Skip to site content
The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Under showy skies, Sandia sizzles

It is hard to miss the sunset in Albuquerque, N.M. The cerulean sky, which seems endless over the vast vista, becomes streaked with lavender, fuchsia and bruised purple. Gradually, the craggy Sandia Mountains that border the city to the east pulse a rosy red. It is easy to see then why the mountains are called “sandia,” the Spanish word for watermelon.

Sizzling sunsets are hard to miss

The breathtaking view is part of Sandia Resort and Casino’s attraction. Sunset can be viewed from many places at the resort, which rests at the base of the mountains: the spacious pool area, the golf course — a verdant patch in the beige desert — the ninth-floor restaurant and most of the 228 guest rooms.

The view is one reason meetings are drawn to the plush resort, a terra-cotta and tawny-colored structure that blends into the 22,877-acre Sandia Pueblo’s landscape. Its 50,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 27,084-square-foot ballroom often used for exhibit space, is another.

Sunsets are a daily show over the Scott Miller-design golf course, named one of the top 25 casino courses in 2007.

A 12,000-square-foot spa, the Scott Miller-design golf course, dining options and new fish-stocked lakes (rainbow trout in winter and spring; catfish in summer and fall) are also part of Sandia’s appeal. And then, of course, there is the casino, with the largest poker room in New Mexico, a nonsmoking area for slots and table games, and 2,100 slot machines, 114 in the high-limit room.

The resort and casino, opened in 2005, is the major upgrade of an existing gaming establishment owned by the Sandia Native American tribe. On the fringes of Albuquerque, about 10 minutes from Old Town and 10 miles from the Albuquerque International Airport, the resort has complimentary shuttle service to and from the airport, with limousines and town cars available for VIPs.

A quick look at Sandia Resort and Casino

30 Rainbow Road, NE
Albuquerque, NM 87113
(800) 526-9366

Recognitions: The resort’s Sandia Golf Club was named to the “Top 25 Casino Courses in America” in 2007.

What’s new: Sandia Lakes, three lakes that opened this year five minutes from the resort, are designed for back-to-nature events and barbecues complete with bands, horseshoes and shore fishing. The three lakes are in the bosque, the wooded area along the Rio Grande, and are stocked with rainbow trout in winter and spring, and catfish in summer and fall. The Pavilion at Sandia Lakes can seat 150 people.

Rooms: There are 228 rooms, including 48 suites. Each has a 32-inch flat-screen television, a pillow-top bed, access to high-speed Internet, and bathrooms with granite countertops and soaking tubs.

Meeting space: The more than 50,000 square feet of meeting space includes a 27,084-square-foot ballroom, 10 meeting rooms, 15,700 square feet of prefunction space and a built-in registration desk.

Amenities: Restaurants include a Caribbean grill, a barbecue restaurant and an upscale restaurant; a wine bar; Starbucks cafe; an ice cream and pizza shop; retail shops including clothing stores, a gourmet shop and deli, and an art gallery; 19 tennis courts; a nine-hole golf course along the Gulf; a day spa; 11 pools, including a lagoon pool and a children’s pool with water slides; water sports; fishing and fishing charters; a sailing school; trolley service around the resort; and 2.5 miles of private beach.

Location: Sandia Resort and Casino is 10 miles from the Albuquerque International Airport and less than 10 minutes from Old Town Albuquerque.

 The resort’s casino has table games, inluding the state’s largest poker room.

Courtesy Sandia Resort and Casino

The average overnight meeting books about 30 rooms and has about 100 attendees, but there is obviously room for much larger functions. “You can be a space hog,” said Christine Windle, director of sales. “You can really spread out.”

Amarillo Hardware Co., based in Amarillo, Texas, books more than 200 rooms for its annual Fall Expo Lawn and Garden Convention, which attracts between 300 and 350 guests.

“We take the entire ballroom and several meeting rooms down the side,” said Melba Shadix, a company sales representative who organizes the event. “We have a golf tournament the Wednesday before the event starts on Thursday. The staff is great to work with, the rooms are fantastic, and the food is delicious.”

Tournament awards are handed out at a reception in the 16,000-square-foot clubhouse.

Executives opt for Sandia’s meeting spaces

Corporate meetings dominate. For example, Dallas-based Holly Corp., with operations in New Mexico and Utah, has had four meetings at Sandia.

The resort’s upscale restaurant, Bien Shur, has views of the Sandia Mountains as do many of its guest rooms.

“We needed a place that could handle about 70 people over a period of two and a half days, plus an opening event with cocktails and appetizers,” said Linda Rich, a manager in the human resources and organizational development department. “We were able to house all attendees, which included our top executives. The hotel rooms, business meeting rooms [and] food service has been outstanding.”

Corporations, associations and nonprofits often use Sandia’s ballroom, with its full stage at one end, as an exhibit hall. The space handles double duty easily, as the experience of the 21st Fiery Foods and Barbecue Show shows. During that three-day event, about 14,000 trade and general-public attendees visited more than 200 exhibitors.

Hidden corridors are handy

Another feature of the ballroom is the room dividers, which not only break the space into smaller meeting rooms but also create handy hidden corridors for serving staff. “The back of the house is so amazing,” Windle said. “There are storage areas, and everything is ready to go.”

Sandia is also popular for regional galas and, not surprisingly, weddings: Meeting planners interested in weekend events are likely to compete with brides, as Sandia averages about four weddings on Saturdays.

The resort tends to draw regional attendees from New Mexico, Texas, Arizona and Colorado. California is a market Windle would like to tap, given the resort’s competitive pricing.

“For a property of this quality, we are really affordable,” said Windle, who formerly worked at a Breckinridge resort. Room rates range from $189 to $399 depending on the season and before package deals. The best deals are in January through March, Sunday through Thursday.

A separate hotel entrance makes it easy to bypass the casino, where machines create a cacophony of electronic dings, whizzes and blurps. The areas are so well separated by the Green Reed Spa, restaurants and lounges that guests initially might not spot the casino. The convention center is even farther away from the gaming operation.

The resort, which still sparkles as though it has just been built, is a clear homage to the tribe. Photos of the tribal council and tribe members who were U.S. veterans hang on walls. In the reception area, Native American art adorns mustard-yellow walls.

Rugs wear bold Native American designs in rust, midnight blue and khaki. The tasteful, respectful design carries over into guest rooms, where bed skirts, throws and shams wear Native American patterns, and the broad wood headboard and bathroom vanity are engraved with black designs, including one of a bird with trailing plumage.

A pool, a spa, fishing lakes and a casino entice meetings.  The 228-room resort has 50,000 square feet of meeting space.

Although the interior design is distinctive, it hasn’t prevented planners from putting their own themes in place. One client re-created the Candy Land board game. Intel held a Hollywood-style event, during which attendees on a red carpet were interviewed outside the ballroom and the videotaped scenes were displayed on ballroom screens to guests inside. Cutouts of Marilyn Monroe and other stars from film’s golden era were backdrops.

Hollywood comes calling

Modern Hollywood has also come to Sandia: Scenes from the Kevin Costner movie Swing Vote were filmed around the pool, which was outfitted to resemble Malibu. The shoot took place at night to eclipse the mountains.
The pool area — equipped with cabanas, a bar and a patio area that can be roped off for events — makes for a fun reception. On weekends, steel drummers perform, and the pool becomes a popular party scene.

Smaller groups might opt for the sophisticated wine room in the Council Restaurant, where floors are fashioned from cork. The space can also serve as a platform for chef demonstrations or as a reception room. “Guests arriving in later afternoon can pick up packets, have a glass of wine and say hello,” Windle said. “You can see the front desk from here.”

The high-roller restaurant Bien Shur, where you can tuck into a juicy buffalo steak, overlooks a pasture for a herd of buffalo — not the ones that furnished the guests’ meals.
Only about 20 of the 22,877 acres are developed. “With all the land you see, there are so many possibilities,” Windle said. “They can just keep going and going, and make it a wonderland.”