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Best Things To Do in Albuquerque

AOL PICK from our Editors

The top things to do in Albuquerque depend entirely on your taste. But even the most outdoorsy types will find something of interest in, say, the museum at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, which shows how native people lived off the land. And even devoted gallery-hoppers will have to admit that the view from Sandia Peak rivals anything on a museum wall. If you're traveling with kids, you'll find plenty of options for them, as well. They can run around at the ranch wing of the botanic gardens and gawk at dinosaur bones up close in the natural history museum. And taking them to see the wondrous world of Tinkertown might wean them off TV for good (well, one can dream, at least). It doesn’t hurt that these activities aren’t too tedious for adults, either. But don’t get too excited right off the plane: The best Albuquerque things to do are the ones you have energy for. Unless you’re coming from a higher elevation (hard to imagine), you’ll be wiped out your first couple of days--take it easy, drink lots of water and don’t schedule too much too soon. The mountains will still be there tomorrow.

Albuquerque Biological Park

Neighborhood: Old Town
The city's BioPark encompasses a zoo, an aquarium, botanic gardens and fishing ponds, spread out on either side of Central Avenue near the Rio Grande. For visitors, the gardens are the most interesting, as there are extensive displays on native desert plants, as well as the 10-acre Rio Grande Heritage Farm, where there are heirloom apple trees and Churro sheep. In the aquarium side, you’ll see a slightly dismal display on aquatic life of the Rio Grande before proceeding to the real crowd-pleasers: a tunnel full of creepy eels, lots of jellyfish and big shark tanks. The zoo is average, but a cute little train run between it and the aquarium, passing through Tingley Beach, a collection of fishing ponds where in summer you can also rent pedal boats or bicycles, if you want to cruise down the paved, flat Paseo del Bosque along the river.

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Albuquerque Museum of Art & History

Neighborhood: Old Town

Get the lowdown on the Duke City at this well-organized museum, which covers four centuries of life on the frontier. The permanent exhibit includes Spanish suits of armor, lore from Mexican cowboys and grainy photos from the early railroad era. Upstairs, a collection of New Mexico art covers early Taos painters, as well as more contemporary work, such as Nick Abdalla’s sensuous paintings that would make Georgia O’Keeffe blush. A new wing features touring shows, usually for additional admission. Walking tours around Old Town usually go in the mid-morning; call ahead to confirm the schedule. The museum also owns Casa San Ysidro, out in Corrales, a beautiful old adobe filled with period furnishings and local craftwork. Tours here run two or three times daily, depending on the season—call to check times.

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Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum

Neighborhood: Albuquerque Metro Area
The first hot-air balloon rally in Albuquerque was in 1972, and the scene has been going strong ever since—more than 500 balloons take to the sky every October for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. This museum may seem to cater only to those select few who participate in the fiesta, but in fact, it’s surprisingly fascinating, covering the history of the sport from the earliest hare-brained experiments to triumphs like Ben Abruzzo and Maxie Anderson’s record-setting traverse of the Pacific in the Double Eagle V. Despite a slightly distressing wing devoted to the Hindenburg, you might very well be inspired to take a ride in a balloon when you’re done here—the folks at the info counter can advise.

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Indian Pueblo Culture Center

Neighborhood: Albuquerque Metro Area
Of the 19 American Indian pueblos in the area, five are immediately outside of Albuquerque. This cultural center shows the various groups’ differences (in language, for instance), as well as their common beliefs, in a museum that’s a little old-fashioned but still interesting—especially the displays of the various craft specialties from each pueblo. What’s best about the place, though, are the demonstration dances put on in the central courtyard—it may feel a little touristy to sit and gawk, but it’s the only chance to see the beautiful costumes and hear the powerful drumming outside of a pueblo ceremony. Performances are at 11AM and 2PM from April through October and noon the rest of the year. If you want to see a dance at a pueblo, check with the information desk for a schedule—your visit might coincide with a feast day or other occasion. There’s also a good craft shop here and a decent café.

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National Hispanic Cultural Center

Neighborhood: Albuquerque Metro Area
Across the United States, “Hispanic” is often shorthand for Latin American. But here in New Mexico, where some families trace their roots back to the conquistadors, Hispanic means Spanish, as well—so it’s fitting that this ambitious museum and archives would be established here. The museum displays art from all over the Americas and from Spain, as well as special exhibits on New Mexico crafts and history. Shows can range as far as, say, the African American legacy in the state—an example of just how complex the label “Hispanic” can be. Check out the schedule at the two adjoining theaters, where you might find flamenco, hip-hop, salsa and more.

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National Museum of Nuclear Science and History

Neighborhood: Albuquerque Metro Area

When you think back about all that Cold War anxiety in the '80s -- you can thank New Mexico for it. The birthplace of the atomic bomb now has a fitting tribute to the science and culture behind it. You’ll learn about the bomb’s development at Los Alamos and see some grim photos of Nagasaki after the detonation. Other, less dismal exhibits cover the quirkier sides of the nuclear era, with Three-Mile Island lamps, comic books with radioactive characters and a cool display of the bomb decoders over the years. There’s also a collection of beautiful pro-atomic-energy posters by Swiss American graphic artist Erik Nitsche.

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Sandia Peak Tramway

Neighborhood: Albuquerque Metro Area
If you don’t like seeing the ground drop away from under your feet, maybe this attraction is not for you. But for most, this is the best thrill ride in the city, a 2.7-mile-long Swiss-made cable system that lifts a little car some 4,000 feet in elevation, to the top of the Sandia Mountains. The ride takes about 15 minutes and can be even more dramatic in breezy weather, when the car sways a bit extra. At the top of the mountain, you can hike along the ridge line a few miles to the forest visitors center and café—it’s better to eat here than at the expensive restaurant where the tram lets you off. As with all high-altitude activities in New Mexico, don’t try this on the first day of your trip—getting whisked straight up to 10,678 feet can make you woozy, if not downright ill.

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Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

Neighborhood: Albuquerque Metro Area
Note: This monument is currently closed by order of the Cochiti Tribe, but could possibly reopen in the future. Call before visiting. Whittled by centuries of wind, the soft cliffs at this wilderness area do resemble tents, as they have been worn away to odd cone shapes that resemble giant tepees. You can make an easy loop hike up to the base of the pumice rocks, or take a more strenuous trail leading into a narrow canyon lined with the towering formations—it’s level for the most part, but the last stretch is steep and calls for a little clambering. The rocks are near Cochiti Pueblo, about 45 minutes north of Albuquerque via Interstate 25; get off at exit 259 and head west, following signs. Don’t forget to pay your park fee at the honor box, $5 per car.

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Museum of Natural History & Science

Neighborhood: Old Town
Dinosaur fans should come here first. New Mexico is riddled with skeletons—it’s where paleontologists have unearthed Coelophysis and Pentaceratops, and the best examples are on show in this whiz-bang-filled museum. Not all of the exhibits quite live up to the hype, but the effects for the Big Bang set a good tone, and if the kids aren’t totally glutted on dinosaurs, you can fill them up with the IMAX or a planetarium show. And cyber types should pay homage at the Startup exhibit, which details the early years of the personal computer. The show was funded by Paul Allen, who founded Microsoft here in Albuquerque with Bill Gates, before both moved to Seattle. Tickets to each section—IMAX, planetarium and main museum—are $7, but myriad packages give you discounts if you visit more than one part.

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Tinkertown

Neighborhood: Albuquerque Metro Area

"I did all this while you were watching TV" was the cocky adage of self-taught artist Ross Ward, who created this utterly absorbing folk-art collection before he died in 2002. Some 40 years of whittling and mechanical rigging went into the miniature dioramas in which blacksmiths huff and puff and women chase chickens around with a cleaver. These are all set in a larger hand-built home that’s all undulating walls of glass bottles and other repurposed bits. The drive up to Tinkertown, on New Mexico Highway 14 on the east side of the Sandias, is a pretty one; when you’re done here, you might want to continue on up the road to Sandia Crest for awesome views over the city.

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