Albuquerque, New Mexico boasts an eclectic combination of otherworldly scenery, rich history, and fascinating culture. Most tourists stick to Sandia Peak Tram, Old Town, and a few other highly trafficked spots, but the city has a lot more than that to offer. If you’re looking for something that’s off the beaten path but still close to your Albuquerque vacation rental, check out these hidden gems in and around the city.

1. Drive the Musical Highway

deadmans curve
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Rumble strips are an important safety feature to help tired or distracted drivers stay on the road, but who’s to say you can’t get a little creative with them? That’s exactly what engineers did with a quarter-mile stretch of eastbound Route 66. If you slow down to 45 miles per hour as you drive over the strips, you’ll hear “America the Beautiful” play. This is a short trip, so it’s perfect to see on your way out for a hike in the Manzano or Sandia Mountains. To get there, take exit 170 off of eastbound I-40 near the village of Tijeras, then keep an eye out for the Musical Highway signs on Route 333.

2. Hike to a Plane Crash

sandia peak
Source: Flickr/Stephen Hanafin

In 1955, a routine flight turned to tragedy when TWA Flight 260 crashed into the Sandia Mountains just after taking off from Albuquerque. Despite its tragic origins, the hike to the site has become a favorite among locals. The site of the crash is about 3.5 miles away from where the trail begins at Elena Gallegos Open Space, and the climb is steep, strenuous, and sometimes difficult to navigate, so it is better for experienced hikers. You’ll know when you arrive as there is still wreckage left behind, as well as a memorial plaque.

3. Explore the University, Even If You Aren’t a Student

unm human resources bldg
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The University of New Mexico may not qualify as a hidden gem by itself, but this remarkable campus offers plenty of unexpected things to entertain visitors. The campus is known for its Pueblo Revival architecture and beautifully manicured grounds, which are a designated arboretum with free self-guided tour sheets available. In addition, various sculptures by world-renowned artists, such as Luis Jimenez, are sprinkled throughout the campus. UNM is also home to several little-known museums that are open to the public, with the most popular being the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, the University Art Museum, and the Meteorite Museum.

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4. Burt’s Tiki Lounge

burt's tiki lounge
Source: Flickr/Tadson Bussey

If you want to experience Albuquerque like a local, head out to Burt’s Tiki Lounge. This quirky little downtown bar doesn’t attract tourists like the more New Mexican-themed places do, but it’s been a favorite among Burquenos for years. Live music from local bands is a regular feature, so you can get a taste of Albuquerque’s thriving music scene. Be aware, though, that part of the appeal is that the cocktails are strong and inexpensive. If you plan to hang out here often during your visit, you might want to look for a vacation rental within walking distance or otherwise make alternate transportation plans.

5. Rattlesnake Museum

rattlesnake museum and gift shop
Source: Flickr/Richie Diesterheft

No visit to Albuquerque is complete without a trip to Old Town, but a lot of visitors miss the American International Rattlesnake Museum, which is tucked away on San Felipe Street just a little off the Plaza. The entrance is through a storefront where you can buy all kinds of cute and kitschy rattlesnake-themed souvenirs, but the museum itself is the real treat. It boasts the largest variety of live rattlesnakes in the world, as well as massive collection of historical memorabilia and artifacts about these often-misunderstood creatures.

6. ABQ Trolley Tours

abq trolley co
Source: Flickr/ABQ Trolley Co.

If you want to get off the beaten path, a tour with ABQ Trolley can be a fun and unique way to do it. The company offers numerous themed trolley tours, including “hop-on, hop-off” tours of local breweries and city landmarks. The trolleys run every two hours, so you can hop off to enjoy local restaurants, shops, or breweries and then catch the next trolley to the next stop that seems appealing. If you prefer to explore on foot, ABQ Trolley Co. also runs Albucreepy, a 90-minute tour of Downtown with a focus on spooky history from Albuquerque’s Wild West days.

7. Ojito Wilderness

ojito wilderness
Source: Flickr/John Fowler

New Mexico is known for its alien activity, but you don’t have to travel far from Albuquerque to feel like you have stepped into another world. The Ojito Wilderness, which is about an hour north of the city, is famous for its remarkable hoodoos. These sandstone outcroppings, which have eroded into strange domed shapes, are often compared to alien landscapes. Ojito is also one of the least-visited wilderness areas in the state, so it’s a great place to explore if you want to get away from it all. Be sure to bring a hat, sunscreen, and plenty of water, as there is little shade on most of the trails.

8. Pueblo Montano Sculpture Garden

bosque trail
Source: Flickr/City of Albuquerque

The Rio Grande runs through the center of Albuquerque, creating a richly forested area known as the bosque. Unfortunately, in 2003, a large section of the bosque was devastated in a forest fire. Mark Chavez, one of the firefighters who helped put out the flames, decided to turn that devastation into something beautiful and used the fire-damaged trees to create chainsaw sculptures depicting native wildlife other stunning scenes. His artwork can be found at the Pueblo Montano Picnic Area, which lies off of Montano Road just west of the Rio Grande. Once you’re done touring the sculpture garden, you can continue on to explore the Paseo del Bosque trail along the river.

9. Tinkertown Museum

tinkertown museum
Source: Flickr/Francis Storr

When you drive up to Sandia Peak on Highway 536, you may notice signs for the Tinkertown Museum. Many people drive right by it on their way to explore the trails higher up the mountain, but this quirky private museum is worth a stop. It is the creation of one man, Ross Ward, who loved carving wooden folk art. The museum consists of his creations, many of which move and make sounds, as well as an eclectic collection of other folk art and western memorabilia. Tinkertown is only open seasonally, so check ahead if you’re visiting during colder months.

 
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