GROWING UP IN ALBUQUERQUE, I felt the city fit like a coat one size small. Tight across the shoulders and short in the sleeves, it seemed too restrictive to fit my dreams. As I journeyed away from my home-town, I embraced living in the mist that shrouds the Pacific Northwest, and the dazzling heat of the Arizona desert. But New Mexico always called me home.
Each time I returned, I grew to know Albuquerque better. Rather than asking it to meet my juvenile expectations, I embraced all the city affords. From the ancient rock art at Petroglyph National Monument to the murals of downtown, the city is rich in culture both ancient and modern. The remnants of five volcanic cones preside over an expansive landscape that awaits outdoor adventure. Yet, as the half-million-strong metropolis of the state, the city fizzes with microbreweries, pulsates with Latin dance, and is punctuated by the emphatic refrains of spoken-word poets. (Of course, our “fast pace” might be unnoticeable to a visiting New Yorker. This is New Mexico, after all.) And in the astonishing watermelon hues of the Sandía Mountains at sunset, Albuquerque’s beauty has taken my breath away.
In part, it is the characters who live here that most enliven the city. Take my neighborhood: I live in the Northeast Heights, which some may describe as a land of little boxes made of ticky-tacky, yet it still boasts intriguing denizens. One of the country’s preeminent nuclear physicists lives around the corner. The organizer of the La Luz Trail Run, which pits competitors against a nine-mile route to the top of the Sandía Crest, resides across the street. And although I assumed the pounding from another neighbor’s garage was due to band practice (it was), I also traced the sound to separate flamenco sessions when he stomped out steps on a wooden platform he’d installed for the purpose.
This city doesn’t shine when you meet her as if flirting at a cocktail party—passing through, searching for something better. Albuquerque is a city you should chat with over a soup-bowl–sized cup of coffee. It’s a city with soul and wit that will crack a joke, then give you a sidelong glance to see if you’ve found the humor, too. It’s a city with unexpected interests and secret talents—home to filmmakers who take to the gun range on weekends, and to nurses who double as landscape painters.
It’s, perhaps, a bit like me, which is why today I so proudly proclaim, “¡Soy de Burque!”
Albuquerque has several rooftop bars in its repertoire, but the downtown lights truly dazzle from this lounge’s vantage point. Cozy up in one of the cocoon-like couches to sip a Prohibition-era–inspired cocktail that maintains the Hotel Parq Central's 1920s style. If you can, book a room in this finely renovated beaux-arts–style inn. My stay-cation here was one I won’t soon forget. 806 Central Ave.; (505) 242-0040.
It’s easy for a local to overlook this center, devoted to the culture and traditions of the state’s 19 pueblos, but a recent visit there reminded me it’s a true gem. Inside, museum-style exhibitions teach about Native ways. In the outdoor amphitheater, pueblo culture springs to life most days of the week as dancers perform and talk about their rituals—right in the heart of the city. Friday and Saturday evenings, the center’s Party on the Patio has become the place to be and be seen with live music from the likes of local jazz band Le Chat Lunatique and all-you-can-eat horno-oven-baked pizza. The Pueblo Harvest Café's Chef Michael Giese was named Chef of the Year by the New Mexico Restaurant Association in September 2015. 2401 12th St. SW; (505) 842-7270.
A sophisticated dining destination (thanks to its food and ambiance), Slate Street also boasts a wine loft with an extensive list and tasty food pairings. If you’re frequently downtown, look for the once-a-month wine tasting events featuring a flight of wines of a certain type or source. 515 Slate Ave. NW; (505) 243-2210.
4. Eli’s Place
Formerly Sophia’s Place, this eatery may have a new name, but it has the same fantastic food. The hole-in-the-wall joint was featured on the Food Networks’ Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. The breakfast menu includes New Mexican favorites like breakfast burritos and chilaquiles. Their blue-corn pancakes are the best I’ve tasted—ever. Lunch offerings include dishes like duck enchiladas and scallop tacos. 6316 Fourth St. NW; (505) 345-3935. (Editor Note: This business has closed since this article was originally published)
This downtown arts hub offers networking and a small gallery space for local artists. But if you want to go beyond perusing the art, Off Center also offers hours when anyone can create art in the studio space. Tuesday—Thursday, 1–7 p.m.; Fridays, noon–5 p.m.; Saturdays, 10 a.m.–2 p.m. 808 Park Ave. SW; (505) 247-1172.
Formerly known as the Church of Beethoven, this weekly gathering celebrates superb—mostly classical—music, poetry, and companionship in Las Puertas, a quirky warehouse space. Complimentary cappuccinos and delightful scones are served.
As much as I enjoy the city, sometimes I need breathing space. The City of Albuquerque’s Open Space program preserves seven distinct areas in the Sandía foothills. Within 20 minutes of nearly any-where in the city, I can park my car and access hiking and mountain biking trails with vast views of the mountains’ bluish folds. The Bear Canyon trails offer enough spurs through the high-desert landscape that you can extend your excursion from one mile to several.
The ballpark is one of the best places to pass a summer night in the city. Zealous fans will root, root, root for our home minor-league-baseball team, a Colorado Rockies Triple-A outfit. Even if you aren’t a baseball fan, you can still grab a beer (the Isotopes Slammin’ Amber, perhaps?) and pass the evening in great company.
Known for its spicy salsa and chile, this is a local favorite for good ol’-fashioned New Mexican food. The wait for a table can be long at the original location on Fourth Street, but it’s well worth it. You can also try one of the eatery’s other three locales. 6230 Fourth St.; (505) 345-5339; 15 Hotel Cir. NE; (505) 296-6940; 54 Jemez Canyon Dam Rd. (at Santa Ana Star Casino in Bernalillo); (505) 771-7140; 5400 Academy Rd. NE; (505) 821-3388.
10. Casa Rondeña
You’ll be transported to Tuscany on a visit to this vineyard and wine tasting room in pastoral Los Ranchos de Albuquerque. Although you should taste a flight of wines including the Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay, take home a bottle of the Meritage Red, a double gold-medal award winner. 733 Chavez Rd. NW; (505) 344-5911.
11. Indigo Crow Café
Technically, this bistro lies within the pastoral village of Corrales, just outside Albuquerque’s city limits. But part of what makes the Duke City so wonderful is the handful of lovely towns that form its greater patchwork. Indigo Crow is set in a quaint adobe home that creates an intimate atmosphere for a romantic date or special occasion. The menu features a collection of elegant New American dishes. You can’t go wrong with any of them. During the summer, the patio is the perfect place to while away the afternoon watching the foot, horse, and tractor traffic along Corrales Road. 4515 Corrales Rd.; (505) 898-7000.
Known for its green-chile bread and bread sculptures (a turkey at Thanksgiving, perhaps?), Golden Crown's a homey, neighborhood bakery owned by a father-son duo. The biscochitos, in traditional and unusual flavors like espresso, are especially delightful. 1103 Mountain Rd. NW; (505) 243-2424.
One of the city’s best-kept secrets, this visual powerhouse is tucked into the university’s Center for the Arts (also home to Popejoy Hall). It boasts an extensive photography collection and the works of New Mexico modernist Raymond Jonson. Revolving exhibitions highlight contemporary sculpture, photography, and painting. At a $5 suggested donation, the museum’s offerings are also accessible on any budget. 1 University of New Mexico; (505) 277-4001.
14. Old Town
This neighborhood was founded by Governor Francisco Cuervo y Valdez and encompasses ten blocks of shops, most of which specialize in Southwestern arts, crafts, and foods. The San Felipe de Neri Church, built in 1793 (and renovated several times since) sits on the north side of the plaza. The other sprawling adobes include standout galleries such as the Albuquerque Photographers Gallery, and must-visit restaurants such as Church Street Café.
Steps off the Old Town Plaza, this museum houses permanent collections relating four centuries of Albuquerque history and exhibiting significant New Mexican works of art. Only in Albuquerque, a newly designed history exhibit emphasizing multi-media and interactive displays, opened spring 2015. Revolving exhibitions have highlighted masterworks from the likes of Picasso, as well as contemporary collections from top local artists. 2000 Mountain Rd. NW; (505) 243-7255.
A top destination for kids in the Duke City, this center encourages youngsters to learn about science, technology, and art by doing. (Yes, you can touch that! You’re supposed to!) Explora opened Sketch Aquarium in 2015, in which kids imagine, sketch, and release a sea creature into a digital sea. The center also offers ongoing programs, such as live theater, summer camps, and overnights. They also offer periodic Adult Nights that make the center a kid-free zone. 1701 Mountain Rd. NW; (505) 224-8323.
17. Luminarias in Old Town
It only happens once a year, but this event is so magical, it rates mentioning. Christmas Eve night, thousands of luminarias (paper bags with candles in them) glow as this plaza becomes a gathering point for the entire city. Strangers carol together in the gazebo, revelers drink hot chocolate, and friendly shop owners offer a warm place by the fire. Bus tours will also guide you through the Country Club neighborhood.
18. Tree Spring Trail to South Crest Trail
The popular La Luz Trail, on the Albuquerque side of the Sandía Mountains, is quite challenging. For a more demure climb along an equally popular trail, travel to the east side of the mountains, past Sandia Ski Area, to the Tree Spring Trail. As it winds through the trees—offering a pleasant, shaded hike in summer—the trail affords incredible views of the valley on the east side of the mountains, and plenty of bird-watching. It leads to the South Crest Trail, which you can traverse as far as you wish to take in expansive city views.
19. Bookworks and PageOne
If you want to read like a local, these two independent bookstores, at nearly opposite ends of the city, share several qualities: large sections devoted to books on New Mexico topics, a full calendar of events featuring local authors, and excellent customer service. Bookworks: 4022 Rio Grande Blvd.; (505) 344-8139. PageOne: 11018 Montgomery Blvd. NE; (505) 294-2026.
20. Marble Brewery
Linger over your conversation and your handcrafted brew at this welcoming neighborhood pub turned city hotspot. If you’re a fan of IPAs, hop to it for a chance to taste this brewery’s take on the variety. I also enjoy the Great American Beer Fest award–winning Double White and Reserve. This brewery's original locale has become a top food-truck destination, frequented by top mobile hash-slingers Artisan Valley Smokehouse and The Supper Truck. 111 Marble Ave. NW; (505) 243-2739; 5740 Night Whisper Rd NW;(505)508.4368.
Keshet’s repertory is made up a core group of salaried dancers. Since 1996, they have become known for performing innovative and experimental dance works several times a year. Keshet also offers a full slate of dance classes, including physically integrated dance for those with movement challenges. 214 Coal Ave. SW (performances are usually in other spaces); (505) 224-9808.
22. Nob Hill
Identifying Nob Hill, along Central Avenue, as one reason to love Albuquerque hardly does this diverse neigborhood justice. You’ll find top art galleries, such as Mariposa and Matrix Fine Art; quirky shops, such as Toad Road, Izzy Martin, Beeps and Masks y Mas; and jewelry stores, such as Ooh Aah! and Gertrude Zachary, to name a few. The restaurants here will suite a variety of tastes: Scalo (northern Italian), Yanni’s Mediterranean Restaurant, Fan Tang (Asian), Nob Hill Bar and Grill (contemporary American), and B2B (a burger and microbrew bistro).
23. Albuquerque Downtown Growers’ Market and Rail Yards Market
Although Albuquerque counts a dozen farmers’ markets in town, the Downtown Growers' Market and Rail Yards Market (held in Robinson Park at and the Rail Yards, respectively) are the most frequented community events. On Saturday downtown and Sunday in the Rail Yards, these markets burst with fresh produce from local farms. Downtown, children gambol in the grass amid bluegrass tunes from the likes of the Squash Blossom Boys while parents nosh on chocolate-almond croissants. In the Rail Yards, attendees wander through pop-up art installations, t-shirt screen-printing shops, and a children’s craft area.
One of the top fine-dining restaurants in the city (along with sister restaurants Savoy and Zinc), Seasons boasts an elegant dining environment just off Albuquerque’s historic Old Town. In warm weather, the rooftop cantina is the perfect place to while away the evening sipping my favorite drink. Called The Angry Bee, the cocktail includes fierce green-chile-infused tequila, Cointreau, honey, and fresh lime juice. 2031 Mountain Rd. NW; (505) 766-5100.
25. 18-mile-per-hour speed limits
This is a great town for bicyclists. Albuquerque’s Bicycle Boulevards are marked with purple signs to siphon two-wheeled cruisers along these scenic streets—and 18-mile-per-hour speed-limit signs to alert motorists to the presence of cyclists. Along with several biking trails, the city counts more than 400 miles of bike-friendly routes. If you’re just visiting, check out a cruiser with sunflower-yellow wheels from Routes Rentals to tour the city in the slow lane. Find a bike map online and bike rentals at Routes Rentals: 1102 Mountain Rd. NW, Suite 101; (505) 933-5667.
In a city known for its great running conditions—mild weather, high altitude, and plenty of trails—a quorum of enthusiasts favors this path, which stretches 16 miles through the Río Grande bosque. The trail is uninterrupted by car traffic, making it the perfect locale for the out-and-back route of the Duke City Marathon, held here each October. Near Montaño Road you’ll pass the Aldo Leopold Trail—easy, interpretive paths that lead to the river and honor this founding father of conservationism, who once resided in the city. Access the trail off Alameda and Paseo del Norte roads, from Tingley Beach, or other points.
Confession: When the blockbuster Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta approaches each October, I groan slightly at the thought of the added traffic caused by the 100,000 visitors that flock to the city. But without fail, when I see those candy-colored drops take to the skies, I feel immense delight, and my traffic woes are quickly forgotten. The balloons’ beauty doesn’t only alight once a year; pilots regularly take advantage of the city’s prime soaring conditions. In fact, I took my first ride in April. My best friend’s birthday was a fantastic excuse for a flight. What will yours be?
28. Holy Cow Burgers
With its retro vibe, tasty food, and location in Albuquerque’s EDo (East Downtown) neighborhood, Holy Cow has quickly become one of my favorite burger joints. All the beef is hormone-free and grass-fed. The veggie burger is also delightful. Be sure to save room for a milkshake for dessert. 700 Central Ave. SE; (505) 242-2991.
29. Le Chantilly/La Quiche Parisienne Bistro
Albuquerque is home to not one but two fine French bakeries. Le Chantilly and Le Quiche both serve breakfast and lunch, as well as a full slate of pastries throughout the day. I’m a choco-holic, so my favorite dessert at Le Chantilly is the Maxamillion, an almond shortbread pilled high with chocolate ganache and a hard, dark-chocolate shell. At Le Quiche opt for the almond-chocolate croissant for breakfast. Le Chantilly: 8216 Menaul Blvd. NE; (505) 293-7098. La Quiche: 5850 Eubank NE, Ste. 17; (505) 242-2808.
The purveyors of this single-origin coffee shop learned the business under their grandfather’s watchful eye. Today, The Brew serves single-origin beans (from Villa Myriam in Piendamó, Colombia) that are roasted locally. Both steamy espresso drinks and the Nitro Cold Brew coffee are wonderful—as is the colorful ambiance. During sunny days, grab a table on the back patio. 311 Gold Ave. SW; (505) 363-9453.
As a smaller metropolitan center, Albuquerque has few professional sports teams, but with top collegiate teams from the University of New Mexico in basketball, soccer, baseball, and other sports, we’re hardly missing out. Go Lobos!
32. Gold Street Caffé
This hip café’s downtown location makes it a great spot for a power-lunch during the week, and a brunch spot on the weekend. Standouts: the red-chile glazed bacon and the huevos rancheros. 218 Gold Ave. SW; (505) 765-1633. (Editor Note: This business has closed since this article was originally published)
This is a top destination for first-time visitors to the city, but for locals, rising to the 10,378-foot Sandia Peak in an aerial gondola remains a thrilling experience. Taking the tram to the mountaintop can be a short cut to the Sandia Peak Ski Area (on the east side of the mountains) or to the snowshoeing/hiking trails along the crest. Even if all you do is take in the 11,000 square-miles of panoramic views, it’s worth the trip. (505) 856-7325.
One the city’s west side, this Monument protects an estimated 24,000 images carved into black volcanic rock. Wander three canyon trails that will guide you past the pictographs that represent the area’s ancient history—both cultural and geological.
The Monument includes the Volcanoes Day Use Area, which offers one- to two-mile hiking trails among the remnants of cinder cones that once formed the city’s landscape. Great views abound.
The center’s impressive permanent art collection alone makes it worth a visit, but its ongoing series of visual arts exhibitions and performances make it a repeat destination. The center hosts world-class musicians through its Chispa series, theatre performances by Yjastros, the dance company of Albuquerque’s National Institute of Flamenco, and film and theatre series. Once a year, its grounds are the site of the ¡Globalquerque! world-music festival, a can’t-miss event. 1701 Fourth St. SW; (505) 246-2261.
This South Valley eatery near the National Hispanic Cultural Center is an institution. Known for its posole and huevos rancheros, it’s a homey joint where locals dine; many of them have been coming here for decades. 1502 Fourth St. SW; (505) 843-7577
38. Public Art/516 Arts
In 1978, Albuquerque became home to one of the first public art programs in the country. The art, which is on display at the Albuquerque International Sunport and throughout the city, enlivens alleyways and bustling boulevards. Downtown alone boasts 15 pieces of public art—from the Gilberto Guzman mural The Harvest to the Jake Lovato sculpture Holocaust Memorial. The city also partnered with contemporary art center 516 Arts to create a series of murals. Stop by 516 Arts (516 Central Ave. SW) to pick up a walking-tour map of public art offerings or download one.
39. ABQ BioPark
The ABQ BioPark includes the Zoo, Botanic Garden, Aquarium, and Tingley Beach. These destinations are wonderful at any age, but children will take special delight in visiting each. Check out the BUGarium at the Botanic Garden (open fall 2015). Plan your trip around shark feeding times at the Aqauirum. And don’t miss Tingley Beach, a sometimes underappreciated member of this quartet, which features several small lakes for fishing.
40. Flying Star Café
A go-to spot for locals, this bustling chain of cafés has several locations around the city. Each location serves great salads, New Mexican, and comfort foods. The desserts often get high marks—if you’re tempted, try the Rio Grande Mud Pie.
41. KiMo Theater
Situated on Route 66 (Central Avenue) in downtown Albuquerque, this historic theater is an architectural gem. It’s also a hub for performing arts, drawing national music groups and speakers, and home to Indie Q nights, during which local filmmakers who are part of Albuquerque’s thriving movie scene can film their homegrown productions. In 2012, check out the centennial film series in celebration of New Mexico’s 100 years of statehood. 423 Central Ave. NW; (505) 768-3522.
Open for breakfast and lunch, this eatery’s menu is flush with seasonal, local, and organic ingredients. You’d be hard-pressed to find an item on the menu that isn’t delicious. You can’t go wrong with the Grove Pancakes—French crêpe-style folds topped with fresh fruit, crème fraîche, and honey—and the Farmer’s Salad with house-made lemon basil vinaigrette. 600 Central Ave.; (505) 248-9800.
The city is home to at least 30 live-theater organizations, which, under the umbrella of the Albuquerque Theater Guild, raise the curtain on more performances each weekend in the Duke City than most cities this size can boast. The Theater Guild includes well-known groups, such as the Albuquerque Little Theater and Musical Theater Southwest, as well as more offbeat, though no less talented, ensembles such as
Housed in a historic building opened in 1939 by New Mexico native Conrad Hilton, Hotel Andaluz reigns as an elegant, Spanish-inspired boutique hotel in the city’s center. If you’re looking for live music from Thursday through Saturday nights, head to the Casablanca Room for the likes of Latin act Nosotros and jazz trios. If the vibe in Casablanca leaves you too spent to head home, you can book an environmentally friendly stay at the hotel—Andaluz is among the few hotels in the U.S. certified LEED Gold. 125 Second St.; (505) 242-9090.
45. Guild Cinema
Sprinkle a bit of red-chile powder on your popcorn and fold down a seat at this indie movie house. The Guild, established in 1966, screens both national and local independent films in its cozy theater--—which has just the right amount of vintage charm. 3405 Central Ave. NE; (505) 255-1848.
46. Mountain Biking
Albuquerque was named one of the top three cities for biking by Bicycle Magazine in 2006—and it wasn’t just for road biking. The hills and open spaces around the city provide ample opportunity to gear up for this sport. In addition to Bear Canyon, try Manzano/Four Hills Open Space, Embudo Canyon Open Space, and the Sandia Peak Ski Area for great rides. If you want to try a tour, contact the New Mexico Touring Society to join up with one of their regularly scheduled rides.
For these events on the first and third Fridays every month, galleries open their doors in the evening to allow you to explore their new shows and offerings at leisure. The artists are often on hand. Be sure to check out Mariposa Gallery, Matrix Fine Art, and New Grounds Print Workshop in Nob Hill, and Sumner & Dene, Downtown Contemporary Gallery, and Harwood Art Center downtown.
I rarely make it beyond the driving range, but avid golfers find much to love in Albuquerque. With its mild climate, golfing is possible nearly year-round, and with more than 14 courses in the area, there’s plenty of terrain from which to choose. Twin Warriors Golf Club and Paa-Ko Ridge Golf Club regularly make it to the “best-of” lists.
49. ABQ Trolley Co. Best of Albuquerque Tour
This tour lives up to its reputation as the “best first thing to do in Albuquerque.” Two locals (aka “The Trolley Guys”) founded this tour company, slapped stucco on a trolley, and, since 2009, has been conducting tours of the city’s top destinations. This tour features not only marquee attractions, but also local neighborhoods and trivia. Depending on the season, themed tours visit Breaking Bad filming locations, haunted locales, and holiday light displays.
Often dubbed as the scenic way to drive to Santa Fe, this picturesque drive is worth a trip in itself. Explore the east mountain towns of Tijeras, Cedar Crest, Sandia Park, Golden, Madrid, and Cerrillos along N.M. 14. You’ll find plenty of restaurants, galleries, and quirky museums, such as the animated folk art Tinkertown Museum, ripe for exploring. Among all the reasons to love Albuquerque, this may just be the best: With its central location, it’s a great destination from which to explore New Mexico’s many enchantments.