New Mexico is a land of rural desert landscapes, mountains, skiing, welcoming small towns and one of the longest histories of any state in the US. Most people who visit here are attracted by the charming culture-rich quaintness of Santa Fe or the world-class skiing near Taos. While these places are undeniably attractive, the area around New Mexico’s largest city, Albuquerque, is also worth a look.
Albuquerque boasts some stunning scenery: the city is literally surrounded by austere desert landscapes, picturesque mesas and beautiful mountains. The famous Rio Grande also flows through the area. Albuquerque is a modern, relatively user-friendly city that has some great restaurants and nightlife. And for people who don’t want to miss the historic charms that characterize places like Santa Fe, the suburb of Los Ranchos de Albuquerque is a great base.
Usually simply called Los Ranchos, this village is still largely agricultural and rural despite its proximity to the growing metropolis that sits next to it. One of the state’s best luxury boutique inns, Los Poblanos, is located in Los Ranchos. It is the perfect place to stay whether you simply want to explore the village or spend time in Albuquerque and even Santa Fe. Like many of the properties in Los Ranchos, Poblanos has expansive grounds that are still used to grow crops. The organic gardens here provide special ingredients that are used at the onsite gourmet restaurant. Even the lavender flowers that are planted here are used to create artisan spa products that are stocked in each guest's bathroom. The inn’s 20 guest rooms are all infused with the warm sense of historic charm that makes Los Ranchos so special.
So Los Poblanos is the ideal base for any New Mexico vacation. But what can you do when you are not sampling its delicious dishes or soaking in its historic charms? From May through November, the Growers Market takes place in the heart of Los Ranchos. This is one of the state’s biggest and best farmers markets. Southwestern-style handmade crafts are also sold here. Antiques shops line Fourth Street, giving people a chance to shop for souvenirs and further revel in the sense of history in Los Ranchos.
Sadie’s and Casa de Benavidez are two village eateries that serve up great atmosphere and even greater flavors. The Hidden Valley Steakhouse (aka Vernon’s), meanwhile, is often called the best steakhouse in Albuquerque. All three of these restaurants are located on Fourth Street near the aforementioned shopping venues. Of course, you will want to venture into the wider Albuquerque area at some point. The 18th century Old Town area is home to the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History and the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. The adobe architecture and brick streets create and attractive atmosphere, and some people actually find that the best part of a trip here is lounging in the central plaza. During the holidays, Albuquerque takes a cue from Santa Fe and places luminarias all around the plaza.
Each October, the skies above Albuquerque are filled with hot air balloons. The world’s biggest balloon festival is hosted here each fall. This event is certainly popular, and traffic can be heavy, especially early in the morning when many of the attending balloonists take off in unison. However, the spectacle might prove worth negotiating the crowded roadways.
Sandia Peak is one of the most scenic mountains in the area and the Peak Tramway takes visitors right up to the top so that they can see the vast panoramas of the mountain, desert and city below. Considered the longest tramway in the world, cars leave every 20-30 minutes, and the round-trip ride costs $20 for adults ($10 for kids).
And, of course, Santa Fe is only about 60 miles to the north of Albuquerque, so you can certainly combine the two destinations on one itinerary (even if you only have a weekend). Driving is a possibility, but a more convenient option in the New Mexico Rail Runner Express, a train service that connects the two cities. Since Santa Fe is, more or less, walkable, you can leave your car in Los Ranchos, get a taxi to the train station and spend the day in Santa Fe before returning to Los Ranchos in the evening.
Have you ever spent time in Albuquerque? Use the comments section to share your insights about this amazing Southwestern city with our readers.