Getting to Albuquerque, New Mexico’s largest city, is a snap. You can road-trip (Route 66 runs right through it), fly into Albuquerque International Sunport (airport), or arrive by rail on the Amtrak Southwest Chief like we did.
When we travel, we occasionally seek out the quirky, the offbeat, and the unconventional at a destination. Albuquerque proved fertile ground for our checklist.
We started our day in search of unusual things to do in downtown Albuquerque at Lindy’s Diner, a greasy spoon that has been on Central Avenue for over 50 years. Lindy’s isn’t the kind of joint you go to for a gourmet meal or white-glove service, but it is where you soak up a little nostalgia and local lore with your chicken-fried steak and green-chili gravy. You see, Lindy’s sits on Route 66, and is one of the oldest restaurants on this famous highway, serving up heaping platefuls of comfort food.
Another fixture in downtown is The Library Bar & Grill. And while we didn’t go inside, it was the exterior that caught our eye. The facade looks like a two-story bookshelf with such publications as “The Lord of the Onion Rings,” “A Midsummer Night’s Drinks,” and “Tequila Mockingbird.”
The state vegetable of New Mexico is the chili pepper and it is celebrated throughout Albuquerque in August and September, the chili harvest season. A wire cylinder we liken to a gigantic hamster wheel spins chilies over a roaring flame, blistering their skins and filling the air with the sweet, sultry aroma of a perfectly roasted pungent pepper. You see and smell them everywhere: farmers markets, grocery stores, and even outside restaurants. And when you sit down for a New Mexican meal, they’ll ask you if you want red or green chilies. If you want both, just ask for Christmas. In fact, it’s the official state question.
We tried our first roasted chilies at Sadie’s of New Mexico, where they have been serving traditional New Mexican fare for more than 50 years. Even before we knew what was on the menu, the aromatic smoky fog of roasting peppers out front lured us in. They tasted every bit as good as they smelled. (On a side note, we were pleased to learn that chili peppers burn calories by boosting your metabolism, which was definitely an added bonus.)
Quirk in the sky
Did you know that the hot air balloon is New Mexico’s official aircraft, and that Albuquerque is the balloon capital of the world? Hundreds of piloted balloons in a kaleidoscope of colors take to the skies every October for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta®, the world’s largest balloon festival.
If you can’t make it to the fiesta and a hot air balloon ride is still on your bucket list (and it should be), Albuquerque—with its unique airflow pattern—is the perfect place to satisfy your flight of fancy. Balloons launch daily (weather permitting) throughout the year, treating passengers to stunning views and unforgettable memories.
Old Town quirk
The American International Rattlesnake Museum is in Albuquerque’s Old Town and houses the largest collection of different species of rattlesnakes on exhibit in the world. You’ll also find every type of kitsch that has anything to do with snakes, from booze to pottery.
AMC’s award-winning hit television series Breaking Bad was filmed in Albuquerque and it left quite an impression on the cast, crew, and countless fans. As devotees of the series, we stopped by The Candy Lady of Old Town for a batch of Walter White’s famous blue ice (candy), and then we hopped on the trolley where we passed some of the series’ most memorable locations.
The house on the corner at 3501 Monte Vista Boulevard NE is the residence of architect Bart Prince. It appears to be a cross between a giant metal bug and a spaceship, although some say a submarine. No matter how you see it, it looks more like a sculpture than a home.
Viewfinder Tip: Albuquerque is a high desert area at 5200 feet above sea level. Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water, especially in the warmer months.
On the southwest corner of Gallup Avenue is the whimsical shoe-tree house. The shoe tree is a utility pole that homeowner Michael created as an homage to working women. His inspiration came from farmers and ranchers who, back in the day, nailed their old, worn-out shoes to fence posts.
For more than 40 years, Ross Ward carved, collected, and constructed the Tinkertown Museum. Hallways lined with glass bottles twist and turn throughout the 22-room museum, revealing unique and slightly eccentric depictions of American traditions and history. A one-man band, a fortune-teller, the old West, Native American traders, and animated displays are among the 12,000 items exhibited here.
We barely scratched the surface of all there is to see, eat, and do during our latest trip to Albuquerque. Next time, we think we’ll arrive in style—in a vintage convertible by way of Route 66. See you on the road!
Where is the quirkiest place you ever visited?