If your next “wrong turn” lands your family in Albuquerque, you’re in store for an exceptional experience. This vibrant New Mexico city offers visiting families the opportunity to go on aerial excursions, have close encounters with native wildlife and to get a front-row seat to traditional flamenco performances. Read on for a guide to a family vacation in Albuquerque that gives your crew a chance to experience the magic of the local culture firsthand.
photo via ABQ Bio Park
Located in the High Desert, Albuquerque is New Mexico’s largest city. It was founded in 1706 as a Spanish colony, and today its vibrant history can be experienced all throughout the city.
Families interested in experiencing Albuquerque’s rich culture can start by heading to the Historic Old Town. Considered the heart of the city, this area of town has a shopping plaza with over 150 stores and galleries to peruse. It’s the perfect spot to pick up gifts or memorabilia with true southwestern flair.
The Albuquerque Museum can be found in the middle of old town just of Route 66. It gives families a dose of history with its massive collection of over 35,000 historical objects and permanent exhibits, as well as regular traveling exhibits. The New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science offers families a high-tech experience, bringing the past to life in its Dyna Theater and stunning stargazers with its planetarium. And the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center features the art, dance, and food of the 19 Pueblo tribes of New Mexico with exhibits and live entertainment.
While you are wandering around old town you’ll want to stop by the iconic Chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe which is tucked away in a corner of the Patio Escondido Mall.
Flamenco is no small deal in Albuquerque. In fact, New Mexico is considered the center for Flamenco in the U.S., and Albuquerque is home to both the National Institute of Flamenco and the Festival Flamenco Albuquerque, which is the single largest gathering of flamenco performances in North America. Families can see incredible performances at the Hotel Albuquerque’s Tablao Flamenco where high-caliber dancers take the stage and put on an incredible show, while the audience dines on authentic Sevilla tapas and drinks regionally inspired fine wines and spirits.Best of all, Sunday nights are family nights! For an exceptional date night experience check out Casa Flamenca, where you are allowed to bring your own bites and sips and sit in an intimate setting that nearly puts you center stage with the dancers.
Trams, Zoo’s & More
For panoramic views of the Rio Grande Valley, grab the kids and catch a ride on the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway. It takes you 2.7 miles up over canyons to an observation deck at the top of the 10,378 foot Sandia Peak in the Cibola National Forest. Here you’ll find the soon-to-open restaurant, Ten3 where you can buy a bite before you head out to hike the peak’s wilderness trails.
If your kids love animals, plants and catching fish, then a day at the ABQ BioPark is a must. The bio park consists of a 64-acre zoo that offers an opportunity for close encounters with both exotic and local wildlife. Additionally, your kids will love visiting aquatic life at the Aquarium and wandering 1.5 miles of botanic garden paths. But the fun doesn’t stop there, Tingley Beach is located adjacent to the Rio Grand Boseque. It has three fishing ponds perfect for your young anglers and when you’ve caught all of the fish you can handle, you can rent a pedal boat and get on the pond!
There are so many wonderful places for families to stay in Albuquerque, but we’ve picked the best of the best. For an upscale stay in the city, we suggest the beautiful Hotel Andaluz Albuquerque. The fourth hotel built by Conrad Hilton in 1939, this beautifully restored building features a Spanish-inspired design that sets the tone for your cultural experience. The accommodations leave you wanting for nothing with each beautifully-appointed room featuring luxury linens and free WiFi. The building features two restaurants and a fitness room.
For a truly unique experience, a stay at the El Vado Motel will thrill the history buffs and the fun-seekers in your family. Opened in 1937, this spot was one of the first places in New Mexico to welcome those coming off Route 66. Once a drive up motel, complete with a carports for each room and a gas pump (think Cars), these accommodations have been completely re-imagined. The mid-century, modern rooms are comfy and can fit the whole family, and right outside the door, you’ll find a pool and food and play court. Your crew can easily spend the whole day on site! Best of all, rooms are super affordable for those traveling on a budget.
Finally, if you want a break from the hustle of the city, Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm will not disappoint. This gorgeous lavender farm situates its rooms on 25 acres of lavender fields, surrounded by giant cottonwood trees. The classic New Mexican style accommodations are as beautiful as the surrounding area. With walls decorated with original artwork antique furnishing, luxury bedding and Los Poblanos’s own signature lavender spa amenities, you are guaranteed a dreamy stay. Kids have plenty of room to run with yard games available for entertainment, and the whole family will enjoy checking out the resident peacocks and lamas while taking in views of the Sandia mountains.
If your family loves fine Southwestern fare, Albuquerque will not disappoint. There are an endless number of fantastic eateries with delectable dishes. For breakfast and lunch, head to The Grove Cafe & Market where you can nosh on dishes like the Croque Madame and the Turkey Toastie all made from locally sourced food, much of which is organic. Fun fact: this cafe was a filming location for several scenes in Breaking Bad.
Even if you haven’t booked a stay at the El Vado, you can get a good dose of the fun these quirky accommodations offer in its food court. The El Vado features a changing lineup of food pods that house up-and-coming restaurants. You can enjoy a sweet treat at Rude Boy Cookies, get a taste of Costa Rican fare at Buen Provecho, enjoy some pizza at Sandia Crust Pizza or hang out in the El Vado Tap Room. Everyone gets what they want at this cool food court.
For a taste of delectable Rio Grand Valley Cuisine served in a stunning farm setting, head to Campo at Los Poblanos. Featuring a field-to-fork menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner, diners get to choose from items like Forbidden Rice and handmade pasta. For an extra special experience, book the Chef’s Table where you and your young foodies can dine while enjoying a front-row seat to the chefs while in action.
Mas Tapas y Vino and the Ibiza Rooftop are located inside Hotel Andaluz. Mas tapas features the best of traditional Spanish cuisine in specialty dishes that are served for breakfast lunch and dinner. Their Latin American Power Bowl is the perfect fuel for an active day. And honey bacon wrapped dates, Iberico ribs and Manchego-Cheddar Mac & Cheese tapas make for the perfect dinner. End the evening with a cocktail at Ibiza Rooftop.
Albuquerque offers families a unique opportunity to look back in time and experience first-hand the unique cultures and traditions that combined to make New Mexico the beautiful, colorful place that it is. As you taste, dance and explore your way across the city, you’ll have a chance to expand your knowledge, tastes and you might even pick up a new hobby (think Flamenco!). You may even find yourself booking your next vacation to the area before you have even left.
— copy and photos by Annette Benedetti (except where noted)
Special thanks to Visit Albuquerque for assistance with accommodations and entertainment. All opinions here expressed are the writer’s own.