It’s rare that civic officials are thrilled to have their city portrayed as a headquarters for a narcotics manufacturing operation, even a fictitious one, but Albuquerque tourism executives were grateful that the recently concluded popular AMC series, “Breaking Bad,” was filmed in New Mexico’s largest city. There are even bus tours that will take you to locales where the series was shot similar to the “Sex & The City” and “Sopranos” tours here in New York.
A lot of baby boomers became aware of Albuquerque in 1978 when a trio of its residents, Ben Abruzzo, Maxie Anderson, and Larry Newman, made the first successful transatlantic hot air balloon flight, which started in Maine and ended in Northern France. Today Albuquerque is the unquestioned world capital of ballooning and companies such as Rainbow Ryder will take you up for an hour’s journey. If you want to learn about the history of this unique form of flight, you should visit the Anderson-Abruzzo Internal Balloon Museum, which is located a stone’s throw from Albuquerque’s most famous attraction, the Sandia Tram, which is a cable car that climbs 2.7 miles along the Sandia Mountains and leaves you off at an observation deck, which is over 10,000 feet above sea level. Once at the summit you can hike or even ski if it’s winter.
Albuquerque’s main street, Central Avenue, is part of historic Route 66, which thanks to determined preservationists, looks very similar to the way it did when Nat King Cole was singing about the road nearly 70 years ago. As you head west through town on it you’ll come across Old Town, a village where you can buy jewelry and other trinkets in small boutiques that resemble the way things were when New Mexico was under Spanish colonial rule.
The Albuquerque Bio Park is near Old Town and it is truly one of the city’s gems. The Rio Grande Zoo nicely mixes hard-to-find animals as the Tasmanian devil (they really exist outside of Bugs Bunny cartoons) and crowdpleasers such as lions, tigers, elephants, chimpanzees and bears. The Bio Park Aquarium nicely replicates the Pacific Coral Reef while its Botanical Gardens feature flora from all over the world. Its Japanese and Spanish Moor Gardens are spectacular.
There is a thriving arts district in downtown Albuquerque. The Box Performance Space is home to The Show, where a very talented troupe gives an improvisational comedy show Friday and Saturday nights. It’s well worth the $10 ticket charge.
There are no shortage of chain restaurants but you are better off dining where the knowledgeable locals do. Sadie’s specializes in high-end New Mexican native cuisine (from what I saw during my stay in the Land of Enchantment, this is virtually the same as Mexican food except for the addition of red or green chiles on top of every dish). The Route 66 Diner has a 1950s/early ’60s atmosphere that recalls the time when Martin Milner and George Maharis were cruising the road in their “Route 66” TV series. The Flying Star is just up the road from the Route 66 Diner and it’s a popular breakfast spot for University of New Mexico students. You have to try their “Red Stuff” herbal beverage.
New Mexico’s capital, Santa Fe, is only 60 miles north of Albuquerque on I-25. If you don’t want to drive there is a commuter train, the New Mexico Rail Runner, that will take you there. Santa Fe is home to numerous art galleries and boutiques, Spanish- style plazas and countless museums. My favorite is the New Mexico History Museum which has exhibits on the Gadsden Purchase, Pancho Villa’s attack on a fort in Columbus, NM nearly a century ago, and the state’s key role in harnessing the power of the atom, most famously the Manhattan Project.
Hotel rates are very reasonable because of intense competition between lodging properties. The University Village Hotel has kitchen efficiency rooms and it offers great rates, complimentary bus service to both downtown and the airport, a daily grab-and-go breakfast and an outdoor swimming pool. It’s also located just down the road from the Isotopes Park, the beautiful home of the Albuquerque Isotopes, the LA Dodgers top minor league team.
Getting to Albuquerque was difficult for years because there were no direct flights from New York. Queens’ own JetBlue has made life a lot easier with its daily direct service to Albuquerque from JFK that started over a year ago.
For more information on Albuquerque, log onto visitabq.org or call (800) 284-2282.