Last month, we road-tripped out west to spend some time chasing hot air balloons. We threw in a little hiking, a mini road trip, and also hit up some of the best restaurants Albuquerque and Santa Fe had to offer. I thought I’d take the time to write up a Trip Report: New Mexico edition. Obviously, our main focus of going was the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta as crew for our pilot friend. But the majority of these places are year-round friendly, so don’t let that stop you from deciding when to go!
- Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta-The longest running and one of the largest hot air balloon festivals in the world, the Fiesta is something to experience! This event takes place from the first weekend in October and wraps up the following weekend. If the weather plays nice, there are fourteen sessions to see the balloons up close. From dawn patrols to mass ascensions (think hundreds of balloons taking off at the same time) to night glows, there are dozens of chances to meet the pilots and see the balloons.
- Sandia Peak Tramway– One thing you’ll notice in ABQ is the beautiful Sandia Mountain range. If you’re heading there in the winter months, hit up the ski slopes. Not feeling the cold? Travel during the other seasons and lace up your hiking boots! You can hike several trails toward the base of the mountains or hop on the tram and travel up to 10,300 feet in elevation to the top. There you will find a variety of trails and lookout points to see all the Albuquerque below. Beautiful views abound!
- The Balloon Museum-Finding yourself with a bit of time on your hands and wanting an indoor activity? Check out the Anderson Abruzzo International Balloon Museum. From the history of the festival to the history of ballooning, you’re bound to find something to pique your interest.
- The Turquoise Trail-Trust me, it’s not all about Albuquerque! Fancy a bit of a road trip? Hop on the Turquoise Trail, a scenic bypass connecting ABQ to Santa Fe. Once filled with rich turquoise deposits, the towns and stops along this way offer amazing views and fantastic pit stops.
- The Loretto Chapel-Once you hit Santa Fe, make time to stop at the beautiful Loretto Chapel. Built as part of a girls’ school in the late 1800s, one of their claims to fame is the “miraculous staircase”. After their main contractor died before finishing access to the choir loft, the sisters prayed to the Patron Saint of Carpenters for help. Suddenly, a carpenter with only a hammer and a carpenter’s square appeared and built this beautiful spiral staircase. The entire chapel is beautiful and definitely worth the stop!
- Bandelier National Monument-If you didn’t get enough hiking in atop the Sandia Mountains, head north to the Bandelier National Monument. Located in the Frijoles Canyon, this beautiful area features trails of varying difficulties and access to some amazing historical areas. Climb the ladders to check out the cliff dwellings the Pueblo people lived in so long ago.
- Honorable mentions-Visit old town ABQ for some amazing shops, and while you’re there, stop by and check out the Breaking Bad museum and tour. The zoo and botanical gardens are also high on people’s lists of places to check out. If you fancy a longer road trip, head south to check out the Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands National Park (a trip we didn’t get the chance to make, unfortunately!)
- El Pinto-If you are going to eat at one restaurant in ABQ, make it El Pinto! Make a reservation for patio seating, and get ready for the margaritas. Menu recommendations beyond that? The tostada compuestas are delicious, but you can not go wrong with anything Carne Adovada.
- Farina Pizza & Wine Bar-Pizza in the land of Mexican food? Absolutely! Go on a Friday and get the meatball sandwich special. Or try the margherita pizza fresh from the oven.
- Blake’s Lotaburger-Kind of a New Mexico tradition! This is the place to go for a breakfast burrito with that spicy good green chili. Also, a great place to go to get a greasy late-night burger!
- Gabriel’s-OK, hear me out. We found this place kind of on a fluke. We were on our way back from Bandelier and were starving, so I was looking at places on Yelp. I found this one, and we weren’t really sure what we were getting ourselves into when we pulled in. I mean, it’s kind of off the beaten path! But this had to be one of the best meals we ate all week! The table side guac is a must and for your entree? Get the tamales!
- The Holler-Make this spot your lunch destination on your Turquoise Trail trip! Chef special tacos, pulled pork biscuits, and an excellent atmosphere all wrapped into a quirky little roadside stop! Work off your meal by perusing the local artist’s shops along the street side.
- Holy Burgers-Another non-Mexican food stop, but so worth it! These burgers were amazingly fresh, and the fries were just *chef’s kiss*. And it’s not just burgers on the menu. They cater to all taste buds and dietary preferences.
- Honorable mentions-El Patio & Sadie’s for the traditional New Mexico fare, Golden Crown Panaderia for the most amazing blue corn crust pizzas, and don’t forget the Sawmill! If you’re traveling in a group, that’s the place to go for tons of great options in one spot.
New Mexico Travel Tips
Hydration is key! Not only are you in the desert, but you’re at a higher elevation than you may be used to. Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water.
Speaking of higher elevation, sunscreen it up! It’s a little easier to get a sunburn, especially when it might feel cooler than it is or it’s a little cloudy out.
Don’t ask the waitstaff how spicy things are! This might seem strange, but odds are, what is spicy to a New Mexico native isn’t going to be the same as what you’re used to. If you’re sensitive to spice, get your salsas and sauces on the side.
Be aware of you’re surroundings! Use maps when you’re on the trail, and remember, there are shitty people everywhere. Especially in a high tourist area during a big event. Don’t leave valuables in your car.
That wraps up my Trip Report: New Mexico! We haven’t decided if we are going back next year just yet. If there is somewhere we definitely need to go, make sure to leave your suggestions in the comments down below!