New Mexico cities like Albuquerque and Santa Fe often steal all of the attention, but Las Cruces is another Southwestern destination to add to your road trip bucket list. This is a desert wonderland with mountain peaks, vast landscapes, fun festivals, and a relaxed vibe. This part of the state is also known for its delicious cuisine, friendly hospitality, and rich local culture. So, if you’d like to get to know New Mexico a bit better and what it has to offer, here are the top things to do when you swing by Las Cruces!
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Organ Mountains, Desert Peaks National Monument
If you love hiking and nature, then a trip to Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument is a must when you’re in the Southwest. This national monument spans about 496,000 acres and has everything from historic buildings to ancient rock formations. You can hike with your dog here, but make sure to watch the weather for extreme heat and bring plenty of water with you. The Organ Mountains are also great for bouldering if you’re looking to get in a little rock climbing practice and have some bouldering experience. Another great hiking area in the Las Cruces area to check out is Soledad Canyon, which is also popular among mountain bikers and horseback riders.
Old Mesilla Village
Old Mesilla Village is one of the most popular attractions in the Las Cruces area because of its history and charm. This community was established in 1848 and has a well-preserved culture still today. Come here to see the art, customs, and diversity that makes this region so unique. It’s fun to walk around the plaza, attend a local festival, see the adobe houses, and stop by a nearby brewery for a refreshment during your day.
Las Cruces Farmers & Crafts Market
If you happen to be in Las Cruces on a Wednesday or Saturday, check out the local farmer’s market and craft fair to pick up souvenirs or something fresh to eat. This is a great place to browse jewelry, ceramics, bath products, and wood crafts. And the fresh produce is brought in from local farmers in the region. The market is located in downtown Las Cruces on Saturdays from 8:30am to 1pm and spans seven city blocks along Main Street. It also takes place on Wednesdays at Plaza de Las Cruces from 8:30am to 1pm. The best part about this local tradition is that everything at the market is grown, crafted, or made by local artists, farmers, and craftspeople of New Mexico’s Dona Ana County.
Dripping Springs Natural Area
If you only have time to visit one part of the Organ Mountains, make it the Dripping Springs Natural Area. The area is only about 10 miles from Las Cruces but it well worth the short drive because of the hiking trails, desert plants, and dense woodlands. The Dripping Springs Trail is short and pretty easy. And if you’re lucky, you may see some wildlife, such as quails, hawks, coyotes, and lizards.
There’s also an art gallery called Art Obscura that visitors should check out while in Las Cruces. This is a gallery for curious souls who love browsing antiques, handmade jewelry, and collectibles. The gallery features events throughout the year that are fun to join and lists current shows on its website. There is no fee to come in and look around. You can stop by Thursday through Sunday from 10am to 7pm and Sunday from 11am to 4pm. Art Obscura will also buy antiques from people and show artists’ works for no upfront cost, just a commission off any sales made. Check the gallery’s website to see what will be going on while you’re in town or plan to visit.
New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum
It’s also fun to visit the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum when you’re in Las Cruces to learn more about the region. This is an interactive museum that’s both indoors and outdoors, featuring tools, art, and both permanent and temporary exhibits. There’s also a small theater and shop onsite to browse. New Mexico has thousands of years of agricultural history under its belt, so this heritage museum is a great way to spend an afternoon. It costs just $5 per adult and $3 per child ages four to 17 to visit this museum. It’s open from noon to 5pm on Sundays and from 9am to 5pm on the other days of the week.
The history of Las Cruces’ Fountain Theater dates back to the early 1900s and is a lovely entertainment venue to watch a show. This theater has showcased everything from plays to opera and lantern shows. It’s also a popular venue for the Mesilla Valley Film Society screenings. The Fountain Theater is near the Mesilla Plaza and the oldest movie house in New Mexico. Check out the film society’s website to see what’s playing when you’ll be in the area. Past showings include Let the Sunshine In, The Seagull, and Final Portrait. Another local theater of a different kind that’s also worth visiting is the No Strings Theatre Company. This is a community-based theater that features new works, puppet theater, improv, performance art, and more.
White Sands Missile Range Museum
Las Cruces also has a strong military history because the White Sands Missile Range covers thousands of miles in this part of the state. This is a huge military installation that was once used to test long-range rockets. There’s a museum here that you can visit to learn more about the history of the range and the missiles. Admission to the museum is free, and it’s open from 8am to 4pm on weekdays and from 10am to 3pm on Saturdays. There are over 50 items on display at any given time. The missile park itself is open every day from dawn to dusk. Of course, White Sands National Park is also certainly worth a visit to explore the otherworldly white sand dunes with epic views and picture-perfect photo opportunities everywhere you look.