Hundreds of thousands of tourists from around the world visit Santa Fe and Taos, NM to experience the area’s unique arts, culture, history, cuisine and festivals. The vast majority only use Albuquerque for its airport before hopping on Interstate 25 and heading north.
Savvy visitors who choose to spend time in the state’s largest city, even just a day, will be rewarded.
Start your Albuquerque adventure by refueling at Frontier Restaurant, a short-lived local hangout that celebrated its 50th anniversaryand anniversary in 2021. Authentic New Mexican enchiladas, green chili or posole (traditional Mexican stew) and burritos, served with homemade flour tortillas, are served from 5:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., seven days a week, opposite from the University of New Mexico.
A jaw-dropping collection of paintings by artists with state ties fills every inch of available wall space.
Food and art. This is what draws people to New Mexico and the two are combined brilliantly at Frontier.
Nowhere else in America is art – great art – so present in public spaces, from restaurants and hotels to the airport and the state capital, both of which have exceptional collections put highlighted by the work of longtime New Mexico resident John Nieto (Mescalero/Apache).
Save room for the famous Frontier Sweet Roll.
Hotel Chaco is new to town, but perfectly captures the aesthetics of the area while setting a new standard for luxury accommodations. Stepping out of the sunlight and into the property’s dark entrance, guests are immediately greeted by the monumental Joe Cajero (Jemez Pueblo) monument. Unity bronze sculpture inviting them to the reception.
Check-in at Hotel Chaco is in a circular, soaring lobby that pays homage to the architectural structures found in Chaco Canyon, known as Kivas. The hotel specifies that it does not intend to reproduce a Kiva, because these places are sacred.
Front desk staff wear uniforms designed by Project Runway contestant Patricia Michaels (Taos Pueblo) and inspired by pottery paint chips from the ruins of Chaco Canyon. Pottery in second-story niches by Thomas Tenorio (Santo Domingo Pueblo) and Joseph Cerna, Jr. (Acoma Pueblo) overlooks arriving guests.
The combination immerses guests in the native arts and culture of New Mexico. Wherever the guests are from, Hotel Chaco makes it clear that they are now in New Mexico. Fortunately.
The property’s preeminent collection of original contemporary Native American and New Mexican artwork spans the public spaces and guest rooms where wool rugs woven in traditional patterns by Navajo weavers from the Toadlena Trading Post hang above the beds. Hoel Chaco’s commitment to art extends to the onsite gallery Hózhó reflecting the unique cultural history and artistic innovation found in the state. The Indigenous futurism of Pueblo artist Virgil Ortiz stands out.
A more in-depth introduction to New Mexico’s 19 pueblos can be found at the Pueblo Indian Cultural Center, where a variety of historical artifacts and contemporary artworks are featured in permanent and temporary exhibits. Visitors see pottery, baskets, jewelry, photographs, and larger-than-life murals painted by legendary Pueblo artists that ring the courtyard, including the iconic Pablita Velarde (1918-2006; Santa Clara Pubelo ) herd dance. Guided tours of the murals take place on Wednesdays and Fridays at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Even angsty teenagers will find the IPCC’s temporary exhibit of skateboarding art by rad indigenous designers.
Seasonal markets, festivals, storytelling, dances and workshops fill the calendar of IPCC events. Add to your art collection—or start one—at the gift shop and local Native American artisans working and selling in the courtyard.
For a less lasting memory of your visit, try Indian Pueblo Kitchen’s Blue Corn Cakes which are also made with quinoa, amaranth, currants, piñon, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds. The entire menu is centered around the exploration and education of native cuisine.
Museum-goers can completely forget their pre-existing plans for Santa Fe and Taos after slowing down to visit Albuquerque. Less than a mile from the Chaco Hotel are the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, and a planetarium. The city’s museum offerings range from the more predictable, to those that highlight unique regional features like the National Hispanic Cultural Center, National Museum of Nuclear Science and History, and Turquoise Museum, to the more bizarre: the museum meteorites and the American International Rattlesnake Museum.
Art lovers thinking they need to put ABQ in their rearview mirror to find what they’re looking for should also reconsider.
Cannupa Hanska Luger (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, and Lakota) is a 2022 Guggenheim Fellow and Visiting Artist at the Albuquerque Museum. His “Future Ancestral Technologies” exhibit showcases Indigenous science fiction through July 2022. Opening here June 11, “Traitor, Survivor, Icon: The Legacy of La Malinche” was curated by the Denver Art Museum to rave reviews . The show examines the historical and cultural legacy of indigenous women at the heart of the Spanish conquest of Mexico.
The University of New Mexico Museum of Art is also presenting a temporary exhibition by a major international contemporary artist with Pakistani-American multimedia artist Anila Quayyum Agha’s first solo exhibition in the state. His breathtaking metal and light installations are not to be missed.
Nor will Sadie’s of New Mexico savory salsa that will make your nose run and wish they were setting up a place where you live.
Put out the fire with local craft beer at Paxton’s Taproom in the Sawmill Market, opposite the Chaco Hotel, which, along with the artwork, serves as the HQ for visiting celebrities who increasingly come over to ABQ for filming. Netflix is just one of the content giants investing heavily in the Land of Enchantment.
Don’t forget the hot air balloon museum.
On second thought, do those 48 hours in Albuquerque.