Where to go
If you have kids, Albuquerque is home to a number of fine museums, including the delightfully deadpan and unique National Museum of Nuclear Science & History (601 Eubank Blvd. SE), which is kind of like a companion piece to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, only filled with deactivated missiles. Less fusion-powered is the Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum (9201 Balloon Museum Dr. NE), which is logically located next to the site of the world-famous annual Balloon Fiesta. The ABQ BioPark complex encompasses the city’s zoo, aquarium and botanic gardens, which spotlight the indigenous flora and fauna.
Where to stay
In addition to all the usual chain hotels (with rooms available for less than $100 per night), Albuquerque features dozens of homey bed and breakfasts for the traveler who’d like a green-chile omelet included in his or her room charge. In the Old Town area, the Bottger Mansion (110 San Felipe St NW) dates from 1910 while the Casa de Suenos (310 Rio Grande Blvd. SW) offers individual, private guest houses.
What to eat
Everything, if possible. The state’s distinctive cuisine is based around local chiles, which range from tongue-tingling to face-melting. For a large-scale dining experience visit El Pinto (10500 Fourth St. NW), which resembles nothing so much as a southwestern Tavern on the Green on steroids. The restaurant, which has catered more than one White House Cinco de Mayo celebration, is justifiably famous for its tamales, a New Mexico Christmas tradition. For a quick breakfast, stop by Golden Crown Panaderia (1103 Mountain Rd. NW) for empanadas, green chile bread and half a dozen varieties of the official state cookies, biscochitos. Wherever you go, we recommend smuggling home as much local salsa and chile sauce as you can fit in your suitcase.
Pack your gloves
First, a note for the map-challenged: New Mexico and Arizona are not only different states, but they have vastly different climates. So you shouldn’t expect Albuquerque to feel like Phoenix in the dead of winter. The city’s elevation ranges between 4,000 and 5,000 feet above sea level, and the air can be parchingly dry. Winter temperatures are in the 40s to 50s range, and can be sub-freezing at night. Yes, it snows (which means you can go skiing if you drive about four hours north). Pack gloves.