Last Summer we lived in Southern New Mexico. Yes, New Mexico as in one of the contiguous 48 states – and no, there’s no need for a passport! (Trust me – I’ve been asked… Geography 101). New Mexico is not only home to the MOST amazing cuisine you will ever encounter, but there are gems including national treasures, loads of history and breathtaking landscapes …some of which that has inspired many including one of my favorite artists Georgia O’Keefe. We had the opportunity to explore many great places and have fun family adventures, and thankfully on not much money! You read that right… New Mexico offers many free and low cost museums, trails, lakes, rivers, and even national monuments.
Here’s a list of great family-friendly places we enjoyed and if you plan on exploring the Land of Enchantment, I highly encourage visiting these places!
Northern Central New Mexico:
Albuquerque BioPark – The Albuquerque BioPark aka the ABQ BioPark consists of four areas: The ABQ BioPark Zoo, Botanic Garden, Aquarium and Tingley Beach. This is definitely a place to spend an entire day – and make sure to bring comfortable footwear!
The Botanic Garden was one of our favorites! It is 32 acres of exhibits, showcasing plants of the American Southwest and other climates around the world, including a BUGarium – one of the most elaborate exhibits dedicated to Bugs and Arthropods in the country. It had one of the best Children’s Gardens we had ever been to, with massive pumpkins and vegetables making it feel as tho we had shrunk to be the size of insects, a great dragon that breathed cool mist (great to walk under on a hot Summer day!), a castle with a sandbox… it was AMAZING! There was also a beautiful waterfall cascading into a koi pond, creating such a serene, relaxing atmosphere.
Next, we visited the Aquarium which is adjacent to the Botanic Garden. It wasn’t very large, but it did have some great aquatic creatures and they did have a hands-on area where the kids were able to feel different sea stars and other creatures with assistance.
After the Botanic Garden and Aquarium, we hopped the BioPark’s free train that brought us over to the Zoo. Like I said, bring comfy shoes, or if you have little ones, a stroller or wagon that easily folds up… there is a lot of walking, but it was worth it!
Southeast New Mexico:
Ruidoso, New Mexico A picturesque ski-village that is actually a quite wonderful place to visit during the Summer months as well! With small-town charm, and beautiful hiking trails, if you need a place to just get away to relax and unwind, this is the place. It’s very family friendly too. With great outdoor activities like hiking, biking, fishing, boating and camping, there’s bound to be something everyone will enjoy. We stayed in a cabin near the river, and not too far from Ruidoso’s mid-town where there’s an assortment of little shops and eateries and not too far from great trails.
The food is excellent.. our favorite by far was Tina’s Cafe – they serve THE best breakfast… we had “Pig Candy” cinnamon rolls (topped with bits of crisp bacon) and the yummiest Eggs Benedict smothered in their green chile Hollendaise. And, we couldn’t leave without trying the green chile peach pie… it was the perfect combination of sweet and spicy and utterly delicious!
South of Ruidoso lies Alamogordo, New Mexico Another small town that typically I would just pass through, but I thought, let’s give this place a try. They have a tiny 12 acre Zoo, but interestingly enough it is the oldest zoo in the southwest United States (for all you History buffs) with some quite interesting animals. They have a really fun Space Museum with a lot of great hands-on activities and amazing old rockets and other large artifacts related to space exploration.
There are some large pistachio farms and wineries that extend for miles along the highway. One of which gave free wine tasting, had a tour that ran every hour or so and had a giant pistachio statue, so we had to stop (of course).
A little further South lies one of the most magnificent places you could ever visit. The White Sands National Monument has been the backdrop for many feature films, music videos and commercials. And there’s no mistaking why. The bright white sands, beautiful painted skies, and picturesque mountains in the background provide the perfect setting.
Head East and you’ll find yet another National Monument, Carlsbad Caverns. The Caverns include a large cave chamber, the Big Room, which is a natural limestone chamber almost 4,000 feet long, 625 feet wide, and 255 feet high at the highest point. It is jaw dropping to say the least! It is the fifth largest chamber in North America and the twenty-eighth largest in the world. Another perk of exploring the caves during the Summer months is getting to see the thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats emerge from the entrance in a dense group, and fly out to hunt for food. They do this starting around sunset and lasting about three hours every evening from Memorial Day weekend to mid October (with possible exceptions for bad weather). A ranger gives a talk on the bats while visitors sit in the amphitheater wait to watch the bats come out. The kids STILL talk about the bats coming out of the cave!
Southwest lies Las Cruces, a college-town that still somehow permeates a small-town feel. Las Cruces has many museums downtown, many of which are free. The local university, NMSU also has many great galleries and museums that are also free of charge. Some of our favorites were: the Museum of Nature and Science, the Museum of Art, The Zuhl Museum, and the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum. There’s a weekly farmers market where you can get local treats like bischochitos and aguas frescas. During the Summer months the market also has free activities for kids and sometimes live music. Las Cruces also has many great playgrounds and parks, some also do free movies in the park on Summer nights. For a little history of the Southwest with live music (Mariachi Sundays) and authentic Mexican food, there’s Old Mesilla.
Well, this doesn’t even cover half of what the enchanted state has to discover, but it gives you a glimpse of all there is to explore! I hope this post helps you plan your journey to enjoy all this state has to offer.