Photo by gettyimages.com/marc_gutierrez
Founded in 1706 as a Spanish outpost, the city's cultural and culinary scenes still reflect its Spanish roots.
El Pinto Restaurant
Welcome to the classic New Mexican restaurant of your dreams — shaded portals, chile ristras hanging by the dozens, mariachi music served alongside margaritas, with sizzling plates of enchiladas to match. Jack and Connie Thomas started the business in 1962 in one room, and now under the ownership of their sons, aka the Salsa Twins, the palatial restaurant seats 1,200, making it the largest of its variety in the state.
Casa de Benavidez
Home of the famous sopaipilla burger (a green chile cheeseburger with the fluffy fried dough as a bun), this North Valley restaurant was once a carryout joint run out of the Benavidez family home. The eatery now sprawls throughout the residence and spills over onto the patio. Hector Pimentel, one of four sons from the famous Pimentel Luthier family, performs classical Spanish guitar here on weekends.
Church Street Café
Church Street Café is a New Mexican–food mainstay. Set in Casa Ruiz, a rambling adobe home built shortly after Albuquerque's 1706 founding, the restaurant matches its historic setting with signature regional dishes, like rellenos (stuffed, battered, and fried chile) and bowls of red and green chile posole (hominy stew).
Barelas Coffee House
Neighborhood regulars have been coming since its 1978 launch, though more famous faces, including former presidents and governors, have dined here, too. The servers treat everyone like family as they dish out breakfast burritos smothered with potent red chile or carne adovada in the homey café.
A small neighborhood, Old Town has an outsized share of shopping. Some 150 galleries and boutiques are housed within its historic adobes and ensconced in its scenic courtyards. Albuquerque Photographers Gallery is a staple for sweeping landscapes and poignant portraits from local talent, while Ghostwolf Gallery turns heads with contemporary art from a roster of some of Albuquerque's best. Wild Rose Boutique outfits women with Euro Western apparel, and Old Town Hat Shop pairs perfect accessories for women and men.
www.abqphotographersgallery.com, www.ghostwolf.gallery, www.thewildroseabq.com, www.oldtownhats.com
Sandia Peak Tramway
Put aside a half-day for Albuquerque's most iconic attraction. Starting in the foothills (if you need liquid courage, grab a drink at Sandiago's Grill at the base), the cable cars glide 2.7 miles above deep canyons and stunning scenery to the Sandia Mountains Peak. The tram terminal affords Rio Grande Valley views. If those don't make you lose your breath, the elevation might: You're standing at 10,378 feet. A new restaurant is slated to be unveiled at the peak in May 2019 — a perfect perch for a post-hike beer or a romantic date night.
Petroglyph National Park
This monument protects one of the largest petroglyph sites in North America — acres of volcanic boulders etched with geometric designs, handprints, and symbols carved here some 400 to 700 years ago by Native Americans and Spanish settlers.
National Hispanic Cultural Center
Blank spot in your calendar? You're likely to fill it at this cultural center with more than 700 music concerts, theater performances, film screenings, and art openings each year. If that doesn't fill your slate, peruse the visual arts gallery, which features a permanent collection of LatinX and Nuevo Mexicano art — don't miss the Tamale Man sculpture and the works of Nick Abdalla, to name only two — as well as rotating exhibitions. While you're there, stop in Pop Fizz for a traditional paleta (fruit popsicle) or an ice cream taco.
Where can you see conquistador helmets and Georgia O'Keeffe paintings under one roof? At the city's Old Town–adjacent museum. Only in Albuquerque chronicles the central Rio Grande Valley's history with interactive displays, while Common Ground: Art in New Mexico draws from the museum's 10,000-piece-strong permanent collection to hang works from the likes of Fritz Scholder, Luis Jimenez, and Diego Romero.
Two Albuquerque Landmarks
This 1927 picture palace doubles as a venue and an architectural landmark — it's the epitome of Pueblo Deco, a blend of Southwest style and art deco. Don't miss eight Carl Von Hassler murals depicting the search for the seven cities of gold in the lobby and the eerie cow skulls with red-glowing eyes lining the stage during film screenings and author talks.
The historic Mother Road masquerades as Central Avenue, one of the city's main thoroughfares. Albuquerque is one of the only places in the United States where Route 66 intersects with itself at Central Avenue and Fourth Street thanks to a 1937 realignment quirk.
Did you know?
New Mexico is known for some of the best flamenco dancing outside of Spain. In Albuquerque, that tradition swirls onto center stage weekly at the Tablao Flamenco Albuquerque, inside Hotel Albuquerque. Tablao is considered the purest form of flamenco — raw and improvisational, like jazz. The Thursday through Sunday performances feature international performers and local elite dancers and musicians — with tapas and sangria on the side.