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10 Favorites Only Locals Know in Albuquerque

Bugs Bunny and Breaking Bad don’t really capture the essence of this largest city in New Mexico. Albuquerque offers art, culture, history, and places of great surprise, if you know where to look beyond the usual tourist haunts.

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View From the Top of the Crest

The Sandia Mountains that border the eastern end of the city reach their peak at the place locals call The Crest. While tourists (and a local once in a while) go up via the tram, the highest point in the area can be reached by car on a scenic drive into the Cibola National Forest.

There are walking trails into the forest and a view that takes in the entire city and off into the west. Under the right conditions, hang gliders use the updrafts to ride the wind.

The Crest is also the site of the Antenna Farm, an area filled with RF (radio frequency) towers used in telecommunications. It’s not possible to enter the area and get up close with the towers for safety reasons, but even outside the fence, it’s an impressive sight.

There’s an outdoor cafe as well as indoor snack bar and gift shop. Take NM Rte. 14--the Turquoise Trail Byway--to Sandia Crest Road

The Torreon at the National Hispanic Cultural Center

The National Hispanic Cultural Center is one of the gems of the city, but inside the Torreon or Tower is the largest concave fresco in North America. Frederico Vigil worked for almost a decade to finish this fresco masterpiece depicting thousands of years of Hispanic history from Europe to Mesoamerica and into the American Southwest. The scale of the work, 4,000 square feet, would daunt a lesser artist but the result is breath-taking, and his images are historically accurate.

Walls of Graffiti

The walls of the arroyo by Acme Metals at 6142 Second St. NW host a long series of graffiti painted with permission as part of an aerosol festival held several years ago. Artists came from across the country and created what could be one of the longest graffiti-covered walls in the country.

While that is the place of greatest concentration, examples of striking street art can be found along Central Avenue. The alley behind the Lobo Men’s Shop at 2120 Central Ave. SE has gorgeous and meticulously executed aerosol wall art. Check out the alleys behind Central Avenue and discover even more of these hidden gems.


Albuquerque became a major transportation city with the coming of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad. The 27 acre railyard constructed between 1915 and 1925 to service the trains is in genteel disrepair and a magnet for photographers and sight-seers. The city has embraced its history, cleaned up the former Blacksmith shop and opened it as the Rail Yards market. Open seasonally May to October on Sundays the architecture still fascinates and the market enables visitors to peek at some of the nearby buildings – often carefully poking their cameras through broken glass.

Hotel Parq Central Rooftop Bar

Once the Santa Fe Hospital, today this luxury hotel listed on the National Register of Historic Places welcomes guests to its completely renovated historic building. But locals and guests of the hotel know it for the views from the roof top bar.

The Apothecary Lounge offers a 360 degree view that is one of the best in the city. Turn northeast to appreciate the sunset turning the Sandia mountains watermelon pink or look out over the city to enjoy the sunset with a distant view of ancient volcanos.

Turquoise Museum

Considered by many to be the largest private collection of turquoise in the world, it was amassed by J. C. “Zac” and Lillian Zachary. Shelf after shelf of all manner of color, origin, and type of turquoise is enough of a reason to visit, but the Turquoise Museum also features a lapidary shop and working demonstrations by the Native American silversmiths. Visitors will leave far more educated about the types and value of different types of turquoise jewelry available for sale around town, and the questions to ask to unlock that information.

Telephone Museum

Housed in the original 1908 telephone building, the Telephone Museum’s floors are filled with exhibits, telephone switchboards and telephones as well as clever audio exhibits.

If you think rotary dial phones are historic, there are phones that worked only when you picked up the earpiece and spoke into a tube, asking the operator to connect you to your party.

Beyond telephones, there’s an exhibit on the Baudot code that used perforations of paper tape to indicate letters of the alphabet. Exhibits also highlight the transatlantic cable that could carry what was then considered to be an amazing 72 conversations at a time.

Mark Chavez and Pueblo Montano Park Carvings

Known around Albuquerque for his chainsaw wood carvings, Mark Chavez’s most public display honors his fellow fire-fighters for their bravery and heroic efforts. In 2003 a fire turned the cottonwood trees in the greenspace of Pueblo Montano Park into burned trunks until Chavez took his chainsaw to the remnants and created art where there had been destruction.

Popular sculptures include a firefighter with his foot atop a vanquished dragon, and a bird rising from the flames. Mythical figures, native wildlife and plants.

The Pueblo Montano Picnic Area and Sculpture Park is one block east of Coors Blvd. on the south side of Montano Rd.

Unser Racing Museum

The Unser Racing Museum highlights the family's long legacy in car racing, and the museum presents their very personal view of the sport.

Although you’ll see plenty of historic race cars, exhibits also include perspectives from the Unser family how racing affected them and how they affected racing. Its equal parts drama and tragedy.

The Unsers never seemed to meet a race they didnt likedirt track, NASCAR, sports car, but it was Indy that was most important. Theres a whole exhibit area on that aspect of the Unser racing family.

The Farmery

New to Albuquerque, and certainly not commonly found elsewhere, the innovative shipping container community called Green Jeans Farmery is intimate quirky fun eating, drinking, and shopping site.

Repurposed containers are piled up like building blocks to create shops, plazas, and nooks. If you see bicycles crawling up a tall poll, you’ve found it.

Personal favorite is Chill’N handcrafted organic ice cream, created by churning the ingredients in blasts of liquid nitrogen. Remember how some of the trendy cooking shows experiment with this new technique? Well, it makes amazing ice cream. The superfast freezing results in richly creamy frozen confection. The nitrogen bubbles away during the process.

The area is located in the northeast just north of I-40 and east of I-25 (the intersection that we call the Big I).

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Neala McCarten

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

Published: August 1st, 2016

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