Greetings Internet Stranger! Welcome to the Best Things to Do in Los Alamos. I recommend a lot of slightly random tourist destinations on this blog. Tarrytown, New York, while adorable, is usually not the first choice for visitors to the Empire State. Birmingham, Alabama, fascinating and delicious, is not the number one or even the number five city in the South for vacationing.
But this time I may have gone too far. I am about to recommend you spend 24 hours with the best things to do in Los Alamos, New Mexico. This is a town with less than 15,000 inhabitants. It’s less than a century old. Why would you want to visit it?
Well, for those in the know, Los Alamos is full of fascinating American history. After all, it’s where the atomic bomb was first developed. That’s why the whole town’s existence actually was classified until after Hiroshima was bombed. Even to this day, I’m pretty sure everyone who lives there is a spy. That includes my Aunt Jane, who has lived in Los Alamos since before I was born. (Hi Auntie!)
Join me for Best Things to Do in Los Alamos, and we will learn more atomic history than you can shake a radioactive stick at. Also we’ll eat green chile galore. This is New Mexico; we’re not savages. And if you want great deals on booking a hotel in Los Alamos, just click here.
Best Things to Do in Los Alamos
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
New Mexico can get very hot, so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so I’ll never run out of juice!
Best Things to Do in Los Alamos
Morning: Bradbury Science Museum
During our tour of the Best Things to Do in Los Alamos, we will not be overwhelmed with museums. I’m pretty sure Los Alamos only has one museum. And since everything in Los Alamos revolves around The Los Alamos National Laboratory, it’s not surprising that their cultural center is a science museum. Every Los Alamos resident I’ve ever met is so familiar with the Los Alamost National Laboratory that they refer to it simply as THE LAB, as if it were a fluffy black dog and not a billion dollar nuclear energy laboratory.
The Bradbury Science Museum was named after the second director of THE LAB, Norris E. Bradbury. That should probably be a clue that the Bradbury is dedicated to educating visitors about the history and purpose of THE LAB.
Once you arrive at the museum, start by watching the introductory video, “The Town That Never Was”. It has dozens of riveting historical facts for those who are history nerds, and cool 1940s clothes for those who aren’t. Everyone wins!
Also, I just looked it up, and Los Alamos also has a history museum. I stand corrected, Internet! And now let me educate you with…
Three facts from the bradbury science museum
1) Who ran the lab?
I can’t call this section “Fun Facts” because there’s really nothing fun about the atomic bomb. THE LAB began life as the home of the Manhattan Project. Its purpose was to develop nuclear weapons to be used in World War II. Many of the scientists imagined that the bombs would be used to defeat Hitler, but of course the Nazis surrendered before the atomic bomb had been developed. Therefore the bomb was only used on Japan.
Many scientists were involved in the development of the bomb, but the most famous was Robert Oppenheimer. You can see a creepy, albino, be-hatted statue of him pictured above. Oppenheimer was a cultured native New Yorker.
You can tell he was well-read because he claimed that when he witnessed the first nuclear explosion, he thought of a quote from the Bhaghavad Gita, “I am become Death, destroyer of worlds.” I’ve never even once thought of the Bhaghavad Gita during a major life event, which just goes to show that Robert Oppenheimer was classier than I am.
2) Which atomic bombs were used?
Only two atomic bombs have been used in combat, and hopefully that will never change. Because the two bombs were of differing sizes, they were codenamed Fat Man and Little Boy. Little Boy was dropped over the Japanese city of Hiroshima, and Fat Man was dropped over Nagasaki. Some people think that Fat Man was named in honor of Churchill, but it’s not true.
Apparently the physicist who named the devices was a big fan of author Dashiell Hammett. Fat Man is a character in The Maltese Falcon. Little Boy was based on an earlier design called The Thin Man, also after a Dashiell Hammett novel. Since Hammett was so left-wing politically that he was blacklisted for being a Communist, I really wonder how he felt about his names being used for this purpose.
Obviously the picture above is not of an actual atomic bomb. Imagine how much security the museum would need! However, it is a full-sized replica of Fat Man. Sitting here in the safety of my living room, I find it hard to fathom how such a small object could be responsible for the deaths of 40,000 people.
3) What does the lab do now?
The Bradbury is definitely not going to give an impartial view of THE LAB. I mean, it’s named after one of THE LAB’s directors. They’ve already picked a side. But it was nice to know that THE LAB is certainly not only dedicated to the development of nuclear weapons. They are dedicated to many other kinds of scientific development. Of course, one of their concerns is the safe storage of nuclear weapons and waste. However, another has been the development of supercomputers and nanotechnology.
I feel this is just begging for a made for TV movie about a computer that ends up being bitten by a radioactive spider and becomes sentient and kills us all. Is that really any scarier than the thought of nuclear warfare? I don’t think so.
24 Hour Treasure: Ruby K’s Bagel Cafe
It sounds pretty funny for a New Yorker to be recommending bagels in New Mexico. However, Ruby K’s is a real local spot and all their bagels are homemade. More importantly, they have a type of bagel we can’t get in NYC: the green chile bagel. New Mexicans love to slather their local green Hatch chiles over everything. I couldn’t resist the temptation to spice up my life, and my bagel, this way. If you like a little sass with your bagel, definitely order this.
Also lox is the way to go when consuming fish in New Mexico. It’s a landlocked state!
Best Things to Do in Los Alamos
Afternoon: Self Guided Tour
Los Alamos, as I hope I’ve been able to convince you, is a town with significant historical importance. But it’s also surrounded by sublime natural beauty. And there’s no better way to take in both the history and the beauty than with a self guided driving tour. Make sure you stop by Bathtub Row, Bandolier National Monument, and
Three fun facts: Best Things to Do in Los Alamos
1) Where is the lab?
One of the most interesting stories about Los Alamos was how it became the choice to house the Manhattan Project. The area used to belong to a businessman with the adorable name of Ashley Pond. (There’s a pond named after him which is naturally called Ashley Pond Pond. Amazing! I want my last name legally changed to Pond so I can someday have a Pond named after me.)
Ashley Pond had one simple dream: to create a Ranch School for boys. Even though the school was only open for a short period of time, it had many famous alums. Ever heard of William S. Burroughs? Gore Vidal? Justin Bieber? Well, two out of those three people went to the Ranch School.
Unfortunately for Ashley Pond, the government decided the Ranch School area was so isolated that it would be the perfect location for THE LAB. The School was forced to close and the buildings were turned into housing for scientists. The houses were then referred to as Bathtub Row because no other buildings in Los Alamos had bathtubs. I guess if you didn’t have a bathtub, you could go bathe in Ashley Pond Pond.
2) What else is around los alamos?
Many people think that there was nothing in the Los Alamos area until Ashley Pond brought his dream of turning Young Gore Vidal into a cowboy to life. This is completely false. There were Chumash Native Americans living in the area for many years before the Spanish arrived.
Eventually the area was turned into the Los Alamos Ranch. (Los Alamos means cottonwood in Spanish. I was hoping it would mean Death, Destroyer of Worlds in Spanish, but that might have been a little too on the nose.) In the late 19th century, Los Alamos was a stagecoach stop as well.
The stagecoach ride would have been nuts because Los Alamos is located by Bandelier National Monument, which is full of dramatic cliffs, dips, and drops. The trails that cut through Los Alamos were hardly designed by the cutting edge super computers developed by THE LAB.
A stagecoach ride to Los Alamos could have been very dangerous. I’m always so grateful to be traveling nowadays than back 100 years ago. I have only one felt I was about to tumble into a cliff on my travels, and that was both in New Zealand and entirely my fault.
3) What does the lab look like?
You might be able to get a glimpse of THE LAB from the distance. I may or may not have taken this photo from with-on the grounds of THE LAB. All I can tell you is that this is my only photo that refuses to display its location on Google Photos. Spooky!
Best Things to Do in Los Alamos
Evening: Dinner at the Pig and Fig
Because my aunt lives in Los Alamos, I’ve been going there since I was about four years old. I can safely say that the town has only just recently entered the 20th century. In terms of scientific advancement, it’s been light years ahead. In terms of food, it has lagged behind.
That’s why I was so excited to discover the fairly recent opening of the Fig and Pig Cafe. This is the kind of adventurous, yet adorable place that every up-and-coming town needs. They do wine tastings! They have paint night! Maybe they have both at the same time because drunk painting sounds kind of fun. It is the perfect place to end your 24 hours in Los Alamos.
I’ve actually only eaten off the Pig and Fig’s breakfast menu, but they are also open for lunch and dinner. I truly recommend getting as many meals as you can here. In New Mexico, the classic breakfast order is always the breakfast burrito. And the Pig and Fig does it up right with the Triple Pig burrito. This comes with ham, bacon, and sausage, which is such a brilliant idea that I’m surprised I’ve never seen it before. Truly the swine is the most noble of beasts.
Does it come with green chile? This is New Mexico, Internet Stranger! Ice cream sundaes come with green chile on top out here. Don’t you want your food to taste good?
After dinner, drive around and explore Bandelier National Monument. Just make sure you take a car and not a stagecoach!
That’s the Best Things to Do in Los Alamos
What do you think are the Best Things to Do in Los Alamos? What’s the smallest town you’ve ever visited? And does the government know I may or may not have taken a photo of THE LAB? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Just because this guide is for 24 hours in Los Alamos, that doesn’t mean you should only spend 24 hours with the Best Things to Do in Los Alamos.