This post is a guest post written by Kassi Nelson. Kassi has lived in Albuquerque for two years. The former journalist and television news anchor now works in new home sales with a local builder. On her off days, you can find her at coffee shops, breweries, or hiking trails with her 2-year-old Australian Cattle dog named Chance. She loves live music and wishes she could see Led Zeppelin in concert. You’ll never find her at the movies during a diet because she’s usually just there for popcorn and M&M’s. You can find Kassi on Instagram (@accordingtokassi) where she shares more on life in New Mexico and beyond!
If you want to spend the weekend in New Mexico don’t pass up its heart, the vibrant city of Albuquerque. Visitors often zip right through it on I-25 heading to Santa Fe or Taos, but that’s just too bad for them. If Albuquerque were a person, I’d say it would be an old soul. Someone who’s lived a long and fruitful life, offers quality over quantity, values experiences and deep connections, and has many stories to tell. It’s a desert that gives more than 300 days of sunshine a year, wide-open skies, mountains that mirror the sunset, and a sense of wonder. Want to spend a weekend in Albuquerque? Let me help you.
How to Spend a Weekend in Albuquerque
The 505 knows how to grub. Southwestern culture isn’t just a thing in Albuquerque. It is from Albuquerque. You’ll find it everywhere, including in our cuisine. Don’t be weirded out when your waiter asks, “Red or green?” It’s chile we’re referring to. If you have no idea which you won’t just say, “Christmas”. That way, you’ll get both (and trust me, you’ll want to try both). Visit in the fall and that sweet smokey smell means it’s chile roasting season, but you’ll find chile everywhere year-round. You can even order it for your burger at McDonald’s, (but please, don’t come here and eat McDonald’s). It would be a sin not to give your tastebuds a little adventure. And while eating good, authentic food is one main reason to come to Albuquerque, trust me… there are other things to do in Albuquerque that will leave you inspired and wanting to come back for more!
Duran Central Pharmacy. I love this place for breakfast. It’s one of the first commercial establishments in Albuquerque just west of downtown on Route 66. Like its name says, it is a pharmacy, but it’s more than that. It’s also a gift shop with a constantly rotating inventory (a really fun place to shop for friends and family) and its original soda fountain is now a restaurant. Think of that old school 1940’s diner feel. All their food is made in-house including their incredible hand-rolled tortillas. My go-to is huevos rancheros with Christmas. You won’t leave hungry.
The Shop Breakfast and Lunch. If you’re visiting Albuquerque, this is an absolute must. This little breakfast “shop” is east on Route 66 near the university. I just discovered this place last month, not exactly sure how, and I’m looking for someone to go with me every weekend. This is an order at the counter then find your table place and the line can get pretty long. But remember, you’re not in Denver, Chicago, or San Fran so “long” is relative. Last weekend my sister and I got there at 10:15 and waited in line for about 20 minutes. I would have waited 20 hours from my chilaquiles. Say it with me, tortilla chips simmered with slow-roasted pork shoulder in homemade red chile with pickled onion, queso fresco, sour cream, avocado, and over-easy eggs. It’s a delightful mouthful. I’ve never tasted anything here I didn’t like including a spaghetti squash hoecake with pork belly, poached eggs, and maple bacon syrup or duck confit hash. Don’t know what in the world I’m talking about? It doesn’t matter, just dig in.
El Pinto. This is a place you go for dinner if you still haven’t gotten your fill of New Mexican food (or if you just can’t stop). This is the largest restaurant in the entire state, but the quality of their food keeps up. With five patios, three indoor dining rooms, and a cantina, there is something to discover in every corner. If you don’t have a reservation you can expect a bit of a wait (I’ve never waited longer than 45 minutes). Take that time to check out the pictures on the walls. They tell stories of visits from celebrities and presidential candidates stopping on the campaign trail. My favorite part about El Pinto, though, is their extensive margarita menu. My goal is to try every flavor, but I keep coming back to a cucumber. It’s so refreshing! Want an entree that is truly New Mexican? Take your pick. One of my favorites is Stuffed Sopapilla. In restaurants throughout Albuquerque, you’ll come across sopapillas and honey for dessert, but they can also fulfill a savory craving when they’re stuffed with chicken, beef, and cheese. Of course, they’re topped with chile, which El Pinto is not short on. They grow their chile in Hatch, New Mexico, and have been for nearly two decades. Hatch is the chile capital of the world, in case you didn’t know.
Ten 3. Of all of the unique things to do in Albuquerque, this is close to the top of the list. Ten 3 is a bit of a trek because it’s 10,300 feet above sea level at the top of the Sandia Peak and you have to take the tram to get there. I’ll tell you more about that in a bit, but let’s start with the restaurant. Floor to ceiling windows in the elegant dining room gives way to panoramic views of the Rio Grande Valley and beyond. And hey, if you want to see Santa Fe you can from the bar. Seriously, the east-facing casual dining room and full bar offer views of the Sandia ski area and Santa Fe off in the distance. Their food is delicious, and their drinks are top-notch, but its location makes it an experience you won’t get anywhere else. So, how do you get there? You’re going to need to go to the Sandia Peak Tramway. A round-trip ticket for adults is $25. Have a reservation? Get there about an hour early. The tram takes 15 minutes up and down and you can always have a drink in the bar before your reservation. If Ten 3 has a full reservation book there will be someone at the bottom of the tram to check you in.
Campo at Los Poblanos. If I have friends or family coming to town I make a reservation here, and no matter how many times I go it’s always a different experience. Los Poblanos is a historic inn, built in the 1930s, and set among 25 acres of lavender fields, gardens, and massive cottonwood trees. This is one of Albuquerque’s gems. Along with a sweet smell and friendly staff don’t be surprised if you’re greeted by a crew of animals including alpaca. They’re so cute! They’re also useful. According to a post on the inn’s Facebook page, alpaca eat the bindweed that grows around the lavender plants. An organic farm on-site provides ingredients for Campo, the establishment’s restaurant. What’s more farm to table than that? Their menu changes with the seasons and their cocktail bar have a variety of fresh, local ingredients and small-batch spirits. I recommend going before sunset so you can take everything the property has to offer and don’t forget to make a reservation! You’ll need one if you want to eat int he dining room, as it’s reservation only.
Level 5. We call New Mexico the Land of Enchantment, and you’ll see why if you have drinks at this rooftop bar during sunset. The bar is in Hotel Chaco near Old Town and has stunning views of the Sandia Mountains to the east. As day turns to night watch as the mountain range turns as pink as your Sandia Sunset cocktail. The mountains were named Sandia (Spanish for watermelon) because their granite peaks turn pink during sunset. This bar also has an extensive wine list. Come for the views and the drinks, but don’t feel like you have to eat here if you want to venture somewhere else.
Breweries. Maybe you’re more team beer than team wine. Well, Albuquerque’s the place for you. The city’s beer scene is booming. According to Albuquerque Business First, our beer scene has tripled in size in the last ten years and as of 2018, there were 85 breweries across the state. My favorites are Bow and Arrow for its rotating taps of unique brews, Marble downtown for its rooftop (closed in the winter), and Boxing Bear on Central for its mouthwatering IPAs. You’ll often find food trucks at Bow and Arrow and Marble, and if you go to Boxing Bear hungry there is a pizza place next door you can order a pie from.
Casa Rondeña Winery. Yes, I am a wine club member, no this is not a paid post. I just love wine and coming from wine country in Oregon, finding the local winery was a must for me. One of my strategies to visit Casa Rondena in the early afternoon before heading to Campo at Los Poblanos. They’re just down the street from each other in the Rio Grande Valley. The tasting room is open from noon to 7 pm and gets this, a tasting is only $10! I never thought much of that until my sister visited from Seattle and would not stop going on about how inexpensive that is. The grapes are grown on-site making it a beautiful haven tucked away in the city.
Coffee. How could we thrive without it? I’m not just talking personally, I’m also talking about Albuquerque’s economy. With the booming beer scene comes with a booming craft coffee scene. A roaster once told me, if there is a craft beer scene sooner or later there will be a craft coffee scene because they draw the same demographic. In the past couple of years of living in New Mexico, I’ve seen both grow, and I’m not mad about it. I love Little Bear on Central and Cutbow on the Rio Grande and I-40. My go-to drink at Cutbow is a macadamia milk latte. You can thank me later.
Maybe you want to take your coffee to go and see what this “Land of Enchantment” is all about. Think you’ve seen the best of Albuquerque? Not until you get outdoors! One of my favorite places to walk, jog, bike, meditate is the Bosque. (Here is a website with directions on where you can access the Bosque). It’s nearly 20 miles of mostly flat forest that lines our Rio Grande. Dirt trails will take you on an adventure underneath an umbrella of twisted cottonwood trees. The forest is literally in the middle of the city, but you would never know it. To me, it’s a majestic realm that even has spiritual meaning to some tribes in the Southwest. If you’re looking for something a little more challenging, good news. The Sandias are literally in Albuquerque’s “backyard”. It takes me 25 minutes to drive from my condo downtown to the La Luz trailhead. I recommend the app AllTrails to give you up to date information on the dozens of hiking trails and their conditions depending on the season. Two of my favorite hikes are Pino and La Luz. They’re both difficult and long (9 miles) but you can always turn around whenever you feel like it. If you go in the summer, please take plenty of water. The sun here is hotter than it feels and you won’t find much shade the first few miles of either of those trails.
At the least, you’ll wrap up your weekend in Albuquerque with a story or two. But if you let it, New Mexico can leave you with an expanded view of wonder, possibility, and beauty. While Albuquerque is just a slice of it, don’t be surprised if you go home content and hungry for more at the same time. Just don’t pass up a weekend in Albuquerque.
Intrigued by Albuquerque? For a better understanding of how incredible this city is, make sure to check out my Instagram page/highlight reel! Just search #ppinabq or find “Albuquerque, NM” when looking under highlights.