New Mexico may be short on theme parks, but it’s long on natural playgrounds, making Albuquerque a great destination for families. Here curiosity and a sense of discovery will get you everywhere.
If the kids are jumping on the hotel bed and careening down the hallways, let them loose at Elena Gallegos Picnic Area. Set in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains, this area has picnic tables (of course) and covered shelters fitting for family reunions. Well-maintained trails offer easy walks—even for toddlers—through sage brush and juniper and the chance to spot lizards, rabbits, and birds.
For kids who are crazy for wild things, the ABQ BioPark Zoo is home to hundreds of animals, from the tiniest coqui frog to rhinoceros. You could spend a full day here, gamboling past the enclosures, lunching on the wide lawn in the shade of cottonwood trees, and riding a scenic train within the zoo or to the city’s other three ABQ BioPark destinations. At the ABQ BioPark Aquarium, the crowd favorite is always the dramatic shark tank, though exhibits also include sea turtles, jellyfish, and other aquatic life. The Aquarium shares its grounds with the Botanic Garden, home to the Bugarium, where your kids will love seeing creepy crawlies in their natural habitats. If you happen to be in town Thanksgiving through the New Year, the Botanic Garden also hosts the River of Lights, when nearly every inch of its grounds sparkle with illuminations and moving light sculptures such as a Pegasus, lion, and tyrannosaurus. The dazzling display creates a sense of childlike wonder for everyone in the family.
Three-toed dinos (or at least replicas of them) roam the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. Stan, a fossil of the second largest T. rex ever found, comes face to toothy face with visitors in the atrium. In multi-sensory exhibits, the museum guides visitors from the Big Bang through the Age of the Giants. Plan time to explore the Naturalist Center, a hands-on discovery room. Don’t miss the exhibit on Albuquerque’s connection to the personal computing revolution (hint: Microsoft was founded here) and the planetarium. That attraction also hosts First Friday Fractals, an immersive video experience during which colorful, graphic expressions of mathematical fractals across the planetarium dome set to rock ‘n roll. If you’re in town when it’s on, it’s a must see, even if you aren’t a math nerd.
Nearby, Albuquerque’s dedicated science and hands-on learning center, Explora, offers exhibits children are actually encouraged to touch—in fact, they’d be missing out if they didn’t. Plan to spend several hours at this center creating machines, playing in the bubbles, and riding the high-wire bike.
If you’re in Albuquerque between April and September, you’ll knock one out of the park with tickets to an Isotopes AAA minor league baseball game. Opt for seats in the grass so your kids can run around freely and climb on rides when they aren’t watching the game.
The summer time heat will also put you on the lookout for places to cool off. Head to Cliff’s Amusement Park for roller coasters that splash down and water play areas for big kids and toddlers. ABQ Surf N’ Slide, at Wyndham Albuquerque Hotel & Conference Center, is the town’s only indoor waterpark complete with pools, slides, and a wave simulator. Since New Mexico is often confused with Mexico, having surfing available here may confuse matters further. But rest assured you aren’t missing out on a hidden beach somewhere, unless it’s along the shores of the Rio Grande.
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