Visitors can go from downtown Las Cruces to the mountains in less than 20 minutes.
Photo by Laurence Parent
In Las Cruces, New Mexico's second-largest city, urban amenities sidle up to the Western lifestyle. Surrounded by the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, hiking, camping, and horseback riding are never far at hand.
It's easy to trip over historic buildings in Mesilla, and Double Eagle is no exception. The building dates to 1849 — before the territory became part of the United States. The restaurant has an elegant air, with a 30-foot hand-carved oak and walnut bar in a chandelier-lit room and decorative pressed-tin ceilings accented in 18-karat gold. The menu leans sophisticated, too, with a dedicated beef-aging room priming hearty cuts and a Sunday champagne brunch.
La Posta de Mesilla
A former stop on the Butterfield stagecoach line, this historic building didn't become a restaurant until 1939. Today, the eatery still makes classic New Mexican recipes handed down through its purveyors' families. The most famous dish, Tostada Compueta, features a toasted corn tortilla cup filled with beans and red chile con carne and topped with lettuce, tomatoes, and cheddar cheese. It also serves the largest selection of margaritas in town.
The Pecan Grill and Brewery
This homegrown craft brewery offers 11 micro-brews on tap, but the pecan beer is a crowd pleaser — no surprise, since pecan orchards flourish in the Mesilla Valley. The pecans give the smooth American ale a nutty bent.
Beck's Roasting House & Creamery
Duck into this coffee shop in the Mesquite Historic District for locally roasted beans, a pour-over cup of joe, and scoops of micro-batch ice cream. Fittingly, the java ice cream has become a local favorite.
The Chile Pepper Institute grows global peppers.
Photo by gettyimages.com/andreashauslbets
New Mexico State University Chile Pepper Institute
This is the only international, nonprofit organization devoted to chile pepper education and study. University researchers discover and create new chile pepper varieties, like the Bhut Jolokia (aka the ghost pepper), once thought to be the hottest in the world. That pepper goes into the institute's signature line of hot sauces, which visitors can test their taste buds against while perusing chile paraphernalia. Visit during planting season to tour the institute's demonstration garden — just don't sample before asking.
Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument
Protecting everything from lava flows to sweeping stretches of Chihuahuan Desert, this wide-ranging monument also includes the Organ Mountains, whose rocky spires rise 9,000 feet over Las Cruces.
Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum
Chronicling 4,000 years of agricultural history in New Mexico, this family-friendly center showcases life-size displays of pit houses, canning rooms, and general stores. The standout of any visit, however, is meeting the Navajo-Churro sheep (whose fiber is used for weaving) and longhorn cattle in the pens on the 47-acre campus.
Rio Grande Theatre
This stately 1926 movie theater has once again become a focal point of downtown Las Cruces. The 426-seat venue hosts three to four events each week, from modern classic movie nights to touring cello virtuosos. The fully restored, two-story adobe theater — listed on the National Register of Historic Places — is the only one still operating in the country.
Photo by Photo by gettyimages.com/rightdx
Farmers and Crafts Market of Las Cruces
In 2011 — during the market's 40th anniversary — America's Farmland Trust named it the top large farmers market in the country. The year-round event, held on Saturdays and Wednesdays, features crops grown in Doña Ana County as well as a healthy harvest of crafters, from oil painters to those who carve chandeliers from reclaimed tin cans.
Organ Mountain Outfitters
This shop bursts with local pride, stocking a rainbow of T-shirts and clothing celebrating the desert lifestyle. Plus, every T-shirt gives back: The store donates a school lunch to a Las Cruces Public Schools student with each purchase.
Now in its seventh year, Las Cruces Country Music Festival (Oct. 21–23) attracts classic country acts like last year's headliner Dwight Yoakum, rising Nashville stars like Randy Houser, and local bands. The acts rotate across two outdoor stages during the three-day festival. www.lascrucescountrymusic.com
The city's favorite appetizer (besides good ol' chips and salsa) combines two top crops: pecans and chile. Corked bats are green chile strips breaded with ground pecans and fried to crispy perfection. Order them at either of The Game Sports Bar and Grill's two locations.
West of Las Cruces, this neighboring village is best known for history headlines: It was the site of the Gadsden Purchase, which transferred southwestern New Mexico to the United States, and the trial of Billy the Kid. The town maintains its historic charm through cultural traditions, including colorful Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations. The Basilica of San Albino, shops, and galleries frame the plaza.