We are very excited to welcome my longtime friend, Ariel, and her precious little girl, Talia, as they arrive this week for a visit! Talia is just two months older than Luke and we are sure that they will be fast friends as well. As I’ve been thinking through what to do while they’re here, I thought I’d share my must-visit list with you all. Think of it as a virtual tour of Albuquerque or a little window into our favorite activities here.
Since ABQ is almost a mile high in elevation, it’s always nice to take it easy the first day so out-of-towners have a chance to adjust to the elevation gain. So we could have breakfast in our backyard and then go over to the sprayground (less than a mile from our house) to let the little ones run in and out of streams of water. Then back home for some lunch and naps, followed by dinner in Old Town Albuquerque. This quaint settlement dates back to 1706, and features a lovely old church, plenty of stucco, wood beams, and ristras (decorative bunches of drying chiles), and a pretty gazebo in a park-like plaza. Luke likes to try to climb on the old canons and chase pigeons. I like the relaxed atmosphere and the galleries with lovely turquoise jewelry and pretty paintings!
When asked about day two, my helpful husband suggested bungee-jumping, noting we should let the children try it first since they heal faster. I’ll just let you file that thought away and continue with my own itinerary here.
We could start the day at the Petroglyph National Monument. There’s a short, interesting trail here with thousands of ancient carvings in volcanic rock and a great city overlook. It’s located to the west of Albuquerque where it’s especially dry so you see more of a desert habitat but there’s little shade. So it’s best to come and go in the morning during the summer.
After naps and an early dinner, we could take advantage of the cooler evening temperatures with a stroll into the Sandia foothills from a nearby trailhead or a visit to a local park. If it seems too warm for either of those options, we could splash around with the little ones at a nearby Albuquerque City Pool. The wading pool there is shallow enough at the edges for Luke to walk in, but he tends to gravitate toward the center, dunking himself in the process!
The Albuquerque BioPark includes a zoo, botanic gardens, an aquarium, and a train. Thorough visits to all of these destinations might be a little much for one day, but fortunately they are fairly close together making it easy to pick and choose which parts to see. Plus we have a membership that allows us to take a guest for free and there’s no charge for kids 2 and under. My favorite stops are the polar bears, the seals (feeding time is best), the baby orangutan, the shark tank (especially when a diver is in with them), the Japanese gardens, and the butterfly house. There’s so much to see that I actually haven’t bothered to take Luke on the train there yet, but I’m sure that would be fun too. We could take a break for lunch at the Flying Star, a kid-friendly diner with a varied menu located near the zoo.
Tent Rocks National Monument is probably our top-rated local hike. It’s only an hour away and the less than 3-mile hike features astounding rock formations, fantastic views, and a walk through a tall, narrow slot canyon. The skies are almost always a gorgeous blue behind the white and beige rocks, and the drive there passes by native american homes and farms. The monument is currently closed to pave the lunar-like dirt road that used to take you the final few miles to the trailhead. We can’t wait for it to reopen with a paved surface and hope that it does so in the next few days.
Tent Rocks is a detour off the highway that leads to Santa Fe, so after a visit there we could continue on to New Mexico’s capital city, hopefully with napping children on board. The Santa Fe Old Town is quite similar to Albuquerque’s, but it’s worth a visit to see the new NM state history museum which is located there. We like the guided tour it offers of the Palace of the Governors, which was originally built in 1610 and has been in continuous public use longer than any other structure in the US. We’re also amused by the eloquent letter to the governor signed William Bonney, aka Billy the Kid. After the museum and a stroll through Old Town, we’d have to stop for dinner at our favorite place for New Mexican food – Tomasita’s. Yum!
The Sandia Tram, which takes passengers from the edge of Albuquerque up nearly 4000 miles in elevation to the top of the Sandia Mountains, seems the perfect finale to a visit to Albuquerque. The views into hidden canyons and forests as you ascend are stunning and once at the top you can take in the gorgeous vista by following a gently rolling trail along the crest. There’s also a ski lift near the tram’s crest station that you can ride in the summer to enjoy views in the opposite direction. We like to stay until sunset if possible to see the sun set along the horizon, casting seas of color through the skies and atop the mesa. Then the city lights twinkle magically as the tram whisks you back down to the base station.
There are so many wonderful destinations that don’t fit in my 5-day itinerary. Albuquerque offers many more delightful children’s activities, including a science museum, a natural history museum, and a hot air balloon museum. Varied hiking opportunities abound in every direction. We especially love taking day trips to Georgia O’Keefe country, the Jemez Mountains, or Mt. Taylor for hikes. There are several terrific nearby sites for Native American ruins, including Bandelier National Monument (our favorite).
Overnight trips extend the possibilities exponentially. The mountains, streams, waterfalls and resort towns of Southern Colorado are only 4 hours away. Magnificent Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands National Monument are just a little further than that, but to the south. Whirlwind trips to the Grand Canyon or Sedona, AZ are doable in a long weekend. We love exploring the southwest!