I started traveling solo in New Mexico nearly a decade ago. And to be honest, at that time, I really didn’t know what to expect. The only thought I really had about it was, “So, it’s just, like… a desert?” Then I visited on a whim as a stopover between my home in Colorado and a destination further West, in Arizona. Reader, I fell in love.
These days, I always say, “there’s something special about the Land of Enchantment.” And the ABQ is no exception.
While I consider myself to be nearing an expert-level solo traveler status in the dreamy locales of Taos and Santa Fe in Northern New Mexico, Albuquerque is a whole different new beast. As a creature of habit, I didn’t want my love affair with the state to somehow be spoiled by visiting a larger city – Albuquerque is home to over 40% of the state’s residents after all. But just like my first visit to New Mexico all those years ago, a recent trip to ABQ delighted me.
Georgia O’Keeffe, a famous – if not the most famous – New Mexico resident, once said, “If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life.” She couldn’t have been more right. Here’s my guide for a weekend spent in Albequerque.
PART I — Eat
The goal of spending a long weekend in Albuquerque was to explore the town, but I mostly ended up spending my time eating. Each meal somehow seemed to outdo the last, with unexpected pairings of flavors and fresh ingredients – nothing like the Southwestern food I imagined.
My favorite meal – maybe ever, if I’m being honest – was at Mas Tapas Y Vino. Located in the historic downtown Hotel Andaluz, Mas Tapas Y Vino reimagines traditional Spanish cuisine using fresh and locally sourced ingredients. I tried several small plates and each was better than the last. The blue corn sourdough with Moroccan whipped butter was simple, but something I am still dreaming about weeks later.
Some other standouts were the crispy Brussels sprouts, honey bacon wrapped dates, Berkshire pork belly, and the lobster tail pasta.
For a more traditional dining experience, I headed to El Pinto – a restaurant and salsa company that brings all the New Mexican vibes. A family business and destination dining since 1964, El Pinto has five patios on twelve acres – and even a waterfall – to enjoy your margarita and taco plate.
I also love visiting The Grove Cafe for brunch – where my basic avocado toast order was anything but, and Sawmill Market, a warehouse food hall downtown with 20+ eateries and bars to keep anyone satisfied.
PART II — Drink
When I was waiting in the Denver airport for my early flight to Albuquerque I saw a couple of very stylish women waiting nearby. They both had shirts emblazoned with the Bow and Arrow Brewing logo, and as someone who is admittedly heavily influenced by stylish people – I knew I had to add it to my itinerary.
I’m so glad I did. Bow and Arrow Brewing – besides having a great atmosphere and even better beer – is the country’s first Native American Woman-Owned brewery. Founded by Shyla Sheppard, a member of the Three Affiliated Tribes (Mandan, Hidatsa & Arikara Nation) and Dr. Missy Begay, who was raised in the Navajo (Diné) Nation – Bow and Arrow uses traditional local and indigenous ingredients in their beers – from blue corn to prickly pear and juniper.
I enjoyed a glass of Hazy Rodeo IPA with my book at the taproom, reminding myself to always leave room for detours.
Whenever I am in New Mexico I try to visit a new winery (or two or three). Home to over 40 wineries, the state has quite a burgeoning scene. On this trip, I visited three wineries – and even visited one twice. Noisy Water Winery and Sheehan Winery Old Town Tasting Room are both located within yards of each other in Old Town Albuquerque. I loved the interesting blends at Noisy Water, especially the Wild White – a wine infused with Lavender Sage Lemonade tea. Sheehan Winery Wines have a more classic feel, and I loved the reds on my wine flight.
If you want to get out of town, Casa Rondeña Winery offers a great excuse. A family-owned and operated winery since 1995, Casa Rondeña makes, bottles, and ages all the wine on their expansive property that feels worlds away from the city.
PART III — Sleep
Historic Route 66 runs directly through Albuquerque, and in the age of Instagram, the historic roadside motels are experiencing a renaissance. I stayed at the restored El Vado Motel, a motel/taproom/food hall with live music and an outdoor pool. My suite was classic New Mexican and the exterior was clean and stylish.
On my next trip, I’d love to stay at another historic property – Los Poblanos. The Inn and organic farm is famous for its lavender crop and house-made products that you can find all over the world. I visited twice during my long weekend – once to visit the farm store and a drink at Campo, and another on a tour during an e-bike tour. The grounds are spectacular and stylish, with peacocks roaming and the scent of lavender filling the air.
PART IV — Explore
Albuquerque is probably best known, to many people, for… Breaking Bad. Well, Breaking Bad and hot air balloons. And for good reason, too — as the setting of the infamous television show, there are ample opportunities for fans to get their fix. Meanwhile, at the International Balloon Fiesta – the largest hot air balloon festival in the world – over 500 balloons can be seen in the air for 9 days in October.
But you don’t have to wait until fall for a ride. The wind patterns in Albuquerque – known as the “Albuquerque Box” — make it an ideal ballooning destination. In fact, it’s the hot-air ballooning capital of the world. I spent my first morning in town in the air with Rainbow Ryders on a sunrise ride over the cottonwood forest known as “The Bosque.” It was incredible to see the city and mountains from in the air – truly a bucket list experience.
If you’re looking to get in some hiking, head to Petroglyph National Monument, an area protecting one of the largest petroglyph sites in North America. There are no trails at the visitor center, but head just a short way to Boca Negra, Rinconada, Piedras Marcadas Canyons to see petroglyphs and get on the trail.
Another stop you won’t want to miss is the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. Owned and operated by the 19 different pueblos of New Mexico, the center works to preserve, protect and educate on Pueblo Indian culture, music, and art. I had brunch at their on-site restaurant and roamed around the galleries and museum spaces – learning so much history that has often been, despicably, left out of American mainstream cirriculum.
Old Town Albuquerque is a great place to meander for an afternoon, or – even better – to take an eBike Tour. I took a tour with Heritage Inspirationsthat took us from downtown to a bike-in coffee shop, a lavender farm, a nature preserve, and down into Old Town. It’s a great way to see this beautiful and unique city.