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Hiking trail 193 offers wildflower blooms, prime prickly pear-scavenging and sweeping views of the city below. Photo by Haley Gray

First-Timer’s Guide: Albuquerque, New Mexico

For stunning high desert, craft breweries, and world-class art, drive south.

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The Land of Enchantment’s biggest city, Albuquerque, might just be the Southwest’s most underrated destination. Nestled against the stunning Sandia Mountains, this city has more to offer than most realize—if you know where to look. Here’s your guide to eating, playing, and staying in the ABQ.

The Odometer: 450 miles (six hours), one way


Petroglyph National Monument. Courtesy of Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau

Get Outside: Start in town with a cottonwood-shaded stroll along the Rio Grande on the Paseo del Bosque trail (find access points and maps here). If you’re looking to gain some elevation, hiking trail 193 (Embudo Trail) offers a mellow, wildflower and cacti-filled hike in the foothills of the Sandias and sweeping views of the city below. For something a little more challenging, hit the La Luz Trail, a strenuous, nine-mile hike that climbs to the highest point in the Sandias—10,678 feet. The trail offers rewarding views, but make sure to check with the Cibola Ranger District regarding extreme weather or other concerns before embarking, and bring lots of water and snacks. Make a half-day trip out of scouting for ancient carvings in Petroglyph National Monument, where you’ll find several trails of varying levels of difficulty around the three dormant volcanoes that loom over Albuquerque.

Old Town Albuquerque. Courtesy of Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau

Get Cultured: It would be a crime to visit any part of New Mexico (yes, Albuquerque included) without experiencing its celebrated art. For galleries, head to 516 Arts for cutting edge contemporary shows or Tortuga for visual arts, concerts, and other events with a political or ecological message. In terms of museums, the National Hispanic Culture Center, housed in a striking building that is a work of art in its own right, features rotating exhibits worth experiencing. The same can be said for the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, where you’ll find pieces that focus on the rich history of New Mexico’s pueblos.

Duran Central Pharmacy. Photo by Daniel X. O’Neil

Eat & Drink: For morning cup of joe, caffeine junkies shouldn’t miss 35° North Coffee’s Latitude Adjustment—a hot coffee emulsified with grass-fed butter, coconut oil, and MCT oil (similar to Bulletproof Coffee) for an intense buzz that will keep you energized all day (really). For everyone else, Winning Coffee Co. on Harvard Drive, a colorful drag near the University of New Mexico, offers bargain eats and first-rate people watching.

Grab organic sandwiches and snacks for the day’s excursions from La Montañita Co-op. For dinner, El Pinto draws out-of-towners with its charming patios in Albuquerque’s North Valley, or find a fresh, seasonal menu at Farm & Table. To eat like a local, head to Duran Central Pharmacy on Central Avenue, a family-owned joint adjoined to an actual pharmacy, or the barn house-shaped diner Frontier, a local staple. As for your post-meal brew, Marble Brewery is a favorite, famous for its Double White Belgian-inspired wheat ale. Other choice brewery hangouts include the elegantly decorated Bow & Arrow Brewing Co. and Santa Fe Brewing Co.’s outpost in the Green Jeans Farmery plaza.

Rail Yards Market. Photo by Enrique A. Sanabria

Shop: In a past life, Albuquerque’s Sunday Rail Yards Market serviced rail cars on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. Today, local artisans fill the elegantly decaying space with an array of incredible eats—from low-price tamales to artfully composed gluten-free pastries—and one-of-a-kind goods like earrings made from butterfly wings or herbalist-blended teas. For duds and southwest-chic home furnishings, head to Nob Hill, a posh shopping district in the heart of Midtown that encompasses a historic stretch of Route 66. The area offers a taste of 1940s Americana, with its antique neon signs and WWII-era architecture.

Visitors also love the city’s Old Town for its enchanting adobe architecture and abundance of ABQ souvenirs (the Breaking Bad-inspired crystal blue candy from the Candy Lady is too good to pass up). At the Saturday farmers market in downtown’s Robinson Park, find bountiful local produce, jams, breads, breakfast burritos, and cold juices and teas, plus live music and a grassy place to kick back and enjoy the morning.

Route 66 Hostel. Courtesy of Route 66

Stay: Los Poblanos is a historic inn and organic farm. With it’s circa-1934 charm, wood-burning fireplaces and heavenly lavender gardens, it’s well worth the price tag and distance from Albuquerque’s main drags. Budget travelers will love the Route 66 Hostel, a converted house on Central Avenue that’s steps from downtown and the Saturday farmers market.

The Sandia Peak Tramway. Courtesy of Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau

If you do one thing: Jaw-dropping vistas (that you don’t have to hike to) wait atop the Sandia Peak Tramway on the east edge of town. Get the most out of your $25 tram ticket by visiting in the early mornings, when the weather is cool and the crowds are sparse.

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