Looking for a break with the family, a romantic getaway with a significant other, or perhaps even a solo retreat? We’ve connected with local experts across the country to put together some of the best weekend getaways in the whole of the United States.
One cool crisp October morning, in the dark just before dawn, I lean against the side of a utility trailer with a hot chocolate in hand. We’re gathered in a grassy field that stretches almost 80 acres. There’s already a huge crowd of people young and old gathered; the anticipation is thick in the air, bright eyes and smiling faces are dimly lit by glow sticks and flashlights. Even though I’ve been doing this for years, I still feel the wonder as the sky will soon fill with hundreds of colorful hot air balloons. The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is about to begin, the largest gathering of hot air balloons in the world.
Propane burners fire in the early dawn, and it begins as 5, then 50, then 500 or more hot air balloons float over our heads like colorful bubbles wafting in the morning breeze. It’s truly a spectacle you have to witness with your own eyes to believe. Fortunately, it happens annually the first full week of October in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Many only experience New Mexico by driving through on the interstate from one border to the next, never taking time to discover the incredible treasure trove of culture and natural wonder the state has to offer. Read on and find out what adventures you can experience the next time you visit The Land of Enchantment.
10 Weekend Getaways in New Mexico
If flying in a hot air balloon sounds like fun, I would recommend you book your flight in advance online with either World Balloon or Rainbow Riders. They have been flying over Albuquerque on a daily basis for over forty years (weather permitting).
Take a ride up the Sandia Peak Tramway for spectacular views and hikes atop the Sandia Mountains, or play a game of golf or Blackjack at the Sandia Resort and Casino (at the base of the mountain).
Farther into town, museums and culture abound. New Mexico was part of Mexico for over 300 years until the territory was ceded in 1846 by General Kearny during the Mexican-American war. It was officially signed over to the U.S. in the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, and eventually made a state in 1912. This Mexican heritage is proudly displayed in the architecture, food, and culture of the city today.
Just west of downtown Albuquerque, the Rio Grande Zoo is a fantastic place to spend an afternoon with a wide variety of animals and plenty of large trees for shade. A short drive away is the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center where you can learn all about the unique culture of the people who made this land their home for thousands of years prior to Spanish settlement. Stay and eat lunch at the Pueblo Harvest Restaurant if you’re not able to make it out to a regional Pueblo feast day and make sure you try some sopapillas with honey.
The New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, and the Explora hands-on learning center are tons of fun for kiddos, conveniently located right across the street from one another in the heart of Albuquerque. Plan on spending the whole day with your family exploring these two museums.
Just a couple blocks away from the museums is the historic Plaza de Albuquerque (known as ‘Albuquerque Old Town’ to locals). The original 300-plus-year-old charming town square is host to several quaint shops and amazing restaurants. I like to visit here on Christmas Eve to see the thousands of luminarias lining the streets, walls, and roofs. Visiting in the winter? Stop by Taqueria Alondra’s Mexican Food and order a bowl of hot New Mexican Pork Posole stew to warm the hands and heart from the chilly air. Looking for something romantic any time of year? Make reservations at the Antiquity Restaurant and try the Scallops Jalapeno, Ribeye steak, and crepe for dessert. All their salads are amazing too.
A visit to Albuquerque isn’t complete until you’ve had a slice of pizza at a local Dion’s Pizza restaurant. There are several locations in town as well as a few peppered throughout the state. It’s not Mexican food, but it’s the best pizza you’ll ever eat west of the Mississippi. Order “the special” pizza (green chile, olives, onion, sausage, mushroom, pepperoni, ground beef, ham) and dip your slice in their famous ranch sauce. It’s simply the best.
Where to stay in Albuquerque
You can’t beat the location; close to all the activities mentioned above plus a gourmet breakfast with local flair waiting for you downstairs; Orange Croissant French Toast, Green Chile Quiche and locally roasted special blend coffee are just a few of the offerings you have to choose from to start your day off right.View Hotel
Bernalillo (Berna-lee-yo) is a small town growing fast just north of Albuquerque. You’ll be entering Pueblo Indian territory with seven distinct historical pueblo settlements nearby along with many more ruins, like the Coronado Historic Site where Spanish Conquistador Francisco Vasquez de Coronado and his troops visited and spent almost two years with the natives that once lived here. These fascinating pueblo ruins contained colorful painted murals which were found mostly intact, and are recreated for you to see and explore along with the visitor’s center.
A meal at The Range Cafe in town is a must if you’ll be in the area, it’s right on the main road (Camino Del Pueblo) through town. A fantastic mix of Hispanic, Pueblo and Ranch style foods adorn the eclectic menu along with the jazzy atmosphere in general.
The Tamaya Resort is a fantastic place for locals who are looking for a staycation or first-time visitors. Golf, horseback riding, and high-end spa services are available here. Be sure to sit down to fine dining at The Corn Maiden Restaurant and ask for a table on the patio (weather permitting) for a special romantic evening. Start your dinner with the Trio of Cheese and Jam appetizer, then I recommend ordering any entree from the Rotisserie Collection.
Have a whole day to explore? Hop on the Rail Runner Express commuter train that runs a north-south route through the middle Rio Grande Valley. Its large windows offer a great view of the Rio Grande river valley and the colorful desert landscapes all around. Love hiking? Head west on Highway 550 to the Ojito Wilderness area with its miles of wilderness trails and rugged geologic formations as colorful as the rainbow.
Where to stay in Bernalillo
Ask the front desk about the seasonal youth activities for resort guests in the “Srai Wi” program for children and youth ranging in age from 5 to 18. Activities include pottery and jewelry lessons, archery, nature walks, bread baking demonstrations, flute, petroglyph, sand tile, dream catcher making, pony rides, and many more fun activities.View Hotel
Los Alamos began as a top-secret lab tasked with creating the first atom bomb in WWII. Now, it’s a beautiful town perched on several mesa tops of the Jemez (Hay-mes) mountains, but visitors can still learn all about the Lab and the Manhattan project’s fascinating history with a visit to the Bradbury Science museum in town.
There’s a beautiful view of the canyons and surrounding mesas and mountain tops if you head into Smith’s Food and Drug, then take a right and go through the Starbucks and out to the open-air patio in the back. From here you can see the canyon below and the middle Rio Grande Valley to the south. (Interesting trivia: Just below you in the canyon was the site of the Omega lab accident, where scientist Harry Daghlian was sadly exposed to a fatal dose of radiation while working on the Manhattan project- he passed away a few days later and became the first fatality of the project.)
A few miles south of town off of Highway 4, visit Bandelier National Monument- a steep canyon where ancestral Pueblo Native Americans literally chiseled their homes out of the soft volcanic cliffs that line the valley. You’ll have fun scampering through the rooms left behind and seeing their petroglyph artwork in the cliff faces above. Stop at the Pig and Fig Restaurant (in White Rock) on your way back to Los Alamos to have dinner and try the macarons for dessert.
A beautiful winding drive up into the mountains west of town reveals a green mountain landscape few realize resides in New Mexico. At the center of this cool green oasis lies the Valles Caldera National Preserve (or Valle Grande to locals), an incredible expansive green valley that is currently used for recreation and film/TV productions (Netflix’s Longmire’ among many). You’ll think you’ve taken a wrong turn and ended up in Yellowstone when you see giant herds of elk grazing in the grass. This place is similar to Yellowstone in that it’s a giant Caldera volcano with thermal hot springs dotting the landscape. Drive right down to the middle of the valley to stop in at the visitor’s center and obtain a permit to explore the area.
Where to stay in Los Alamos
Enjoy the pancake machine along with lots of other delicious hot foods for breakfast. Along with great views, a pool and hot tub, two hiking trails begin just a few yards from the hotel. Just to the west of the Holiday Inn Express & Suites is the Pueblo Canyon Rim trailhead, a trail that takes you west along the canyon rim, behind the airport and eventually to a city park.View Hotel
If you are looking for a spiritual retreat, Abiquiu (Ah-bih-cue) New Mexico is the place to plan your weekend getaway. The village is surrounded by a uniquely beautiful and arid landscape, towering cliffs of sandstone brushed with bright red, white, yellow, green and purple; the valleys below speckled with evergreen Junipers and Piñon trees. It is quintessential New Mexico landscape that is truly enchanting.
A visit to the Ghost Ranch education and retreat center is a must; check their calendar of events for activities like yoga, horseback riding, art classes, and meditation. It was the beloved haven for artist Georgia O’Keeffe who painted many of its hillsides and panoramic views. Take a tour of the Purple Adobe Lavender farm in town and try some of their tea. There are also two separate monasteries a short drive from town. You can boat, swim, fish and camp at the Abiquiu Dam & Lake Recreation Area, just make sure you have a nice layer of sunscreen on.
Soak and relax in the Ojo Caliente hot springs a few miles east of town. There are several different types of pools to soak in; the mud pool is the best but it will stain your swimsuit, so bring one you don’t mind getting dirty.
Stay and have dinner at the Artesian Restaurant in Ojo. If you love spicy hot food, order the Roasted Vegetable Chile Relleno. If your palate requires milder fare, order the Ojo fish tacos, they don’t disappoint.
Where to Stay in Abiquiu
Many types of accommodations are offered; beautiful southwestern styled rooms, suites and even casitas are offered and all beds have pillowtop mattresses. The Inn is just adjacent to the Georgia O’Keeffe Home and Studio Tour office where you can begin your exploration of the Piedra Lumbre valley.View Hotel
Every year thousands of Christians walk the traditional Good Friday pilgrimage from surrounding towns, even as far as Santa Fe 22 miles away, to El Santuario de Chimayo. Many believe the sandy soil from a small hole in the floor of the church has healing properties. Anyone can visit the chapel during the day and see for yourself, just be reverent and respectful. As you turn to leave, the way out is filled with crutches and wheelchairs the healed have left behind. You can’t help but feel the reverence of this place, and the hope that many more will find the miracle they are seeking.
On your drive up to the charming village of Chimayo, you’ll likely pass through Nambé, a Pueblo village. Nambé is also a famous brand of beautiful silver-like contemporary platters and serving bowls (which make beautiful souvenirs) and are manufactured nearby. The pieces are made from a proprietary Aluminum alloy that doesn’t chip, peel or tarnish. Interestingly enough, the alloy was created at Los Alamos National Lab.
Chimayo is also known around the state for its excellent red chile crop (second only to Hatch NM green chile). At the Rancho de Chimayo restaurant just down the road from the Santuario, you can order any New Mexican entree smothered in it (it will be spicy hot, you have been warned). Be sure to drive out of town east on Highway 76 up to the village of Truchas. The mountain views are enough to make anyone consider moving there. Take a left turn and you’ll be on ‘the high road’ to Taos. The drive from here to Taos is one of the most beautiful and historical in the state, as there are charming little Spanish villages nestled into the valleys that date to the 1700’s.
Where to stay in Chimayo
This lovely B&B offers several specialty packages in addition to your stay, including hiking equipment, spa, romance, balloon flights and discounts on the “margarita trail” all the way to Santa Fe.View Hotel
Taos is an eclectic mountain community filled with art galleries, old adobe buildings, restaurants and most importantly, history. On the northern edge of town lies the Taos Pueblo village, the oldest continually inhabited settlement within the modern day United States (approximately 800-1,000 years old). Pueblo Native Americans weren’t nomadic and didn’t live in teepees, but were farmers who anciently built hundreds of permanent adobe settlements all throughout northern and central New Mexico. There are only 16 inhabited Pueblos today, each a sovereign nation with its own tribal lands surrounding a central rustic adobe village. The villages are usually comprised of rows of small flat-roofed single story homes that often share walls with a central open gathering place for village dance ceremonies.
What makes Taos Pueblo unique from the rest is the iconic three-story adobe mud and wooden beam structure; anciently most pueblos were built in this multi-story fashion, with entrances being situated from the rooftops, not the sidewalls. It’s the last one still standing today. Approximately 150 natives live in the Taos Pueblo village year round, many more live in more modern accommodations elsewhere on tribal lands. Taos Pueblo is open to visitors during the day for $16 per person (discounts for groups and students are offered). Check the website to make sure you plan your visit around sacred days when it is closed, and keep in mind that these are people’s homes, so please be respectful.
After your visit to the Pueblo, try the stuffed fry bread plate at the Tiwa Kitchen restaurant for a real taste of delicious Pueblo food. If you happen to visit in the winter, Taos has an excellent ski resort just north of town in the Mountains and offers deeply discounted rooms in the summertime.
The Rio Grande River has carved out a steep and narrow canyon near Taos and offers thrilling whitewater rafting trips. I book with Big River Raft Trips. Drive over the Rio Grande Gorge bridge (don’t look down if you’re afraid of heights) and head northwest on the highway into the desert. A few minutes later, you’ll stumble upon the Earthship Biotecture community, a collection of unusual looking off-grid homes, each one a little oasis that provides its occupants with homegrown food, water, heating/cooling, and electricity. Tour the visitor’s center (an Earthship itself) to learn all about how they work. You can even book an overnight stay in one to try it out.
Back in town, plan to spend the evening at Old Martina’s Hall — a restaurant, bar and dance hall that features dinner theater and dancing every Friday night. Be sure to plan some free time during your stay to explore the many shops and art galleries in Taos’ Old Town Plaza.
Where to stay in Taos
Immerse yourself in the culture and history of New Mexico when you stay at the Hotel La Fonda de Taos. For decades this hotel has been the gathering place for royalty, political dignitaries, movie stars, and acclaimed artists. You’ll be right on the Old Town Plaza to begin your tour of the area.View Hotel
Explore incredible Native American and geologic history of New Mexico with a stay in the city of Grants. Have an unforgettable experience visiting Acoma Sky city, a Pueblo built atop a tall, isolated sandstone mesa southeast of town. The village was once impenetrable to attack from other tribes like the Apache, yet suffered greatly at the hands of Spanish invaders who wanted to set an example for any Native Americans who would defy them. Still inhabited by native Acoma Pueblo people today, stop at the visitors center and museum at the base of the cliffs to schedule a guided tour, the only way to visit the mesa top to experience the history and enchanting views first hand.
The El Malpais (French for “badlands”) lava flow is just southwest of Grants across the interstate and shows some of the amazing geologic history of New Mexico. As recently as 3,000 years ago, lava sputtered and flowed here, leaving lava tube caves and cinder cones to explore today. The soaring La Ventana natural sandstone arch and the impressive sandstone promontory of El Morro National Monument are fascinating stops along the highway that run the length of the El Malpais lava flows.
North of Grants in the middle of the desert wilderness lies the expansive and mysterious ancient ruins of Chaco Canyon, the center of the ancient Anasazi world. Chaco Culture National Historical Park is truly a wonder, worth the two-hour drive. There’s a very nice visitor center and museum onsite staffed by the National Park Service year round and regular tours of ruins are given throughout the day.
My favorite part, however, comes when the sun goes down. Chaco is an official ‘International Dark Sky Park’ where you can see stars like you’ve never seen in your life. Ranger-led astronomy programs are available, as well as campsites to stay overnight (must reserve in advance). Drinking water is available at the visitor’s center but there’s no gas or food provided, and you must bring your own charcoal for cooking. The entrance fee is $25 per car, but if you happen to have a fourth-grader there are passes available online that will get him/her (and the whole family) into the park for free.
Where to stay in Grants
This modern hotel features free high-speed internet, an indoor pool where you can escape the summer heat, mini-fridge, microwave, coffee maker and flat screen TV (with cable) in every room.View Hotel
The world famous Blue Hole in Santa Rosa is a wonder of geology. Take a dip in its crystal clear waters if you know how to swim. It’s over 60 feet deep and offers SCUBA certification classes. Already certified? Rent equipment and go for a dive, just watch out for regular swimmers at the top.
The Wibit water park in town is a real summer treat for the whole family with its inflatable jungle gym floating over the water and includes pedal boats and canoes for even more fun. Santa Rosa Lake State Park north of town offers even more options for water fun if you need a break from the hot summer sun.
Annie’s is the best place to eat in town with great service and a fast turn around on orders. A variety of American and Mexican classic food is served along with a kid’s menu (portions are huge here). Breakfast is served all day and there’s convenient large pull thru parking spaces in the back if you happen to be towing a trailer.
Take a trip back through time and visit the Route 66 Auto Museum, full of beautiful cars, motorcycles, and all kinds of other nostalgic items from the height of its use. There are a gift shop and a small snack bar on site as well. Look for the yellow car high up on a pole (it’s hard to miss really) on old Route 66 just outside of town. Or go even further back in time and visit the controversial resting place of the wild west outlaw and gunman Billy the Kid and the corresponding museum in Fort Sumner, just 40 minutes southeast of Santa Rosa. No less than three gentlemen in their elder years claimed to be the infamous ‘Billy’, who was supposedly shot and killed by sheriff Pat Garrett in Fort Sumner in July of 1881.
Where to stay in Santa Rosa
A great place to stay for the weary traveler with modern amenities, park right in front of your room. There’s a hot breakfast buffet provided daily with a variety of foods. There’s also an outdoor pool to escape the heat, and Annie’s restaurant (mentioned above) is literally next door.View Hotel
Nestled in the White Mountains, Ruidoso is a charming retreat; the perfect escape from the desert heat with its cool mountain breezes. There’s fun year round here; wintertime brings skiing and snowboarding at Ski Apache, and in the summer you can take a thrilling ride on the resort’s zip lines. Enjoy the White Mountains by bike, hike, horseback ride, backpacking, Four-Wheeling, ATV, fishing or camping.
Back in town, take advantage of Ruidoso’s year-round golf on three public courses, horse racing at the downs, shopping, wine tasting, and great dinnertime shows. My husband and I always have a great time at the Flying J Ranch, where you can sit down to some fantastic brisket, cowboy beans, corn on the cob while enjoying a toe-tapping, knee slapping live hoedown western musical show that’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
One of the most spectacular sights to see in the Ruidoso area is the Inn of the Mountain Gods, run by the Mescalero Apache tribe. This impressive resort is perched high in the mountains overlooking the beautiful Mescalero lake (which is stocked with trout you can fish for) and surrounded with green pines and endless outdoor activities such as bike rentals, zip lines, horseback riding, paddleboarding, and kayaking. There is no spa, but there is a kid’s program every Saturday during the summer for ages 5 through 12 that is fully supervised. So if you want to go adulting (aka hit the casino), you can do it carefree.
Where to Stay in Ruidoso
Along with the array of activities mentioned above, the rooms themselves are beautifully appointed and including pillowtop mattresses, soft robes, and high-speed internet. Ask to book a room with a balcony overlooking the lake.View Hotel
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is one of the world’s largest systems of underground caverns that is known today. They can be toured year-round and the park service offers both self-guided and guided tours. (Keep in mind no children under age four are allowed on any of the ranger-guided tours, some of which require gloves and elbow/knee pads (provided by the park) for crawling through tight spaces.)
The Big Room is the most popular cave and can be accessed by anyone either by a steep switchback path (the equivalent of walking down 75 flights of stairs) or with an elevator. You could spend several days exploring the different caverns and their spectacular formations. If you’re not creeped out by bats, you can watch thousands of them fly out of the main entrance every evening from May through October during a ranger-led bat flight program. Unfortunately, there are zero overnight accommodations at the park, so you’ll need to plan ahead on where you’ll stay. I recommend booking a hotel room in advance in Carlsbad and if coming in the summertime, make sure the air conditioning system in your car is properly working before you drive out to see the caverns. The caverns close at 5 and you’ll be returning to a vehicle that has been in the sun for several hours.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is about 18 miles southwest of the town of Carlsbad itself. The town began as a real-life oasis in the Chihuahuan desert as the Pecos river winds its way through town on its way to the Rio Grande farther south. The average temperatures here are very warm (comparable to Phoenix, Arizona), so unless you love heat, I would recommend planning your visit in the spring or fall if possible. Carlsbad is surprisingly green for being a desert town and has plenty of city parks to relax in along the banks of the Pecos River. There are a few mom-and-pop burger joints in town but the best one is Becky’s (which is cash only). Or try the delicious brisket at The Red Chimney Bar-B-Que, a log-cabin style family friendly restaurant with the best BBQ meats in the whole region.
The Living Desert State Park is a lovely place to visit and learn all about the surprising flora and fauna of the desert. Take your kiddos on a boat ride with the Pirates of the Pecos. Your children get to pretend they’re pirates as they board a pirate ship with games, treasure hunts and sword fighting included in a one-hour ride around the Pecos River. (Sunset tours are also available.)
Where to stay in Carlsbad
Right on the way to Carlsbad Caverns, this hotel offers free WiFi, a hot breakfast, indoor pool, Sleep Inn’s signature showers and rooms specifically designed to help you fall asleep faster and dream better.View Hotel
Feature image courtesy of the New Mexico Tourism Department