Year of the Staycation: Albuquerque

With gas prices near $4 a gallon and a general tightening of our financial belts this year, a summer vacation might seem like an impossibility.  But have you considered a family staycation?

If you live in or near Albuquerque, New Mexico, you know that the city boasts of its 300-plus sunny days a year.  Albuquerque is chock full of family-friendly museums, parks and outdoor activities that are free or inexpensive, perfect for your family staycation.

{I’m no longer an Albuquerque resident, but after living there for over five years (part of the time as a poor college student, part of the time as a still-in-school-newlywed, and part of the time as a new mom!) I learned where to go (and where NOT to go) on a budget while still having a great time.}

Here are 20 ideas to get you started on planning your Albuquerque Staycation:

1) New Mexico Rail Runner Express is a relatively new attraction in the Albuquerque area.  It’s popular with commuters, but it’s also a great way to spend a morning or afternoon (or both) with the kiddos.  The train runs all the way from Belen to Santa Fe, with multiple stops all along the way.  Be sure to save your Rail Runner ticket–you can get discounts at over 100 shops along the train corridor.  Tickets are $2-$9 for adults (depending on how far you travel), FREE for kids under 10!

2) The Albuquerque BioPark consists of the Rio Grande Zoo, the Botanic Gardens, the Aquarium, and Tingley Beach.  In my opinion, Albuquerque’s BioPark attractions are some of the best of their kind, and are really quite affordable.  (Pack your own lunch to avoid those pricey cafe items!)  If you want to visit all the stops in one day, your best option is to purchase the BioPark combo ticket, which is $12 for adults, $5 for kids ages 3-12.  For a ticket to just the zoo, or just the Aquarium and Botanic Gardens (which are located next door to each other), the cost is $7 for adults, $3 for kids ages 3-12.  For the absolute best value for your money (if you plan to visit the BioPark more than twice within a year), you can purchase a membership in the New Mexico BioPark Society Family membership is $79 for one year.

{Our little peanut at the Botanical Garden in 2007}

3) The BioPark also features a summer concert weekly series at both the Botanic Gardens and the Rio Grande Zoo.  Check out the line up for 2011 hereMembers of NMBPS can purchase tickets at half-price.  Regular price tickets are $10 for adults, $3 for kids ages 3-12.

4) ABQ Uptown opened in 2006, and its collection of shops and restaurants and unique feel make for a fun window-shopping stroll with the family.  The Fountain Plaza in the middle of Uptown is a great place to take the kiddos for some FREE water fun!  (Read: they run around in the fountain while you sit and sip your iced coffee.)  FREE! (Except for that coffee.) 😉

5) The Explora Science Center & Children’s Museum isn’t the cheapest place to visit in Albuquerque, but if you have little ones in your family, it will be well worth your time and money.  You can easily spend an entire day at Explora–it’s full of hands-on displays for kids of all ages.  Admission is $8 for adults, $4 for kids under 12.

6) The American International Rattlesnake Museum has a feel of both a zoo and a quaint museum.  It’s located just southeast of Old Town Plaza, and houses many more species of rattlesnakes than a typical zoo.  Your kids will love it–even if you’re a little squeamish! 😉  $5 for adults, $3 for kids, $4 for students/seniors/military.

7) The Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum is a must if you live in Albuquerque.  The annual International Balloon Fiesta is a highlight of the year, and at the Balloon Museum your family can learn all about the history and science behind hot air and gas balloons.  The Balloon Museum is holding several special events over the summer; you can see the schedule here.  Also, on Wednesday mornings (9:30-10:15 AM) you can take your kiddos for Stories in the Sky, a FREE storytime with music and creative activities for kids of all ages.  Admission to the museum is $3 for adults (NM residents), $1 for ages 4-12, FREE for kids 3 and under!

8)The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center is well known for its weekend presentations of traditional Native American dance and Art Demonstrators.  You can find the list of events for 2011 here.  Featured also are changing exhibits of food, culture, art and history.  FREE!

9) The National Hispanic Cultural Center‘s facilities include a 2,500-seat amphitheater, performing arts center, research and literary arts building, plus a 10,000-square-foot visual arts center.  Find their calendar of ongoing events and exhibitions here.   Their art museum is FREE on Sundays, and every other day it’s $3 for adults, FREE for kids under 16.

10) Petroglyph National Monument is a free attraction (but does require $1-2 for parking.)  A petroglyph–in case you’re wondering–is a Native American picture or symbol drawn or scratched into the surface of the rock, and there are an estimated 24,000 petroglyphs (WOW!) at this national park.  The best way to enjoy the park is to start with the Visitor Center, where you can learn about Native American cultural history and kids can participate in the Junior Ranger program.  Then head out (with plenty of water!) on one of several trails into the volcanic ridge where you can see the petroglyphs up close and personal.  Another plus of the petroglyphs:  it’s rarely busy, and therefore doesn’t feel very tourist-y.  FREE! (parking is $1 on weekdays, $2 on weekends)

11) Both the east side and west side of the Sandia Mountains are full of hiking trails that are easy to access and easy enough for the whole family.  The Piedra Lisa Canyon Trail in the foothills is a nice 2.5 mile round trip on a well-maintained path.  If you’re wanting cooler temperatures and more shade on your hike, try the Tree Spring Trail on the west side of the mountains.  It’s one of the easiest routes for accessing Sandia Crest.  FREE!

{On Tree Spring Trail in February 2008}

12) Rio Grande Nature Center is located in the Bosque, or cottonwood forest, that borders the Rio Grande River.  Outside the Nature Center are family-friendly walking trails and demonstration gardens.  Inside the Nature Center you’ll find exhibits, a discovery room with hands-on activities for children, and an observation room that overlooks the pond.  $3 a car.

13) The Paseo del Bosque bike trail has been voted one of the best bike trails in the West!  If your family is into bicycling, be sure to try out the 16 miles of paved trails that pass through Rio Grande Valley State Park.  There are seven access points along the trail; you can find the map and details of the trail here.  FREE!

14) Rio Grande Community Farm is a 50-acre, non-profit community urban farm in the North Valley of Albuquerque.  Their Community Garden is a 2-acre plot where members own and maintain their garden rows.  Membership in the Community Garden is $42 per year.  RGCF provides seeds, water, tools and their expertise for free.  Membership also includes free tickets for the annual Maize Maze, which runs through September and October.  If you’re not a member of the Community Garden, admission to the Maize Maze is $7 for adults, $5 for children, FREE for kids under 3.

15) Historic Old Town Plaza is located in the middle of Albuquerque, and is surrounded by original adobo-style buildings and homes that have been converted into shops and restaurants.  There’s no fee to simply stroll around the beautiful plaza and browse the 150-plus stores and art galleries.  FREE! (plus cost for shopping and/or dining.)

16) The Albuquerque Museum of Art and History is located on the edge of Old Town, and features Southwestern paintings, photographs, and sculptures, as well as a sizable collection of Spanish colonial artifacts.  You can also take a walking tour of Old Town, which begins at 11 AM.  Admission is $4 for adults, $1 for kids ages 4-12.

17) The Sandia Peak Tramway costs a pretty penny (and it IS an incredible experience, I must say), but have you ever taken the drive up the east side of the Sandia Mountains on Sandia Crest Highway (NM 536)?  The drive takes you through high desert and dense forests, all the way to Sandia Crest.  Along the way are several picnic areas and trailheads.  The observation platforms at the top offer amazing views of Albuquerque.  It’s especially beautiful in the evening as the sun sets over the city.  If you need to warm up (as it gets cold up there at nearly 11,000 feet!) stop in the Sandia Crest House Gift Shop and Restaurant.  FREE!

{Calla and me at Sandia Peak in 2007}

18) The University of New Mexico campus has a fun little Duck Pond where you and the fam can spend a peaceful hour or two watching the ducks (and the colorful UNM students.) 😉  The ducks are always happy to snatch up any bread crumbs you happen to drop during your picnic on the lawn.  FREE!

19) Frontier Restaurant in downtown Albuquerque is the perfect place to stop for a bite to eat after (or before) all your city adventures.  They serve fabulous New Mexican fare at an affordable price.  (Believe me, I spent many hours there as a college student!)  Their homemade flour tortillas are amazing, and the giant sweet roll is pretty much famous.  With enormous pots of warm green chile at the condiment bar, this place is definitely worth a visit (or three!)

20) Many family-friendly restaurants are offering kids-eat-free days.  Check out these lists of Albuquerque restaurants where kids eat free daily or on a specified day of the week: Albuquerque Motherhood Examiner and Kids Eat 4 Free.

(If you’re familiar with the Albuquerque area and have more ideas to share, please leave a comment!  I’d love to add to this list!)

Even if you’ve lived in Albuquerque all your life, there’s a good chance you haven’t taken the time to visit all the fun and affordable places the city has to offer.  Start planning your Albuquerque Staycation now–it may just be the best vacation you’ve ever taken!

***Stay tuned–tomorrow I’ll be linking up with bloggers all across the country who are sharing ideas for staycations in their cities!***


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21 Responses to Year of the Staycation: Albuquerque

  1. Libby says:

    What a great post, Abby! You’re making me miss ABQ more than I already do:)

    • Abby says:

      Writing this post made me miss ABQ too! So many fun things to do and the great weather (and of course the wonderful people!) 🙂

  2. Mom says:

    Very nicely done! You make Albuquerque look very appealing!

  3. Katya Voss says:

    The Explora museum also sells family year-long memberships for approximately the same costs as the zoo/biopark. We bought an “extended family” membership for $105 that lets you add up to 8 people (adults or kids) and split it with the grandparents; that way we each only spent $50 and we can go together or separately any time we want!
    There is also a great waterpark at Manzano Mesa Multigenerational Center, 501 Elizabeth St. (near Eubank and Central). One adult has to buy a $13/year membership to the center, but then can get as many guests as you like in for $0.50 each! The membership also lets you use all the facilities at the center, including weightroom, gymn, craft classes, etc.
    Many of the libraries in town also have free reading programs/sessions. The library in Tijeras even has this goofy program where kids read to dogs! 😉 (I have got to get James signed up for that one…)

    • Abby says:

      Thanks for the input, Katya! I didn’t know about the Explora membership or the Manzano waterpark. Sounds like good deals!

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  5. Amy says:

    There is also the Unser Race Museum on Montano. Not sure of the cost details, but if you have boys like I do who are totally into race cars and the history behind them, it’s definitely the place to go.

  6. Danette Gabaldon says:

    Also, there are Indian Pueblos around Albuquerque, as in Isleta, San Felipe, Cochiti, Sandia, which during the year have traditional dances, most are open to the public and these are free. There are no picture and no recording allowed. If you go to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center website you will find a link with each pueblos feast days listed and the dos and don’ts at each pueblo.

    • Abby says:

      Thanks Danette…I’d heard about the pueblo dances but wasn’t sure on the details. I appreciate your input!

  7. Mandy says:

    WOW! That was such a great post! Hi. I found you through the Simple Mom blog. My family and I will be staying in ABQ for a month starting tomorrow, so it was great timing. We are up there for medical reasons, and we’re going to have a lot of free time on our hands for a little while. So, I haven’t been sure how to entertain my four-year-old. I am definitely bookmarking this. THANKS!

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