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Albuquerque Neighborhoods

For travelers, the main Albuquerque neighborhoods of interest are conveniently arranged side by side along Central Avenue, once better known as Route 66. The neon flair from decades past—still buzzing on storefronts and motels—provides a bit of continuity from Old Town, down by the river, east through Nob Hill, built in the 1940s. But many of Albuquerque’s best attractions lie beyond, in the seemingly featureless sprawl of the greater metro area. If you ever need help finding your way, just remember that the Sandia Mountains, visible from anywhere, form the eastern border of the city, and the Rio Grande runs north to south.

Downtown

For decades, Albuquerque’s downtown was a wasteland. After an aggressive urban renovation plan in 2000, it’s now the heart of the city’s nightlife. On Fridays and Saturdays after dark, the streets are thronged with club-goers, hopping from bar to bar. Some meet at stylish spots like Ibiza Lounge, while others rock to the latest at the Launchpad. By day it’s livelier, too, with new condos alongside great vintage retail holdovers, such as Skip Maisel and The Man’s Hat Shop, and the venerable KiMo Theater, a beautiful example of fantastical cinema architecture, with a Southwestern twist. Just east of the tracks is EDo, or East Downtown, a microclimate of restoration cool—check out the scene at The Grove café by day.

Old Town

The historic core of Albuquerque, Old Town starts at the cottonwood-shaded plaza, ringed with old adobe buildings and the 1706 San Felipe de Neri Church, built in the first year of the city’s founding. Old Town is also the center of tourism in Albuquerque, with all the attendant chile-pepper fridge magnets, howling-coyote T-shirts and dreamcatchers you’d expect. But right on the plaza you can buy jewelry and crafts directly from American Indian artisans, and intrepid explorers will find a beautiful small chapel, still regularly used by the largely Hispanic population in this part of town. Nearby are some of the city’s best museums: the Albuquerque Museum of Art & History and the Museum of Natural History and Science. Just west lies the Rio Grande, edged on either side by cool greenery, a pretty setting for the Albuquerque BioPark.

Albuquerque Metro Area

There are the historic parts of the city, and then there's everything else. The Albuquerque metro area covers more than 100 square miles, and most of it was constructed in a hurry after World War II, with little regard for aesthetics. (A local journalist dubbed this Albuquerque’s “Asphalt Period.”) But many of the city’s most interesting attractions are scattered all over the place, and you’ll have to drive to learn about all the elements that make Albuquerque great: the National Hispanic Cultural Center, the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center and, more obscurely, the Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum. Up in the farthest foothills, the Sandia Peak Tramway whisks you to the peak for a dizzying view, and a short drive beyond the city’s edge brings you to the folk-art installation at the Tinkertown Museum and the badlands of Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.

Corrales & Los Ranchos

Technically, Corrales and Los Ranchos are separate incorporated villages, but everyone refers to the two areas collectively as the North Valley, for their location in the lowlands on the river. Heading north on Fourth Street, you reach Los Ranchos first—the main drag is charmless sprawl, but side streets closer to the river reveal the area’s historic farming roots, with large lots shaded with cottonwoods. Farther north and across the river, Corrales is quieter still, with one narrow road running its length. A network of centuries-old irrigation channels still water farm plots and the air smells of alfalfa and horses. The only official sight out this way is a historic house maintained by the Albuquerque Museum, but the scenic drive is lovely, as are the handful of accommodations here, such as Los Poblanos.

University & Nob Hill

Established in 1889, the University of New Mexico occupies a 600-acre main campus east of downtown. As in any college town, the neighboring blocks are packed with falafel huts, bars with permanent beer specials, coffee houses, used bookstores, smoke shops, and one iconic diner, the Frontier. Adjoining the campus to the east, the Nob Hill district is where Burqueños go to shop for groovy housewares, stock up on flaxseed at the food co-op and sip microbrews on the patio at Kelly’s. The colorfully painted storefronts here fit right in with old Route 66 details, like the bizarrely redecorated Aztec Motel, on Central Avenue just past Carlisle Avenue.

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