By car, New Mexico feels like a far-off place. But now that low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines is offering 85-minute flights to Albuquerque (the cheapest starting at $98 roundtrip), our funky neighbor to the south is more accessible than ever. This month, catch the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (October 6 to 14), the world’s largest hot air balloon fest—and then use our 48-hour guide to explore the Duke City from the ground up.
9 a.m. Sustenance is required to power any whirlwind tour, so load up at Frontier Restaurant. The decades-old spot is known for dishing out the heartiest green-chile-topped breakfast burrito in town—though its gooey sweet rolls might be even better—and plenty of kitsch. The barn-shaped spot seats more than 300 diners, who feast under the gaze of multiple John Wayne portraits.
11 a.m. From Acoma to Zuni, the vibrant cultures of New Mexico’s 19 Pueblo tribes are always on display at the 42-year-old Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. Through January, cartoonist Ricardo Caté muses on the Indian experience in modern America with his biting panels. No need to wander far for lunch: The on-site Pueblo Harvest restaurant sources many ingredients from nearby tribal communities to concoct traditional dishes such as its Three Sisters elote (a grilled corn dish) as well as more contemporary riffs such as blue corn chicken and waffles.
3 p.m. Opened in 1927 as an elaborate cinema, the KiMo Theatre is renowned for its mixture of Pueblo and Art Deco architecture. Show yourself around any time from noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and from noon to 3 p.m. on Sunday.
6 p.m. If you’re a tourist, do touristy things—such as pausing for Insta-worthy shots of restored vintage signs humming next to modern neon along Albuquerque’s 18-mile strip of the original Route 66, now known as Central Avenue. Follow the storied street to the trendy Nob Hill neighborhood, where the New American fare, impressive wine list, and white tablecloths at Elaine’s offer an elegance rare in Albuquerque eateries.
10:30 p.m. Sleep inside an art exhibit at Nativo Lodge (starting at $140 per night), where contemporary Native American painters, including local Jodie Herrera, have decorated 35 suites with floor-to-ceiling murals. We suggest nabbing Herrera’s “Rest and Rise” room, with its full-length portrait of Sioux activist Zitkála-Šá, if it’s available.
10 A.m. El Pinto Restaurant and Cantina is the only restaurant in the nation with an on-site hen program approved by A Greener World, a nonprofit that bestows animal welfare certifications. Those pasture-raised eggs are the stars of the Hatch red chile eggs Benedict, a decadent brunch-time treat.
Noon: The Sandia Peak Tramway, a gondola system that crests plunging canyons and spruce and fir forests, will lift you high into the watermelon-red Sandia Mountains in just 15 minutes. Take the long way down via the steep, 7.7-mile La Luz Trail for views of the Rio Grande Valley, and then connect to the 2.6-mile Tramway Trail, which drops you close to your car.
6 p.m. Albuquerque is the unofficial capital of New Mexico IPAs, and La Cumbre Brewing Co.’s unassuming taproom is its statehouse. Start with Project Dank, a series of experimental brews. Then decide whether the Great American Beer Festival gold-medal-winning Elevated IPA can compete with Great Divide Brewing Company’s Titan. (Spoiler alert: It can.)