Southwestern US

48 hours in Albuquerque, New Mexico

When we told people we were headed to New Mexico for Thanksgiving, they all assured us we would really enjoy our time in Santa Fe and Los Alamos. And we did (posts on those cities coming soon). But when we mentioned we were also spending time in Albuquerque, the universal response was: why?

Well, I’ll tell you why… because there’s quite a lot to see and do there. I’m not sure why Albuquerque has such a meh reputation, because some of my favorite pieces of our trip took place here.

Albuquerque is a city of about 600,000 people situated between the Rio Grande and the Sandia Mountains in central New Mexico. Along the Rio Grande is a unique ecosystem called bosque, a cottonwood forest that relies upon annual flooding of the river to maintain a constant underground water source. Unfortunately, human alterations to the flow of the river have reduced flooding and endangered the bosque, but efforts are now being made to preserve it.  

Rising behind the river – and Albuquerque – are the Sandia Mountains. The name Sandia is likely derived from the Spanish word ‘sandía’ – meaning watermelon – in reference to the pinkish color of the rocks at sunset. We did catch a glimpse of this color one evening, but we were driving at the time and I wasn’t able to capture a good photo.

Rio Grande, bosque, and the Sandia Mountains

Albuquerque was our home base for the first four nights of our trip, and we spent each of our days doing very different things. At this point, you may be looking back at the title of this post and wondering if I struggle with math because four days is definitely more than 48 hours. But we arrived in the city late afternoon on day 1, and day 2 was spent at El Malpais National Monument. Days 3 and 4 were the ones we actually spent in and around the city itself, so I figured turning this into a 2-day itinerary made more sense. So without further ado… a summary of our time in Albuquerque.

Sandia Peak Tramway

The Sandia Mountains are a stunning backdrop to the city, and no matter where we were, we could see them on the eastern horizon. If you know me at all, you know that I have a never-ending desire to stand on top of tall things. And we could have hiked to the highest summit – Sandia Peak – via many different trails, but we decided it would be far more fun to take a gondola to the top.

The Sandia Peak Tramway was built in the 1960s to serve the Sandia Peak Ski Area, but now runs year-round between the base of the mountains and the Sandia Peak summit. It is the longest aerial tram in the US and the second-longest in the world, spanning 2.7 miles (4.3 km) and ascending 3,819 vertical feet (1164 m). There are only two support towers, giving the tramway the additional distinction of having the third-longest span in the world, with 7720 feet (2353 m) between the upper two towers. At the highest point, we were 900 feet (274 m) above the ground. I’m not usually afraid of heights, but looking down at that moment gave me a brief feeling of vertigo.

Looking out over Albuquerque… and trying not to look down. This was taken when we were at the highest point above the ground.
Sandia Peak Tram

The tram operator narrated our journey up – and then just chatted with us on the way back down since we were the only ones in the tram car for that leg of the journey. He was super knowledgeable, and pointed out the different features of the Sandia Mountains, the wreckage from a plane that crashed into the mountainside in 1954, and recommended a 1.9 mile (3.1 km) hike to the Kiwanis Cabin on the summit. I’m glad he did. The sun was shining, there was no wind, and we really enjoyed our time in the Sandia Mountains.

The cabin sits on edge of the most distant cliff
Kiwanis Cabin on Sandia Peak
View from inside the cabin
Looking back at the tram from the cabin

Cost: $24-29/person + tax and fees round trip; purchase tickets online one day in advance

National Museum of Nuclear Science and History

After the gondola, we headed across town to the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History, a Smithsonian affiliate devoted to the development and use of nuclear technology. Admission ranges from $7-15 per person (but free for us with our ASTC membership to our local museum!) and is well worth it. We went in expecting to learn about nuclear weapons – and we did – but there were also exhibits on the discovery of radiation, WWII and the Cold War, nuclear energy, nuclear waste, uranium, and the use of nuclear technology in medicine. Plus, the outdoor area behind the museum had a collection of planes, missiles, rockets, and a nuclear submarine. We spent the entire afternoon here, and unfortunately our brains gave out before we made it through all the exhibits. It was fascinating!

Fun fact: Brazil nuts are the world’s most radioactive food due to their high concentration of radium.

Critical Assembly by Jim Sanborn – an artistic interpretation of the criticality research taking place at Los Alamos (as part of the Manhattan Project) in the 1940s. A critical mass is the amount of radioactive material required to start a self-sustaining nuclear reaction. These experiments were designed to determine that mass.
Lego re-creation of the Chicago Pile – the structure in which the first self-sustaining nuclear reaction took place. The experiment was conducted at the University of Chicago on December 2, 1942, led by Enrico Fermi. A critical mass of uranium was placed inside this 20-foot (6 m) tall structure made of graphite (used because it deflects escaped neutrons and blocks radiation). The large black brick on the far right is one of the original blocks of graphite used in this experiment.

Something I hadn’t known prior to visiting the museum is that the bombs dropped on Japan were not identical. The one dropped on Hiroshima – known as Little Boy – was made from uranium. The one dropped on Nagasaki – known as Fat Man – was made from plutonium. During the development of the bombs, scientists realized that the method used to trigger the uranium bomb wouldn’t work with plutonium so they set out to develop a new trigger method. Once the mechanism was developed, they realized they would need to test it to ensure it would actually detonate the bomb. This was the world’s first test of a nuclear weapon. It worked. Three weeks later, the bombs were dropped on Japan.

Trinitite; a mineral created from the sand after exposure to the immense heat and pressure released during the Trinity test
Replicas of Little Boy (green) and Fat Man (yellow). Little Boy weighed 8900 lbs (4035 kg) and was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Fat Man weighed 10,800 lbs (4900 kg) and was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.
This license plate was recovered from Nagasaki after the bomb was dropped.
A ‘Broken Arrow’ is a nuclear accident. In history, of the 69,000 nuclear weapons the US has manufactured, there have been 32 broken arrows. Only two resulted in release of radiation. These two casings seen here were recovered from Palomares, Spain, when a refueling tanker collided with a B52 carrying four nuclear bombs. All 4 bombs fell to the earth from an altitude of 28,000 feet (8535 m). One landed in the ocean and three on the ground; two leaked nuclear material. All four were ultimately recovered. These are the damaged casings from the ones that did not leak.
B29 bomber – the type of plane (but not the exact plane) that dropped the bombs
Upper fin of the USS James K. Polk, a nuclear powered submarine

Cost: $7-15/person, tickets can be purchased online in advance or at the door

The Breaking Bad Store

I haven’t actually seen Breaking Bad. Pat has, though. And we’ve been watching Better Call Saul together (we still have one season to go, so please no spoilers in the comments!). So when I learned about the Breaking Bad Store through a friend who recently traveled to Albuquerque, I immediately added it to our itinerary.

The store is located in old town Albuquerque, nestled amongst other shops that are very clearly catered to tourists. We didn’t visit any of the other stores – as a general rule, I very much dislike shopping – but we did pop into the Breaking Bad Store and Museum. The store was exactly the type of souvenir shop you would expect, and we browsed the many items but ultimately didn’t purchase anything for ourselves. The museum is next door and it’s small but fun. They had quite a few original items from both shows (including, weirdly, the actual underwear Bryan Cranston wore in a scene in season one), as well as life size cutouts of the characters and a couple displays. It was an entertaining place to spend a few minutes. Plus, it brought us to the oldtown area of the city, a place we otherwise weren’t planning to visit. There’s a beautiful old church here as well.

San Felipe de Neri church – oldown Albuquerque

Petroglyph National Monument

Just beyond the western edge of Albuquerque – on the other side of the Rio Grande – is Petroglyph National Monument. The monument was established in 1990 thanks to the extensive efforts of concerned citizens and local indigenous people who were worried about the city’s rapid westward expansion. Rocks containing petroglyphs were being moved and damaged to make way for housing developments, resulting in the loss of thousands of years of history and destruction of sacred land. Although there are ongoing disputes related to administration of the monument, somewhere between 17,000-24,000 petroglyphs are now protected within its boundaries. I’m actually going to share a separate post on the monument next week, but for now, here is a preview.

Petroglyph National Monument

Cost: $2/car, pay at the trailhead; America the Beautiful passes are accepted

Food & Drink

Of course, we can’t visit a new city and not sample the local craft beer scene. There are quite a few locations to choose from; ultimately, we settled on two places that were recommended to us prior to the trip.

The first was Bow and Arrow Brewing Company, a Native women-owned brewery located off I-40 in a somewhat industrial portion of the city. As soon as we walked in the door, I knew I was going to love this place. The long tables gave it a classic beer hall vibe to contrast with the cozy, somewhat rustic interior. We each ordered a flight, and all six beers were good but two of them were absolutely fantastic! One was a pumpkin oatmeal stout, and the other was a marshmallow vanilla cinnamon bourbon barrel-aged stout. That second one is a mouthful, but it lived up to its name. It’s one of the best beers I’ve ever had!

Bow and Arrow Brewing Company

Marble Brewing Company was recommended to me by two people, so that was our other brewery visit this trip. Once again, we each ordered a flight, allowing us to sample 12 of the 14 beers they had on tap. As two people who dislike IPAs, we appreciated that most of their menu consisted of non-IPA varieties. My al pastor burrito bowl from the Mexican food truck parked out front was also very tasty.

All in all, I felt as though this amount of time in Albuquerque was adequate. We were able to complete everything on our itinerary, and we really enjoyed the variety of activities the city had to offer. With the tram to the northeast, Petroglyph to the west, our hotel down south, and the breweries and museums located more centrally, we managed a pretty thorough tour of the city, too. We rarely had to drive more than 20-25 minutes to get from one place to the other, though driving time could be shortened slightly by choosing a more centrally-located hotel.

I’m glad we committed two full days of our vacation to Albuquerque. I think most people overlook it in lieu of visiting Santa Fe, but I recommend giving Albuquerque a chance.

53 thoughts on “48 hours in Albuquerque, New Mexico”

  1. We spent a day and a half in Santa Fe last spring, but we have to go back. There’s so much more, including Albuquerque. I had no idea about the Museum of Nuclear History. Depressing but it would be worth seeing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Another fun trip. I’ve been to Albuquerque once and had fun there, but I was a kid. I didn’t know it was so big. Very interesting info at the museum, and fun to see the Breaking Bad stuff. I saw the show but haven’t seen Better Call Saul yet. I think I might stay away from eating Brazil nuts. LOL

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha the amount of radium in Brazil nuts is still small enough to not be harmful. I did feel personally vindicated though… I knew there was a reason I’ve never like them! 😂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It looks a fun visit, thank you for sharing it. The views from your gondola ride are spectacular, I know the feeling, trying not to look down there, but still peeking around🙂
    Have a lovely weekend! Christie

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Unfortunately, we saw the meh side of Albuquerque, but I think our impressions were affected by the brutal heat as we visited in high summer. We have friends there who really like it for the hiking opportunities, and our Denver-based son absolutely loved heading there for quick trips and was obsessed with Hatch green chile everything! I would give it another chance for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I do love when people ask ‘why’ when you tell them about a destination you plant to visit. I think your article presents a very compelling case in favour of visiting Albuquerque. I do like the look of the Nuclear Science museum. I know exactly what it feels like when your brain just zones out before you’ve finished going through all the exhibits.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I didn’t know Albuquerque had such a “meh” reputation, and by reading your post I don’t even understand why! It seems like an interesting city with beautiful surroundings! I think I would have love the museum of Nuclear Science! Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it’s because of crime, but honestly, that happens in every city. We never felt unsafe, but I suppose if we’d ended up in the wrong part of town we might not have enjoyed it as much

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Peggy and I are great fans of New Mexico, Diana, and have travelled there several times over the years. The National Petroglyph site is a particular favorite since we spend a lot of time looking for petroglyph sites on our journeys through the Southwest. Probably the most fascinating site we have ever found is the Three Rivers Petroglyph site farther to the south in New Mexico. If you get near it, by all means, visit it. Also fun, the Rattlesnake Museum in Albuquerque. Thanks for your perspective on the area.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Nice post! I also enjoyed Albuquerque when I was there and went to the same places you did. From what I was told, parts of the city are a bit sketchy so that might be why some people stay away. I didn’t have any issues or ever feel unsafe but I know you have to be aware of that, just like any other city. I even hiked by myself, so that should say something.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I definitely want to visit New Mexico after reading this post! I am really impressed at your views at the Sandia Mountains. The historical Petroglyph National Monument also seems like such a neat place to check out!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. We were briefly in ABQ about a month before you were, and also enjoyed the tram ride to Sandia Peak. Sadly, we didn’t try any breweries while we were there, but I think we would have liked both of your choices. And hooray that you found a brewery that’s not majority-IPA. Perhaps the pendulum is swinging!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. The only things I knew about Albuquerque I learned on Breaking Bad!! So I’d definitely go to the museum. But looks like there are a few more things to do too. Also we ate so many Brazil nuts in Brazil, Richard and I are likely glowing!! Maggie

    Liked by 1 person

  12. It’s been a number of years since we have traveled through Albuquerque. Unlike you, we didn’t actually stay in the city but your post convinced me that it would be worth it. I think we were mostly deterred by the busy traffic everywhere.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We actually didn’t find traffic to be that bad, but of course our basis for comparison is Denver. We also mostly managed to avoid rush hour. Traffic can definitely put a damper on a trip, though, so that makes sense

      Liked by 1 person

  13. It looks like an amazing stop – the views from the top of those mountains is incredible, and I love the watermelon name!! The nuclear museum also looks super interesting, I’d get lost in there for hours. I’d love to visit New Mexico one day 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  14. It looks like a really worthwhile visit. The views from the top of the tram are amazing. The nuclear museum looks interesting, but I am not sure I would feel comfortable visiting, given what we saw of the results from the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, when we stopped there in 1985. I think if people saw what this power could do, they might be a bit more hesitant about choosing to use it. Oh, you have to watch Breaking Bad. We saw the first episode and thought, how are they going to make this into a series, but then could not look away. Thanks for sharing Diana. Allan

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The nuclear museum actually did a really nice job of showing both sides of the nuclear weapons debate. They had copies of letters and other communications as the president and other officials debated whether to simply test a nuclear bomb or actually use one on Japan. It was really fascinating to read all these different perspectives and by the end I actually ended up understanding both sides of the argument.

      I watched the first episode of Breaking Bad a few years back and just really didn’t like it. But I enjoy Better Call Saul, so maybe I should give Breaking Bad another chance.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I know there was a well determined and considered reason for the bombing. It is just a shame that when world leaders go to war, the citizens at large become collateral damage. Let us hope this becomes a cautionary tale, so Russia has a long pause before choosing the nuclear option for their invasion. I would suggest you finish watching Better Call Saul and then give Breaking Bad another try. We hated the first episode of BB, but stuck it out and then could not look away. Happy Thursday Diana. Allan

        Liked by 1 person

  15. I did know that the two bombs were different. To complete your story the B-29’s that dropped the bombs both took off from Tinian Island in the Mariana Islands. The Hiroshima bomb “Little Boy” was dropped by the B-29 known as the Enola Gay. The “Fat Man” was dropped on Nagasaki by the B-29 named Bockscar. Both were accompanied by two other B-29’s one for instrumentation and one for photography.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep, they talked about both planes at the museum. I’ve actually seen the Enola Gay in a museum in Virginia. I forget where it said Bockscar is now on display, but it exists in a museum somewhere too


  16. Wow there is so much to do there! My favorite thing would be taking the gondola up, the views look spectacular. I’ve seen Breaking Bad so the picture of Pat in the wheelchair made me laugh. We have one or two seasons left of Better Call Saul too.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I’ve never been to Albuquerque, but I know the place because an American crime drama television series Breaking Bad was filmed there. Can’t believe they even have a The Breaking Bad Store there, how cool is that! Despite Albuquerque topping the list as the most crime-ridden metropolitan area in the western states, it still looks like a fun place to visit, especially for those who love beautiful outdoor spaces. I mean the views from Sandia Peak alone look amazing and so would be watching sunsets and sunrises from there. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I suppose the crime stats might be a deterrent to some people and maybe part of the explanation for its reputation. We did see many signs warning about vehicle break-ins and theft, but we kept everything hidden and never left valuables in the car, and didn’t have any issues. I’m sure there are also areas of town we didn’t see that might have felt less safe. But we never felt unsafe during any of these activities.

      The gondola does run in the dark, so you could take it up just before sunset and watch from the summit before riding down. That would be so pretty!

      Liked by 1 person

  18. The Sandias are awesome! If they were out somewhere in the boondocks they’d be a world-class desert ranges, but even with ABQ at their feet, they’re pretty amazing. And ABQ definitely has a lot good stuff keeping a low profile. It’s not Santa Fe, but unlike Santa Fe, real people still live and work there and New Mexico Spanish culture is alive there beyond the museums. I’m glad you found some of that!

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  19. The nuclear museum looks absolutely fantastic!

    Albuquerque does get a bad rap… I remember spending time there in the early 1990s and just remember it being so dirty, including trash all over the inside of Walmart (the things I remember from childhood, ha!). We mostly just used it as a reluctant overnight on bigger trips. Looks like I should give it more of a chance!

    Random related to nuclear stuff, have you ever thought about trying to go see the Trinity Site when they open it up twice a year for tours? I think that would be so neat!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I mean I’m sure the Walmart probably still isn’t great and that there are bad areas of town. I know car thefts are somewhat common there. But we never felt unsafe or saw anything sketchy during our time there so I think you just have to know where to go and be smart about it.

      I hadn’t considered visiting the Trinity Site, that would be super neat! I haven’t made it to that part of NM ever (future thanksgiving trip perhaps) but I’ll keep it in mind when I do. Thanks for the rec!

      Liked by 1 person

  20. I loved Albuquerque when I visited in 2015 for a conference for my university. I enjoyed the Old Town and trying Southwest cuisine in town. You saw a lot more, and I forgot that New Mexico had a lot of the nuclear tests and history behind it– not the finest moment in US history, but certainly a memorable one…glad you learned a lot in Albuquerque!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, at first I was confused why the national museum of nuclear science was in NM rather than DC, but as soon as we walked in the door it all made sense. It was super interesting to read a variety of perspectives about the nuclear bombs but also the other applications of nuclear technology.

      Liked by 1 person

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