16 Unexpected Wonders of New Mexico

A Meow Wolf guide through the strangest attractions and unexpected wonders of New Mexico.

New Mexico is well known for its extraterrestrial visitors and otherworldly caves, but many travelers prefer to hold the unexpected a little closer and check out attractions a bit more off the beaten path.

We put together this guide of wonders all across the state to entice you to explore New Mexico on the flip side. See you there!

Spiral Staircase at Loretto Chapel

tan colored building with a sign that says "Loretto Chapel Built 1873 Miraculous Stairway"
Photo credit: Flickr

207 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe

The story behind the "miraculous" spiral staircase, which rises 20 feet to the choir loft while making two full turns, all without the support of a central column or beams, is a mysterious one.

Other churches and chapels of the same period had ladders as opposed to stairs but the Sisters who used the church did not find a ladder to be fitting considering their attire.

After the Sisters prayed for a solution for nine days, a carpenter showed up, built the staircase using wood pegs – no glue or nails – to secure the steps, then disappeared without payment once it was completed.

Red Planet Books and Comics

three comic book covers with Marvel characters
Photo credit: Flickr

1002 Park Ave SW, ABQ 87102

Red Planet Books & Comics is the only Native American comic shop in the world. The owner, Lee Francis launched the store in June 2017 as a community space that sells games, toys, comics, new/used books and pop art from Native and Indigenous writers and artists.

Turquoise Museum

turquoise stones
Photo credit: Flickr

400 2nd St SW, Albuquerque, NM 87102

This gorgeous mansion sits on the outskirts of downtown Albuquerque and is home to the largest collection of natural turquoise from 100+ mines.

You have the option of a self-guided tour (which takes about two hours) or, if you’re lucky, you may be able to chat with one of the owners. If you do, definitely ask about the chandelier in the entryway to find out its story. Don’t miss the upstairs and be sure to pick up a mystery box from the gift shop on your way out.

ABQ BioPark Botanic Garden

2601 Central Avenue NW in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Listed by Travel Channel as one of the “Best Botanical Gardens in the US”, the first area you should check out is the Japanese garden, which was designed by noted landscape architect Toru Tanaka. Wander through 1.5 miles of plants from the Southwest and around the world until you get to the Children’s Fantasy Garden, guarded by a 14-foot topiary dragon that puffs smoke. Walk through a maze that will make you feel like Alice in Wonderland, surrounded by giant pumpkins, pinecones, and mushrooms.

Don’t miss the zoo or the ABQ BioPark Aquarium which has showcased a kaleidoscope of colorful fish native to a variety of ecosystems found throughout the United States.

Anderson Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum

blue hot air balloons inside a museum
Photo crdit: Flickr

9201 Balloon Museum Dr NE, Albuquerque, NM 87113

Did you know there’s an International Ballooning Hall of Fame? For less than $10, you can learn the history of early balloon flight in Western Europe, exploration attempts across the Arctic, and how balloon-related weather technology is used today.

The real draw is in the main exhibition area, where you can look out over Balloon Fiesta Park (get a virtual glimpse of that here) and get a true sense of the grandeur by standing under the impressive display of life size balloons.

Tinkertown Museum

old western style sign that says Tinkertown Museum and wagon wheels around it
Photo credit: Flickr

121 Sandia Crest Rd, Sandia Park, NM 87047

What started out as one man’s hobby collecting miniature wood-carved figures turned into an elaborate, handmade 22-room museum of Americana and Western life played out by over 12,000 animated mini figures.

Tucked away on a small road leading up to the scenic Sandia Crest, you won’t want to miss the Amazing Miniature Circus Tent, Esmeralda the Fortune Teller, and countless other whimsical miniature scenes that amuse both adults and children alike all for $6.

St. James Hotel

617 S. Collison Ave., Cimarron, NM 87714

If you’re interested in the spookier side of New Mexico, take a trip up north along the historic Santa Fe Trail to stay at a 149 year old nationally recognized haunted hotel. A staple of the classic American Wild West, this hotel was known to be frequented by Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Annie Oakley, Wyatt Earp and still has bullet holes in the ceiling of the saloon to prove it.

Well known for its paranormal experiences, the hotel has been featured on multiple major paranormal television shows including Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures.

Telephone Museum

vintage rotary phone in black
Photo credit: Flickr

110 4th St NW, Albuquerque, NM 87102

In a time where we take for granted having a tiny phone that can do everything for us in seconds, looking back on where it all started gives some perspective. This three-story museum, full of hundreds of telephones and old-fashioned switchboards, has a history of its own – the building has been around in downtown Albuquerque for 100+ years.

Walk through the complete history of the telephone since its invention, listen to short audio clips explaining some of the exhibits, and learn about the lives of some of the telephone company heroes from the past who went above and beyond to be of service.

House of Eternal Return

Meow Wolf character peeking out from the fridge at the House of Eternal Return
Photo credit: Lindsey Kennedy

1352 Rufina Circle, Santa Fe, NM

Step into another dimension – our dimension – and follow the story of the Selig family as you explore the secret rooms, crawl spaces, portals, and hidden pathways inside an experience you won’t find anywhere else.

After your adventure, grab a drink from the Float Cafe & Bar – coffee, local beer, or our fave, the “Meowgarita,” made with reposado tequila, cointreau, agave, fresh lime juice & butterfly pea flower tea. And we top it off with a sweet puffy colorful cloud. There are food trucks outside so you can get a taste of local cuisine and have a picnic with our giant robot, “Becoming Human.”

The St. James Tea Room

fancy teacup on a saucer with a spoon
Photo credit: Flickr

320 Osuna Rd NE # D, Albuquerque, NM 87107

Themed tea parties, inspired by famous literary figures, hosted in an elegant private space where you can savor three courses, expertly paired with loose leaf teas. You can also go for a cup of classic British tea and lemon curd or scones if you aren’t ready to commit to a two hour tea party.

Fascinators and posh outfits welcome.

American International Rattlesnake Museum

rattlesnake in the dirt
Photo credit: Flickr

202 San Felipe NW, Suite A Albuquerque

If you love snakes or want to get over a phobia of snakes, this is the place. The Rattlesnake Museum hosts the largest collection of different species of live rattlesnakes in the world from North, Central, and South America, all living in beautifully recreated habitats. There are also gila monsters, albino snakes, rescued tortoises, scorpions, tarantulas, and other reptiles. On your way out of the museum (which is really more like a zoo), you’ll receive a fun certificate of bravery and kids can get a free temporary tattoo.

Spaceship house in ABQ

long spaceship shaped house with a partially built tower
Photo credit: Flickr

3501 Monte Vista Blvd NE, Albuquerque

Which caught your attention first: the metal stegosaurus sculptures guarding the property or the bulbous spaceship room floating above?

Architect Bart Prince built his residence in 1984, library tower in 1990, and studio space in 2005. The design was inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, Antonio Gaudi, Picasso, and his mentor, famed architect Bruce Goff, with whom he worked with on the stunning Pavilion for Japanese Art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Curbside photography only. Please respect residential privacy.

Frontier Restaurant

2400 Central Ave SE, Albuquerque, NM 87106

Well known to Albuquerque residents, Frontier can simply be described as a down-to-earth, counter-serve restaurant offering homestyle Southwestern food for over 50 years. Located directly across the street from the University of New Mexico, Frontier is always bustling with students, travelers, and locals alike filling up its available 300 seats.

The dining areas of the restaurant resemble a Southwestern art gallery, with large and small works of art covering every wall along with one room dedicated to Southwestern woven rugs displayed on all of the walls and ceiling. Come for eclectic decor, and stay for the delicious cinnamon rolls and breakfast burritos.

World’s Largest Pistachio at McGinn’s PistachioLand

green open air vehicle next to a giant pistachio
Photo credit: Flickr

7320 U.S. Hwy. 54/70 North, Alamogordo, NM 88310

The world’s largest pistachio can be found at McGinn’s PistachioLand aka a pistachio lover’s paradise. If snapping a pic in front of the world’s largest pistachio isn’t enough for you, McGinn’s offers a motorized farm tour of 90 acres of pistachio orchards, a pistachio candy kitchen, pistachio ice cream parlor, country store, and finally an onsite vineyard and wine tasting room.

Hotel Luna Mystica

25 ABC Mesa RD, El Prado, NM 87529

When a classic Taos Earthship isn’t weird enough for you, a quick 10 minute drive outside of the village will take you to the vintage trailer hotel - Hotel Luna Mystica. Settled on over 12 acres of land in the Taos Mesa, you’ll have incredible views of the Taos Ski Valley and a short drive to the 600ft tall Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.

Hotel Luna Mystica is made up of 20 pet friendly vintage trailers each updated with modern features including kitchens, bathrooms, and a deck with a fire pit. There are also plenty of campsites available and RV spaces on the property.

Ernie Pyle Public Library

White house with a red sign in the front that says "Ernie Pyle State Historic Site" and a flag pole in front of the house
Photo credit: Flickr

900 Girard Blvd SE, Albuquerque, NM 87106

A charming neighborhood library inside the home of WWII journalist Ernie Pyle, filled with an eclectic selection of books and war memorabilia. Stock up on some good reads then sit on the porch or walk a block to Hyder Park.

There are also regular events, like intimate concerts in the yard or reading activities for kids.