What's Albuquerque's finest?
December 30, 2005 12:07 AM   Subscribe

What's Albuquerque's finest? If you were showing a stranger the most amazing sights and experiences within two hours' drive of Albuquerque, where would you go?

First, why is this anonymous? Because I'm whisking my partner away on a surprise trip to Albuquerque in mid-February. They don't know it yet, and they read AskMe.

So we have a Saturday and Sunday. The partner is fascinated by southwestern Indian stuff, like in the Tony Hillerman books. Clearly "the Rez" that Hillerman used as backdrop is too far to drive from ABQ. You'd spend eight hours in the car to spend an hour in real live Navajo country, it seems.

But there seem to be several mesas and pueblos and national scenic parks and stuff an hour or two from the city. If you could take a Hillerman fan to just one, which one would it be?

Other interests we would pursue include other cultural stuff, old is good. Fabrics/quilting/cuisine are areas of general interest.

Then there's the sunset. I've read people rhapsodize about it in ABQ. Is it hype, or is it so grand it must be experienced? (We live in the opposite of a desert, BTW.) Again, where would you take someone for ONE sunset?

Recs on dining, other culture gratefully accepted too, although there are sites that specialize in that I've been reading. Gracias.
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation around Albuquerque, NM (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The obvious thing in ABQ is to take the tram up to Sandia Peak lookout. Santa Fe is very nice place which is an hour north and has lots of places to eat and shops, though is more touristy.
posted by _zed_ at 4:19 AM on December 30, 2005

I've been to the area once, and enjoyed it. Sandia Peak is a must see. I don't like heights, but it was amazing to be so very high, still the highest altitude I've experienced. I also drove to Santa Fe, and liked it, though it is, indeed, touristy. Good food abounds! Both in Albequerque, Santa Fe, and in between. I had some great posole in a dusty little diner somewhere between the two cities. I know we visited a big, old pueblo, but I can't remember the name--we got to climb around on creaky wooden ladder, go down into a kiva, all that. Anyone else know the place?
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:01 AM on December 30, 2005

Acoma Pueblo
posted by Dick Paris at 6:08 AM on December 30, 2005

If you're driving to Santa Fe, cross the Sandia's and take the back way. I-25 is pretty but it's just a highway. The extra 30 minutes will be worth it. Stop in Madrid. It's an old mining town that's been converted in a cheesy artist community. You can get a decent cuppa joe there and wander around looking at people's wares (and snickering behind your hand if you must).

I'd say that limiting driving time to 2 hrs might hurt ya a bit.
NM is pretty spread out. Especially since you have to fly into ABQ.

For lovers of all things Native American, try a pueblo. For Hillerman lovers, I would suggest a day at Bandelier NP. He has focused on the Ancient Ones in his books, and seeing the way they lived is fascinating. Cliff dwelling and kivas abd lot's of info on their life. I believe it is where they found the ancient beans that they have now grown and are selling as Anasazi beans. I prefer Chaco Canyon, but that is way out of the way. ABQ to Bandelier is about 2.5 hours.

Taos Pueblo is a favorite for the Native-watching set. The town itselfi s pretty artsy-fartsy and tourist friendly. Good food, good lodgings and only 2 hours and 15 minutes away from ABQ. The Drive from Espanola to Taos through the Gorge is great. Taos also puts you nearer to the great hiking of Northern NM and the Carson NF. Acoma is also a great choice with tons of history, but it sort of takes you out of Touristville. Not necessarily a bad thing.

A while back, in Taos, we found this great little hotel called the Laughing Horse Inn which was cheaper than all of the chains. Business was slow, so the guy gave us the room with the built in Sauna. Every room has a loft bed and radio and vcr. The place has a library of regional movies to watch. Watch the Milagro Bean Field War while you are there. Extra double plus, the guy wasn't phased by a dirty, hairy guy who'd been in the woods for a week (with wife, which helps). The building actually has character. It's an old adobe that was used as a testing ground for the technology that went into the Earth Ships. I've known people who've toured and stayed in Earth Ships, so someone with an interest in sustainable development might like that.

Santa Fe has a pretty good Georgia O'Keefe museum. If you like that kinda thing. If you love her and her art, you might want to go to Abiquiu out past Bandelier. More driving, though.

In Espanola, on the west side of the road on the north end of town is one of the best restaurants in the state. I believe it is called Daria's. 2 years ago, it was still there a small, old building in a gravel parking lot with a huge waiter who playfully harrassed you until the food came. Excellent red and green chile.

Be sure to try both while you are in NM. Repeatedly.
posted by Seamus at 6:40 AM on December 30, 2005

As others have said, Santa Fe is a tourist trap. But the museum hill is really nice. There are three art museums there, and beautifully landscaped grounds around them.

Closer to Albuquerque, Sandia Peak is a must-see. Also, the Rio Grande Nature Center is a very pretty park, and a great place to look at the local wildlife.

Also, if there's a thunderstorm, be sure to get a good look at the lightning. When I was driving between Santa Fe and Albuquerque there was a brief thunderstorm, and it was, in a word, awesome.
posted by CrunchyFrog at 7:16 AM on December 30, 2005

I found two pictures of the pueblo we visited. Does it look familiar to anyone? Ignore the picture titles--we were there to ride the train in Chama, which, I'm pretty sure, is closed for the season now.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:34 AM on December 30, 2005

For food, go to El Pinto in Albuquerque and The Shed in Santa Fe.

Visit the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. It is a museum which hosts dancers from around the area on a (nearly) daily basis. This would be my first stop if I were playing tour guide. There is so much information about all the tribes that you can learn here and you can experience the dances for yourself. You may even be invited to participate in a dance or two yourself. The dancers from Acoma frequently invite the observers to join them in a circle dance at the end of a performance.

In Albuquerque, you can also visit two historic locations which may be of interest. The first is the Coronado Monument which has a museum and pueblo ruins. Here, you may climb down into a reconstructed kiva. It's very beautiful and quite stark. On the West side of the city is the Petroglyph park where ancient images can be found on the basalt boulders at the base of the volcanoes marking that edge of the city. Bring your good walking shoes or hiking boots if you plan to go there.

To buy momentos of your trip and not get ripped on the prices, I highly recommend Palms Trading Company. They buy directly from the artisans who usually come in on Saturday to sell to the shop. The prices are amazing. The quality is the best. I've found pieces by Wilmer Kay and Maria Montoya there. It's the only place I buy my silver jewelry from too. Of the numerous pieces of pottery I've purchased from them, they've packed them such that I've never worried about shipping the pieces.

Drive to Santa Fe via Jemez Pueblo. It is off I-25 and is a beautiful drive through red hills.

If you go North of Santa Fe, you can visit the pueblo of Nambe where the Nambe metalware was founded and is still made.

North of Nambe is Taos which has Taos Pueblo, the longest (iirc) continuously inhabited pueblo. Residents must agree to live without modern amenities to live in the pueblo.

A couple of things to be aware of:
1. February can have some ugly weather and roads out of Albuquerque may be closed due to the snow or ice storms.
2. While your loved one is into Tony Hillerman and his focus on the Navajo. Know that there are many tribes living in NM and they influence the culture, food and architecture of the area quite heavily. Don't limit yourself to just those things which are Navajo. Places like the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center will help you have a richer experience.

Two days is not enough. Enjoy!
posted by onhazier at 7:42 AM on December 30, 2005

We really enjoyed the food at Duran Central Pharmacy. Yes, it's in a drug store. But don't let that stop you! Delicious homestyle green chili burritos. Centrally located. Read the Frommer's write-up here.
posted by nancoix at 8:19 AM on December 30, 2005

All of the above are excellent recommendations. Also check out the Natural History Museum (the evilator is a must-see!). If you're so inclined, you can visit the Intel plant nearby (which includes a museum). Hike at the top of the mountain for sure.

For food, I highly recommend El Pinto (seems like onhazier and I have the same ideas--the Shed is awesome in Santa Fe).
posted by qslack at 9:26 AM on December 30, 2005

For food, I recommend checking the chowhound.com Southwest message board. For example, here's a November 21st thread on "Best restaurants in Sante Fe and Albuquerque"
posted by WestCoaster at 10:06 AM on December 30, 2005

You must go to Acoma Pueblo, about 45 minutes west of Albuquerque. It is located on a high mesa, so the views are stunning, and it has one of the most beautiful churches in the state.
El Pinto and the Shed are tourist holes. Go to El Patio in the Albuquerque University area, or Garcia's, which has locations all around town. Also be sure to introduce your guest to the magic that is the Lotaburger blackberry milkshake.
If you must go to Fanta Se, skip the Georgia O'Keefe museum (all of the important works are owned by bigger richer museums, the G.O. has only secondary and juvenalia). If you're in the mood to splurge go to 10,000 Waves for a luxurious soak (www.tenthousandwaves.com).
posted by Sara Anne at 10:20 AM on December 30, 2005

P.S. Here's a link to the free weekly's "Best of Burque" poll.
posted by Sara Anne at 10:31 AM on December 30, 2005

The area around the university is fun....Double Rainbow on central is an awesome restaurant/coffeeshop devoted entirely to spectacular desserts, the Frontier up the street is good too in kitschy way (especially the breakfasts & green chile).
posted by octavia at 11:04 AM on December 30, 2005

Two days is a short time. The altitude is significant, so plan to go a bit slow. And bring water, even if it's cold.

Top of Sandia is great for the view if the weather is good; particularly good if you're there when folks are hang gliding. If you like hiking, Tent Rocks is nearby and is quite pleasant and beautiful. A trip up to Acoma Pueblo would be good too.

I think Albuquerque itself is kind of a hole. But driving east on Central is sort of interesting to see the old Route 66 history. The Frontier is definitely a great place for a 1am Frontier Roll and cup of coffee.
posted by Nelson at 1:07 PM on December 30, 2005

If this were me:

Sunset: Sadly my favorite place closed earlier this year, but my second favorite would be The Corn Maiden Restaurant (two birds, one stone) at the Hyatt Tamaya in Bernalillo. Great food, service, ambiance, etc. If it's warm enough then you can sit on the patio and watch the sunset on the mountains. Or you could go for a walk then watch the sunset from the trails.

Hiking: In the vein of taking things relatively easy, I'd also suggest teh hiking at the Volcanos onthe west mesa. They aren't particularly challenging, but they are out of town enough that you get a good perspective on the town and if you go at sundown you can get an awesome panoramic view. Just remember that the gates are locked an hour after sunset so you need to get down and out in a timely fashion. And the coolness factor of hiking on volcanoes never wears off for me.

Cultural: Seems to have been covered fairly well above. I was unimpressed by the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, but that's just me. I'd say, bang for buck, go out to one of the Pueblos instead.

Driving: If you do drive up to Santa Fe, I agree with the suggestion to head up 14 through the mountains, but depending on the weather that could be treacherous. Just bear that in mind. It's a gorgeous ride for sure, but not worth the drive if it's snowing. And yes, if you go, stop in Madrid. Do some shopping.

Visit DukeCityFix.com . One of MeFi's very own writes for them and they often have fun tid-bits and day trip info on there.

Other tid-bits:
- The Double Rainbow ceased to be DR years ago. It's now a local chain called Flying Star. Overpriced and crowded and you have to order at the counter.
- The Frontier is a total dive loved by all who like green chile and breakfast burritos.
- Place to stay? If you don't have one already have a place set up consider La Posada down town. Fit's the "old" note in your post. If you want something a little bit newer and loads nicer, I suggest a night at the Tamaya. Man, good stuff.
- Martini Grille for good cocktails.

If you have any additional specific questions feel free to email me.
posted by FlamingBore at 3:37 PM on December 30, 2005

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