Albuquerque might be the largest city in New Mexico, but it’s not the first people think of when it comes to tourism. I’m here to tell you that it is absolutely worth a quick weekend getaway. As part of the Alaska Airlines Weekend Wanderer program, my family stayed in Albuquerque for three nights and found it to be a very relaxing and culturally-rich experience.
I’m sharing our itinerary for how to spend a long weekend in Albuquerque so that you can get an idea of what’s possible. Note that we typically tour at a leisurely pace so more active visitors could probably pack in even more fun things to do.
Travel Day and Old Town Albuquerque
Getting to ABQ on Alaska Airlines
We took the direct flight on Alaska Airlines from SAN–ABQ. The flight takes about an hour and 20 minutes on the outbound and a bit longer on the return. San Diego International airport is well-known for being relatively easy to fly in and out of, but Albuquerque Sunport is even more relaxed which means the experience is about as low stress as it gets when it comes to air travel.
Those who are used to flying Alaska Airlines know that the inflight experience is a pretty good one. (We particularly like the food and the fact that you can order a local beer.) In first class, they’ll even give you a hearty snack on a short flight.
At the time of this writing, the San Diego flight leaves at 3:30 p.m. and lands at about 6:15 p.m. Albuquerque time. We were in our hotel 45 minutes later as the traffic-free drive to Hotel Chaco is only 15 minutes.
Check into Hotel Chaco
We picked the new Hotel Chaco for several reasons. It’s a member of Preferred Hotels and Resorts, a group of hotels that I’m tremendously comfortable with.
The decor is a neat blend of luxury with fulsome amenities in the rooms (ours even had a fireplace and small terrace) and New Mexican influences. The hotel is inspired by Chaco Canyon, a spectacular site in New Mexico that was the center of ancient Pueblo culture.
When traveling over just a weekend, a convenient location is key. At Hotel Chaco, it is absolutely possible to go carless because this Albuquerque boutique hotel is only a few minutes’ walk from the sights, restaurants, and museums in Old Town. Uber works extremely well for sightseeing outside of Old Town and the drivers could not be more friendly.
I’m convinced the best hotel in Albuquerque is Hotel Chaco, especially for families. The service is outstanding (my daughter loved the Harry Potter/Albuquerque-themed amenity staff created especially for her). And, wait until you see the food.
A Walk Around Old Town and Dinner at Church Street Cafe
Old Town Albuquerque is where the city was founded in 1706. We took a quick walk around to get the lay of the land. The towers of San Felipe de Niri church (pictured above) serve as good points of reference when touring this part of Albuquerque.
Behind the church is the Church Street Cafe, a famous restaurant housed in one of the oldest buildings in New Mexico (thought to be built in 1709). Here, they serve Southwestern recipes that are four generations old and it’s where we learned about portion size in Albuquerque.
It’s impossible to go hungry when visiting this town. We ordered taco salad, carne adovada, bandito pie, pozole, guacamole, chips, and a totally unnecessary side salad. Also impressive was the bottle of wine from New Mexico.
Day 1: Petroglyph National Monument and the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center
Hotel Chaco Breakfast
Breakfast came included with our rate at Hotel Chaco so that’s where we ate. All three of us were so blown away by how good the food is at this hotel that we didn’t feel the need to go anywhere else. I mean, look at the avocado toast and blue corn waffles.
Petroglyph National Monument
Albuquerque has a national park within its city limits that is free to visit. How cool is that? And, it’s one that kids will love.
There are over 24,000 petroglyphs (rock art carvings) in Petroglyph National Monument that you can explore via several trails. We chose the Boca Negra Canyon trail due to the fact that there are quite a few within eyesight on the shorter trails.
With kids, the park is probably is an hour or two visit unless you opt to explore the other trails, too.
My daughter forgot to pack some clothes so we bought her a T-shirt in the Visitor’s Center. We were then jazzed to find the exact macaw petroglyph during our visit.
If using Uber, have them first stop at the Visitor’s Center to pick up a map. Then, ask the driver to drop you at the Boca Negra Trail parking lot. This is also where they can pick you up.
Indian Pueblo Cultural Center
It was lunchtime so our next stop was the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. The Pueblo Harvest Cafe inside serves New Native American Cuisine, which is a combination of traditional Pueblo flavors and contemporary recipes. This is not your average museum cafe as it has been actually owned and operated by the 19 Pueblos of New Mexico since 1976.
Wow, is the food good. Order a Tewa Taco, an award-winning dish which is a housemade Pueblo oven bread topped with a blend of cheddar and jack cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, ground beef, pueblo beans, red and/or green chilies. But, save room for a Pueblo pie for dessert.
The museum itself is also incredibly well-done. Take an hour or two here to explore the history, culture, and art of the 19 Pueblos. Throughout the museum are hands-on exhibits for kids and in the courtyard, a handful of artists showcase their work.
This itinerary leaves a few hours in the late afternoon to rest before heading out for dinner. In our case, tired, we opted for sunset and dinner on the rooftop of Hotel Chaco, which is also the choice of many locals we ran into.
Yes, those are the Sandia Mountains in the background. In the early mornings, it’s possible to see hot air balloons out there, too.
Day 2: Kid-Friendly Museums, Old Town, and a Lobos Game
Breakfast at Hotel Chaco
I opted for huevos rancheros while my daughter chose the avocado toast again. My husband ordered basically all of the side dishes including pork chili sausage, hash browns with kale and pinons, and a sauteed kale… sooooo good.
It takes about five minutes on foot from Hotel Chaco to reach the Albuquerque Museum. Formerly known as the Albuquerque Art & History Museum, this is a must-visit for any age. The museum is considered one of the leading institutions for art, history and culture in the Southwest and does have plenty of hands-on exhibits for kids in addition to a fun outdoor sculpture garden to explore.
New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science
Go to the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science for dinosaurs. The entrance has the largest T-Rex skeleton ever found in addition to Seismosaurus, Saurophaganax, Stegosaurus, and one leg of a Brachiosaurus. The museum also covers the city’s role in space exploration and has a room full of live, local critters that docents take out for a close-up look.
Explora Science Museum
Explora Science Museum is the ultimate children’s museum. Everything is designed to be touched and played with. I would say that toddlers and younger elementary school kids will like this museum most, and it’s conveniently across the street from the natural history museum.
Lunch in Old Town
Because the above three museums are within a block or two of each other, we were able to see all three before a late lunch. As we were going to spend the rest of the afternoon exploring Old Town, we opted for the Backstreet Grill where we finally ordered one of Albuquerque’s must-eat dishes… stacked enchiladas.
Shopping in Old Town
Plan time to explore the over 150 general stores, art and other shops in Old Town Albuquerque. It’s the perfect place to pick up a Southwestern style souvenir. The live music in the square really set the perfect tone for a leisurely Saturday afternoon.
Dinner and an NCAA Basketball Game
I didn’t have a chance to take any photo evidence of our dinner at the Standard Diner, an old 1930s Texaco station that has been retrofitted into a restaurant that has been featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. But, definitely check it out as they’re famous for a green chile burger (a must-order in Albuquerque) and milkshakes (we can vouch for the banana flavor).
Our Uber driver mentioned that the Lobos were playing and my husband, a fan of NCAA basketball, had always wanted to see a game in The Pit.
We bought last-minute tickets online and had the concierge print them. The entire experience proved to be incredibly family-friendly and it was a good opportunity for our 10-year-old to see what NCAA Division 1 sports are like. If there isn’t a Lobos game happening, perhaps check to see if you can grab baseball tickets to an Albuquerque Isotopes game.
The University of New Mexico also has a few museums on campus in addition to a lovely duck pond.
Albuquerque is one of the most relaxed cities we’ve visited in a while. We took the morning to enjoy a leisurely breakfast and the view from Hotel Chaco as well as pack for our noon flight.
Landing at 1:00 p.m. back in San Diego on a Sunday also meant plenty of time to get things prepared for the week ahead.
Final Thoughts on Fun Stuff to Do in Albuquerque
Some of you may have noticed that there is one major Albuquerque attraction missing from our itinerary. The Sandia Peak Tramway was closed for maintenance during our visit but we definitely could have made time to go and you should, too.
It would be very easy to push a stroller from Hotel Chaco to the sights in Old Town, making this a very easy family vacation.
The International Balloon Fiesta happens every year for nine days during the first week of October. Make your reservations for this as soon as possible.
What are your favorite things to do in Albuquerque?
Katie Dillon is the managing editor of La Jolla Mom. She helps readers plan San Diego vacations through her hotel expertise (that stems from living in a Four Seasons hotel) and local connections. Readers have access to exclusive discounts on theme park tickets (like Disneyland and San Diego Zoo) and perks at luxury hotels worldwide through her. She also shares insider tips for visiting major cities worldwide, like Hong Kong, London, Paris, and Shanghai, that her family has either lived in or visits regularly (or both).
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