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Must Do’s When PCSing to Albuquerque

Let’s say you have the opportunity to pick anywhere in the world for your next PCS. Italy -- or Europe in general -- usually tops the list for most. While many of you may wish to get stationed out here in Italy with us, my husband and I are dreaming of getting orders to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

A decade ago I wanted absolutely nothing to do with Albuquerque. It was the city I was born and raised in, but I felt completely trapped in the landlocked state and wanted to see the world instead of being stuck in some desert in the middle of nowhere. So I traveled and lived in other cities around the world, but the further away I was, the more I kept thinking about Albuquerque and how fantastic it really is. It’s ironic that both my husband and I are from Albuquerque, but now the chances of him being stationed at Kirtland AFB are slim to none.

If you’re PCSing to, or just arrived in the Land of Enchantment and it’s feeling more like the “land of entrapment,” here are a few fun things to do and several of our favorite places to eat around the city.

One thing you absolutely must do on a clear day is go to the top of Sandia Peak. Travel more than 4,000 feet up to the top of the mountain around sunset and bask in one of the most astonishing views in the world. Insider tip: eat before you go up or once you’re down.  Skip the restaurant at the peak; it’s overpriced and there are better places to eat once you’re back on solid ground.

Invest in an ABQ BioPark combo ticket with access to The Rio Grande Zoo, Aquarium, and Botanic Garden. Besides seeing the classic characters at the zoo (lions, tigers, and bears), the zoo has polar bears and a monkey habitat. Rumor has it that a baby elephant will make its debut later this summer! The aquarium gives you an up close and personal look at all things living under the sea, and the biopark lets you become one with nature. Spend more time in the parks taking take the train  from one park to the next (train price included with combo ticket)! Insider tip: Bring your blanket, lawn chair, and a picnic for Zoo Music, a concert in the park Fridays during the summer.

Albuquerque may be a desert, but there is still water to enjoy. Tingley Beach is a man-made lake (actually three lakes) near the zoo. Not only is Tingley free, but the lakes are stocked with trout and catfish and there's even a specific pond just for kids to try their hand at hooking a fish. Insider's tip: rent a pedal boats during the summer! If you want more water, head over to the Rio Grande Nature Center and walk along the Rio Grande.

Speaking of nature, did you know Albuquerque is home to volcanoes? They are dormant now, but Petroglyph National Monument is the place to see these natural phenomenons. While you’re there, take a hike, explore the petroglyphs, and see the city from a different view.

Sometimes museums get a bad rep, but Albuquerque boasts several museums that will amuse anyone no matter their age. For little tykes (and adults who want to be a kid again), head over to Exlpora, a hands-on working science museum. Albuquerque is known for its annual Balloon Fiesta every October -- and see what all the hot air is about before the festivities begin over at the Balloon Museum. Check out the Natural History Museum to see what ginormous creatures roamed the land before our time. They also have an out-of-this-world planetarium and a DynaTheater with larger-than-life entertainment. For science buffs, mark The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History on your must-see list it’s a Smithsonian Affiliate Museum and just a stone’s throw away from Kirtland AFB.

While there are dozens of things I left out of this list, one thing you must experience at least once is The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Wake up at the crack of dawn, grab some coffee and a breakfast burrito, and watch the balloons lift off. Here’s the beauty of Albuquerque: You don’t even have to attend the actual event to see hundreds of balloons dance across the sky. Once late September and early October roll around, you’ll see the balloons pop up and paint the desert landscape with their vibrant colors and designs.

Eating in Albuquerque:

The food in Albuquerque is not Tex-Mex and it’s not California-Mexican grub; New Mexican food is in a category all of its own. The state is known for its chile (not to be confused with chili), but if you can’t take the heat just ask for it on the side. Insider tip: You’ll be asked “red or green” when you order Mexican food. They’re referring to what type of chile you want smothered on top of your food. Ask for “Christmas” and you’ll get a mixture of both!

With so many fantastic restaurants in town I had a hard time narrowing them down, but here are a few of my favorite places:

Papa Felipe's Mexican Food Restaurant, Church Street Café, El Pinto, and La Salita are my favorite places for New Mexican food. Frontier Restaurant ("Frontier" if you ask any local) is a local institution and an Albuquerque favorite for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even that fourth meal. (Insider tip: get the breakfast burrito smothered in the green chile stew and whatever you do you must, must get one of their cinnamon rolls.)

Eat at The Owl Café (try the green-chile cheeseburger) and/or 66 Diner (their “Pink Cadillac” milkshake is my favorite) for some old school, diner-style, American cuisine.

Savoy Wine Bar and Grill, Seasons Rotisserie and Grill, or Zinc Wine Bar and Bistro are great date-night restaurants with even better food. Dine at Savoy before or after a trip up the tram; experience the heart of Old Town at Seasons, and check out Zinc's wine bar downstairs in the eclectic Nob Hill district.

Have you been stationed at Kirtland or visited Albuquerque before? What are your suggestions?

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