During our winter snowbirding months, I had the pleasure of experiencing Albuquerque, New Mexico. This gorgeous city is chock full of fun attractions, great food, and historical sites, with a beautiful landscape that makes going outdoors a photo opportunity each time. I loved Albuquerque’s rich Native American culture and spirit and the family-friendly attractions, gambling, and outdoor-rich free things to do. Here are the best things to do in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that we enjoyed during our time there.
Topping the list of my favorite things to see in Albuquerque is the ABQ (the commonly used city abbreviation) Biopark. This New Mexico attraction is four in one—an aquarium, botanical garden, zoo, and fishing lakes over at Tingley Beach, which we skipped the latter two on this trip. The ABQ Biopark Aquarium is a manageable size, with transparent, picturesque tanks featuring eels, stingrays, sharks, and more.
I was more blown away by the incredible botanical gardens, a real treat with fantastic displays, themed gardens, and even a 1920s heritage farm. Exploring the children’s area (with larger-than-life vegetables), seeing the animals at the heritage farm’s petting zoo, and getting the best photo ops at the butterfly gardens were excellent ways to spend the better part of an entire day.
The grounds are large, so use a map and make a plan before you take off; you’ll thank me later. You can even bring in a picnic lunch, as many were doing.
The robust Mediterranean and Desert conservatories were my favorite part of the Biopark, with many rare plants and trees.
Historic Old Town ABQ
If you can only do one thing while in Albuquerque, chances are exploring Historic Old Town will and should win out. It is the oldest part of town and arguably the most exciting. Here, you will find the Breaking Bad tour, dozens of shops filled with Native American handicrafts and works of art, galleries, restaurants, and snack shops. On our visit, we shopped for Dream Catchers, wall art, rugs, bath products, and gourmet food products.
Visiting Church Street Cafe is a must, as it is housed in the oldest building in town and has really good food and drinks. We nibbled on queso and chips on the front porch for optimal people-watching as the dining room and back patio were full.
Grab a delicious cookie or sweet treat from Flying Roadrunner Bakery or sip a glass of locally-made wine from Noisy Water Winery.
Indian Pueblo Cultural Center
Labeled as the Gateway to the 19 Pueblos of New Mexico, this unique offering has a wealth of primo things to see and do, and it is hands down one of the best things to do in Albuquerque. The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center has exceptional permanent and temporary exhibits in the museum, with the native dress, artifacts, contemporary artwork, a Pueblo art collection, and 20 murals by Pueblo artists.
In the IPCC (courtyard) are cultural dance groups and native artists showcasing their handicrafts and various seasonal events to choose from. Admission to the museum and courtyard is $12 for adults ($10 for residents), $8 for seniors and students, and $8 for youth ages 5-17. The cultural center is closed on Mondays.
You can dine at the Indian Pueblo Kitchen, a delicious IPCC restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating. The blue corn Onion Rings are off-the-hook delicious, while the Monte Cristo was a real treat with red-chile infused raspberry preserves.
Petroglyph National Monument
I’m happy anytime there is anything associated with the National Park Service, and Albuquerque has a great offering at the Petroglyph National Monument. You can take a hike up the hillside at Boca Negra Canyon to get up close and personal with many fascinating petroglyph images. These designs and symbols, carved on basalt boulders, were left by the American Indians and Settlers 400 to 700 years ago.
Albuquerque, New Mexico’s hot air ballooning adventures are known throughout the country, so I thought it was only fitting to stop by the Balloon Museum to see what it offered. Admission is only $5. While the Balloon Museum could be a great rainy day activity, I didn’t love it.
There are many exhibits to read and learn about hot air ballooning, including the science behind it, which I found interesting, and the collection of buttons and pins from ballooning events worldwide.
I had an ultimate hot-air ballooning adventure in Gallup, which you can read about here.
Old Route 66
Amidst the Nob Hill neighborhood lies the remnants of Route 66. While I love and encourage people to visit the Mother Road around the country, where applicable, the Albuquerque part is not in a very good part of town (Central Avenue), so you should proceed cautiously.
I’m not saying don’t go; there are cool spots, shops, restaurants, and Route 66 memorabilia, but know that the homeless in Albuquerque are unlike any I’ve seen in the country. They will kick, hit, and throw things at your car from several intersections near the Nob Hill area. We had no problems with the downtown part and Old Town areas of Route 66.
My husband and I parked and walked around a busier part of town near Nob Hill. There are some fantastic things to see, namely vibrant murals, but do take caution and make sure not to have anything valuable in sight inside your vehicle.
Play and Bingo at Sandia Resort & Casino
Sandia Resort & Casino is a super clean and killer casino with twenty-three hundred slot machines and several table games (baccarat, roulette, craps, blackjack, and Pai Gow poker). There are a few onsite restaurants and stylish and desirable guest rooms, though we only went for the gambling. Sandia also has a separate luxury spa (Green Reed), an award-winning golf course with natural landscapes and waterfall features, and gorgeous views of the Sandia Mountains.
Check the website for Sandia’s latest concert and show offerings, including the upcoming Brett Young, Ja Rule, and Ashanti.
One of the things I did often was to play bingo at Sandia Resort. I found it to be one of the best and cleanest bingo halls I’ve been to in the country. You can bring food or buy it from their restaurant, which offers really good stuff. There are complimentary beverages while you play, including coffee, hot cocoa, and sodas. A waitress also comes around and serves you during the live play.
Sandia is the only bingo hall in New Mexico that offers Planet Bingo’s Multi-progressive jackpots. I was impressed with the variety of bingo games we played, available on electronic and paper cards. The payouts were good, and there were quite a few special features of the bingo.
Breaking Bad RV Tour
Take the Breaking Bad RV tour to relieve the sights from 17 film locations. Tours last three hours and include stops at Jesse’s house, Superlab, Los Pollos Hermanos (Twisters), and Chucky’s, to name a few. Then, you’ll have time to shop at the Breaking Bad store.
I found Albuquerque’s mural scene to be awesome. You can find murals throughout the very spread-out city, or you can go to murosABQ.com for a detailed map. A few of my favorites were Birds of Burque, Resilience, and Rudolfo Anaya, which are stunningly realistic.
If you aren’t a fan of breakfast burritos, you may as well give in, because eating them almost daily is a way of life and definitely one of the best things to do in Albuquerque. I was shocked that nearly every restaurant offering breakfast foods has them on the menu. Burritos range from wet to dry, with Hatch green chilies inside, outside, and both. I had as good of breakfast burritos at fast food establishments as I did pay double or triple the price at a full-service restaurant.
My husband and I agreed that the best was the Cocina Azul (at Historic Old Town), followed by Blake’s Lotaburger for quick and easy, and Weck’s, a popular local chain restaurant.
For more great places to eat in Albuquerque, check out this post.
Sandia Crest Byway/Aerial Tramway
There are two reasons to visit the Sandia Crest Byway. The first is to take the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway to the top of the mountain for epic views and fun. Locals told us you could also drive your personal vehicle to the top, which takes about 50 minutes, an alternative plan.
The second reason is to enjoy the curvy, scenic drive of the 13.6-mile road along the beautiful Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway, or Highway 14. There are plenty of places to stop for photo-ops along the way on this road that links ABQ and Santa Fe heading north from I-40.
You may want to stop in the cute little town of Madrid, a historic coal mining town and ghost town, to see its 40 shops and galleries. Gypsy Gem, Maggie’s Diner (from the Wild Hogs movie), and Roadrunner Studio & Gallery are really cool.
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