Native Culture for Kids in Albuquerque

Family travel opportunities in Albuquerque are chock full of mesmerizing Native American culture, offering a full immersion in everything from Native dancing to art, storytelling, volcanic petroglyphs, feasts, and fry breads. When traveling with kids, the first inclination is to seek out trendy attractions geared to little adventurers—but think twice about making those limitations! Children typically embrace authentic cultural experiences with saucer-eyed wonderment, leading to open minds and a curiosity that impacts them for a lifetime.

 

Indian Pueblo Cultural Center

Nineteen Pueblo tribes thrive in New Mexico, each a sovereign nation that cherishes traditional ways of living – including a deep fondness for children and families. One of the best places to introduce your kids to Native American life is at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center near downtown Albuquerque.

  • Drumming and Dancing: Who doesn’t love the beauty and whirling, twirling energy of Native dance and music performances? Every week, tribal members in full ceremonial dress enact their history, connect to their ancestors, and celebrate the significance of the seasons through elaborate dance rituals.
My six-year-old was enthralled with shows from the Hopi-Tewa Sinom Dancers and deeply moving interpretive story-dances from Cochiti Pueblo performers. Kids of all ages will love performances from more than a dozen Pueblo dance troupes as well as Apache, Hopi, Navajo, and Plains Style dancers. Check the schedule for a chance to see Zuni Olla Maidens, Big Thunder Dance Group, and the Pojoaque Red Turtle dancers.

  • Exhibits and Demonstrations: There’s plenty to capture young attention spans with Native arts and crafts, rotating exhibits, and collections of jewelry, pottery, weaving, clothing and traditional handmade toys. Each of the 19 Pueblos specializes in art forms perfected and handed down for generations. Many are prized collector’s items costing a pretty penny, but you can find affordable kid-friendly souvenirs at the tribal gift shop.

Pow Wow Dancer
Devoted to telling their stories and keeping traditions alive, tribal members often show up to share special arts and skills, including bread-making in a traditional adobe horno oven made of red clay and mud.

  • Children’s Camps: If you’re visiting Albuquerque in the summer, check dates for the Traditional Teachings Camps. Your little ones will deep-dive into storytelling circles, nature walks, traditional dance and music shows. They’ll also get the chance to take workshops in ancient printmaking, pottery, painting, and cooking Pueblo-style foods. Most families sign up for a full week of activities, but drop-ins are welcome with available space. Book early!
  • Pueblo Harvest Cafe & Bakery: Introduce the family to Native American cuisine at Pueblo Harvest Café, famous for its blue-corn concoctions and Indian fry bread with powdered sugar and honey. The kids will love Fried Kool-Aid Pickles and Rez Dogs, as well as Tewa Indian Tacos and the Blue Corn Chicken and Waffles.

You can also share the Pueblo Feast to sample a big pile of local dishes, topped off by the café’s signature Ohkay Owingeh Ovenbread Pudding with caramel sauce, raisins, and cranberries. Live music on weekends and fresh pizzas from the horno clay oven make family travel in Albuquerque a breeze.

While diving into the Pueblo food experience, take time to stroll the Resilience Garden, where kids discover centuries-old Pueblo farming techniques.

Tip: The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center operates a free shuttle on weekends from June through October, which runs between the center, Old Town, and the ABQ BioPark.

Feast Days and Pueblo Visits

In New Mexico, traditional Feast Days blend age-old American Indian ceremonies with elaborate, festive feasts and ceremonial dances. Each one tells a story, many involving animals, food, or harvest seasons. Brilliantly colored feathers, beads, embroidered clothing, and jewelry enhance the enchanting stories and dances.

  • Feasts Days: Tribal celebrations run throughout the year, and most Pueblo communities fully welcome the public to join in the fun. This is the perfect kid’s activity in Albuquerque, providing an opportunity to visit a real pueblo and experience Native culture outside of history books. They’ll be fascinated by the Corn Dance, Turtle Dance, Buffalo Dance, and dozens more, including special children’s shows.

Drumbeats keep things lively all day, along with heady aromas of piñon smoke from outdoor cooking. All around, there are pole climbs, ceremonial foot races, field blessings, pow-wows and dozens of stalls selling hand-woven baskets, arts and crafts, drums, carvings, weavings and turquoise jewelry. It’s also another excuse to gobble up some new incarnations of Indian fry bread, which is always a favorite with the little ones.

  • Acoma Pueblo: Also known as Sky City, Acoma is one of the closest pueblos to Albuquerque, about a 45-minute drive away. You can visit for Feast Days and celebrations, but it’s also open to travelers any time – especially those traveling with kids.  The Old City sits on top of a 365-foot sandstone mesa with at least 250 occupied dwellings, none of which have electricity or water. It’s been there since at least 1150 A.D. and is considered the oldest continually occupied community in North America. That’s a history lesson in and of itself!

Tip: When visiting a pueblo, it’s good idea to brush up on Native American cultural etiquette beforehand. And be aware that most pueblos charge a photography fee for each camera that you bring along.

Petroglyph National Monument

Head out to the Petroglyph National Monument for an earthy parade of ancient petroglyphic art etched into volcanic rock on Albuquerque’s West Mesa. More than 20,000 drawings, symbols, designs, and effigies turn the desert into a natural native art gallery that’s thousands of years old. Challenge the kids to find as many animal images as they can – which will be a lot.

  • Take along a picnic and hike through surreal landscapes of volcanic cinder cones, mesas, basalt boulders, and wildflower-flanked valleys. When traveling with children, you’ll want to use the three short trails running through Boca Negra Canyon. This is where to find about 100 of the petroglyphs. Little legs may still need some help, as it could take up to an hour of walking to spot all of them.
  • A good bet for the youngest family members is to take the Mesa Point Trail at Boca Negra, affectionately called the Lollipop Loop. It meanders for about half a mile, but has even shorter paths jutting off, filled with hidden petroglyphs. Lollipop Loop runs all the way to the top of the mesa for spectacular views.
  • Stop by the Petroglyph National Monument Visitor Center to pick up trail maps as well as children’s books with guided activities. Kids ages 6 to 13 can complete activity challenges and earn a Junior Ranger Badge, along with stickers and certificates. Sign up ahead of time for the WebRangers program and complete activities online before visiting the petroglyphs.

 

Old Town

The cobblestone streets and colorful adobe huts of Old Town Albuquerque make you feel as though you’ve been plopped down into yesteryear. Along with Spanish settlers, Native Americans have made their mark on the neighborhood since the early 1700s – and it shows.

  • Souvenirs: Indigenous arts and crafts are everywhere, so it’s the perfect place for finding native treasures to take home from your journey. Visit Old Town Emporium to find affordable storytelling dolls and kachina dolls, which are typically made by the Navajo or Hopi tribes and carved from the roots of cottonwood trees. It’s also a fun place to buy animal carvings and real moccasins.
  • More Kid Culture: While you’re in Old Town, let the kids loose at ABQ BioPark Aquarium and Zoo, where they’ll meet sharks, sea turtles, polar bears, snow leopards, and even baby giraffes. Ride the ¾ scale train that runs through Old Town with stops at the botanic gardens, aquarium, and zoo. It also lets you hop off at Tingley Beach for boating and fishing.

For one last dose of Native American culture, visit the Albuquerque Museum of Art & History, which also features a huge planetarium and dinosaur exhibits.

 

Regardless of how deep you delve into the intricacies of Albuquerque’s rich and meaningful past, there’s something magical about seeing your kids open their hearts and minds to cultures outside their own. Ultimately, it goes a long way toward raising a generation that cherishes diversity and tradition as much as technology and smartphones.

Wendy K. Leigh

Freelance Writer

Wendy is a travel journalist and photographer from Seattle. She’s also the owner of Delta Media Seattle and the Islands America travel blog.

19 Comments

  1. Travel has always been a true joy for me and a very big part of my life. What a joy it is to lean about culture and be a part of it. It also adds perspective to our lives, what we have, and don’t. Thanks for the article! xo~ D

  2. Totally agree with the sentiment that we shouldn’t tailor kids’ travel experiences in to trendy or purpose made attractions. Very often their natural curiosity breaks the barriers we sometimes place on them. Lots of great activities here – thanks for helping Alberquerque’s status on the traveller map 🙂

  3. We have always loved the southwest and the beauty that nature delivers. We would certainly be intrigued by all the of the activities offered. I have had the opportunity to enjoy a little bit of the petroglyphs national monument when I drove through Albuquerque one time. We would definitely want to spend time learning about all of the Native American history some day.

  4. I can imagine the Pueblo visits being quite educational for adults as well as kids – Although I’m not a parent (yet) I agree that kids shouldn’t be just taken to resort holidays and should be able to experience cultural experiences, like you say they are more likely to embrace the culture. A couple of my friends are traveling with their child and they say he’s learning so much more meeting people from other cultures and from around the world than he would do being at home. – I know they’re heading to the USA soon so I’ll pass this post onto them, I know they will be keen 😀

  5. I’ve honestly never added Albuquerque to my list of places to travel, but I really enjoyed reading about the variety of activities that you listed! And the fact that it has such rich culture makes it really intriguing!

  6. My kids are grown now, but you described exactly the type of learning we love! These Albuquerque attractions sound interesting for children and adults alike. I would welcome the chance to try some blue-corn concoctions, foodie that I am. I’m also a sucker for sweets…So Indian fry bread with powdered sugar and honey, and Ohkay Owingeh Ovenbread Pudding with caramel sauce, raisins, and cranberries? Count me in! This would be a fun-filled trip.

  7. It’s really fantastic to see the number of ways children can learn about and indulge in cultural experiences in Albuquerque. I don’t have children (yet) but I completely agree that its the age when they’re open to learning about other cultures and doing it in a fun way is an experience that’ll make them more understanding and receiving of others. The drumming and dancing rituals performed by the Native Americans sounds like a great experience as do the traditional teaching camps. A visit to the Petroglyph National Monuments sounds interesting too! Thanks for sharing these experiences!

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