With “Oppenheimer” a Breakout Summer Flick, It’s a Great Time to Visit New Mexico

“Oppenheimer,” is one of the hottest movies of the summer. Even President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill took it on their vacation. So now might be a great time to plan a trip to where the Atomic Era started. Visit Albuquerque and a take a day trip to Los Alamos. But as our venerable travel writer discovered, there is a lot more to see than the just the birthplace of the atomic age.

| 04 Aug 2023 | 06:31

Albuquerque is the perfect spot to start seeing and experiencing parts of the dawn of atomic era in the United States. And if that is not your thing, it has great food, good lodgings, and diversity of museums, and green spaces and has been the setting for tv and movie making since the early 1900s. Here’s some of the must see places.

The National Museum of Nuclear Science & History: It features exhibits on the Atomic Age from early development of nuclear technology to today’s uses of nuclear energy. There are many displays relating to “Oppenheimer.” One exhibit. “Critical Assembly, the Secrets of Los Alamos 1944: An Installation by American Sculptor Jim Sanborn” explores the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos. It includes original electronic instruments, hardware, tools and more used at Los Alamos during the 1940s. You can also see the flag raised at the Trinity Site in 1945. The museum provides a well-detailed, information-rich introduction to events in the nuclear realm from the 1930s to today. Most chilling, in a strange way, is an exact replica of the original Trinity Tower, complete with a model of the first atomic bomb to detonate in July, 1945. Nearby stands a restored B-29 bomber. On top stands incongruously, a wooden shipping container for an atomic bomb, ready to be transported to its destination. https://www.nuclearmuseum.org/

There is a scene in “Oppenheimer” where a train arrival is shown with a huge Santa Fe Railway steam locomotive pulling an express train into the station at Lamy, NM, the closest station to Los Alamos. You can see a replica at The New Mexico Steam Locomotive & Railroad Historical Society. Free hard hat tours are offered, weather permitting, on Wednesdays and Saturdays 9am to 2pm.


About 100 miles north of Albuquerque, the remote town of Los Alamos is the Bradbury Science Museum that has on display until October 16, “J. Robert Oppenheimer: The Exhibit” which allows visitors to see objects related to him, mastermind of the Manhattan Project, “father of the atomic bomb” and the Laboratory’s first director. Items on view include Oppenheimer’s handwritten notes on the wartime Lab and his personal copy of the Bhagavad Gita, the sacred Hindu text he turned to for poetic inspiration in the wake of the Trinity test. The exhibit also features documents related to his 1954 security clearance trial and the Department of Energy’s 2022 order to vacate the trial decision. There are also about 60 interactive exhibits that trace the history of the WWII Manhattan Project, highlight the Laboratory's current and historic research projects related to defense and technology https://www.lanl.gov/museum/exhibitions/tech-lab/index.php


With many choices in the Albuquerque area, the Old Town/Sawmill District is a lively and fun neighborhood to be in. You will want to stay at the Hotel Albuquerque, an older restored former chain hotel, or next door at sister property, the Hotel Chaco. Both are near quite a few museums.

There are almost too many museums in Albuquerque, all different, all unusual in their presentations. Here are a diverse few that you will want to visit:

Albuquerque Museum: Art, people and culture are this museum’s trifecta. It’s a close walk from Old Town, filled with 10,000 works of art, 27,000 historical objects, and more than 130,000 items in photo archives focusing on art in New Mexico. Not huge, but enthralling. https://www.cabq.gov/artsculture/albuquerque-museum

Indian Pueblo Cultural Center: Opened in 1976 the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, is dedicated to the preservation and perpetuation of Pueblo Native American culture, history and art. There are 19 Pueblos or tribal communities in New Mexico each a sovereign nation with its own government, lifestyle, traditions, and culture. The center is part of 80 acres of land, collectively owned by the 19 Pueblos. Displays enhanced by artifacts and exhibits discuss the history of Native American cultures in the state from prehistoric to modern times. ohttps://indianpueblo.org/

The Wheels Museum: Housed in the 21,000 square foot former AT&SF Railway storehouse building, it was established to preserve the history of transportation.With exhibits related to wheeled transportation, it is a treasure trove of cars, trucks, model trains and cars, communications, and lots more. http://wheelsmuseum.org/

Old Town: Long before Manhattanite J Robert Oppenheimer first came to New Mexico in 1942, one of the first villages in the future state was established in 1706 as a Spanish settlement. It is anchored by the 1793-built San Felipe de Neri Church. The Spanish, Mexican, United States and Confederate flags have flown over Old Town Plaza. There are over local 100 shops, galleries and restaurants, perfect for casual strolling. While Old Town is largely commercial, it’s quiet and great for an hour or a longer visit.https://www.albuquerqueoldtown.com/

Want to learn more with a guide? Two possibilities exist, both starting and ending in Old Town; Daily 75-minute, one mile scheduled public history strolls are offered, which flesh out the interesting history of Old Town since the 1700s. https://www.abqtours.fun/

Want to learn more about Albuquerque beyond Breaking Bad? The 100 minute ABQ Trolley Tour is a quick and informative way to view the city on a fully-narrated, multimedia, guided tour. You will discover film locations of major motion pictures and television, a beach (!), unusual architecture, pass many museums, “spaceship” houses and a wide diversity of neighborhoods. The trolley tours are offered May-October and during the Holiday Season.https://www.tourabq.com/abqtrolley

Sandia Peak Tramway: The 2.7 mile-long Sandia Peak Tramway cars ascend from 6500 feet above sea level to 10,300feet above sea level. Atop the summit, it’s 15-30 degrees cooler than the temperatures in thecity. There, you can enjoy the views, hike or check out TEN 3 restaurant with magnificent viewsas you dine. At the summit, it’s possible to see 11,000 square miles of land, both arid andtemperate. There is no timed return, just make sure you are on the last car down to the base,which can be as late as 10pm.https://sandiapeak.com/about/https://ten3tram.com/get-here/


New Mexican cuisine combines facets of Native American, Spanish, Mexican and Latininfluences. Key elements are green chiles and piñon nuts. From the little mom and pops to the fanciest restaurants, you will embrace this unique cooking style. Here’s a few suggestions:

Church Street Cafe: Originally the Casa de Ruiz, built in the early 1700s, it is one of the oldest structures in New Mexico https://www.churchstreetcafe.com/.

Garduno’s This in-house, full-service dining option at the Hotel Albuquerque provides meal service from 7AM to 11PM. A large dining space and full-service bar are a casual place to dine on great Mexican food standards. https://www.hotelabq.com/eat_drink/gardunos/

Level 5 Restaurant Located in the Hotel Chaco in the Sawmill District, Rooftop restaurant Level 5 has a distinct NYC twist with native Bronx chef Marc Quiñones creating the cuisine which, a favorite of locals.https://www.hotelchaco.com/eat_drink/level-5/

Monroe’s Restaurant started in 1962 as a small drive-in near Old Town. The vibe here is an Upper East Side coffee shop crossed with a terrific (New) Mexican restaurant. happy.https://monroeschile.com/

Sawmill Market is at the epicenter of the eponymous Sawmill District, with almost 30 different stalls. Different beverage vendors offer all kinds of adult beverages, with one providing 10 different draft beers on tap. Tapas, poke, tacos, sushi, doner kebabs, french pastries, salads,rotisserie chicken; that is part of the list. https://www.sawmillmarket.com/

For more assortment, https://www.visitalbuquerque.org/cuisine/

TRAVEL INFORMATION Currently, JetBlue offers the only nonstop to and from Albuquerque, leaving JFK at 7:29 PM arriving Albuquerque at 10:18 PM Mountain Time, with a return at 11:40pm from there, arriving JFK at 5:40 AM. Other major carriers offer connections from LaGuardia to Albuquerque and back, which offer better time flexibility. Enjoy your trip! https://www.visitalbuquerque.org/