Somewhere along the line, I’ve gotten it into my head that a trip can only be fun if we travel somewhere exotic and far away. But turns out, I don’t have to go very far from home to have a really great time with my family. My kids and I recently took a trip to Las Cruces and had a blast.
The second largest city in New Mexico is only a three-hour drive (plus potty stops) from Albuquerque. So pack up the trunk and head down for a long weekend soon.
Here are some spots to visit in and around Las Cruces for maximum family fun.
I’m downright embarrassed that I’ve lived in New Mexico for twelve years and have just now made it down to White Sands. And now that I’ve been, I’m sad it’s taken me so long to get there because these otherworldly dunes were definitely the highlight of our trip. As one of our country’s newest national parks, White Sands boasts powdery gypsum sand that shifts from bright white with blue skies during the day to cool lavender as the sun sets along the orange horizon.
- Check the park’s website. Sometimes it closes because of missile tests from a nearby Air Force base. Also, the park closes at different times depending on the time of year and when the sun sets. During the summer it’s open later than in winter.
- Bring sleds and wax for the bottom of sleds to glide down the dunes. Sleds are available for sale in the gift shop.
- We arrived around 5:30 pm (during the summer), which allowed plenty of time for sledding in the bright sunshine, appreciating the gorgeous sunset, and marveling at the moon rise. I loved that we were able to avoid the heat of the day.
- If you do plan to be there during the day, bring an umbrella or pop-up tent.
- Bring lots of water (more than you’d think you’ll need) and of course, food. You do have children after all. There are a number of picnic structures available.
- If you plan to stay after dark, bring glow sticks for the kids.
- Pets are allowed but must be kept on a leash.
- Sunscreen and sunglasses are important due to the glare from the sand.
- Pack sand toys. Buckets and shovels for young kids would be a big win.
For thousands of years, this region has been growing food for its inhabitants. This museum tells the story of the many generations and the many cultures who have farmed this land. Kids who love farm animals are in luck because cows, horses, sheep, and goats are in abundance.
- Much of the exhibits are outside, so make sure to dress appropriately and bring proper sun protection.
- We visited during a phased re-opening. So a few of the exhibits and the playgrounds were not open yet. Check the website to see if those things have reopened.
This picturesque spot in the foothills of the gorgeous Organ Mountains provides perfect hikes for little legs.
- Bring lots of water.
- There’s a $5 parking fee.
- Go in the morning or evening to avoid the hottest time of day.
- Take a dip in your hotel pool after your hike. We stayed at Hotel Encanto de Las Cruces and highly recommend the gorgeous pool, especially after a good hike.
Just a few minutes outside the Las Cruces city limits is Historic Mesilla. This area provides a wealth of history and culture along with shopping and dining. Visit the gorgeous Basilica. Take a walk in the lovely Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park. And stand in the spot where Billy the Kid was once jailed and stood trial. (It’s now a gift shop and photo-op.) Mesilla is a also great place to grab dinner. Here are a few good food options when you have kids in tow.
- La Posta de Mesilla: Don’t miss this iconic New Mexican restaurant complete with its own aviary and piranhas in fish tanks. Mama, get a margarita. They do have the largest tequila selection in the southwest after all.
- ¡Andele!: Why would you miss the restaurant where my 13-year-old had the “best burrito of his life”? We’re talking about the burrito that inspired him to write a poem about it. Run, don’t walk, to taste this green chile sauce and award-winning salsa. My boys and I are still craving them weeks later.
- Andele’s Dog House: Carries ¡Andele!’s full menu along with hot dogs, sandwiches, and burgers all outside on a dog-friendly patio.
Speaking of food, your trip to Las Cruces would not be complete without a visit to Caliches. Frozen custard, sundaes, and shakes are the perfect sweet treat to beat the heat. With so many delicious options, everyone in your family will be able to find their favorite. They also serve hot dogs, sandwiches, and nachos if you wanted to make a meal of your visit.
- I love the outdoors and hiking. But sometimes it’s hard to get kids on board for a hike. Promise frozen custard to kids as a treat for finishing your family hike. It’s a win-win for everyone!
This museum is actually located in Alamagordo. I have a few space buffs in the family, so we decided to drive out to this museum in the afternoon before we visited White Sands. (It’s about 10 miles past the national park.) Discover the cradle of America’s space program at this museum. Explore interactive exhibits, many actual space-related artifacts (because who doesn’t want to put their head in a rocket?), and even a playground for the littles who need to expend some energy.
The beautiful grounds of the university provide a great place for an evening stroll, bike ride, or romp in the grass. Sports-loving kids will love catching a glimpse of Aggie Memorial Football Stadium. If you’re visiting during one of the many sports seasons, it’d be great to catch a collegiate-level game.
There are three things we really wanted to do during our Las Cruces visit, but there just wasn’t time. So we plan to go back soon and conquer these last three . . .
This 2.5-mile trail is a moderate hike that provides some shade once you get down into the canyon. In my opinion, the beautiful photos would make this hike totally worthwhile. Make sure to take lots of water and sunscreen.
I’ve got one entrepreneurial kid who loves the idea of the first purpose-built commercial spaceport in the world. Spaceport America is closed to the public with the exception of guided tours. We’re looking forward to taking a tour soon.
If you have a 9-year-old daughter, then you understand the horse obsession. It seems like the terrain in and around Las Cruces is perfect for riding. The Las Cruces Visitors Center recommends these horseback riding companies that we’d like to take advantage of next time we visit.
BONUS TIP: Go on a water tank mural scavenger hunt. Artists have been commissioned to use the water tanks around town as canvases to commemorate the area’s history and culture. As you’re driving around, have your kids keep an eye on the horizon to see how many water tank murals they can spot. Here’s a list and a map of all of them.
We can’t wait to hear all about your trip to Las Cruces. Let us know in the comments all about it! Happy travels!