For a true taste of New Mexican flavors, Southwestern culture, and historical tradition, look no further than Mesilla. Located adjacent to Las Cruces, the community of Mesilla maintains a rich personality and historic culture that is difficult to come by these days, and there are plenty of entertainment options that make it a wonderful place to spend your day.
The town boasts an abundance of traditional adobe structures, breathtaking historical sights, and colorful art galleries that illustrate the heritage of the region. You might find yourself pulled into a restaurant by the tantalizing smell of Mexican cuisine, or drawn into a store for its unique wares.
In Mesilla, there are so many ways to spend a day, whether you’re looking to learn something new at a museum, enjoy a soul-warming New Mexican meal, hit the trails for a taste of the outdoors, or get a unique piece of Southwestern decor for your collection. Here are just some of the ways to spend a memorable day here.
Take in the Local Flavors—Literally
You can’t visit southern New Mexico without sampling the local cuisine, a melting pot of flavors that you can’t find anywhere else in the world. Influences from Spanish and Mexican cultures have helped mold and perfect New Mexican staples over hundreds of years, and local chile (in both red and green varieties) can be found in almost everything.
La Posta de Mesilla, one of the oldest and most legendary eateries in the state, is recognized for its festive ambiance and authentic flavors. The adobe structure has stood for more than a century and a half, serving personalities such as Billy the Kid, Kit Carson, General Douglas MacArthur, and Pancho Villa. Locals and visitors alike flock here for a refreshing afternoon drink alongside a heaping plate of enchiladas (smothered with chile, of course).
You’ll also enjoy a relaxed atmosphere at ¡Ándele! Restaurant, which has served top-notch Mexican cuisine in the heart of Mesilla for nearly 20 years. Just next door is the Andele Dog House, which provides an outdoor haven where you can enjoy a drink and soak in the sunshine. Chala’s Wood Fire Grill is also an excellent option, boasting a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Order the chile con carne burrito Christmas-style (meaning it’s topped with both red and green chile) — you won’t be sorry!
Visit Local Art Galleries
One thing that makes this region of the country so special is the artwork. In any New Mexican home, business, or restaurant, you will likely find a carefully curated collection of intricate patterns, fine metalwork, gorgeous clay pots, and paintings that truly showcase the beauty of New Mexico’s landscapes. Get inspired by stepping into one of Mesilla’s art galleries, where you’ll find a sampling of traditional and modern artwork from both local and nationally renowned artists.
Hike in Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park
Situated about two miles from the historic center of Mesilla, Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park is a must-visit destination if you’re in the area. The park sits on the banks of the Rio Grande and offers many opportunities to explore the New Mexico landscape. Mountains and mesas will be your backdrop as you stroll along one of the self-guided nature trails by the river. This park is known as an excellent place for birdwatching, and the helpful rangers in the visitor center will provide you plenty of information on the species of birds and other animals you’ll encounter on the trails.
Explore the Mesilla Plaza
Much of Mesilla’s local flavor sits in the town center, which is more commonly referred to as the plaza. Rich in history, culture, and heritage, the plaza was declared a New Mexico state monument in 1957 due to its historical significance in the state and the country.
If you visit the plaza on the right day, you’ll also get a chance to browse Old Mesilla’s Mercado. This crafts market (held weekly) has been serving visitors and locals since its inception in 1857, making it one of America’s oldest markets. As you stroll through the market you’ll find handcrafted jewelry and original artwork from locals.
The plaza is also the site of many community events, such as Dia de los Muertos, when family members fill the town center with altars that hold pictures, paintings, baskets, and other tributes to loved ones who have passed on. On Christmas Eve, the plaza is adorned with hundreds of luminarias, and people stroll among the glowing lights and enjoy a peaceful night with hot cocoa and caroling.
See the Historic Sites
Established as an incorporated village in 1848, Mesilla has a long and fascinating past, and a highlight of any visit is a tour of its many historic buildings. Overlooking the town plaza is the iconic San Albino Basilica, one of the oldest (and most gorgeous) churches in the area. The current structure was built in 1906 (the original adobe building was constructed in 1855), and it features Mission-style architecture and stained glass windows depicting images of saints.
Another place worth a visit is the Fountain Theatre. Completed in 1905, it’s the oldest theater in the state and regularly hosts an impressive lineup of foreign and artistic films. You should also consider booking an appointment to tour the privately owned and operated Gadsden Museum, which pays tribute to the rich history of the Mesilla Valley with interesting art collections, exhibits, and artifacts.
Whether you want to take a stroll through the past or explore modern New Mexican culture, there are so many ways to spend a memorable day in Mesilla. From its restaurants and museums to historic sites and central plaza, this one small town offers a rare and rich blend of Spanish and Native American heritage. Plus, the Rio Grande and other nearby parks and natural areas provide quiet escapes where you can relax and enjoy nature. The next time you want to spend an unforgettable day in New Mexico, your next stop should be Mesilla.
Written by Sarah Strohl for RootsRated Media in partnership with New Mexico.