Sitting high in the desert, it’s New Mexico’s largest city and was founded in 1706 as a Spanish colony. Today, the core of the modern Downtown area contrasts vividly with Old Town, which is filled with historic adobe buildings, such as San Felipe de Neri Church, as well as specialty shops selling Native American handicrafts and other unique goods. Get a taste of true tribal history by taking a trek down to this urban sprawl on route to Santa Fe or Taos.
Though the city sits perfectly set as the gateway to other New Mexico wonders such as Acoma Pueblo and Chaco Canyon, Albuquerque’s got a rich history and dramatic terrain all its own, with the meandering Rio Grande, desert volcanoes, and a striking array of mountain ranges that continue to capture the imagination of folks traveling to the region. Experience subtle beauties like a flock of sand hill cranes overhead, or take a hot-air balloon ride before checking out the various vintage Art Deco buildings and neon motel signs in town. You’ll also fall in love as you watch the Sandia Mountains get lit up pink by the fading rays of the summer sun.
There’s never short of activities to do here. Drive up the Camino Real or south into Barelas to catch a glimpse of vintage shops and taquerias galore all decked out with hand-painted signage in blazing-hot colors and idiosyncratic script. Be sure to stop for a bite at Barelas Coffee House or Garcia's Kitchen before taking a nice stroll or bike ride towards Paseo Del Bosque along the Rio Grande. Outdoor lovers with adore the lush scenery surrounding the 16-mile trail of cottonwoods, migrating birds, and an ever-present river rippling quietly on the side.
Culture enthusiasts might want to explore the National Hispanic Cultural Center or visit the historic KiMo Theatre in the center of Downtown right on old Route 66. Even watch a stellar sunset over the volcanoes in the Western desert—a brilliant pink flood that creeps up and over the valley by making its way east to illuminate the mighty Sandias before disappearing into the night. It's one of the best sights to witness in late summer when there’s an aroma of fresh roasting green chiles in the air.
Why not spending a day doing all of this? Kick it off with breakfast at Flying Star Café in the heart of Downtown before checking out the handful of shops and galleries on Gold and Central avenues. Head on out with a short drive west along Central to get to Old Town, where you can explore even more shops and museums, such as the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History and the Albuquerque BioPark, which contains an aquarium, a botanic park, and even a zoo.
Chow down with a quick lunch before taking the Red Line bus eastward to reach the main campus of the University of New Mexico and the nearby Nob Hill District. The UNM campus is home to numerous historic adobe buildings, as well as the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology and the UNM Art Museum. Then get ready for an evening of fun by checking out the array of offbeat shops in town, and trying out El Patio or Nob Hill Bar and Grill before heading back to Downtown for a bit of late-night barhopping. Fun.
As of late, Albuquerque has experienced a massive wave of hotel building, driven in part mainly because of the infamous amount of lodging shortages during the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta in October. Upscale, trendy hotels can be discovered all throughout downtown-- as well as by heading east on Central Avenue towards the University of New Mexico and the Nob Hill neighborhood. Those wanting something more affordable can venture on the I-40 to "uptown" or further north on I-25 towards the airport, where lodgings are typically more vanilla-flavored and business-traveler centric.
Old Town comprises the iconic historic district clustered around Rio Grande Boulevard south of Interstate 40 and includes essential tourist attractions like the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, the Old Town Plaza and ABQ BioPark Aquarium. Its plaza is home to top-notch “New West” memorabilia and souvenirs as well as high-end art galleries. Lots of cute, remodeled but still adobe-style condos and apartments are within walking distance of this city center.
If Center Avenue marks the north-south middle of Albuquerque, then Marquette-Bennet is certainly a central city location, just west of Interstate 25. Fanciful, refurbished homes are widely available at reasonable rates, often less Spanish-style or adobe than most houses in the “ABQ”. Hang out in coffee shops along the main drag or take a look inside the KiMo Theatre on Center Avenue, an impressive and important art deco building in Albuquerque that’s been rumored to be haunted since 1951.
Everything up-town from the Coronado Freeway and west of 12th Street counts as part of the diverse collection of little neighborhoods bordering the Rio Grande; North Valley and the lower end of Los Ranchos are within a reasonable distance of every worthwhile Albuquerque attraction. Owners take great pride in their available casitas and adobe homes, usually boasting authentic wood floors and furnishings, as well as non-invasive plants surrounding most properties. Even though North Valley isn’t in the heart of town, it has plenty of delicious food spanning cultures other than the expected (but still mouth-watering) Mexican fare, like Indian cuisine and Italian pizza joints. Be sure to wander around Rio Grande Nature Center State Park, where you can catch a glimpse of the famous U.S. waterway and the animals, flora and fauna which inhabit its banks.
Come stay in a modern-style desert home in the suburb of Sandia Heights, which makes up the eastern end of Albuquerque in the foothills beside the photo-friendly Sandia Mountains. Here, cacti and evergreens dot the landscape, as do native creatures like hawks, deer and bobcats. Some accommodations feature a sweeping view of the city, even with pristine conditions for stargazing at night. Along with upscale places to eat, visitors should definitely explore the many mountain trails east of Tramway Boulevard, like Piedra Lisa, La Luz or Embudo, which lead to other trails and vary in difficulty and length. For indoor family fun, drive west of I-25 to find Gravity Park, a warehouse full of trampolines and ball pits.
A village just north of town, Corrales has a rural feel that bodes well for a relaxing getaway. Adobe houses for rent are usually pet-friendly and have decks with a view of the Sandia Mountains—don’t forget to whip out a camera to capture a beautiful pink sunset. Livestock and areas for keeping horses and goats are all around the general area, so consider booking a tour on horseback while you’re there with a local venture, like Red Horse Riding Company. Vineyards, farmer’s markets and pottery galleries in the vicinity will also enhance your visit, with many interesting boutiques in the neighborhood east of Rio Rancho. For delicious, top-rated Mexican food, dig into the options in the nearby town of Bernalillo.
The entire surrounding area of exquisite Bosque lands along the Rio Grande is a renowned network of bicycle and hiking trails that have been creatively developed by the city. Downtown serves as a primary hub for the New Mexico Railrunner, which offers daily for transfers commuters and visitors alike to Santa Fe along the scenic Rio Grande corridor. What’s more is that although the city in itself sprawls widely, there are a handful of neighborhoods well worth exploring on foot, including both Downtown and Old Town, as well as the adjoining Nob Hill and UNM neighborhoods. Try bunching together a bunch of interesting area attractions that interest you to make the most out of an all-day trek across Albuquerque by hitting up the Bosque Brewing Co. and then the Balloon Museum before going to check out the Petroglyph National Monument.
If you get tired, take a ride on the Sandia Peak Tram, or make it even more of an adventure by embarking on a narrated ride via the ABQ Trolley Co., which provides a variety of open-air trolleys that take travelers on route to unique areas—such as the shooting locations of the television show “Breaking Bad.” Some might even opt to savor a bit of New Mexican culture and history with a jeep tour or a guided hikes starting from Albuquerque courtesy of local-history expert Roch Hart, owner of NM Jeep Tours. Of course, for those jetting in, there’s always just Albuquerque's airport, the Albuquerque International Sunport, which serves as the major air hub for all of New Mexico.
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