A Travel Guide to Las Vegas, New Mexico

Restoring the Historic Charms of New Mexico’s Lesser-Known Wonders: Las Vegas, New Mexico

On the East side of the South end of the Sangre De Cristo Mountain Range in Northern New Mexico is the historic town of Las Vegas. Often overshadowed by its flamboyant namesake in Nevada, New Mexico’s Las Vegas, with its quaint charm and deep-rooted heritage, offers a unique and immersive journey back in time. Founded in 1835 this Las Vegas predates Vegas by several decades. Downtown Las Vegas, a designated National Historic Landmark District, is a living museum of architectural treasures, and as you wander the streets, you are transported into a medley of Victorian-style homes, adobe buildings, and ornate storefronts. The Plaza, the heart of the town, is flanked by historic buildings and is a hub of cultural events and local gatherings.

                When I’m in town I always manage to find myself at The Castaneda Hotel, a very reasonably priced historic hotel with only 16 rooms that stands as a symbol of the railroad era's opulence and promises a glimpse into the past, as well as the present. The Castaneda Hotel closed in 1948 and was restored and reopened in 2019, it is a beautiful historic building with the simplicity and elegance of late 19th century panache. Originally opened in 1898, The Castaneda Hotel was the first of Fred Harvey’s famous trackside Harvey Houses [1]along the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway, directly connecting Las Vegas, New Mexico to Los Angeles and Chicago. The line is still used today by Amtrak—the station is directly adjacent to the hotel. Imagine hopping on the train at your nearest station and skating into America’s beautiful Southwest, stopping in Las Vegas, New Mexico and walking to the Castaneda Hotel, getting dinner at the hotel restaurant, Trackside at the Castenada—one of my favorites, the menu is both affordable and delectable, and the atmosphere will undeniably transport you to a different time. Then spending the next few days exploring historic downtown Las Vegas, New Mexico, only a mile from the Castaneda.

        Castaneda Hotel


Cultural Vibrancy

Art galleries like the El Zocalo and Fat Crow Press Studio and Mercantile showcase local and international artists, contributing to the town's artistic flair. It is the art galleries, for me, throughout Santa Fe, Toas, and Las Vegas that impressed an awe-inspiring appreciation for the American Southwest, and although Santa Fe, New Mexico is known worldwide for the arts, towns like Las Vegas maintain a strong heritage of both historic and contemporary art alike applying a perspective and creativity that are not widely reproduced. And most of the town’s galleries are in the historic downtown area, in the plaza, and along Bridge Street making it possible to easily find and walk to your destinations.

The annual Rough Rider Motorcycle Rally and the Fourth of July Fiestas infuse the town with a celebratory energy, drawing visitors and locals alike to join in the festivities throughout the month of July. The Rough Riders were recruited by Theodore Roosevelt throughout the Southwest because of their rugged frontier lifestyle. The first reunion of the regiment was held in Las Vegas, New Mexico in 1899. The Rough Rider Motorcycle Rally aims to return a similar sense of camaraderie, as well as an appreciation for the history of the Rough Riders to Las Vegas. After being recruited, the Rough Riders met and trained in San Antonio, Texas, where their “official” recruitment took place in the Menger Hotel Bar directly adjacent to the Alamo[2].


Natural Splendor & Hidden Gems

Las Vegas, New Mexico, is surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty. Just a short drive away, the stunning landscapes of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the expansive plains of the Great Plains offer a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Hiking trails, fishing spots, and camping sites abound, inviting visitors to immerse themselves in the tranquility of nature. Beyond the well-known attractions, Las Vegas harbors hidden gems waiting to be discovered. The City of Las Vegas Museum and Rough Rider Memorial Collection houses a trove of artifacts and stories that unravel the town's colorful history. The Old Town Plaza Park, a serene oasis, invites visitors to unwind amidst its peaceful ambiance. For those intrigued by the supernatural, the historic Plaza Hotel, reputed to be haunted, offers ghost tours that delve into the eerie tales of its past.


Culinary Delights

The town's culinary scene is a delightful blend of flavors. From traditional New Mexican cuisine at renowned local spots like Charlie's Bakery and Café, to international fusion offerings at The Skillet and Indigo Theater Bistro, there is a dish for every palate. Don't miss the chance to savor some authentic green Chile dishes, a hallmark of New Mexican cuisine, and experience the underlying essence of Las Vegas. The food was another attraction for me to the Southwest. Granted, opening my palate to new flavors and culinary ideas was an acquired journey, but once open to it I developed an entirely new appreciation for cuisine in general, still there remains a special place for Southwest cooking.


Preserving the Legacy

While Las Vegas, New Mexico, embraces its past, it also looks towards the future. Efforts to preserve and restore historic buildings, coupled with initiatives to promote sustainable tourism, ensure that the town's legacy remains intact for generations to come. Las Vegas might not boast the glitz and glamour of its famous counterpart—if you’re into that sort of thing; I find Las Vegas, Nevada to be excessive and inordinate, but to each their own—Las Vegas, New Mexico—although aside from the history, the landscape, and the cuisine—you might find it difficult when in search for something to “do,” if “walking,” and “enjoying,” don’t fit with your idea of what it means to be doing “something”—what it does offer is something equally, if not more captivating: an authentic glimpse into America's past, a melting pot of culture and history, and a warm embrace from a community proud of its roots. For travelers seeking a unique and immersive experience, a journey to this hidden gem is a step back in time, an exploration of culture, and an invitation to be part of a story that continues to unfold. Las Vegas, New Mexico, awaits, ready to charm and captivate those willing to uncover its treasures.


[1] Known in contemporary popular culture thanks to the film The Harvey Girls starring Judy Garland.

[2] I have spent a good bit of time in Menger Hotel, and the Menger’s hotel bar, and have been aware of the affiliation between the Menger Bar and the Rough Riders for most of my life. Learning of the Rough Rider’s history in Las Vegas, New Mexico was a pleasant surprise. 

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