One mom ventures to Albuquerque, New Mexico for a family vacation with authentic New Mexican cuisine, a trip to the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, an up-close encounter with alpacas, and a ride on the Sandia Peak Tramway, all on a family-friendly budget.
Lots of families are taking shorter, more spontaneous trips. Less expensive, but also easier to swing time-off wise. If you’re looking for a memorable long weekend with the kids, Albuquerque may be the ticket. Mountains, only-there attractions, low prices by coastal standards, a dry, temperate climate, and friendly people make this city worth the trip.
If you only have three days, you need a strategy, sure, but it’s totally doable. Follow this plan and you’ll undoubtedly go home with no regrets.
- Eat lunch at Zacatecas Tacos + Tequila: This casual lunch spot has real-deal New Mexican food. If you’re a fish taco fan, go for the Seared Pacific Rock Cod Tacos. Just ask how spicy a dish is before you order–and believe them if they say it’s hot. Mild under-12 faves include Queso Fundido (aka a gooey cheese dip served with freshly-made tortilla chips) and Phoebe’s Chicken Flautas (little chicken taco rolls). A little hint: Pay the parking meters. The parking patrol in this area of town (Nob Hill) ain’t playin’. But, honestly, the guac was so fresh I didn’t even mind the ticket.
- Journey to Tinkertown: This quirky little gem is on the other side of the Sandia Mountains, up pretty high, so the roads are a little twisty. Just so you know. But talk about a hidden treasure. A shrine to one man’s obsession with collecting, repairing, and preserving…well, just about everything, it’s a must-see if you have a kid who’s a collector. Billed as “folk entertainment,” the museum’s walls are constructed of glass bottles. Inside you will find room after cavern-like room filled with dolls, toys, antiques, circus and carnival artifacts, and turn-of-the-century trinkets. Don’t leave without seeing the shoes of the world’s largest man and the hummingbird haven made of pots. Enough said.
View from our patio at the Hyatt Regency Tamaya.
- Check in to Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa: This is about an hour ride from Tinkertown (that round-the-mountain thing again). The nice lady who owns Tinkertown told us there’s a much faster route down an unpaved road. If you have a truck or are just a confident driver, you can ask her about it. Me, I took the long way.
- Three words: Worth. The. Ride. It’s out in the country (no, you’re not going the wrong way; as you approach the resort, you leave the main road to drive into brush and you can’t see the resort at first…but keep going!), surrounded by horse pastures and desert. The expansive Adobe-style resort is modeled after the dwellings of the Santa Ana Pueblo who resided in that location hundreds of years ago. All the rooms have views of the Sandia Mountains. Sandia means watermelon in Spanish, appropriately so. The mountains turn pink at sunset. It’s kind of unreal.
- Everyone in Albuquerque (at least it seems that way) has a dog, and this is a supremely pooch-friendly property. Activities center around the indigenous culture and scenic beauty: Check out bikes and ride through the Bosque (forest) towards the Rio Grande or to the stables to ride the ponies. Smoosh s’mores at the Kiva-Plaza fire pit, bake traditional Pueblo oven bread, make an Adobe (carry-on size) brick.
- Or just listen to Native American stories under the stars. About the stars: coming from the metro-NY area, we were rather amazed. And that’s another reason trekking out to the country pays off: the sky show is even better than in Albuquerque proper.
Bill Gate’s first office chair, on display at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science.
- Head to the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science: This has the standard kid pleasers, like dinosaurs and a planetarium, but the unique draw is the Start-up Wing, a tribute to hometown hero Bill Gates. Who knew that the first computer, weighing in at 15 tons, would need 570 years to do the work an iPad does in one second?
- Directly across the street (no need to move your car) step into Explora, a hands-on kids’ museum where littles can run around and touch and squeal as they like.
- Pop into the American International Rattlesnake Museum in Old Town: Devoted to education and preservation, this institution has more specimens than the six biggest U.S. zoos combined. What kid can resist that, really? Just be forewarned: All those snakes are live.
[Yes, you can see three museums before lunch. Though awesome, they are tiny by NYC standards, and all in the same vicinity.]
Chris Morales with his famous biscochitos.
- Grab lunch at Golden Crown Panaderia: I strongly recommend the blue corn crust pizza topped with green chiles (they have plain for the kiddos), with coffee milkshake chaser. Get a small. The large contains a quart of vanilla ice cream (plus a shot of espresso and a secret ingredient). Chris Morales, a tango instructor by night, and his warm, friendly dad, Pratt, run the place, the only authentic New Mexican bakery in Albuquerque. The reason they have no competitors? True New Mexican baking methods take time. Lots of time, and effort. Chatting with them to get a feel for the history is half the reason to go. When you enter, you get a biscochito, New Mexico’s official state cookie. It’s like a crispy cinnamon sugar cookie.
- Look up. Taking a hot air balloon ride is cool, but it can get pricey and may not be your first thought if you have little kids. For the next best thing, stop at the Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum to see specimens of every shape and design. The exhibits use the latest technology to give families the feeling of being airborne and the excitement of history’s biggest balloon and zeppelin launches.
Bella, the Queen of Albuquerque Alpacas.
- Meet Skip and Stacie Chavez. He’s a former Long Islander; she’s from Maine. They’ve cultivated a slice of furry heaven at Albuquerque Alpacas. These folks can tell you everything you want to know about alpacas, and a few things you didn’t think to ask. No, they’re not the same as llamas. Llamas are much bigger and are bred to be pack-carrying animals, rather than for their luxurious coats that transform into a strong, soft fiber. After romping with the child-loving residents (Bella poses for selfies!), try your hand at felting soap. It’s much easier than the colorful finished product looks. I’m saving mine for impressive (yet inexpensive) holiday gifts.
- Ride to the sky on the Sandia Peak Tramway. Move to the sides of the cars to get the best view: You will be transported 4,000 feet. (The Empire State Building is 1,250 feet.) Up top, take pictures of Valle Grande, the largest volcano crater in the world, or Mount Taylor, more than 100 miles away. You can bring a picnic or grab burgers at High Finance. Just keep hikes short if you’re feeling winded. Those of us used to sea level are going to feel a bit of altitude sickness here, if we’re going to feel it anywhere in the Albuquerque area.
The 15-minute tram ascent to Sandia Peak brings you to an 11,000-square-mile vantage point.
- Tuck in at Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm. This B&B is elegant, special, and kid-friendly, a rare combination. The entrance lane is lined with those tall trees that bend in, like those pictures you see of old estates way down South. Every room has a down-home yet somehow still chic feel. In the cooler months you’ll find freshly-stocked piñon wood for the kiva fireplace. Borrow a bike next to the saltwater pool area and pedal around the lavender fields. Watch out for Chester, one of the resident peacocks. Stop for a lavender gelato at the Farm Shop.
Chester strutting his stuff around Los Poblanos’ grounds.
- While you can enjoy a delish, organic dinner at the farm, if your kids aren’t up to it, head four minutes down the road (make a right as you exit) to the Flying Star, a cafeteria-style cafe, for three-cheese grilled cheese and curly fries, salads, and award-winning mac and cheese.