Any conversation about travel to New Mexico seems to start with Santa Fe, the tourist-magnet about 60 miles up the road from Albuquerque, the state’s largest city. But Duke City (so called for its namesake, the Duke of Alburquerque, the early 18th-century Viceroy of New Spain) has been emerging from its neighbor’s shadow ever since the popular drama “Breaking Bad” began in 2008. Home to sizable Native American and Latino communities, both with major cultural attractions (including the National Hispanic Cultural Center, which holds more than 700 cultural events a year), Albuquerque expects more time on camera since Netflix bought local ABQ Studios last fall and announced a plan to bring $1 billion in production to the state over the next 10 years. Entrepreneurs are starting up midcentury-modern tours, dealing clever T-shirts and kombucha at the Rail Yards Market, opening craft breweries and redefining retail. See the city at its most colorful during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, Oct. 5 to 13, when hundreds of hot air balloons launch in early morning mass ascensions.
1) 3 p.m. Walk and talk
Get your bearings on a “Mezcla de Culturas” walking tour with Heritage Inspirations. Among its guides, Bobby Gonzales, a 13th-generation New Mexican, leads two-hour rambles ($75) through Old Town, Albuquerque’s original settlement, established in 1706, and the emerging Sawmill District next door. While strolling through hidden courtyards and adobe-lined streets, he talks about the Spanish quest for gold that led explorers north from Mexico to Albuquerque on the Rio Grande. He identifies vernacular architectural styles like New Mexican farmhouse with adobe walls and metal roofs, and tells offbeat stories about the 36 days the Civil War came to town and Old Town’s attempt in the 1950s to divert some of the tourist traffic heading north to Santa Fe by remodeling Victorian buildings in Pueblo-evoking fashion.
2) 5:30 p.m. Depth of field
Surrounded by 25 acres of lavender fields and gardens, Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm, on the agricultural fringe of Albuquerque, champions farm-to-table fare at its restaurant, Campo. Residing in the farm’s restored dairy buildings that date back to the 1930s, Campo, which means field, focuses on cooking with fire and using local ingredients in dishes such as roasted vegetable tostada ($15) and grilled rack of lamb ($40). Its prime seats are at the chef’s table, where guests are served an eight-course meal with a front-row view of the open hearth ($120). Make a reservation in advance or dine at the bar, where the entire menu is served. Arrive before 6 p.m. to browse the inn’s Farm Shop next door which deals local artist-designed blankets, carbon steel cookware and ceramic dishes from Japan.
3) 8 p.m. The Reign of Spain
Flamenco dance has a long history in Albuquerque, dating back to the 16th century, according to the University of New Mexico. Sponsored by the university and the National Institute of Flamenco, a local nonprofit dance school, the annual Festival Flamenco Alburquerque each June has been running for 32 years. Catch the Institute’s performers and visiting artists on weekends at the Hotel Albuquerque at Old Town, which hosts its Tablao Flamenco Albuquerque show (tickets from $10), featuring dancers as well as a guitarist and a singer, called a cantaor, or two. Together they perform impassioned and improvised dances that spellbind audiences sipping tempranillo, nibbling on tapas and cheering, “Ole!”
4) 8 a.m. Cupcakes for breakfast
By offering a balance of indulgent and healthy foods with a focus on fresh ingredients, Jason and Lauren Greene have cornered the brunch market with their perpetually thronged Grove Cafe & Market. Provisioned largely by local growers, the menu ranges from poached eggs with prosciutto and asparagus ($12.95) and avocado toast with salad ($10.25) to toasted tuna sandwiches ($10.95) and chocolate ganache, sea salt cupcakes ($3.50). Diners order at the counter before finding a table, and while early risers may avoid the crush, sharing the line with enthusiastic fans eases the waiting time.
5) 10 a.m. Midcentury rewind
Sign up with Modern Albuquerque to get out to the Nob Hill and Highland Business District neighborhoods for a look at the city’s midcentury modern developments on its Retrograde Tours. Many of the buildings visited on the 90-minute Hairpin Legs walking tour ($24; summer tours are 75 minutes for $20), including motels, coffee shops and offices, line Central Avenue, also known as Route 66. The owners, Thea Haver and Ethan Aronson, introduce travelers to the so-called Mother Road in its prime through exuberant designs, including boomerang-shaped roofs and starburst neon signage.
6) Noon. New Mexican diner
Dating back to 1942, when drugstores commonly had soda fountains, Duran Central Pharmacy has expanded on the tradition and given it a New Mexican accent. Guests enter through the pharmacy and gift shop and follow their noses to the bustling diner on the left where orange vinyl stools line the curved lunch counter, and the griddle behind it sears hand-rolled flour tortillas. They come ready to dip into the green or red chile sauce smothering the huevos rancheros ($9.30) or concealing a chile-topped burger ($10.30). On your way out, browse the gift section for jars of the restaurant’s signature chile sauce and flour-sack dish towels printed in bright graphics by the local brand Kei & Molly Textiles.
7) 1 p.m. Into the woods
Work off those huevos on the 16-mile Paseo del Bosque Trail, a multiuse trail that follows the Rio Grande through its cottonwood “bosque” or forest where it’s cooler, even on the warmest days. The Pace shared bike program stations rental cycles conveniently throughout town ($1 for 15 minutes). But to go farther, faster and more comfortably, rent a hybrid bike from Routes Bicycle Tours & Rentals where the staff readily offers directions and maps ($20 for four hours). The company also runs two-hour tours daily (from $50) and may customize the route based on your interests in history, architecture or even “Breaking Bad.”
8) 3 p.m. High Desert Minimalism
After browsing the many Old Town shops selling souvenir ristras (strings of drying chiles) and Native American turquoise jewelry, hit the stylish Spur Line Supply Co. in the Sawmill District. The owner, Tess Coats, has assembled a collection of artisan-made and New Mexican goods in a showroom-size space, offering everything from apparel to housewares to vinyl records. Her own 1971 Airstream trailer sits in the middle of the store, filled with, recently, vintage clothing, ice buckets and inflatable pool toys. Shoppers will find locally made jewelry, Dryland Wilds botanical beauty products, macramé plant hangers and fun T-shirts, including one that salutes the state as “Land of Mañana.” A coffee shop invites lingering at the communal table or out on the patio.
9) 4 p.m. Pueblo immersion
Of Albuquerque’s many interesting museums, don’t miss the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, which pays tribute to the culture, history and artistry of the 19 Native American Pueblo communities in the state (admission $8.40). Exhibits focus on spiritual beliefs, dry farming, adobe building and the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 against Spanish colonizers. Pottery displays examine distinct Pueblo styles, videos capture traditional dances, and interactive exhibits relate stories and greetings in Pueblo languages. Beyond the exhibits, the center’s shop, Shumakolowa Native Arts, sells fine pottery, jewelry and books. Its restaurant, Pueblo Harvest, serves Native American dishes and hosts live music every Thursday through Saturday, 6 to 9:30 p.m.
10) 6 p.m. Brew crew
New Mexico is small in terms of population (roughly 2 million), but big in terms of beer. The Brewers Association puts the state at 10th in the nation in terms of breweries per capita. More than 40 breweries and taprooms are in and around Albuquerque. Start a tasting tour at the handsome Bow & Arrow Brewing Co., founded by Native Americans Shyla Sheppard and Missy Begay, producing sour, barrel-aged and other beers using regional ingredients (most pints $5.50). Next, hit the industrial Brewery District to try the Elevated I.P.A. ($5.50) at La Cumbre Brewing Co. It’s worth the trip farther from the town center to stop by Steel Bender Brewyard, a lively, all-ages-friendly taproom and restaurant in an industrial setting. Order a Compa lager ($5 pint) or the Judy, a barrel-aged saison ($9), and soak it up with a two-fisted Steel Bender cheeseburger topped with a fried egg and green chile strip ($14).
11) 8:30 a.m. Outdoor gallery
One of the largest petroglyph sites in North America lies just on the western edge of Albuquerque in Petroglyph National Monument. Here, Native American ancestors to the modern Pueblo people carved images of turtles, parrots, hands, geometric designs and other symbols onto rock surfaces between 400 and 700 years ago. Archaeologists estimate that the 17 miles of escarpment within the park hold more than 25,000 images. Three hiking trails offer opportunities to see them. The shortest, the one-mile Boca Negra Canyon walk, passes up to 100 petroglyphs on a steep and rocky hill of volcanic boulders (free admission; parking $1 to $2). If you have more time, hit the 2.2-mile Rinconada Canyon to see up to 300 carvings.
12) 10 a.m. Trains and tamales
May through October, the Sunday morning Rail Yards Market (free) combines local food — farm produce and prepared food — crafts and live music with an opportunity to see Albuquerque’s atmospherically crumbling Rail Yards. Once one of the city’s biggest employers, the train yard is home to the vast Machine and Boiler Shops with broken windows and rusty beams, now popular settings for film productions, including “The Avenger.” After sampling market fare, save room for tamales from nearby El Modelo Mexican Foods, which began making tortillas by hand in 1929. Fans line up at the to-go counter for tamales generously stuffed with shredded pork in spicy red chile ($2.60) and sloppy green chile brisket burritos ($5.15). There’s no indoor seating, so grab a stack of napkins and find a table in the shade in the adjoining parking lot or yard.
13) Noon. Panoramic perch
Legend has it that Sandia Peak to the east of town gets its name, which means watermelon, from the glowing light of sunset that paints its rock face pink below a green crest of trees that resembles the rind. Albuquerque’s observation deck and natural air-conditioner lies at 10,378 feet, reached via the 2.7-mile Sandia Peak Tramway line ($25). At the top, hiking trails include a one-mile route to Kiwanis Cabin, a mountain refuge built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. There’s also a ski resort in winter and, newly, Ten 3 restaurant, serving food, drinks and expansive views.
The art-filled Hotel Chaco in the Sawmill District pays homage to Chaco Canyon, an ancient Pueblo cultural center in northwestern New Mexico, with its stacked stone masonry and circular lobby inspired by sacred kivas. The rooftop lounge Level 5 is a great place for sunset drinks and its gift shop, Dakkya, deals fine Native American pottery. Rooms from $230; hotelchaco.com.
Originally opened in 1937, the El Vado Motel was restored in 2018 with log-beam ceilings and platform beds. A series of restaurant “pods” face the former Route 66 motor court, now filled with tables, creating an outdoor food hall. Beer growlers in the rooms can be filled at the taproom next to the lobby. Rooms from $137; elvadoabq.com.
You can also rent a traditional adobe home near Old Town. VRBO lists two-bedroom adobes that are walking distance to many attractions from about $100 a night. Vrbo.com.