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New Mexico’s Enchanting Cities

New Mexico never fails to make a powerful impression, with its  stunning landscapes, centuries of history, rich cultural tapestry and cutting-edge technology. From mountainous Los Alamos to Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Ruidoso, discoveries are around every corner. New Mexico’s many distinctive hotels and lodges add to the Southwestern experience, blending Native American, Mexican, Spanish and American Western influences.

Here are some of the top destinations to include on your group’s next adventure in the Land of Enchantment.

Los Alamos

Los Alamos’ beginnings are forever tied to the top-secret Manhattan Project during World War II. The new movie “Oppenheimer” retells the chilling details of the project that in 1943 summoned scientists from around the globe to live in this untamed city and develop the first atomic bomb. The Los Alamos History Museum on Bathtub Row’s guided tours include the homestead-era Romero cabin and stories about the giants of 20th-century science.

The Bradbury Science Museum also explores the Manhattan Project, as well as Los Alamos National Laboratory’s current and historic research related to defense and technology, through some 60 interactive exhibits. In keeping with this high-tech hub, the 12-day Los Alamos ScienceFest in July brings interactive science demonstrations, food and live music to downtown.

Nearby, Bandelier National Monument preserves the story of the ancestral Puebloans who carved homes into its canyon walls and built kivas of stone more than 11,000 years ago. The fully paved Pueblo Loop Trail meanders alongside some of the largest cliff dwellings in North America. For the adventurous, climbing 140 feet up ladders to Alcove House is a must. During high season, mid-June to mid-October, visitors must take shuttle buses into the park. For another outdoor adventure in the Jemez Mountains, guided, ranger-led hikes and van tours focus on wildlife, geology and history at Valles Caldera National Preserve, which protects the third-largest super volcano that ever erupted in the United States.

“Los Alamos’ most surprising characteristics are the combination of history and jaw-dropping vistas of snowcapped mountains, mesas and canyons that weave through the area,” said Nicole Barker, media relations manager for the New Mexico Tourism Department.

Santa Fe

Artsy and eclectic, Santa Fe embraces New Mexico’s cultural past and present. Gallery-hopping can be an all-day affair or a shorter jaunt during the Friday night Art Stroll on famous Canyon Road. Throughout the summer, the acclaimed Santa Fe Opera performs in its open-air venue just outside of town.

Museums feature varied art forms. Meow Wolf, an immersive contemporary showcase of artists, stretches the imagination. On Museum Hill, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture and Museum of Spanish Colonial Art tell the story of indigenous Native Americans and Spanish settlers, while the Museum of International Folk Art holds the world’s largest collection of its kind. Santa Fe’s most visited attraction is the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, which showcases the famous painter’s artwork and shares details about her life. “Plans are underway to renovate a larger building across the street to add more gallery space with a tentative completion date in 2026,” said Joanne Hudson, public relations manager for Tourism Santa Fe.

One block away, the Santa Fe Cooking School hosts private events, chef’s dinners and guided food tours that highlight top restaurants. During demonstration and hands-on classes that focus on Southwest cuisine, students learn local cooking techniques and regional lore. Educational and entertaining, classes last about three hours and include a full meal.

In the Santa Fe Railyard District across the street from Native American-owned Hotel Santa Fe, the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market hosts more than 150 farmers and producers from northern New Mexico. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, it’s the place to buy artisan breads, sample Southwest fare or find culinary products for souvenirs. Next door, the Santa Fe Artists Market takes place on Saturdays, and the Railyard Artisan Market on Sundays rotates vendors weekly.


Albuquerque’s beginnings can be experienced in Old Town, which dates to 1706 and predates the United States by four generations. Today, winding streets beckon with more than 150 boutiques and restaurants, anchored by the San Felipe de Neri Church. On the edge of Old Town, across from stunning Hotel Chaco, local culinary entrepreneurs sell their creations at artisanal food hall Sawmill Market, housed in the converted Paxton Lumber warehouse. A demonstration kitchen features chef events and dinners alongside outdoor spaces with yard games, yoga and live music. After dinner, visitors can catch the sunset over the city and mountains at Hotel Chaco’s rooftop patio and bar.

Woven into the city’s cultural fabric is the tradition of flamenco. Tablao Flamenco at Hotel Albuquerque has year-round flamenco performances and four-course, regionally inspired dinners. At Casa Flamenca, groups can opt for a performance by the artist-in-residence from Spain or a dance class. June’s Festival Flamenco Albuquerque reigns as the largest flamenco event held outside of Spain.

With the Sandia Mountains as backdrop, Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Organic Farm is a natural escape, with 25 acres of lavender fields, stately cottonwoods and gardens. Its restaurant, Campo, touts one of the Southwest’s purest field-to-fork menus. Honey, stone fruits, figs, eggs, greens and vegetables are grown in a 1934 Lord and Burnham greenhouse. Lavender products are sold in the farm’s boutique.

“A must-do is the Sandia Peak Tramway, which ascends to just over 10,300 feet for amazing cityscape views,” said Barker. “At the top, riders have the option of hiking or dining and enjoying a drink from Ten 3, which is a great spot at sunset.”

Las Cruces

Rimmed by the jagged Organ Mountains, Las Cruces is a mere 40 miles from the nation’s southern border. Its rich agricultural history is rooted in 400 years of wine making and the region’s famous hatch chilis.

Here, the Lescombes family has crafted wine for six generations. DH Lescombes Winery and Bistro hosts private tastings and wine tours at its estate near Lordsburg. The “Walk of Flame” Green Chile Trail showcases 14 stops for noshing and dining. The New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum details the state’s 3,000-year-old agricultural history on 47 acres with hands-on demonstrations and rows of farm implements.

Now part of Las Cruces, the historic village of Mesilla was part of Mexico until 1854. Its traditional plaza is bordered by more than 40 shops and galleries, and the bells of the 1855 Basilica of San Albino have been rung by the same family since the 1870s. At New Mexico State University, visitors find one of the world’s largest collections of Mexican retablos, as well as a collection of petrified wood, fossils and geological artifacts.

The Las Cruces International Film Festival brings excitement for four days in April. “Las Cruces is a hub for moviemaking,” said Barker. “Visitors can rub shoulders with movie makers and film stars.”

Wednesdays and Saturdays, the Farmers and Crafts Market encompasses seven blocks of Main Street. First Friday Fine Art Flea Market hosts approximately 100 vendors, food trucks, live entertainment and usually a car show. Farther flung for day trips, White Sands National Park is the world’s largest gypsum dune field and can be seen from space.


Surrounded by mountains and the Lincoln National Forest, Ruidoso is a year-round destination for outdoor activity. Ten minutes from town, Grindstone Lake is popular for hiking, with 14 miles of trails as well as biking, fishing, watersports and disc golf.

Four golf courses, including The Links at Sierra Blanca at 6,900 feet, offer a worthy challenge. At the Native American owned and operated Ski Apache, one of the nation’s southernmost ski resorts, 11 lifts zip skiers and snowboarders up mountains that receive more than 15 feet of annual snowfall. In summer, the resort offers hiking, mountain biking, zip lining and gondola rides to the top of 11,500-foot Sierra Blanca.

Back in midtown, streets are lines with boutiques, local wineries and breweries, coffee shops and eateries. Browsing the art galleries makes a great way to spend an afternoon. In summer, Saturday’s “Free Music in the Streets” features live performances, while venues, such as the Tall Pines Beer and Wine Garden, have live music most weekends. Spencer Theater for the Performing Arts schedules music, film, dance and comedy performances and has the Southwest’s largest private collection of glass sculptor Dale Chihuly’s works.

“What distinguishes Ruidoso is that people feel immersed in nature, because the town is surrounded by forest,” said Barker. “Town center is a great place for group down time because people can wander, explore and enjoy shopping and dining in a laid-back atmosphere.”

Events include July’s Mescalero Apache Tribe Ceremonial and Rodeo, with arts and crafts, dance performances and a parade. October’s Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium is lively, with Old West storytellers and musicians; chuckwagon cookoffs and cowboy competitions; displays by artists and craftsmen; and Western swing dancing.

Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @travelbyfork.