’s a great place to fuel up before starting your day’s adventure.
After loading up at Frontier, we took a morning hike on the La Luz trail on Sandia mountain (the main mountain overlooking the city). If your schedule allows, in about 6 hours you can hike up the whole mountain and take the tram back down. However, we didn’t have that much time so we hiked up and back for a couple of hours, which still afforded gorgeous views of the city. [If you’re not that into hiking, you can just take the Sandia Peak Tramway cable car tram up the mountain for awe-inspiring views].
After our morning hike, we wanted to grab lunch at El Pinto, another Albuquerque institution that has welcomed guests ranging from Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush to Cameron Diaz and Mel Gibson. El Pinto is another great spot to get a taste of New Mexican cuisine, and their lunch buffet allows you to try everything from green chile cheese enchiladas to posole, and top it off with sopappillas for dessert. You are sure to leave this place feeling as stuffed as a chile relleno!
Depending on your interests, after lunch you could walk along the Bosque, hit up a few of the interesting museums, or walk along Nob Hill.
For dinner, our highlight was visiting our favorite spot in all of Albuquerque, Los Poblanos Inn and Organic Farm. When we lived in Albuquerque, we frequented this place regularly. It still stands as one of our favorite places on the planet, and their newly opened restaurant has apparently allowed them to take their cuisine to an even higher level than before. The restaurant is helmed by James Beard semi-finalist, Jonathan Perno, and offers a caliber of fine dining that can compete with the most cosmopolitan of cities, but is served in laid-back style that is so emblematic of New Mexico. The food, combined with the jaw-dropping sunset views of Sandia Mountain, will make you never want to leave this place (which, if you book a stay there you technically never have to leave). If you show up early enough before dinner, you can enjoy the lavender field and pick up unique homemade gifts at The Farm Shop on site. And don’t forget to say hello to resident peacocks and wild foul that roam the grounds.
If you’re feeling like a night on the town, Nob Hill has lively bars and lounges, including Yanni’s Lemoni Lounge or Zinc Wine Bar & Bistro, or for a completely laid back vibe Marble Brewery provides their homemade brews with a side of live music, or you could grab a nightcap at Apothecary rooftop bar to take in the twinkling night lights of the surrounding city.
Day 2: Tent Rocks + Santa Fe
For a town of this size, Albuquerque surprisingly has some of the best coffee roasters I’ve ever tasted. My personal favorite is Michael Thomas Coffee Roasters in Nob Hill, which is the perfect spot to kick off your day with a cup of joe from anywhere in the world. With a wall of beans that reads like a United Nations role-call, you can take home an exotic bag and keep the caffeine buzz going long after you leave. Other good coffee spots to consider are Zendo Coffee or Java Joe’s in downtown.
After you are caffeinated for the day, it’s time to explore some of the highlights outside of Albuquerque. Head for Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, and spend a few hours hiking the slot canyon, examining alien-like rock formations. The views at the top of the canyon are well worth the climb, so be sure to take a snack or packed lunch to enjoy along with your view.
After Tent Rocks, it’s time to explore Santa Fe. Santa Fe is great anytime of the year, but is particularly glorious in Spring or Fall. If you find yourself visiting in the fall, head up to Aspen Vista Trail to take in the hills of shimmering gold Aspen trees that look straight out of a Technicolor dream. After taking in the Aspen trees, head for the Plaza, ditch the car, and walk around to explore the shops and sites and grab a spot for dinner. Well-regarded spots I like are The Shed or Cafe Pasqual’s and other great options include Miguels, Restaurant Martin for fine dining, and Coyote Café & Cantina (the Cantina is a perfect casual spot for lunch). With many great options, it’s hard to wrong here.
Day 3: Squeeze in a few last-minute gems
You’ll likely have to fly back in the afternoon, so take the morning to fit in a nice brunch at either The Grove Cafe & Market in Nob Hill, or Farm & Table in the valley. Both offer modern brunch options with a unique New Mexico twist. If you have the time, try to fit in a nice walk on the Bosque trail along the Rio Grande, or explore Casa Rodena Winery—a piece of Tuscany in the Rio Grande Valley— before you head to the Albuquerque Sunport (which will probably be the easiest airport you will ever travel to). After enjoying 2.5 days in Albuquerque getting a sampling of the highlights, you’ll hopefully be left with a lasting feeling of serenity that blankets the area. As you head back to (likely) a much larger airport or city, you will appreciate New Mexico’s moniker as the “Land of Enchantment”, and likely start planning your next vacation back since you’ve only just scratched the surface of what this unique state has to offer.