Go There: An Arts and Culture Weekend in Albuquerque

Immerse yourself in art, history, dance and music when you visit Albuquerque.

By
Sarah Kuta
On Friday, December 6, 2019 - 06:00
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Welcome to Go There, a Livability.com series about travel and how to maximize your time in some of our favorite cities. Do you have a place in mind that we should visit next? Let us know! Today, we’re sharing our weekend getaway guide to Albuquerque, NM.

From food to flamenco, Albuquerque loves to celebrate its diverse history and the Native American and Spanish influences that made the city the vibrant place it is today.

Though many people travel to Albuquerque for its world-renowned hot air ballooning or to visit filming locations from AMC’s hit show “Breaking Bad,” you could easily spend an entire vacation immersed in Albuquerque’s arts and culture scene. ​​​​

Before its official founding in 1706 by Spanish explorers, Albuquerque had been home to Native American tribes for centuries. The two groups’ traditions and customs became intertwined to create a unique New Mexican culture, with input from more recent immigrants and Route 66 travelers along the way. 

Need inspiration? We’ve got a few ideas for how to soak up as much of Albuquerque as possible.

Where to Stay

For your weekend in Albuquerque, you’ll want to make Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm your home base. There are 50 guest rooms at this boutique hotel, which sits on 25 acres of lavender fields — it’s truly a relaxing oasis in Albuquerque. 

On-site, you’ll find an incredible farm-to-table restaurant, a saltwater pool (open during the warmer months), a bakery and a farm shop

Take a leisurely walk among the rows of lavender plants or spend some time meditating in the six acres of formal gardens. You may bump into some of the farm’s wildlife along the way, including a resident farm cat, peacocks and guinea hens. The cutest residents of Los Poblanos are the alpacas, who were brought to the farm to eat weeds among the lavender, but are often slacking on the job (aka taking a nap in the fields).

The hotel also offers complimentary cruiser bikes to guests, so you can easily explore the Paseo del Bosque, a 16-mile multi-use trail that runs along the Rio Grande (and you definitely should). Bonus: the bikes all have garden-inspired names like Rosemary, Saffron, Sweet Potato and Zucchini.

The farm’s restaurant Campo is the perfect place to have breakfast, dinner or cocktails during your stay. The chefs incorporate lavender into lots of dishes, but they keep it subtle and understated. Start your day with a lavender latte, then try the Lavender ‘99 at happy hour (made with gin, crème de violette, lavender, lemon and sparkling wine). For dinner, the lavender chicken breast is a must — it’s simple, but cooked and seasoned perfectly.

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Photo by Marble Street Studio/City of Albuquerque

What To Do

Albuquerque is the flamenco capital of North America, with dancers, guitarists, singers and percussionists traveling from all over the world to study and perform here. The city hosts the annual Festival Flamenco Alburquerque, which includes more than a week of performances, events and workshops.

Year-round, you can experience the city’s robust flamenco scene at the National Institute of Flamenco, a cultural hub that hosts performances and community classes. For a more intimate experience, the city offers several tablao venues, in which members of the audience sit just a few feet away from the performers. At Casa Flamenca, for instance, you can sip wine while visiting artists from Spain improvise right in front of you. Tablao Flamenco Albuquerque, located inside Hotel Albuquerque at Old Town, also offers tablao performances, along with tapas, wine and cocktails.

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Sarah Kuta

For even more cultural immersion, spend an afternoon at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, a seriously impressive campus with an art museum, a genealogy research center, a library and more. Permanent fixtures aside, the center hosts some 700 events a year. A fun example? Happy Arte Hour, aka happy hour — with art. Sip beer and wine while you make a unique piece of art with instruction from local or visiting artists. The center also hosts dance lessons, concerts, book clubs, lectures and more.

While there, you can also see a 4,000-square-foot fresco depicting thousands of years off Hispanic history. “Mundos de Mestizaje,” painted on the domed ceiling and curved walls of the center’s Torreon building by Frederico Vigil, is one of the largest in North America and took nearly 10 years to create. (For even more art, check out the more than 100 galleries and studios that call Albuquerque home.)

The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center also celebrates Albuquerque’s rich history with its collection of Pueblo murals and pottery, art festivals, Native American dances and other events. There’s also an on-site retail space, Shumakolowa Native Arts, where you can buy authentic, handmade jewelry, art and pottery.

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Where To Eat

For lunch or an afternoon snack (or a drink!), be sure to stop by El Vado, a historic motor court hotel that originally opened in 1937 to serve travelers along Route 66. The hotel was lovingly renovated in 2018, so now it’s a chic, retro spot to stay or eat. (It’s also conveniently located across the street from Albuquerque’s aquarium, botanic gardens and BUGarium, which features insects and spiders. The zoo is just down the street, too.)

El Vado has its own unique twist on a food hall. It’s more like an outdoor food court, with food and beverage “pods” ringing the outside of a central eating and socializing area. There’s an on-site taproom, a cookie shop, a coffee shop, a Costa Rican restaurant, a burger joint and more (many of the food vendors started as popular Albuquerque food trucks). Plus, if you like the beer you try, all you have to do is run back to your El Vado guest room, where you’ll find a growler waiting for you.

Another tasty spot is The Grove Cafe & Market, which serves up fresh breakfast, lunch and brunch dishes made primarily with locally sourced, organic foods. Side bonus? The cast and crew of “Breaking Bad” loved eating here — so much so that they begged the owner to let them film part of an episode here. And eventually, they did.

No trip to Albuquerque would be complete without a stop at Frontier Restaurant, an iconic local spot near the University of New Mexico that serves up famed sweet rolls, delicious green chile and other satisfying foods.

To experience even more of Albuquerque’s Native American heritage, grab a seat at Pueblo Harvest, the restaurant inside the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center that’s run by the 19 Pueblos of New Mexico. Their menu features pre-European-contact dishes like cedar-braised turkey and tribal trout.

Where To Shop

You’ve been to local markets before (farmers and otherwise), but you’ve probably never been anywhere like the Rail Yards Market in the historic downtown Barelas neighborhood of Albuquerque. On Sundays from May to October, dozens of vendors set up shop in a massive historic blacksmith shop at the city’s old rail yards. Here, you’ll find fresh produce, baked goods, bath and body products, home decor, trinkets, incredible works of art and more. Fun fact: part of “The Avengers” was filmed here.

During your weekend in Albuquerque, you’re also likely to find yourself in Old Town, the city’s historic neighborhood founded in 1706. In addition to historic sites, there’s some great shopping here too, including tons of art galleries and shops with Southwestern decor, jewelry and other trinkets.

Soon, you’ll be able to shop and eat at Sawmill Market, a new food hall and community gathering space in the city’s historic Sawmill district. The new space, set to open February 2020 in a renovated lumber facility, will house an array of food and drink vendors, farmers, artists and craftsmen.

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Local Obsession

People in Albuquerque love their paletas, Mexican popsicles that come in an array of flavors ranging from cucumber chile lime to hibiscus raspberry. One popular spot to grab this icy treat is Pop Fizz, a Mexican-style paleteria with an American soda fountain vibe that also serves up ice cream tacos, churros, floats and savory snacks. They’ve got two colorful locations and a mobile ice cream truck.

New Mexicans are also pretty obsessed with chile (did you see that kerfuffle with Colorado over who has the best green chile?). People here put chile on everything — cheeseburgers, pork ribs, sushi and even chocolate sweets. In fact, New Mexico is one of the few states with an official state question: “Red or green?” (The correct answer is “Christmas,” which means “Both, please!”)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Kuta is an award-winning Colorado writer and editor. She regularly writes about travel, nature, education, personal finance and other topics.