Here is just a very partial list of things, places and gems to see, experience or drink in Albuquerque. At this point, I can write a book—and maybe I should—but this will do for now. Enjoy the capital of the Southwest!
A couple of years ago, my wife and I decided to forsake our usual lodging of Holiday Inn Expresses and stayed at Los Poblanos Historic Inn (4803 Rio Grande Blvd. NW, Los Ranchos De Albuquerque, 505-344-9297; www.lospoblanos.com) as a mini-honeymoon; it's the only place we've stayed at since, damn the prices. A series of cottages set in a lavender farm offers the comfiness of a staycation with the oasis-like quality of a dream—a bunch of trees, lily ponds and silos will do that to you. Breakfasts featuring local veggies, cheeses and meats are complimentary for guests, and there's even a secret happy hour in Los Poblanos' library. Stroll the grounds or relax in the main building, a former ranch house featuring numerous WPA artworks. And be on the lookout for Albert, the albino peacock!
Just down the street is Bookworks (4022 Rio Grande Blvd. NW, Albuquerque, 505-344-8139; www.bkwrks.com), the city's finest indie bookstore and the place all the major authors stop at when they have a new tome to plug. It specializes in books of the American Southwest and current events.
Jubilation Wine and Spirits (3512 Lomas Blvd. NE, Albuquerque, 505-255-4404; www.jubilationwines.com) is the Hi-Time Wine Cellars of New Mexico. Its biggest holdings are in wines, many from the Land of Enchantment's underrated wineries, but it also stocks shelves of local craft beer. Even better, Jubilation makes it a point to carry all the spirits that New Mexico's distilleries are increasingly, um, distilling, whether from Silver Springs or Santa Fe, absinthe or pecan-flavored rum.
The National Hispanic Cultural Center (1701 Fourth St. SW, Albuquerque, 505-246-2261; www.nhccnm.org) not only has impressive permanent and traveling exhibits, but it also offers almost-nightly performances (either outdoors in its gorgeous plaza or inside its spacious theater), featuring everything from flamenco and New Mexican music to chipster darlings La Santa Cecilia and Quetzal. Plus, it houses some of the most thorough genealogical records of Hispanic lineage in the Americas. Do you claim that your family came directly from Spain and never married with Injuns? Here lies the truth.
At some point, you have to stop at Blake's LotaBurger (www.lotaburger.com), the In-N-Out of the Southwest most famous for its green chile hamburgers and for its ubiquity (there are more than 30 in ABQ alone). Even better, though, Blake's offers awesome carne adovada burritos in the morning—you've never had a breakfast burrito until you try New Mexico's version of al pastor. And its seasonal milkshakes spotlight everything from peach to boysenberry.
While Albuquerque is awesome, a day trip north to the Santuario de Chimayó (15 Santuario Dr., Chimayó—but don't bother with GPS on this one; www.elsantuariodechimayo.us) is also a must. It houses a couple of small shrines, one of which holds a pozo from which you can get holy dirt, another housing a statue of the Santo Niño de Atocha, an apparition of the Baby Jesus that brought comfort to soldiers during the Bataan Death March. Surrounding the Santuario are small stores selling everything from smoky Chimayó chiles to folk art. And while any time is great for a visit, the best time is right after a snowstorm, when the snow starts melting off roofs and the whole scene resembles the holiest Christmas village you'll ever encounter.
Then spend the night in Santa Fe. The Drury Plaza Hotel (828 Paseo De Peralta, Santa Fe, 505-424-2175; druryplazasantafe.com) is a gorgeous spot just off the city's historic center with an awesome, free happy hour for guests and the magnificent Eloisa run by Southwestern-cuisine legend John Sedlar and has a Georgia O'Keeffe-inspired dinner (Sedlar's aunt was her personal cook for years). And before you leave, step into Santa Fe's beautiful indie bookstore, Collected Works (202 Galisteo St., Santa Fe, 505-988-4226; www.cwbookstore.com), which is usually open by 8 a.m.
Back to ABQ: The best-known brewer is Tractor Brewing (118 Tulane Dr. SE, Albuquerque, 505-433-5654; www.getplowed.com), and its most recent location is in trendy Nob Hill. My beer-sipping pals vouch for the brews (I infamously can't stand beer), but I swear by the cider, which comes from New Mexico apples and makes Mott's taste like gutter water.
The Etsy crowd goes to The Octopus and the Fox (514 Central Ave. SE, Albuquerque, 505-203-2659; octofoxshop.com), which sells the makes of local crafters, vintage tchotchkes and the coolest New Mexico-logoed stuff you can imagine. A pillow emblazoned with a map of New Mexico? Score!
You're on native land, so stop by Pueblo Harvest Cafe and Bakery at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center (2401 12th St. NW, Albuquerque, 505-724-3510; www.indianpueblo.org). Serving foods traditional (pozole, mutton stew) and not (onion rings in blue corn batter), I once ordered seven dishes that fed me for a week, so delicious and hearty the offerings were.
For a rollicking time, your spot is Effingbar and Grill (5300 Sequoia Rd., Albuquerque, 505-833-3765; www.effingbaralb.com). Don't underestimate its strip mall location: I've seen everything from massive brawls to Selena sing-alongs to a little man dominating the dance floor by charming the chonis off the night's hottest women with his moves.
Even if you don't like war, the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History (601 Eubank Blvd. SE, Albuquerque, 505-245-2137; www.nuclearmuseum.org) is a wonderful way to learn about our Atomic Age and to recite what Oppenheimer said as he saw Trinity exploding just a couple of hours away.
Albuquerque is a great place for vintage shopping, and the best store is Flea Mart (5015 Lomas NE, Albuquerque, 505-262-8585). I've found everything from Katharine Hepburn bios to old-time dentist kits to beautiful Pendleton short-sleeved shirts for $10.
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Quick shoutouts: The Albuquerque Museum (2000 Mountain Rd. NW, Albuquerque, 505-242-4600; www.albuquerquemuseum.org) offers cutting-edge art and history and also has a massive sculpture honoring the town's original settlers. Go to Albuquerque Convention Center (401 Second St. NW, Albuquerque, 505-768-4575; www.albuquerquecc.com) for your guild/society/organization/club's annual bacchanal, Burritos Alinstante (2101 Broadway SE, Albuquerque, 505-242-0966; burritosalinstante.com) for awesome New Mexico-style burritos, and Barelas Cafe (1502 Fourth St. SW, Albuquerque, 505-843-7577) for a bowl of red chile.
And two more mini-odes: La Mexicana (306 Coal Ave. SW, Albuquerque, 505-242-2558) not only serves great New Mexican food, but it's also a tortilla factory that's among the oldest in Albuquerque and sources its corn from Estancia, New Mexico, home to some of the finest kernels in the United States. And it has a small shop that sells awesome blue corn tortillas to-go, perfect tortilla chips, scalding-yet-sweet jarred ghost pepper salsa and sopaipillas for days. Finally, the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce (1309 Fourth St. SW, Albuquerque, 505-842-9003; www.ahcnm.org), one of the oldest such Latino organizations in the United States, is filled with people ready to regale you with the best things to do in ABQ. See you here soon!