PeaceJoyAustin

Cheap, free, and local-endorsed things to do in beautiful places

Albuquerque

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  • Largest city in New Mexico
  • 5,312ft (higher than the Mile High City)
  • Distinctive architecture, superb cuisine, & desert scenery

Metro population: 907,000 (#60 in U.S.)

When To Visit: Year-round

Climate: Warm, dry, & sunny year round. Cooler temperatures with some snow in winter.

I visited Albuquerque during Memorial Day weekend and was struck by how empty the city felt – as if it was a place people escaped from, rather than escaped to, during long weekends. I think this is a shame as I found it to reflect all of the best aspects of New Mexico – the unique architectural style, the wonderful New Mexican twist on Mexican food, and the quiet beauty and serenity of its desert landscape. The fact that it isn’t a touristy city only adds to its appeal.

Photo: San Felipe de Neri Church, Old Town

Where To Go in Albuquerque

Old Town Albuquerque: Take a stroll through this beautiful area brimming with historic buildings, art galleries, and local shops – culminating in a central plaza that faces an incredible old church (see top photo) and features live music throughout the day. Free. 303 Romero St NW. (505) 243-6393

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Photo: Old Town Albuquerque

Sandia Peak Tramway: Want a sweeping view of the city or a taste of New Mexico nature? This is your spot. Take the tram up and down the majestic Sandia Peaks for $25 or if you have time, buy a one-way ticket for $15 and hike back down to your car like I did. Once you reach the top, follow the Crest Trail to the La Luz & Tramway trails and 10 downhill miles & about 4-5 hours later, you’ll be back at the bottom having enjoyed the best views in the state the whole way. 30 Tramway Rd NE. (505) 856-6419

Nob Hill & University of New Mexico: Nob Hill is the unofficial hipster / hippie / cool neighborhood of the city so it’s obviously a must. The 2 mile strip of Central Avenue from San Mateo Blvd to University Blvd is teeming with art, shopping, and food and at any point you can walk one block south in the residential area to see a variety of New Mexico style homes ranging from cute to exquisite. On the Western end of Nob Hill lies the University of New Mexico campus which is a pleasant place to explore. Don’t miss the quaint Alumni Memorial Chapel or the Duck Pond (where I experienced some of the cutest duck family watching of my life). Free.

Petroglyph National Monument: 25,000 petroglpyhs on basalt boulders mostly within Albuquerque city limits! Begin your exploration at the Visitor Center where you can get oriented to the various areas of the park and pick a walk or hike that suits your schedule. I chose the Boca Negra Canyon area and combined the Cliff Base, Macaw, and Mesa Point trails for a 2 mile, 30-40 minute walk alongside countless petroglyphs to the top of a hill with great views of the surrounding hills and the city. Free.

Tingley Beach: This local hang-out spot is not much of a beach, but it is a nice park with a few ponds, colorful paddleboats for rent, and supreme people watching. Free. 1800 Tingley Drive SW. (505) 768-2000

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Photo: Tingley Beach

Downtown: Downtown Albuquerque feels a lot of like most Downtowns of large but not huge cities – a few tall skyscrapers, a conglomerate of bars & restaurants (on Central Avenue), and horse carriages waiting to take you for an (expensive & immoral) ride at night. Don’t miss Albuquerque’s most famous building – the KiMo Theatre, a stunningly one-of-a-kind abode building that’s on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. 423 Central Avenue NW

Albuquerque Cheap Eats

Albuquerque restaurants and fast casual eateries popular with locals where you can get a full meal for under $15. I always highlight some vegan or vegetarian options – cutting down on the amount of meat you eat is by far the #1 way you can reduce your environmental impact and contribute less to animal cruelty.

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Owl Cafe

Taco Mex: The best taco of my life! A friend recommended the more famous Tacos Mex y Mariscos to me, but I accidentally ended up at this hole in the wall at the corner of a strip mall and I’m so glad I did! Completely authentic, delicious street tacos for under $2. Said taco that earned my heart? Al pastor. 640 Coors Boulevard Northwest, Suite 26, Barelas/West Valley. (505) 352-6000

Owl Cafe: This 50s style diner is an Albuquerque staple and the perfect spot for a casual meal any time of day. The outside of the restaurant is shaped into a giant owl – you have to see it to believe it! The food is largely – you guessed it – traditional American diner food. I recommend their green chili burger; you can’t leave New Mexico without having one. 800 Eubank Boulevard, Eastside. (505) 291-4900

Mary & Tito’s: Popular with locals since 1963 (!) and housed in a wonderful example of New Mexico architecture, this New Mexican restaurant has excellent renditions of sopapillas, burritos, and more classic Southwestern dishes. 2711 4th Street Northwest, Westside. (505) 344-6266

Blake’s Lotaburger: Green chile is the most popular topping at this affordable Southwestern fast food joint, and you can try New Mexican dishes like frito pie and chile bowls. 3 locations in Albuquerque. (505) 255-5601

Nearby Side Trips from Albuquerque

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Photo: Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

Santa Fe & Taos: This pair of small cities (1 and 2 hours north of Albuquerque) hosts more of the state’s beautiful architecture, historic landmarks, and tons of unique art galleries. Read more.

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument: 1.5 hours to the north, this off-the-radar park created in 2001 has striking unique “tent rock” formations. Take the 3 mile round trip Tent Rocks Trail for the best views. Read more.

Bandelier National Monument: Take the easy 1.2 mile Main Loop Trail at this monument 1.5 hours north of Albuquerque to see well-preserved cliff dwellings and petroglyphs that morph into their beautiful canyon surroundings. Vehicle access is restricted – you must take the shuttle into the park from the town of White Rock most of the year. Read more.

Los Alamos: This unique community of scientists, engineers, and researchers close to Bandelier Monument is famous for being the location where the first nuclear bomb was developed. Enjoy the town’s museums and parks. Read more.

 

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