Most people think of Santa Fe when visiting New Mexico, but Albuquerque, where Native culture combines with New Mexican and Mexican influences throughout this quirky city, is a fascinating place to visit.

You don’t need to go far to experience the native culture since the state is home to 19 Pueblo tribes, two Apache tribes, and large portions of the Navajo Nation. Albuquerque’s unique culture is unlike any city I have visited. It’s not super cosmopolitan but is evolving in part because the hit TV shows “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” have increased tourism. Also, more than $300 million in public and private investments is reshaping the city’s skyline.. Albuquerque left me viewing my own City of Angels in a new light, with an appreciation of small-town charm and local heritage.

Although tourists still flock to Albuquerque for tours linked to “Breaking Bad,” and the annual international hot air balloon fiesta in the fall, there is more to this city than is apparent at first glance. Don’t miss these unique excursions on your next trip to the “Land of Enchantment.”

Tasty blue corn onion rings. Photo: Melissa Curtin

Indian Pueblo Cultural Center

The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center offers visitors the opportunity to make traditional Native American fry bread and learn about the history, traditions, and art of the 19 Indian Pueblos in New Mexico. The shop was one of the best I visited for handcrafted Native American jewelry made from silver, turquoise, natural shell, and gemstones. The restaurant inside called the Pueblo Harvest Café serves samples of food from all 19 New Mexico pueblos with a unique pre- contact menu. Sample pre-contact foods and post-contact seasonal selections include: blue corn onion rings, fried Kool-Aid pickles, bison enchilada, rabbit, braised elk on corn polenta, green chili stew, black bean patty burger, and pan seared New Mexican “tribal trout.”

National Hispanic Cultural Center

Don’t miss the National Hispanic Cultural Center’s impressive modern art collection with a thought-provoking exhibit on race, gender, immigrants, and equality called Because It’s Time, Unraveling Race and Place in New Mexico that runs thru early 2019. The collection rivals museum exhibits in LA and NYC with its provocative ideas artistically expressed in bold, unique ways. The Center’s expansive campus celebrates Hispanic and Latin American culture and includes several performance venues as well as houses a 4,000 square foot bold colorful concave fresco painting inside a tower. The largest fresco in North America depicts thousands of years of Hispanic history showing diverse cultural connections between people and places from the Iberian Peninsula to the Americas. Take time out to sit and gaze in awe at this impressive creation by Frederico Vigil, completed in 2009.

Sparkling Wine, Sweet Wine

Photo: Melissa Curtin

As a Californian, I couldn’t imagine the landscape in New Mexico could hold and grow vines, so when visited Gruet Winery, I was pleasantly shocked by the quality of the bubbly at this adorable wine tasting room where in 1984 French Gilbert Gruet brought his roots from his champagne house in Bethon, France. Pop in for exceptional Pinot Noir and Chardonnay-based sparkling dry wines. Don’t miss the Sauvage Vintage 2011 or Blanc de Blancs Vintage 2012. Taste 5 wines for $13. The family owned winery has found a way to take advantage of bone-dry soils, high elevations, and the dramatic day to night temperatures. Sheehan Winery is another award-winning New Mexico wine made in small batches and quite sweet, which is the way the local New Mexicans prefer it. Perhaps the smallest winery in the world, the owner Sean Sheehan hosts complimentary tastings by appointment in his very own backyard where it is made, and the vineyard takes part in wine events throughout New Mexico a few times a month. Sheehan is gurgling over with passion for his wines and will be sure to entertain you over one of his artistic bottles.

Perfume Workshops with Dryland Wilds

In Albuquerque’s Sawmill District is Spur Line Supply Co, a new, hip, shopping mecca filled with local brands and burgeoning New Mexico entrepreneurs. Inside Spur Line Supply Co, botanical perfumery workshops are offered by Dryland Wilds where you can learn about foraging, and the structure and history of perfume while experimenting with numerous fragrance families to concoct a potion you love. My nose was drawn to jasmine, ylang-ylang, ruby red grapefruit, Moroccan rose, and orange after experimenting with trays of scents based on various categories. Dryland Wilds also takes groups out to New Mexico’s high desert to learn about the native, useful, and edible plants. The women owners use old school perfuming equipment and sell their own botanical line made from wild native plants that they say are “hated or resilient” since popular plants for perfume have become so trendy they have been almost obliterated.

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ARTECHOUSE

Newly opened in an Albuquerque warehouse, this interactive light immersion experience called XYZT combines ten digital landscapes for all ages to explore. The immersive sensory encounter lets you feel like a kid as you move your body to influence and play with the light sources on the walls, floor, and more. Art, science, and technology mesh in the newly opened digital art gallery.

Photo: Melissa Curtin