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10 Awesome Places to Explore in Albuquerque

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Melissa lives in Downtown Albuquerque. She loves sharing her local discoveries with fellow travelers and explorers.

Get to know the real Albuquerque by visiting places that the locals visit.

Get to know the real Albuquerque by visiting places that the locals visit.

If You Are an Adventurous Traveler, Albuquerque Is a Place You'll Love

I must warn you. This isn't a list for the typical tourist.

These quirky, must-see locations are only for people who really love to explore a destination and connect with locals. If you're afraid of getting lost or put off by anything that doesn't look like your local neighborhood, you should skip this article and refer to a typical travel book instead.

However, if you love to explore local sites and you're comfortable in your own skin, these are places you'll never forget.


Why You Want to Follow My Advice

I arrived in Albuquerque in 1990 and lived here for a year. I returned in 1999. I've lived in downtown Albuquerque for the last thirteen years. If you want to get technical about it, I live in East Downtown, also known as the Huning Highland neighborhood. I walk everywhere and take the bus when I need to. Not exactly the perfect transportation scenario in a city focused on car culture, but it works for me.

As a result, I get to see things others don't, and I'm happy to relay I'm a walking encyclopedia of interesting architecture and funky yard art located in central Albuquerque.

Here are a few of the places I recommend you see when you're visiting Albuquerque.


1. Murals in Downtown Albuquerque

Albuquerque loves murals. BIG murals. We especially love murals that fill up the whole side of a building. We love murals that make you think. We love murals that tell a story.

The downtown area has many murals, but you'll have to hunt for them. Not all of them can be seen from the street.

If you walk the area bordered by Second, Copper, Silver and Third Streets (that's a two block area), you'll easily find a half dozen murals. Keep looking. Artists and landlords are adding new ones all the time.

About This Location

When should I visit? Daytime is the best time to visit.

How do I get there? From the airport take I25 north and exit at Lead. Continue up the feeder road to Central Avenue and turn left under the freeway. Continue driving up Central Avenue past Broadway Boulevard and under the overpass. You are now in downtown Albuquerque.

What should I do there? Find a place to park and walk the area. There are souvenir shops, restaurants, and live music venues.

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Why is this location important? It's surprising architecture and history.

copyright 2016 AHA Creative Albuquerque

copyright 2016 AHA Creative Albuquerque

2. The Kimo Theater

While you're hanging around the downtown area, make sure you visit the Kimo Theater.

Opened in 1927, the Kimo is built in the Pueblo Deco style, a short-lived architectural and decorative style that's a fusion of Art Deco, Native American and Southwestern Pueblo styles.

Initially built as a film palace, The Kimo is a place one must see to believe. Photos don't do this architectural gem justice.

With an interior decor even more lavish than the exterior and a resident ghost that loves visitors, The Kimo is used today as a performance theater hosting ballets, musical acts, plays, and film festivals.

About This Location

When should I visit? You can see the outside of this building year-round. To see inside this venue, you'll need to visit during office hours. You can find out about tours at this City of Albuquerque Kimo website.

How do I get there? The Kimo sits on the corner of Central Ave and Fifth Street in downtown Albuquerque.

What should I do there? Take a tour or see a scheduled show.

Why is this location important? It's one of the few remaining examples of Pueblo Art Deco style architecture

Bart Prince Architecture on Monte Vista

Bart Prince Architecture on Monte Vista

3. Bart Prince Architecture

Bart Prince is a well-known American architect born in New Mexico. He was a former assistant to the American architect Bruce Goff.

Prince's work dots the Albuquerque landscape. There is no definitive map of his architecture so I will leave that up to you to find, although driving down Monte Vista in the Nob Hill area you are sure to get a surprise.

Some of his projects that are in Albuquerque include Bradford, Mead/Penhall, Parsifal and Scherger/Kolberg.

If you run into him and get his autograph, you get extra points.

About This Location

When should I visit? Year round

How do I get there? See the location map at the end of this article. Monte Vista crosses Central Ave on the west side of UNM.

What should I do there? View from the street only. Do not disturb the residents living in these structures.

Why is this location important? Bart Prince is known for creating unique residences across the Southwest.

4. The Rio Grande River: A River With Magical Properties

The Rio Grande River can be seen from Interstate 40. It's controlled upstream by the state and usually swells a bit when winter snow melts in the mountains, or we get hit with torrential rains.

It doesn't look like much. In fact, it looks downright puny when compared to the Mississippi. Don't let its appearance fool you. If you can find a quiet spot along its banks and have a moment to sit and watch its waters flow south, you'll be overcome with an amazing sense of peace.

The City of Albuquerque provides open space areas where you can picnic and even put a canoe into the river. They only allow non-motorized craft on the river--canoes, kayaks and rafts. The city provides maps and information about these areas. You can find out more about the Rio Grande Valley State Park areas along the river on the City of Albuquerque website.

There's also a bike and running trail that parallels the river. If you want to sound like a local, use the term "bosque" to describe the banks of the river.

Bosque Bill has some beautiful photos of this area on his website.

About This Location

When should I visit? You can visit year-round, but the park areas close early in the winter months November - March.

How do I get there? The Rio Grande River runs parallel to Interstate 25 and can be viewed from Interstate 40. Take I40 traveling west and cross I25. The river is roughly .5 miles from the I25/I40 interchange. You can also take the Rio Grande Boulevard exit on I40, travel north to Candelaria Rd NW and take a left (west) to arrive at the Nature Center along the banks of the river.

What should I do there? Bike, hike, walk.

Why is this location important? The Rio Grande River is a principal water source in the Southwest US. There's history and beauty here.

The entry driveway to Los Poblanos Inn.

The entry driveway to Los Poblanos Inn.

5. Rio Grande Boulevard

Vineyards, Farmland, and Small Haciendas

This road is loaded with history.

You'll need a vehicle to tour Rio Grande Boulevard. If you intend to get out of the car and explore each area along the way, you'll want to schedule a full day to take it all in.

You'll start your tour at Central and Rio Grande Boulevard, head north up Rio Grande Boulevard, wind your way through some of the oldest areas of the city, and end your tour at Almeda Boulevard.

Old Town Square

When you head north up Rio Grande Boulevard from Central, on your immediate right is Old Town, the central square of old Albuquerque. Visit souvenir shops, purchase silver jewelry from the local Native American artists, watch an old west gunfight (usually performed during the summer season), or just enjoy lunch and a stroll through the hidden alleyways. You could stay here all day and never see everything.

North of Interstate 40

Head further north on Rio Grande Boulevard, past Interstate 40 and you enter old farm and ranch land and a fascinating mishmash of cultures. Drive through neighborhoods on either side of the boulevard to get an idea of the crazy quilt of cultures, ideas and living arrangements located in Albuquerque. The neighborhoods on the west side of the boulevard backup to the Rio Grande River (You can see some of these grand homes when you visit #4 on this list.)

Los Ranchos de Albuquerque

Continue north and over the bridge at Montano Boulevard, and you'll enter the village of Los Ranchos de Albuquerque. Slow down, the speed limit is 25. The slow speed will force you to look at the incredible houses and land on either side of the road.

This boulevard parallels Fourth Street. If you see a road that looks interesting, take a quick right turn (once you pass the curves in the road!) and explore. You'll eventually end up on Fourth Street or back along Rio Grande Boulevard. It's easy to get turned around and end up on private property. The best policy for keeping the locals happy is to look for a street sign before taking a turn.

The jewel in this area is Los Poblanos Inn. You can visit this organic farm and inn and take a tour of its lavender fields.

The End of the Road

This tour ends at Alameda Boulevard. Take a left to head toward Rio Rancho or a right to head back toward Interstate 25. If you take a right, you'll cross Fourth Street, part of the original Route 66. Take a right on Fourth Street and drive it all the way back to downtown Albuquerque for more historic and quirky finds.

About This Location

When should I visit? You can visit year-round, but it's especially beautiful in late summer and autumn.

How do I get there? See the instruction above. For best results use a traditional map or GPS.

What should I do there? You can shop, eat, take in the sites. Look east for stunning views of the Sandia Mountains.

Why is this location important? This is the original farm land cultivated by the founders of Albuquerque. It has a rich agriculture history and a reminder of our place in nature.


6. The Huning Highland Neighborhood

East Downtown

Huning Highland is a Victorian era neighborhood bordered by Central Ave, the railroad tracks, I25 and Coal Ave.

It's mostly a residential neighborhood surrounded by small, local commerce along Central Ave. and Broadway. Many of its homes and buildings look like they belong back east and not in New Mexico which is known for its territorial style and adobe homes. There are beautiful old Victorian residences in this walkable neighborhood with alleys, a picturesque park and any number of local "characters" to cross paths with.

About This Location

When should I visit? Anytime of the year

How do I get there? From the airport, take I25 north and exit at Lead/Central. Continue on the feeder road to Central and take a left under the freeway. Everything after the freeway on either side of Central is Huning Highland. The neighborhood ends at Broadway.

What should I do there? Stop for a bite to eat. Stay at the Hotel Parq. Take a walk a see the beautiful homes. Walter Street has large Victorian homes.

Why is this location important? This is a mostly intact area of historical architecture.

Albuquerque Museum of Art and History

Albuquerque Museum of Art and History

7. The Albuquerque Museum of Art and History

Most folks that visit Albuquerque from other metropolitan areas in the US are quite baffled by what they see here, or maybe it's because of what they don't see.

The city is not filled with factories and manufacturing. About as big a manufacturing plant as we have here is the Kellogg cereal plant north of town and Intel which is actually located in Rio Rancho, a city that borders the northwest of Albuquerque. There are small and medium sized manufacturers here but nothing large like steel mills.

And there is a good reason for that. Albuquerque is an agricultural community and not an industrial community. You can visit the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History to discover more about the history of Albuquerque and New Mexico. There is a permanent exhibit that walks viewers through the history of our land and people complete with Spanish conquistadors, household goods, armor, weapons and maps.

But the part I like best is the theater where the museum shows films about Albuquerque--required viewing for anyone staying in town more than a day. There are three, twenty minute flicks that should be seen together in order to get the full impact of the information.

Check with the museum to see if the films are running...for some reason they take them offline on occasion.

About This Location

When should I visit? Check their website for current hours.

How do I get there? The museum is located in Old Town Albuquerque

What should I do there? View the art and historical exhibits. You can also enjoy the sculpture garden and Tigeux Park which is directly across the street from the museum and a great place for a picnic.

Why is this location important? The museum contains a large exhibit that outlines the history of New Mexico. The exhibit includes Spanish armor, household goods, personal belongings and authentic weapons used by settlers and conquistadors.


8. Sandia Peak Tramway: A View From High Above the City

If there was one thing I would tell people to do while visiting, it would be to take the Tram.

Yes, it is a tourist destination. However, nothing else provides a peak into the sheer beauty of the land and its population than a ride on the tram.

You board the tram at its home base in what is locally referred to as "the foothills" and you'll ride all the way up to Sandia Peak. The peak tops out at 10,378 feet. The views are spectacular.

Tip: Time your visit so your return trip to the city is done in the dark or at least at dusk. That way you get two separate experiences for the cost of one--one with a day view and one with a night view. And what a night view it is, huge WOW factor.

Visit the Tram page here.

Stunning views and a restaurant await you at the top. Have appetizers, lunch or dinner amid the mountain scenery--call ahead for reservations.

About This Location

When should I visit? Any time of the year. The tram is open year-round. However, March and April are windy season in this area so winds over 30 miles an hour can delay operation of the tram. according to the tram web page: "The Tram is open daily 9am to 8pm, except Tuesday open 5pm to 8pm, weather permitting." Please verify it's open before heading there.

How do I get there?The tram is located at the north end of Tramway Blvd. Its location address is 30 Tramway Road NE.

If you're coming from Interstate 40: Exit 167: Tramway Blvd., take Tramway Blvd. North approximately 9 miles to the Sandia Peak Tramway.

If you're coming from Interstate 25: Exit 234: Exit 234 Tramway Road. Follow Tramway Road, East to the Sandia Peak Tramway.

What should I do there? Ride the tram up to the top of the Sandia Mountains. Explore the forest area, watch skiers, bring a picnic. Have dinner at the restaurant at the base of the tram. Make reservations for dinner at the restaurant at the top of the mountain (this restaurant is closed for remodeling and will reopen sometime in the spring of 2018.)

Why is this location important? Amazing views!

Watch an Artscrawl

9. Take Part in an Artscrawl

If you are in town on a first or third Friday of the month, then join in with the First Fridays and Artscrawl events and see what Albuquerque artists are up to.

Find out when the current First Friday event is scheduled and even download printable maps of events courtesy of the Albuquerque Artscrawl Organization.

Events are typically localized in a particular area of town, each area getting "its turn" several times or more during the year, so following the provided map is easy.

About This Event

When should I visit? The first Friday of every month.

How do I get there? Visit the artscrawl website for a map of galleries scheduled for this month's event.

What should I do there? Gallery hop with locals and art lovers.

Why is this location important? Fresh artwork from local and international artists.

10. The Duck Pond

The duck pond is located in the middle of the University of New Mexico campus. You can take public transit to campus or a car. The best time to find a parking space is between school breaks, but then you don't get a true feel for the bustle and fun of students and faculty moving across campus. Nor can you take advantage of the local hot dog vendor that works the area during lunch time.

If you're lucky, you could stumble upon a photo session for a wedding or a quinceanera (the Mexican celebration for a girl's fifteenth birthday).

You'll be just as lucky to snatch some quiet time and an opportunity to commune with the ducks that populate the pond and the surrounding area. There's a bridge (a favorite backdrop for photographers) and plenty of shade making it a great spot for a picnic.

It's not the most perfect pond in the world but it is one of the more interesting ones around. You can find out more about the pond's history and read up on proposed renovations at this link.

About This Location

When should I visit? The pond is open year-round. The late spring and early summer and the autumn months allow for welcoming weather on most days.

How do I get there? The UNM pond sits inside The University of New Mexico campus. Easiest access by car is Yale street which is north of the Duck Pond. Try this map for reference.

What should I do there? Take pictures, bring a picnic, enjoy the sunshine, people watch.

Why is this location important? A great spot for engagement, wedding and quinceanera pictures, family outings, sunbathing.

See More of Albuquerque

© 2010 Melissa

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