Embodying the best of the American Southwest, the Land of Enchantment is a state that lives up to its name on every level. New Mexico is part of the Four Corners region, the only place in the country where four states meet at a single convergence of 90° angles.
Adding to its appeal, New Mexico landscape is highly varied and unique — the Rio Grande winds its way from the Sangre de Christo Mountains through the valleys and mysterious desert landscape. New Mexico is a place like no other. Numerous national and state parks are a draw to residents and tourists alike, and the natural beauty of these sites cannot be overstated. Summers here may be hot, but the dry climate gives residents hundreds of sunny days to explore the state’s vast, breathtaking terrain, complete with two national parks, Carlsbad Caverns, White Sands.
Love the great outdoors? Be sure to check out our National Parks of the Southwest guide.
What It’s Like Living in New Mexico
Naturally, there are pros and cons to living in New Mexico. Abundant sunny days are definitely a plus.
The job market in New Mexico is improving. The state added 45,000 jobs between 2021 and 2022, giving it the fourth-highest job growth rate in the country in 2022. The governor has targeted nine industry sectors for growth. These include aerospace, already a stronghold in the state’s economy, media (like production centers for Netflix and NBCUniversal), renewable energy and intelligent manufacturing, among others.
Whether you’re moving here for work or looking to retire, there are plenty of reasons to move to New Mexico.
Let the expert movers at United Van Lines help you. Get a quote on moving to New Mexico.
Benefits of Living in New Mexico
Second only to Arizona for the number of sunny days per year, New Mexico’s climate is one of its major draws to the state. Another attraction is New Mexico’s low cost of living, especially when compared with neighboring Arizona and Texas. It’s perhaps no wonder that New Mexico is one of the top ten states for retirees, who are drawn to this affordable, comfortable lifestyle.
Another boon? The population of New Mexico has grown modestly over the past 10 years, gaining just over 56,000 new residents, providing plenty of room to roam.
Climate in New Mexico
The climate of New Mexico is generally sunny, arid and mild. But as one of the largest states in the country — with mountains, canyons, valleys and its distinctive Southwestern arroyos — New Mexico’s climate varies across its eight geographic regions.
Temperatures can fluctuate wildly throughout the year, and even throughout the day. Expect a difference of at least 25°F -30°F between the daily highs and lows, though it can be much more extreme. In the southeast, the average temperature is 64°F, but in the north, this drops to 40°F. In the lower elevations, summer temps can easily exceed 10°F, and rainfall is a paltry 10 inches on average.
June is the hottest month of the year, and thunderstorms are common in July and August. Higher elevations bring cooler temperatures and more precipitation — over 20 inches, on average — including snowfall. The coldest day on record is a shocking -50°F, set on February 1, 1951.
The best time to move to New Mexico is when temperatures are above freezing and below sweltering. In the lower elevations, you’ll have around 200 frost-free days to choose from in spring and fall. In the mountains, you have a narrower window — just 80 days at the highest elevations.
Largest Cities in New Mexico
A high desert town at the intersection of two major interstates, Albuquerque is New Mexico’s largest city. The downtown area is as modern as any other major American city, but Albuquerque still maintains its Spanish colonial flavor with historic adobe buildings.
The population of “The Burque,” as the locals call it, has made modest gains over the past 10 years — 562,599 people now call the city home. Housing values are slightly below national averages. The median home value is $204,100 and rents averaged $889 per month.
The 310 days of sunshine don’t diminish the snowfall at the nearby Sandia Mountains, where residents and visitors ski the steep and speedy slopes from November through March. In the warmer months, the Sandia’s trails are a favorite destination for hikers. But the outdoors isn’t only popular outside the city streets.
Albuquerque was recently named one of the best cities for biking in the U.S. by AAA. The city’s 50-mile activity loop connects downtown Albuquerque with the Rio Grande, Petroglyph National Monument, the West Mesa, Balloon Fiesta Park and the Sandia Mountains, including the scenic Tramway Road.
Neighboring Rio Rancho — New Mexico’s third-largest city — has a fast-growing population of 105,834, adding to the size of the Albuquerque metropolitan area. This popular suburb gained 18,313 people over the last 10 years. Housing prices are comparable to Albuquerque’s: Home values average $200,800 and the median gross rent is $1,157.
The city has made several best-of lists in the past few years, and Money magazine cited its numerous parks, access to nature and average household income (now at $66,733) as just some of the reasons to recommend it.
Just 65 miles northeast of Albuquerque lies New Mexico’s capital, Santa Fe. Nestled into the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, this city is a bastion for the arts and culture, from traditional to contemporary. It’s also the best city for food in the state (see a list of restaurant recommendations below).
Santa Fe the oldest capital city in the country, and it looks nothing like its rivals — historic adobe architecture set it apart from its Georgian counterparts on the eastern seaboard. The Palace of the Governors dates back to 1610, and the structure is now a registered National Historic Landmark. In the Barrio de Analco — a historic district in the city — you can also see the oldest church in the country, the San Miguel Chapel. Also made of adobe, this Catholic house of worship was built by Tlaxcalan Indians from Mexico, under the direction of Franciscan priests.
With a population of 88,193, Santa Fe has grown substantially over the last ten years, adding over 20,000 new residents. Housing prices in Santa Fe are higher than in Albuquerque and above national averages, as well. The median home value is $290,800 and gross rents average $1,125.
Outdoor activities abound in and around Santa Fe, from hiking to fishing to birding at the Randall Davey Audubon Center & Sanctuary. Some of Santa Fe’s best treasures are hidden though, like the turquoise in historic Cerrillos. One indoor treasure not to be missed is Meow Wolf. This immersive, explorable art experience is a funhouse like no other. You and your family can embark on a 70-room adventure in the House of Eternal Return, where you’ll pass through appliance portals and stroll the Upside Down Park. You won’t look at a refrigerator the same way ever again.
Farther south, just east of the Rio Grande in the Chihuahuan Desert lies Las Cruces, a growing city of 112,914. Las Cruces has gained over 15,000 new residents since 2010, and with good reason — the affordability of housing. The median home value in this city just north of the Texas and Mexico border is $161,100 and rents average $805 a month. But the poverty rate in Las Cruces is high: 23.6%, with the average household income of $45,140 sitting below the national level.
This city is as culturally rich as any other in the state, and families will enjoy attractions like the Museum of Nature and Science, the Las Cruces Railroad Museum, and the New Mexico State University Arthropod Museum, where you can learn how spiders, insects and crustaceans can help us with pollination, production — like honey and dyes — and even crime prevention … those blowflies never lie.
Best known as the site of an alleged UFO crash, Roswell is a city whose reputation precedes it. But there is much more to this city in southeastern New Mexico than urban legend would lead you to believe.
An arts-centric city of 48,081, Roswell is home to several museums, including the Walker Aviation Museum and the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art, which hosts one of the oldest artist-in-residence programs in the country. Roswell also has its own symphony orchestra, which is now in its 63rd season. The city has numerous parks for families to enjoy — the 34-acre Spring Park Zoo is a local favorite.
The population of Roswell hasn’t changed much in the last 10 years, and its poverty level remains stubbornly high at over 20%. The median home value in Roswell is a modest $110,000 and rents average $819. At roughly $48,000, the average household income is just below the state average and over $15,000 below the national average, so the cost of living here is more reasonable than the state’s fastest-growing locations.
New Mexico’s Culture, Traditions and Heritage
New Mexico’s history began long before the first Spanish colonists arrived in the 16th century. Fortunately, the state has preserved many important Native American sites, some of which date back more than 10,000 years.
The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center is a great place to learn more about the diverse heritage and culture of the original inhabitants of this land. Two sites of particular interest are the Puye Cliff Dwellings (in north central New Mexico), established around 900 CE, and the Jemez National Historic Landmark, where you can learn about the Towa culture and hike the Red Rocks Trails.
New Mexico is also home to three UNESCO World Heritage sites — Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Pueblo de Taos and Carlsbad Caverns National Park — more than any other state in the union.
Chaco Culture National Historic Park was founded to preserve the heritage of the ancestral Pueblo occupation when the area was the cultural center of the San Juan Basin. Visitors can access major sites of interest along the Canyon Loop Road, but backcountry trails reward hikers with glimpses of ancient petroglyphs and panoramic views of the valley. Don’t miss the Pueblo Bonito, the park’s centerpiece, where you can see firsthand the defining traits of Chacoan great house architecture.
One of the state’s 15 National Park Service-managed lands, Carlsbad Caverns National Park is one of the most unusual sites in New Mexico. Formed somewhere between four and six million years ago, the caverns comprise over 119 limestone caves in the Chihuahuan Desert many of which are periodically illuminated to showcase all the otherworldly columns, helictites and stalactites. Bordered by mountains on either side, the landscape is one of the most biologically diverse deserts in the world, with more species of cactus than any other. Evenings are for stargazing (it’s a designated dark sky park) … and for bats. The thousands of permanent residents in the park rush out of their caves each evening like clockwork and put on a jaw-dropping show.
Your New Mexico experience is not complete without sledding down the dunes at White Sands National Park. No matter your age, this thrill is something everyone in the family should experience. This vast, wave-like landscape is home to many critters, from rattlesnakes and roadrunners to porcupines, bobcats and badgers. A unique group of animals here has developed sand-white features, adapting perfectly to this unusual gypsum landscape. These include the bleached earless lizard, the Apache pocket mouse and the sand-treader camel cricket.
However, don’t miss these other enchantments of New Mexico: Aztec Ruins, Capulin Volcano and the Gila Cliff Dwellings.
Moving up in the historical timeline, each year, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta attracts over 800,000 spectators to its annual event. What started as a 13-balloon, mall parking lot jamboree has transformed into a nine-day blow-out celebration in a custom-designed, 365-acre park with over 500 hot air-powered crafts. You can even take a ride in one!
Looking for aircrafts that go even farther field? Then you’ll want to add the UFO Festival in Roswell to your itinerary. Whether you’re a hard-core denier or just want to believe, there are attractions for attendees of all mindsets. Die-hards can join the Alien Abduction Parade or run the 5K Alien Chase. Non-believers and the faithful alike will enjoy the Galaxy Fair Fire and Light Show, which combines illuminated tutus, LED batons, nun
If you’re wanting to get to know the real New Mexico, the best places to start are its annual markets. Each August, the SWAIA (Southwestern Association of American Indian) Indian Market in Santa Fe draws an estimated 100,000 people to see (and purchase) works by practicing artists from over 100 tribes in North America.
This is no ordinary craft fair, mind you. The event has been held for 100-plus years and generates over $160 million dollars in revenue. It’s a vital resource for Native artists, while offering visitors insight into the depth and breadth of contemporary art in these communities today.
Another popular Santa Fe annual is the Traditional Spanish Market — the largest event of its kind in the country. Food vendors offering irresistible food and a lively bandstand keep artists and patrons happy all weekend long.
There’s also the Contemporary Spanish Market, which showcases cutting-edge works by the nation’s leading Hispanic artists, craftspeople and designers. And when Albuquerque hosts its annual Winter Spanish Market, you can be assured to take home something special, whether it’s a small straw appliqué box or a piece of handcrafted furniture.
New Mexico has eight state-sponsored museums and dozens of private institutions devoted to culture, history and science. One of the most popular destinations is the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo, where visitors can see an actual moon rock, view the 87-foot-tall Little Joe II rocket and explore the vastness of our galaxy in the planetarium.
Not to be overlooked, the Museum of International Folk Art has one of the most unique and largest collections in the world: It holds over 100,000 objects from six continents and 100 countries, including ceramics, textiles and garments, puppets and figures, masks and more. This is a child-friendly venue, and some exhibits specifically encourage interaction.
Other venues not to be missed are the New Mexico Museum of Art, the New Mexico History Museum and the 47-acre New Mexico Farm and Ranch Museum, which has actual barns, a greenhouse and animals.
If you’re looking for the wilder side of New Mexico, slither on over to the American International Rattlesnake Museum in Albuquerque. This hole in the wall houses more species of rattlers than most of the country’s notable zoos — cold-blooded comfort for the museum’s more trepidatious visitors.
One destination that will give your whole family a charge is the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History. On July 16, 1945, New Mexico made (highly classified) history when the first atomic bomb was detonated 200 miles south of Los Alamos. Codenamed Trinity, the test site is opened twice a year for tours led by the National Park Service.
Where to Eat in New Mexico
Blending Native American, Spanish Colonial, Mexican and contemporary American traditions, the food in New Mexico is distinctively delicious. This is a state that savors heat, intensity and authenticity in all its forms.
If New Mexico is known for anything, it’s chili peppers. In 2021, the state produced 51,000 tons of chiles. Naturally, with all that heat, New Mexico residents are also known for their exceptional enchiladas, posole, chiles rellenos, carne adovada and so much more.
One of the most inspired menus can be found at Sazón in Santa Fe, a city with an outsize share of exceptional cuisine. Do the degustación tasting menu to experience the full range of the chef’s imaginative delights, perhaps tucking into crispy zucchini blossoms with a chocolate balsamic reduction, octopus with Thai chili and pancetta and Muscovy duck with mole poblano.
Santa Fe’s award-winning offers fine dining in the 1756 adobe-walled Borrego House, where its original kiva fireplaces keep the elegant atmosphere cozy and inviting. Paloma serves an unbelievable cauliflower rostizado with brown butter salsa Negra, and their carnitas will melt in your mouth. For authentic Indigenous flavors, you can’t beat Tiwa Kitchen in Taos, the self-proclaimed “home of the blue corn frybread,” or the Indian Pueblo Kitchen, where regulars love the Kicked Up Atole and the Rancheros de Albuquerque with Pueblo beans.
But the chili capital of the world is fast becoming a cheese capital — New Mexico is now one of the top five cheese producers in the country. Tucumcari Mountain Cheese Factory produces varieties from gouda to feta, but the cheddar with green chilis and the chimayo with roasted red chilis have the most New Mexican flavor. This state is also, surprisingly, a leader in nuts — New Mexico grows peanuts, pistachios and pecans, which it produced over 78.70 million pounds of in 2021.
With its unpredictable and arid climate, one product you might be most surprised to learn New Mexico produces is wine. The first vineyard in the country was planted here in 1629, and there are dozens of wineries across the state who can impress even the most scrupulous sommeliers.
Gruet, which has tasting rooms in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, is well-known for its sparkling varieties. Luna Rossa Winery, one of the newer establishments, produces its bottles exclusively from New Mexico grapes. Agritourists will appreciate the Arena Blanca Winery especially because it shares its acres with Pistachio Tree Ranch. They even produce a pistachio blush.
Disadvantages of Living in New Mexico
Despite being the Land of Enchantment, there are a few downsides to consider if you are thinking of moving to New Mexico.
First, there’s the weather. New Mexico’s dry summers are not for everyone. The arid climate can leave areas at lower elevations parched in 120 F heat, increasing the risk of wildfires. By contrast, cold air can send the mercury plummeting to -50 F. It’s not unheard of for temperatures to fluctuate more than 50 degrees between night and day.
At 18.4%, the poverty rate in New Mexico is among the highest in the nation, exceeding the U.S. average by nearly seven points. The median household income in the state is $51,243, more than $10,000 below the national average. But the cost of living in New Mexico is also significantly less than it is in the rest of the country.
Note that the state is still rebounding from the effects of the pandemic and the most devastating wildfire in the state’s history, and the unemployment rate is stubbornly mired at 4.2%, above the national average.
Despite these figures, the state’s economy still looks promising for the future, particularly for aerospace and aviation companies. New Mexico already has three national research labs and three U.S. Air Force bases, and the trade and tourism industries are also looking up. Add to that the economic development department’s attention to areas like cybersecurity, recreation and sustainable agriculture and you have a state that is ready for a promising future.
Prepare for Your Move to New Mexico
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