Los Alamos is a hidden gem in North Central New Mexico for nature lovers, science lovers, and families.
For the second year in a row, Los Alamos was ranked as America’s Healthiest Community by U.S. News & World Report. Los Alamos has spectacular scenery, unusual high-altitude recreational adventures, ancient village sites, and small-town friendliness. It is best known for its dynamic technology development.
Let’s explore Los Alamos, just a 40-minute drive northwest of Santa Fe, where you’ll find things to do for the whole family.
Things To Do In Los Alamos
Los Alamos is the gateway to three national monuments and sites that kids will love.
Bandelier National Monument
Bandelier National Monument, named for 19th-century anthropologist Adolph Bandelier, has 33,677 acres of magnificent canyons, mesas, and several thousand Ancestral Pueblo dwellings. The 10,000-foot elevation brings significant snow in the winter, and in the summer, temperatures may vary from 70–40 degrees Fahrenheit with rainstorms.
Begin your exploration of Bandelier with a hike along the 1.4-mile Main Pueblo Loop Trail, starting at the visitor center and leading through archaeological sites along the floor of Frijoles Canyon. Part of the trail is handicapped accessible. Hike the 3-mile round trip from Falls Trail to the majestic Upper Falls.
During the summer, attend the ranger-led programs like astronomy nights, bat strolls, survival lessons, or night walks. See the heritage demonstrations of traditional music and dance, pottery making, or food preparation, and get a free permit at the visitor center for overnight back-country camping.
Tent camping is available in two campgrounds: Juniper, for groups of 10 or less, on a first-come, first-serve basis; and Ponderosa, for groups of 10 or more, requiring a reservation for tent sites, picnic tables, pit toilets, and small cooking shelters.
You’ll find all kinds of wildlife in the park, including mule deer, mountain lions, bighorn sheep, lizards, salamanders, and various birds, including the mountain chickadee. Watch out for any tarantulas you find; they’re protected.
Valles Caldera National Preserve
A volcanic eruption created the Valles Caldera National Preserve over 1.25 million years ago. The caldera, or volcanic crater, is a depression 12–15 miles in diameter with walls varying from a few hundred to over 2,000 feet above the floor.
You can find wildlife ranging from Gunnison prairie dogs, badgers, coyotes, golden eagles, and the second-largest elk herd in New Mexico. Enjoy hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, and exploring prehistoric sites and abandoned cabins. The closest overnight camping is in Jemez (Hey-mess) Springs.
Manhattan Project National Historical Park
Three cities form The Manhattan Project National Historical Park: Los Alamos, New Mexico; Oak Ridge, Tennessee; and Hanford, Washington. The park is known for developing the atomic bomb and introducing the “Nuclear Age,” the most significant event of the 20th century. Kids can participate in the Junior Ranger Program.
Historic Walking Tour
Get your historic walking tour map at Discover Los Alamos Visitor Center and explore the history museum and shop, the Baker House, the Fuller Lodge, the Memorial Rose Garden, the Romero Cabin, and the Bradbury Science Museum.
Bradbury Science Museum
Experience more than 40 interactive exhibits within the Bradbury Science Museum’s three galleries: history, defense, and research, a window into Los Alamos National Laboratory. Two 16-minute films throughout the day reveal the race to build the first atomic bomb during the Manhattan Project, and the lab’s efforts today to ensure the nuclear project’s safety, security, and reliability.
Hands-on experiments in the Tech Lab show children and families the scientific and technical concepts of life sciences, space achievements, supercomputing, energy, and the environment.
Los Alamos History Museum And Bathtub Row
A visit to the Los Alamos History Museum begins in the restored Los Alamos Ranch School Guest Cottage. The exhibits take visitors through four areas: the Pajarito Plateau’s Ancestral Pueblo People, the homesteading history, the ranch school era, and finally, the Manhattan Project.
See Harold Agnew’s Cold War Gallery at the Hans Bethe House with exhibits featuring the 70-plus years of Cold War history in the laboratory and the community. You will observe a Nobel Prize display, scientist profiles, atomic weapon models, and the city as a civil defense community.
The Romero Cabin offers a glimpse back 100 years ago to area homestead cabins and the original footprints of the Ancestral Pueblo rooms and kiva.
The last house on Bathtub Row is the Oppenheimer House, currently under renovations, with innovative housing exhibits scheduled to open in fall 2022.
Los Alamos Nature Center
Perched along Canyon Road, Los Alamos Nature Center offers a passport to hike the Pajarito Plateau’s extensive trail system. Browse the gardens, play in the nature area, learn about local animals and plants, or attend planetarium shows, hosted talks, and guided hikes.
Jemez Mountain Trail Scenic Byway
One of eight “byways” in the state, the 132-mile loop offers scenic views, historical and cultural pueblos, natural bubbling hot springs, desert cliffs, and snowy alpine peaks. Depending on how often you stop, you can easily spend a day here. Head west toward Jemez Springs, through Bandelier National Monument, and drive up a thousand feet in elevation to Valles Caldera — the volcanic crater boasting hot springs, fishing, and grazing elk at a 9,000-foot elevation.
Stop at Jemez Falls Campground, where an easy quarter-mile hiking trail leads down to a beautiful waterfall. Drive to Battleship Rock and take the short, steep hike to McCauley Warm Springs. Proceed along SR 4 to Soda Dam, and then to the Jemez State Monument, the historic pueblo, and the mission. Past the Gillman Tunnels, stop at Ponderosa Valley Vineyard and Winery, the largest riesling vineyard in New Mexico. Visit Jemez Pueblo and Walatowa Visitor Center and then return to Los Alamos.
Located in a more remote section of Bandelier National Park, hike 1.5 miles along a mesa to see petroglyphs and the Ancestral Pueblo village of Tsankawi. Ladders are required to access the trail. Use caution during thunderstorms since the course is very exposed to the elements.
Anderson Scenic Overlook
My favorite place to watch expansive sunsets is Anderson Scenic Overlook, 5 miles from Los Alamos on Highway 502 as you head west into town. You’ll see gorgeous views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the Rio Grande Valley.
Fuller Lodge Art Center
Visit Fuller Lodge Art Center, a beautiful art gallery in the historic Fuller Lodge wing. The rotating exhibit hosts over 100 local and regional artists, as well as classes for all ages and a gift shop with art for sale.
Los Alamos County Golf Center
One of the oldest 18-hole golf courses in the state, the Los Alamos County Golf Course was built in 1947 by the Atomic Energy Commission. You’ll play through cottonwoods and ponderosa pines with small greens and sloping fairways — a challenge for all playing levels. Fresh mountain air at 7,400 feet makes the drives go flying.
Restaurants In Los Alamos
Serving lunch and dinner in Los Alamos for over 40 years, Blue Window Bistro boasts fresh, locally-sourced, and seasonal food made from scratch, like the smoked gouda and artichoke dip, fried green tomato with crab stack, or chicken cobb salad. Order the black angus beef burger, vegetarian garden burger, or for your mains, jumbo sea scallops or filet mignon. Save room for tiramisu or my favorite, limoncello mascarpone cake.
Found my chocolate place! Rose Chocolatier offers gourmet chocolates and pastries made fresh daily. Add an espresso, coffee, tea, or Italia soda, or special order a cake, candies, pastries, or hot cocoa. The homemade fudgesicles are heavenly.
Viola’s Restaurant has been serving Mexican food breakfasts and lunches since 1988. You’ll find classic breakfasts plus huevos rancheros or quesadillas, Mexican food lunch combos, burgers, sandwiches, and homemade posole and sopapillas with prompt and friendly service.
Pajarito Brewpub and Grill has 28 beers to choose from, plus the best all-American burger anywhere. Try the stuffed green chile burger, the pastrami burger with Swiss cheese and Russian dressing, or shrimp and grits. They now fill growlers of beer.
Hotels In Los Alamos
Nestled on 3 acres of pine forest, just 4 miles from Los Alamos, the Pueblo Canyon Inn and Gardens is 20 minutes from Bandelier and Caldera. Choose from five bedrooms in the main house; a two-bedroom, two-bath with a full kitchen; or a round studio cabin. A continental breakfast is provided, which includes muffins, bread, fruit, yogurt, cereal, hard-boiled eggs, juice, coffee, and tea. Dine in the breakfast room or take it to go. Enjoy a piano, pool table, outdoor kitchen, a putting green, treehouse, gardens, and chickens.
For just the two of you, Hacienda del Cerezo is 12 miles northwest of Santa Fe on 336 acres, surrounded by over 150,000 acres of the Tesuque Indian Reservation, the Horcado Ranch area, and the old Jacona Spanish Land Grant. The all-inclusive resort — with a full breakfast, lunch, a five-course dinner, and wines — was listed as one of the “25 Best American Lodges” by Travel & Leisure. The Hacienda is a large home with only 10 guest suites. Each has its own privately-enclosed patio, fireplace and sitting area, king bed, oversize baths with large Jacuzzi tubs, separate showers, water closets, and bidets.
Pro Tip: You may decide to move here after your visit. Los Alamos has the best school district in the state. It’s also the best county to live in America, the safest city in New Mexico, and the 17th best small town in America.