Albuquerque: Small Town, Big-City Vibe

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Downtown Albuquerque is the site of frequent festivals and celebrations. | MarbleStreetStudio.com

Many Albuquerque visitors land at the city’s convenient Sunport airport, rent a car and promptly drive an hour north to Santa Fe, seeing Albuquerque only from the freeway.

That’s a pity because Albuquerque is one of the most delightful small towns in America, full of regional character, delicious New Mexican regional cuisine (oh, those chiles) and plenty of local color. It is a small and attractive city that welcomes visitors with an endless supply of attractions that are worthy of exploration.

It is quite practical to combine your Albuquerque trip with a visit to stylish Santa Fe because the convenient and economical RailRunner commuter-rail service makes it easy. Trains run frequently between downtown Albuquerque and downtown Santa Fe daily.

Home to the world famous Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta — when hundreds of hot air balloons take to the skies for over a week each October — Albuquerque is close to the imposing Sandia Mountains and is surrounded by history and recreational opportunities from golf courses, hiking, biking and skiing. Awaiting visitors are microbreweries, wineries, a kitschy Old Town, good shopping for Native American and Western items, lots of Native American culture and fascinating displays of the city’s Western heritage in museums, shops and architecture.

Bisected by historic Route 66, New Mexico’s largest city has 310 days of sunshine annually and is a simply smart place to explore.

Before You Go:

Getting There:

  • Albuquerque can be easily reached by highway, air, cruise ship or train.
  • By car, Albuquerque is on Interstate 25 and Interstate 40.
  • By air, the nearest airport is Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ). It is 4 miles from downtown.
  • By train, Albuquerque is served by Amtrak and connected to Santa Fe and Belen via New Mexico Rail Runner (NMRR). Seniors ride free on summer Wednesdays on the NMRR.
  • Albuquerque is inland, with no cruise ship service.

Must-Sees for a Short Trip:

  • Ride the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway and see Albuquerque from above
  • Visit the Nob Hill District for shopping and dining
  • Stroll around historic Old Town
  • Learn about Native American culture at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center

If You Have Several Days:

  • National Hispanic Cultural Center, the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center or one of many world-class museums
  • The zoo and aquarium at The ABQ BioPark
  • Acoma Pueblo, the oldest continuously inhabited community in North America
  • A day in Santa Fe, connected by RailRunner train and highway
  • Taos’ museums, galleries and pueblo (a 133-mile drive including the scenic Rio Grande Valley)
  • Alamos, center of the U.S. nuclear weapons development in the 1940s

Ginny O’s Tips for Dressing the Simply Smart Travel Way for Albuquerque:

Casual and seasonable-comfortable clothing will be fine in Albuquerque for visitors. There is no need to pursue high style or dress to the nines for the vast majority of places you will visit.

This Destination at a Glance:

Over 50 Advantage: Laid-back with good shopping and many museums, Albuquerque is welcoming to the over 50 set.

Mobility Level: Low. Albuquerque has good accessible public transportation and no special mobility issues.

When to Go: Year-round. Autumn has the best weather and numerous festivals. Winter is ski time in the nearby mountains, while spring is dry and windy. Summer is hot but still pleasant.

Where to Stay: Old Town and downtown have scores of hotels at almost any price range. Resorts are nearby as well. Most national chains are well represented.

Special Travel Interests: New Mexican cuisine (lots of chili pepper-infused food), nuclear history, Native American culture.   

Jewish Albuquerque

Jews visiting Albuquerque will find many places to worship, kosher food to buy and a vibrant set of Jewish institutions.

Jews have figured prominently in New Mexico political life both before and after statehood. Nathan Jaffa of Roswell was secretary of the territory and Henry Jaffa was the first mayor of Albuquerque in 1885. In 1890, Mike Mandell also was elected as mayor. In 1930, Arthur Seligman of Santa Fe became governor.

Traditionally, a coterie of merchants were the backbone of the Jewish community until 1940 when the state was flooded with Jewish scientists, engineers and professors working in Los Alamos and in other war-effort sites, leading to a large influx in Jewish population. Many stayed after the war.

According to a 2015 survey, there are about 24,000 Jews in New Mexico, many non-affiliated. Most (about three-quarters) live in Albuquerque or Santa Fe, but Taos, Los Alamos and Las Cruces have organized Jewish communities and small groups are located in Las Vegas, Roswell and elsewhere.

Greater Albuquerque Jewish Community

A good overview of Jewish things in Albuquerque is online at AbqJew.com. Among the city’s Jewish institutions are Congregation Albert, a large Reform congregation; Congregation Nahalat Shalom, a Renewal synagogue; the Conservative synagogue B’nai Israel; Chavurat Hamidmar, a non-affiliated congregation that meets in homes and holds High Holidays services at the University of New Mexico; MAKOR-Jewish Source; and Chabad of New Mexico.

Other Jewish institutions include an active Hillel at the University of New Mexico, The Jewish Community Center of Greater Albuquerque, The Jewish Federation of New Mexico, The Anti-Defamation League of New Mexico, The New Mexico Jewish Historical Society, Hadassah New Mexico chapter, The Holocaust and Intolerance Museum and the Jewish nonprofit dance organization Keshet.  

Kosher food can be found at Eurozone, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, and the town has a kosher caterer as well.

Jeffrey and Virginia Orenstein are travel writers from Sarasota, Fla.

1 COMMENT

  1. The authors completely ignored New Mexico’s position at the center of research on conversos/bnai anusim. Congregation Nahalat Shalom’s Casa Sefarad has been prividing outreach to that community for some 30 years, including monthly Shabbat dinners, and several board members have returned to mainstream Judaism. There is an annual Festival Djudeo Espanyol at the congregation (17-19 May 2019 will be the ninth edition), and Casa Sefarad participates in the city’s annual Jewish Genetic Conference – which raises awareness of BRCA breast cancer (misnomer calling it “Ashkenazi” when it is really just Jewish) and other genetic conditions among converso families in northern New Mexico — and sponsoring the upcoming DNA Workshop (with the JGS of New Mexico at Congregation Albert on Oct. 14. Several Albuquerque/Santa Fe residents serve on the board of the Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies (cryptojews.com), whose last international conference was in November at Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia. The next conference is June 30-July 2, 2019 in Denver. The Citizenship Committee of the Jewish Federation of New Mexico is at the forefront nationally in preparing hundreds of application packages for Spanish citizenship — many have completed the steps and already visited Spain to sign their papers. A film — Challah Rising in the Desert — tells the story of the Jews of New Mexico beginning with the arrival of conversos in 1598 and following the German Jewish merchants, the Los Alamos scientists, the New Agers and the modern community. The film is being shown at Jewish film festivals across the US. There is so much more to beautiful, diverse New Mexico’s Jewish community.

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