Hundreds of thousands of tourists from around the world visit Santa Fe and Taos, N.M. 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.
Informed visitors choosing to spend time in the state’s largest city–even just a day–will be rewarded for doing so.
Begin your Albuquerque adventure by fueling up at the Frontier Restaurant, a short-order local’s hangout which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2021. Authentic New Mexican enchiladas, green chili stew or posole (traditional Mexican stew) and burritos, accompanied by homemade flour tortillas, are served from 5 AM until 12 AM, seven days a week across the street from the University of New Mexico.
A jaw-dropping collection of paintings from artists with connections to the state fills every available inch of wall space.
Food and art. That’s what draws people to New Mexico and the two are combined with gusto at Frontier.
Nowhere else in America does art–great art–so commonly feature in public spaces from restaurants and hotels to the airport and state capitol, both of which have exceptional collections highlighted by the work of longtime New Mexico resident John Nieto (Mescalero/Apache).
Save room for the famous Frontier Sweet Roll.
New to the city, but perfectly capturing the region’s aesthetic while setting a new standard for luxury accommodations is Hotel Chaco. Stepping out of the harsh sunlight and into the property’s darkened entrance, guests are immediately welcomed by Joe Cajero’s (Jemez Pueblo) monumental Oneness bronze sculpture beckoning them to the reception desk.
Check-in at Hotel Chaco occurs in a soaring, circular lobby paying homage to the architectural structures found at Chaco Canyon known as Kivas. The hotel makes clear that it does not intend to replicate a Kiva, as such places are sacred.
Front desk staff are outfitted in uniforms designed by “Project Runway” contestant Patricia Michaels (Taos Pueblo) and inspired by pottery painting shards from the ruins of Chaco Canyon. Pottery in second floor niches from Thomas Tenorio (Santo Domingo Pueblo) and Joseph Cerna, Jr. (Acoma Pueblo) overlook arriving guests.
The combination immerses patrons in the Indigenous arts and culture of New Mexico. Wherever guests arrive from, Hotel Chaco makes it clear they’re in New Mexico now. Thankfully.
The property’s preeminent collection of original contemporary Native American and New Mexican artwork extends throughout the public areas and into guest rooms where wool rugs woven in traditional designs by Navajo weavers from the Toadlena Trading Post hang above the beds. Hoel Chaco’s commitment to art extends to the on-site Gallery Hózhó reflecting the unique cultural history and artistic innovation found in state. The Indigenous futurism of Pueblo artist Virgil Ortiz stands out.
A deeper introduction to New Mexico’s 19 pueblos comes at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center where a variety of historic artifacts and contemporary artworks feature in permanent and temporary exhibitions. Visitors see pottery, baskets, jewelry, photographs and larger-than-life murals painted by legendary Pueblo artists ringing the courtyard, including iconic Pablita Velarde’s (1918-2006; Santa Clara Pubelo) Herd Dance. Guided tours of the murals take place Wednesdays and Fridays at 11 AM and 1 PM.
Even angsty teens will find IPCC’s temporary exhibition of skateboard deck art from Indigenous creatives rad.
Seasonal markets, festivals, storytelling, dances and workshops fill the events calendar at IPCC. Add to your art collection–or begin one–at the gift shop and from local Native American artisans working and selling in the courtyard.
For a less-lasting memento of your visit, try the blue corn griddle cakes from Indian Pueblo Kitchen which are also made using quinoa, amaranth, currants, piñon, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds. The entire menu centers around the exploration and education of Indigenous cuisine.
Museum lovers may forget about their preexisting plans for Santa Fe and Taos altogether after slowing down to check out Albuquerque. Less than half a mile from Hotel Chaco 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 predictable, to those highlighting unique regional characteristics like the National Hispanic Cultural Center, the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History and the Turquoise Museum, to the downright odd: the meteorites museum and the American International Rattlesnake Museum.
Art lovers believing they need put ABQ in their rearview to find what they’re looking for should reconsider as well.
Cannupa Hanska Luger (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara and Lakota) is a 2022 Guggenheim Fellow and visiting artist at the Albuquerque Museum. His exhibition “Future Ancestral Technologies” presents Indigenous science fiction through July of 2022. Opening here on June 11, “Traitor, Survivor, Icon: The Legacy of La Malinche” was organized by the Denver Art Museum to rave reviews. The show examines the historical and cultural legacy of the Indigenous woman at the heart of the Spanish Conquest of Mexico.
The University of New Mexico Art Museum similarly presents a temporary exhibition from a major international contemporary artist with Pakistani-born American multi-media artist Anila Quayyum Agha’s first solo show in the state. Her breathtaking metal and light installations are not to be missed.
Nor is the flavorful salsa at Sadie’s of New Mexico which will make your nose run and wish they set up a location where you live.
Extinguish the fire with local craft beer at Paxton’s Taproom in Sawmill Market, across the street from Hotel Chaco, which, along with the artwork, serves as HQ for visiting celebrities increasingly coming to ABQ for filming. Netflix is just one of the content giants investing big in the Land of Enchantment.
Don’t forget the hot air balloon museum.
On second thought, make that 48-hours in Albuquerque.