Family Road Trip: Albuquerque, New Mexico

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Wardrobe Oxygen family road trip to Albuquerque New MexicoThis is the fourth post regarding this road trip.  Click here to read about Columbus and St. Louis, this post goes over Dodge City and Durango, and click this link to read about our trip to Four Corners and Winslow, Arizona!

This post is going live Saturday because it’s sadly shorter than the others. I’m going to say it up front – one night in Albuquerque is a joke and not enough to even get a decent taste of the city.

The drive from Winslow to Albuquerque was only four hours, the shortest drive we had so far on our trip. It was also a far easier drive than we had in the past few days – plenty of gas stations, no rain, no hail, no sketchy gross truck stops or sketchy Burger Kings yet plenty of gorgeous scenery.

Monterey Non Smokers Motel AlbuquerqueI wanted to have a nice variety of hotels on this trip and whenever we could swing it, a place to stay that had some history. After going a bit more luxe in Winslow and Durango, we decided to go historic and budget-friendly by crashing at the Monterey Non-Smokers Motel. Located on Route 66 in the Old Town part of Albuquerque, this classic motor inn gets great reviews for being clean and convenient. It reminded me of places my family and I would stay in when heading to New England to visit relatives or my mom’s hometowns back in the ‘80s. The motel is owned and run by a married couple; the wife was at the front desk and checked us in. Some reviews said the owners were rude or gruff, I experienced nothing of the sort. She was very warm, cracked jokes, offered suggestions on where to eat, and had a long conversation with Emerson and her doll Evelyn.

Monterey Non Smokers Motel Albuquerque New MexicoWe stayed in Room 14, which was exactly as you would assume a double queen motel room to look like. This wasn’t a hipster paradise, it was legit retro kitsch with a mirror with gold etching and a clock built into it, psychedelic polka-dot percale bedding, and a stucco ceiling. However the reviews were right, it was clean and comfortable. The room felt humid so we cranked the A/C and Karl pulled the chain to turn on the ceiling fan… and the chain came out completely. Whoops! He went to tell the owner who was NOT pleased but understood it was a mistake and respected him for admitting it.

Monterey Non Smokers Motel PoolOn the road we had big plans for the day in Albuquerque and we arrived around 2pm with plenty of time, but all Emerson wanted to do was go to a pool. I didn’t blame her, and she had been a complete rockstar through all that car time. The three of us donned our swimsuits and headed to the motel pool, which was also super clean and retro in an utterly charming way. However, while walking to the pool, Karl noticed the shop across the street from the motel. Our tire pressure light also went on when leaving Durango and Winslow, so he was super psyched to see a tire shop. Karl left the pool and went over there, where they were able to find the hole and put a plug in it for $10.

monterey non smokers motel albuquerque poolAs Emerson and I (and her doll Evelyn) pretended to be mermaids (and bond with the hotel owner over American Girl dolls – she has two granddaughters), Karl decided to do a load of dirty clothes in the motel laundry room. We had been putting our “beyond hope” dirty clothes in a mesh laundry bag and keeping it up in the cargo box while spot cleaning and sink washing whenever possible. He threw it all – bras, jeans, socks, a pair of Sanuks, my white off the shoulder top, you name it all in the washer and then the super hot dryer. And you know what? Everything came out fine and dandy!

monterey non smoker hotel roomAfter the pool we headed back to the room. It was too late in the day to see any attractions, so we turned on the news to find out the Vice Presidential candidate for Hillary Clinton and I got to important matters – trying to fix Emerson’s tablet.

When I was pregnant I swore I wouldn’t be THAT MOM. Lots of things I felt made THAT MOM – the one whose kid will only eat chicken nuggets, throw tantrums in restaurants, and is constantly on a tablet and “raised by a TV”. Ugh, I was so smug and so clueless.  You can do Baby Led Weaning and feed your child olives, hummus, and eggplant but still end up with a young child who will only eat chicken nuggets.  You can be sure your child gets enough sleep, discipline, and security and she may still throw a tantrum.  And sometimes, sometimes you're eternally grateful for apps that will entertain your kid so you can finish your meal, finish your conversation, and finish a road trip without screaming.  We received a free Samsung tablet a couple years ago with our phone upgrade, got it a cushy case and a screen protector, but we couldn't protect the teeny hole where the charger cord goes.  There's a little prong in there, and with regular putting in and pulling out of the charger cord by a 7-year-old, the prong bent and broke.  I realized there was nothing I could do to fix it, so I went on Amazon, found a tablet that would deliver next-day, reached out to our next hotel to let them know we would be receiving mail.  But while I could get it next day to my residence, choosing the address of the hotel in Texas they said it couldn't be delivered for three days.  We decided to order one to come to our home once we got back and to tough out the rest of the trip.

With our muscles stretched in the pool, freshly showered, and with freshly cleaned laundry, we were ready to go out and find a place for dinner.  The motel owner suggested the Church Street Cafe in Old Town Albuquerque.  She said it's so delicious and authentic she eats there herself and she's particular.  The Cafe was just a few blocks from our hotel, so we walked over.

Old Town Albuquerque is charming with little shops, restaurants, and businesses offering tours of the area (history, haunted houses, and plenty for Breaking Bad fans).  There was a concert taking place in Old Town Plaza, the green in front of the church for which the restaurant is named.  People were in the streets laughing, talking, dancing, and playing Pokemon Go.  Behind the church is Church Street, where the restaurant resides.

Church Street Cafe AlbuquerqueCasa de Ruiz, the house where Church Street Cafe resides, was built during the founding of Albuquerque sometime after 1706. This means Casa de Ruiz is one the oldest residence in Albuquerque and one of the oldest structures in the state of New Mexico.  The home remained in the Ruiz family until the last family member died in 1991. When she passed, Marie Coleman purchased the property and renovated it to become the restaurant.  We got there and found a line to check in.  Theyinformed us a table would be ready in about 30 minutes.  Emerson and I decided to check out the shops while Karl decided to take his camera and explore.

I can't recall what time exactly it was, but the sun was beginning to set and shops were beginning to close up.  While the area was full of people, most of the buildings were closed up.  We did get to visit a few gift and jewelry shops.  We went in one that had bins all over the place full of these dark metal bullet-shaped items called Zingers.  Didn't look too interesting, passed them by but when we were at the register the cashier showed us what Zingers are and why they are awesome.  Also known as Klickers and available in balls known as Singing Spheres or Stress Magnets, they are powerful hematite magnets.  Purchased in a pair, they provide hours of fun, especially for a kid who doesn't have a tablet.  Throw them in the air and they will connect and sing, or “zing.”  Put one on the top of the table, one below and you can do “magic” having the zinger slide around the table.  If you follow me on Snapchat you saw how the whole family enjoyed these at dinner, wearing them as earrings, barrettes, and even attaching to two sides of a nose.

Church Street Cafe Interior AlbuquerqueWe were a bit late buying the zingers and got to the restaurant where Karl was waiting for us at the table.  We then proceeded to have an utterly delicious meal in the most unique setting.  The building is still like a home with multiple rooms and an outdoor terrace.  We were seated in the large main room.  I asked the waitress her favorite dish; she said the chile rellenos so I ordered that while Karl got the vegetarian burrito and Emerson a quesadilla.  We all found our meals delicious, the setting charming, the restaurant short staffed (our waitress said someone missed their shift unexpectedly) but hard working and dedicated to doing the best they could with the crowd.

Church Street Albuquerque New MexicoAfter dinner, we were pretty exhausted so we headed back to the hotel.  The concert or festival was still taking place with even more people out in the streets around Old Town Plaza.  It was impossible to walk without bumping into people.  This wasn't due to it being so crowded or drunk people, but Pokemon Go.  We saw people walk into cars, into walls, into each other, walk in front of a moving car and keep walking without realizing the car slammed on its brakes (good thing it was moving slowly).  I'd tap someone's shoulder and say, “excuse me” to get through the crowd and they didn't move, didn't react.  It was insane; I had the game on my phone and Emerson and I had done it a bit together when back home but seeing these idiots of all ages being so oblivious caused me to delete the app as soon as we got back to the motel.

hot air balloon over monterey non smoker motel albuquerque hot air balloon albuquerqueThe next morning while we were getting ready, Karl came in the room and told us to come outside NOW. We were still in our pajamas but Karl used a tone we rarely hear so we dashed outside fearing the worst.  We came out and the sky was full of hot air balloons!  There was another family across the lot from us also out there, we were all trying to capture photos in our pajamas laughing.  One looked very low, we figured the launch spot must not be far away.  We got dressed, packed up, and headed to breakfast.  Driving down Central Ave/Route 66 to breakfast we saw the hot air balloon… it landed on a side street and was surrounded by police cars.

Thanks to many of your suggestions we had breakfast at Frontier Restaurant.  Opened in 1971, Frontier Restaurant is across from the University of New Mexico and is a landmark establishment in Albuquerque.  You order your food at a counter and sit in one of the many rooms.  This place gets super busy, but we were there so early we were only in line for a couple minutes.  The menu can be pretty overwhelming and there is a certain language and routine regulars likely get, but the staff is patient and kind to newbies and will guide you (red versus green, etc.) and offer suggestions.

Frontier Restaurant Breakfast AlbuquerqueLow in cost but high in flavor, we all were impressed by our breakfasts (I had the huevos rancheros) and the dated and kitschy yet charming decor.  Very clean, efficiently run, we're glad we chose it for our last meal in Albuquerque!

And with that, we were out.  It was pretty depressing because there is SO MUCH to see and do in and around Albuquerque. But we had a hotel booked in Texas for that evening so we said goodbye but promised to return some day!

What We Learned This Part of the Trip:

  • One night is not enough.  Heck, we learned this in Columbus on Night 1 of this trip!  However, it really didn't hit us until we visited Durango and Albuquerque.  If you're driving at least four hours to your destination, don't expect to do much more than day than eat somewhere interesting.
  • Let your kid have some control.  I know I mentioned this in the last post, but I think the key to everyone getting along and enjoying themselves is when each person has some control, some say, as well as some independence.  At 7, an afternoon in a motel pool can be even more special of a memory than seeing some landmark or museum.
  • Bring your own pillows.  We did that but at no hotel were they more appreciated than in Albuquerque.  I am not knocking the motel where we stayed, it was a fantastic value and quality for the $71 rate.  But if you have the room, pack your own pillows, it's worth it!

Next stop, Amarillo Texas!





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  1. I know this is an old post, but we spent the last week in ABQ while hubby interviewed for a job at UNM, and your food recommendations were very helpful! I think my favorite has been Frontier – I love a good breakfast place! So, thanks for blogging about your trip!

  2. I have enjoyed reading about your family roadtrip! Your trip went through much of my beloved homeland, the Navajo reservation. You traveling through NM (my homestate) and seeing all of the landscapes makes me homesick. Also, I love LOVE your bracelet!

  3. I am so loving your road trip account. Thank you for writing it. I’ve been to a few of the places you have visited and I feel like I’m there. We’ve been to Albuquerque many times and love it. My daughter’s favorite restaurant is the Church Street Cafe, and one of my favorites is the Frontier. The last time we were at the Frontier, we were just getting ready to walk in and witnessed a spectacular (fortunately no injuries) car crash right in front!
    When you go back to Albuquerque, which I’m sure you will, make sure you eat at Mary & Tito’s and get biscochitos (the New Mexican State Cookie) at the Golden Crown Panaderia. Both places are heaven.
    Looking forward to to your next chapter.

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