(What the heck is an Overly Opinionated Guide?)
Ahh, Albuquerque: home of Breaking Bad, the Southwest’s little Hollywood, frequent butt of jokes because of how difficult it is to spell. (Say it “al-boo-kwer-kew” in your head – we all do.) Interested in visiting this interesting city in the Land of Enchantment? Read on!
Albuquerque is two things all year round: high and dry. If you’re not used to the altitude and you let yourself get dehydrated, things will go downhill very quickly. Pack a water bottle and use it frequently, pack chap-stick and lotion or else your hands and lips will bleed, and make sure you have ibuprofen. (Maybe it’s just me, but I get altitude headaches for about a week after I return to ABQ or go somewhere else.)
It doesn’t sandstorm here quite like it does in other parts of the Southwest, but we still get strong winds and dust in our noses.
Albuquerque is not the safest place in the world. Or the states. I don’t want to scare you, I just don’t want you coming to me on twitter yelling “Hey! You didn’t tell me about the weird drunk guys on Central!”
The international district through UNM and downtown goes from safe and charming (Nob Hill, UNM’s Campus) to “yikes” in seconds. It’s unlikely you’ll get bothered. Just use common sense, avoid side streets off Central if you’re by yourself and it’s dark, walk confident, have a cell phone ready, and don’t worry about it too much. That goes for men and women both, by the way. But look. If I could do it at eighteen after growing up in a quiet New England town, you’ll be fine.
CULTURE AND BLENDING IN:
New Mexico is pretty laid back. There’s a huge mix of people – hippies, lots of artists, Diné folks from reservations up north, celebrities in town for filming or relaxing…the list goes on.
This is good! It means you don’t have to work too much to blend in. Clothing tends to be relaxed, patterned, and warmly colored. Cowboy wear isn’t uncommon but tends to be tamer than you might see in Texas. Silver and turquoise are popular among older ladies. Young women tend towards quirkier trends and wear lots of tribal patterns.
WHAT TO DO:
The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center is a must-see. Depending on when you visit there might be dance exhibitions and Indian fry-bread, which you must try. Personally, I’d opt for the Cultural Center instead of Old Town.
Sandia Peak Tramway. The ride is a little gut-twisting, but the views from the top are lovely.
If you have kids, check out Explora!, a fantastic local kids’ museum. The botanical gardens are also great for kids.
Breaking Bad Filming Sites. It’s not hard to find these, as the hit television show pretty much included the whole of Albuquerque as a secondary character. You can take a tour or do it yourself. Whatever you do, please don’t throw pizza on any roofs. The White’s house gets a massive amount of visits, and as far as I know is still occupied by people who don’t want to spend hours picking melty cheese off of the roof.
Petroglyph National Monument, for some quick hikes and interesting rock carvings a short way outside the city.
Route 66 crosses the Pan American Highway just a mile or two away from where I lived freshman year of college. Check out the Route 66 Diner if you’re interested in absurdly large banana splits. Along Central there are several old Route 66 hotels. I can’t vouch for any of them, but they’re nice to look at.
Nob Hill is a quirky little section of Central that I can spend hours wandering.
Santa Fe and Tent Rocks are both their own deal, but are an easy day trip north of town.
WHAT TO EAT:
Frontier is an Albuquerque classic. When I fly home from school, I always pick up a dozen tortillas on the way to the airport to bring back to family. That’s how good it is. They squeeze their orange juice fresh, and their Frontier Roll is to die for. This is the one place in the city that I’m absolutely floored didn’t make it into Breaking Bad.
The Range (in Albuquerque proper and Bernallio City as well) is my personal pick for good New Mexican food.
Favorite local chains are Flying Star and Satellite Coffee, run by the same parent company. Satellite’s got unique drinks and a great atmosphere. Flying Star’s got a wide selection of great food and is a good pick for keeping a family of vegetarians and omnivores happy. At Satellite, make sure to try the red stuff.
Speaking of coffee, if you’re the kind of person who likes to spend vacations in coffee shops for blogging/working/people watching purposes, Humble Coffee, Java Joe’s and Michael Thomas are all good options.
For something a little different, head to Gatos y Galletas, one of very few cat cafes in the US. I wrote about it here.
There’s a little place off Central called Annapurna that serves Ayudervic Indian food. If you want something healthy but flavorful, stop in!
Classic New Mexico eats include piñon, horchata, and anything with green chili.
GOOD TO KNOW:
-New Mexican food is NOT MEXICAN FOOD, I repeat, NOT MEXICAN FOOD. It’s it’s own thing.
-If someone mentions Christmas in the context of food, not holidays, they’re referring to a combination of green and red chili. Pretty much every New Mexican dish includes chili, and you can order with green, red, or a combination.
-People give directions using North/South/East/West all the time. This is because the Sandias are dead East. It’s hard to get too lost with this knowledge in your back pocket.
-Public transit exists, but it’s slow and seedy as heck. Stand near the bus driver and keep an eye on your belongings and you’ll be fine.
-New Mexicans really like Breaking Bad. The finale was a huge deal around here, and the Albuquerque Journal published an obit for Walter White. So even if it’s not your thing, don’t smack talk it unless you want to get, well, smacked.