The city of Las Cruces in the state of New Mexico actually means ‘The Crosses’ in Spanish.
Whether or not this was meant to refer to actual crosses is unknown and now the city is more likely to be referred to as ‘The Crossroads’ due to its strategic position at a crossroads between two highways.
The city is famous for being the temporary home of legends such as Billy the Kid and the Mexican general Pancho Villa and the area was known for being a haven for miners in the days of old.
Nowadays Las Cruces is on the map thanks to its delicious and varied New Mexican food as well as its charming mix of southwestern hospitality, history, and culture.
Let’s have a look at the best things to do in Las Cruces:
1. Old Mesilla
If you travel to the south of Las Cruces you will come to the village of Mesilla, historically significant for being the place where the infamous Billy the Kid was put on trial.
Nowadays Old Mesilla has delightful shops that sell handicrafts from the region and if you want to try some authentic Mexican food then you have come to the right place.
Old Mesilla is also said to be haunted by miners and historical figures that lived and died in the area in the days of old so if you are feeling brave you can join a walking tour of the downtown plaza area which people believe is full of ghosts.
2. Fort Seldon State Monument
Dating from 1865, Fort Seldon was built by the United States Army as a fortification to protect the local population who settled in the Mesilla Valley area.
Nowadays much of the fort is gone but the adobe style brick fortifications still exist for visitors to explore and there is also a fascinating and insightful visitor center that has a permanent exhibition that explains all about life on the frontier.
If you happen to be here at the weekend then there are often live demonstrations that will make you feel as if you have stepped back in time.
3. Las Cruces Museum of Art
The Las Cruces Museum of Art has a mission statement to promote artwork in the Las Cruces area and the New Mexico region.
The museum has a range of permanent exhibitions as well as temporary exhibits that relate to the area and rotate throughout the year.
There are also lectures that accompany many of the exhibitions which include different art mediums like sculpture, photography, and painting.
Demonstrations and art classes are also held at the museum and the focus here is on contemporary art and supporting local up and coming artists in the region.
4. Las Cruces Farmers and Crafts Market
If you happen to be in Las Cruces on a Wednesday or a Saturday then head on down to the local Farmers and Crafts Market that is held from sunrise until the afternoon.
If you are looking for souvenirs from the region then this is one of the best places to find them and you can pick up items like handmade jewelry, leather goods, and local ceramics and pottery pieces.
As well as souvenirs you can also expect lots of tasty food, all of which is fresh from the farm.
5. Railroad Museum
Head down to the Santa Fe Depot, a historically significant part of Las Cruces and you will find the Railroad Museum which is the perfect place for those who love trains.
The Railroad museum has a range of permanent exhibitions that tell the story of the evolution of the railroads in and around Las Cruces and there is period memorabilia on display.
There are also model railways on show including model tracks and maps of the railroad lines.
The crowning glory of the site is a real caboose which is sadly no longer in operation but still gives a great flavor of train travel in Las Cruces.
6. La Vina Winery
Many visitors to Las Cruces don’t realize that the weather here makes it the perfect place for making wine as the dry heat helps the grapes to grow and ripen.
As a result, there are a wealth of wineries all over Las Cruces including La Vina Winery which is famous for hosting an annual wine festival which is held in October every year.
Not only does La Vina Winery host the festival but should you happen to visit at another time of year then you can tour the facility and the tasting rooms and check out the latest blend of grapes for that particular vintage.
7. White Sands National Monument
45 miles to the east of Las Cruces, visitors will happen upon the world’s largest gypsum dune field.
Travelers to the area describe the monument as being like a scene from another world, and the dunes offer an insight into the local plant and wildlife that somehow thrives in these arid and harsh conditions.
The white sand dunes here are pristine and unspoilt and there are picnic areas available as well as the opportunity to surf or toboggan down the dunes.
The monument stretches for 275 square miles and there are guided walks such as the Sunset Stroll Nature Walk that is led by local guides who will fill visitors in on all the local points of interest.
8. New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum
The New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum is perfect for guests who want to learn more about the region’s rich agricultural history that dates back an impressive 3,000 years.
The museum offers a learning environment for both younger and older guests and there are examples and explanations of dairy farming in the area, as well as demonstrations of local farming and cooking techniques such as cows being milked by hand.
You can even learn all about the different animals used in farming in the Las Cruces area including the many varieties of cows and also go to visit the animals in their corrals.
9. Green Chili Trail
If you love chili then why not go on a tour of the Walk of Flame, a self guided walk of a group of eateries and bars that all serve chili related dishes.
Green chilies are the pride of Las Cruces and the local university even has a research center dedicated to studying these little green capsicums, so it is only normal that guests should also check out some of the chili based dishes for themselves.
On the Green Chili Trail you can visit local restaurants where you can try traditional Mexican dishes that are made using green chilies, or you can also try dishes that are made especially in the Las Cruces area as part of the tour.
These include oddities such as green chili vodka and green chili martinis, or you can even sample some green chili beer.
The Walk of Flame will also take you through the history of chili production in Las Cruces as well as giving visitors an insight into growing and picking techniques.
10. Picacho Avenue Antiques Mall
Come to Picacho Avenue in the downtown area of Las Cruces if you love antiquing and want to spend the day seeking out hidden gems.
This area of Las Cruces is filled with antique shops that feature period items from the region and are famous for being high quality and reasonably priced, so if you want an authentic souvenir from your time here then this is the place to search for it.
11. Museum of Nature and Science
The Museum of Nature and Science is not one of the larger museums in the Las Cruces area but it still showcases a range of exhibits that tell the story of the local flora and fauna.
To that end there is a small zoo that has some 40 different examples of live animals from the region, with a particular emphasis on desert animals The Museum of Nature and Science also has rotating exhibits on loan from other science and nature centers around the United States and this can be a fascinating place to come if you are interested in the arid landscapes around Las Cruces.
12. Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park
Found just outside of Las Cruces, the Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park is dedicated to the conservation of the forestlands that line the Rio Grande.
Spanning an impressive 305 acres, the park is perfect for those who enjoy hiking or mountain biking, both popular pursuits in the area, or you can try fishing in the waters of the Rio Grande.
Due to the wetlands on the park the area is also full of birdlife and so those who like bird watching will find plenty to do here.
13. Fountain Theater
The Fountain Theater is known for being the oldest movie theatre in New Mexico and is a great example of period architecture, having been built in 1905 in the signature adobe style.
Not only is the theater a traditional monument of the New Mexico area, but it is still very much in working order and screens films regularly for patrons to enjoy including classic movies that film buffs will love. This is particularly recommended if you love Westerns.
14. Branigan Cultural Center
The Branigan Cultural Center has a little bit of everything if you are looking to find out more about the Las Cruces area, particularly when it comes to the arts.
As part of the Branigan Cultural Center you will find the Museum of Fine Art and Couture as well as the Las Cruces Historical Museum, and there are also collections in the center that include locals art work such as sculptures, photographs, textiles from the region, and historical memorabilia.
Should you happen to be in the area then this quirky collection is definitely worth a look.
15. Organs Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument
This monument is actually a protected area of almost 500,000 acres that is popular as a hiking area in the Organs Mountains that surround the city of Las Cruces.
The area is ideal if you fancy getting out of Las Cruces for a day and visiting some of its scenic surrounding areas, and the hiking trails here are well laid out and easy to follow.
Whichever trail you choose, all of them come with gorgeous views over the mountain ranges in the Chihuahua Desert as well as the Organ Mountains.
Visitors here can also get a glimpse of the local flora and fauna that survives in this arid environment and the monument is easily reached from Las Cruces.