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Los Alamos, New Mexico may be known for its history of developing and creating the atomic bomb, but the area has a ton to offer when it comes to adventure, scenery, and unique local culture. Situated atop a series of mesas at the base of the Jemez Mountains, Los Alamos town is about a 45-minute drive from Santa Fe, New Mexico, making it an easy afternoon trip to see some different sights. Visitors can get their full dose of World War II history if they choose, or stick with the mountains, mesas, and canyons for a more outdoorsy adventure. Whatever you may choose, Los Alamos is worth a visit.

13. Manhattan Project National Historic Park

an historic photo showing the main gate to los alamos during the manhattan project

(image via United States Army)

Home to the development of the atomic bomb during World War II, Los Alamos has a ton of history. Those stories can be explored through the sites of the Manhattan Project National Historic Park. It’s not your traditional “park,” however. Rather, it’s a series of sites around the county (including sites in two other states).

Tours start at the visitor center right in the middle of Los Alamos. The Manhattan Project was the name of the secret program that led to the creation of the atomic bomb. Visitors can learn about the historic facilities where parts were designed and assembled.

12. Los Alamos Nature Center

the exterior of the los alamos nature center

A great stop for kids and nature lovers of all ages, the Los Alamos Nature Center has fantastic views of the Los Alamos canyons and nearby Jemez mountain range. Inside, reptiles and spiders are on display, along with interactive educational displays.

Operated by the Pajarito Environmental Education Center (PEEC), the center has planetarium shows, talks, and other events to educate on the striking natural elements of the Los Alamos area. From the Bear Festival to birding outings to weekly outdoor yoga, events at PEEC are perfect for all ages. Admission is always free.

11. Los Alamos History Museum

an historic wood structure at the los alamos history museum

History lovers and families of veterans should pair this stop with the Manhattan Project tour and get the full picture of Los Alamos war history. The popular guided walking tour is just $15, where you’ll visit the homestead-era Romero Cabin. Further highlights include an Ancestral Pueblo site, stories of some of the most famous physicists in history, and a lesson in how Bathtub Row got its name.

The Los Alamos History Museum also offers $5 visits to the Oppenheimer House. The historic home of J. Robert Oppenheimer, known as the “father of the atomic bomb,” is a self-guided walking and driving tour.

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10. Bradbury Science Museum

an exhibit with two statues at the bradbury science museum

For history and science lovers, Bradbury Science Museum is the place to start. Featuring a thorough history of not only the development of the bomb in the 40s and how Los Alamos National Laboratory came to be, but also what the Lab continues to do today in support of fighting climate change, vaccine and virus modeling, nuclear energy, and Department of Energy and Defense projects, the museum is a hub for learning about a myriad of specialty science and defense programs. Friendly for kids and adults alike, the museum is also where to start for a historic walking tour of Los Alamos. Best of all, admission is free.

9. Enjoy the Scenic Views

a view down at los alamos from up in the surrounding mountains

(image via Maureen Lunn)

If you drive up to Los Alamos from Santa Fe, you have already seen some of the most striking views in the area, but there are always more to be had. On highway 502 up from Santa Fe, pull off at the overlook just a few miles outside of town to catch a panoramic of the Sangre de Cristos to the West and the Espanola Valley.

Apropos to its small-town vibe, one of the best views from Los Alamos is from the patio of its supercenter grocery store, Smith’s Marketplace, making it an oddly fantastic place to grab lunch. Hikes around the area will give you all sorts of angles on the canyons and mesas. Take the long route back to Santa Fe via White Rock Overlook to see the Rio Grande Gorge, with views spanning from Taos to the north and the Albuquerque area to the south, all from one easy access point.

8. Breweries or Bust

two glasses of beer from bathtub row brewing co-op

Los Alamos locals can always be found at the small town’s two popular microbreweries, Bathtub Row Brewing Co. and Boese Bros. Brewing. Located just across a parking lot from one another, both locales feature indoor and outdoor seating and a full menu of New Mexico-made brews. Boese, whose parent brewery is located in Albuquerque, has a fantastic bar food menu with sandwiches and sides, plus a more diverse drink menu featuring a couple of cocktail options on any given day. Bathtub Row is a co-op, supported by the local resident beer drinkers, and has a gorgeous patio surrounded by local foliage and a weirdly cool history. Get a tasting flight delivered in a tiny wooden bathtub, and ask about the history of the brewery’s name.

7. Taste the Town

croissants at a french bakery in los alamos new mexico

(image via Maureen Lunn)

In addition to the best breakfast burritos around (see #2!), Los Alamos has dining options for every taste. On weekdays, check out Yuan’s Dumpling House for the most authentic Chinese food you’ll find in the Southwest. Find more Asian fusion at Red Dragon Bowl, where you can build your own noodle or rice bowl. Visit Blue Window for bistro dining (get the steak frittes salad), or grab a fish and chips at Pajarito Brewpub just down the road.

Los Alamos residents also love their food trucks–so much that some have recently opened brick and mortar locations. Muy Salsas LA is one such location, offering home-cooked Mexican fare by the long-time chef and owner herself. After satisfying your hunger, don’t miss Los Alamos’s newest craft cocktail bar The Long Pour (next door to Boese Brew Co.).

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6. Pajarito Ski Area

a snowy ski area at pajarito

(image via Maureen Lunn)

Open to the public for skiing, hiking, and mountain biking year-round, the Pajarito Ski Area is one of the best spots to catch some views of Los Alamos from above while getting in your steps. In the warmer months, it’s filled with hikers and bikers, often running lift-served biking on the weekends. Hikers can stick toward the base or make the approximately 1,000-foot increase in elevation by heading up the mountain on trails that vary in difficulty. Visit in October to catch the mountain’s renowned Ullr Fest, a beer-focused event welcoming the cooler months, and enjoy the golden views as the Aspens turn. In the skiing months, Pajarito is likely the cheapest lift ticket money can buy, and well worth it for the top-notch mountain, despite its humble lodge and lifts.

Admission: Free for hiking and biking, lift tickets start at $48

5. Valles Caldera

a landscape view of valles caldera

(image via Maureen Lunn)

A 14-mile depression in the earth formed by magma collapse, the Valles Caldera is as unique to the American landscape as its much more well-known cousin, Yellowstone National Park. The two locations are actually a similar geologic features. The Valles Caldera, located about a 20-minute drive outside of Los Alamos, is one of the largest calderas in the world. You can view it from the overlooks on the highway above; bring your binoculars as elk herds and coyotes are commonly visible, especially in the evenings and cooler months. Or drive into the main entrance, where you’ll be welcomed by myriads of prairie dogs, and for TV lovers, have a chance to see the cabin used for the filming of the popular series Longmire. In the Valles, have a chat with the Park Rangers to make a plan for a short hike near the entrance, or a drive into the backcountry. In the winter months, it’s the best place for snowshoeing, novice and advanced alike.

4. Free Fridays

a fountain in ashley pond at sunset in los alamos new mexico

(image via Maureen Lunn)

From Memorial to Labor day, Los Alamos holds the free Los Alamos Summer Concert Series every Friday night at Ashley Pond. The locals come swarming in for the 7 pm show, which usually features two musical acts. One might expect these shows to be played by a couple of local scientists who formed a cover band (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), but the headliners are often big names from around both the region and the country. Local distilleries, breweries, and food trucks often show up, but Los Alamos is a county with no open-container restrictions, which means attendees are invited to bring beverages of their choice to enjoy the show. Fridays at the Pond are super kid- and dog-friendly, and a great place to enjoy some music with a Jemez sunset to boot.

3. Bandelier National Monument

a ladder up into the historic rock dwellings at bandelier national monument

(image via Maureen Lunn)

Bandelier National Monument preserves the homes of the Ancestral Pueblo people. The cliffside homes and round kivas date back to the 1100s and are nestled in a gorgeous canyon—essentially a beautiful outdoor museum. Prepare to walk anywhere from 1-4 miles, as the initial loop to see the cliffside homes is short, but visitors can continue on to the end of the Monument to visit the Alcove House, the site’s largest cliffside space located a 140-foot ladder climb above ground. The extra walk is highly recommended, but those with a phobia of heights should stay grounded and enjoy the views of others’ climbs. Look out for instructions on their website for parking during summer, as a shuttle bus is often required to access the Monument—many vehicles that arrive prior to 9 am, though, can drive straight into the parking lot.

Admission: $25 or an America the Beautiful annual pass

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2. Snag a Breakfast Burrito

a sign for chili works restaurant in los alamos new mexico

(image via Maureen Lunn)

Los Alamos’ most well-loved burrito joint is Chili Works, which appears to be a literal shack nestled behind the Sonic Drive-In. Prepare your order in advance as the sole gentleman who works the register is a fast mover, and all burritos are to-go. While the locals argue over who has the best breakfast burrito between Chili Works, El Parasol, Morning Glory, and Viola’s (the latter three where you can get a table), visitors should know that these aren’t the kind of burritos you can eat in the car while you drive to your next destination—due to the size and chile “smotheredness,” you’ll need to have a proper sit-down breakfast. If you’re not up for a massive burrito, grab a green chile bagel at Ruby K’s Bagels!

1. Hike the Jemez

a hiker standing in a stream of water in the Jemez Mountains

(image via Maureen Lunn)

The Jemez Mountains sit along the West side of the mesas and canyons of Los Alamos and are packed with striking views and hiking opportunities. From the burnt forests of past destructive wildfires to the soothing streams of the Las Conchas trail to the open plains of the Valles Caldera, the Jemez offers days and days worth of unique outdoor adventures. Hikers of all abilities and ages will enjoy the forested stream of the Las Conchas trail; the more adventurous should start on the back-end of the same trail for a water-wading adventure (bring hiking poles).

Either a sturdy 4-wheel drive vehicle or a 6-mile hike from the main road will take you to San Antonio hot springs, which is a truly iconic natural hot pool deep in the forest (Google it to know whether the main gate is open, allowing for vehicles). Whether you hike, bike, climb, or soak, the Jemez is a true natural adventure that is New Mexico true through and through.


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Interested In More Suggestions?

As you can see, Los Alamos has a lot to offer everyone. If you are looking to do more in the surrounding area, check out other weekend trips from nearby Los Alamos.

These areas are perfect for a quick day trip or a long weekend getaway. Explore our favorite things to do or peruse some pre-built itineraries.

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