Albuquerque, NM – Downtown & Old Town

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There’s one landmark in downtown Albuquerque that any serious road-tripper should see: the corner of Central and 4th.  It doesn’t sound all that impressive, until you realize that this is the point where Old US Rte. 66–the country’s most famous highway, the main street of America–crosses paths with el Camino Real de Tierra Adentro–the “Royal Road” used by Spanish explorers to connect New and Old Mexico.  There’s a nice town square here, complete with a clock tower and mileage signs.

US 66 & el Camino Real didn’t used to cross paths here.  In the early days of the US highway system, Old 66 formed the letter “S” as it wound through New Mexico, and a portion of Old 66 ran along the same streets as el Camino Real.  A realignment in 1937 allowed Old 66 to make a more direct path through New Mexico, taking it on an east-west path across Albuquerque, along Central Ave.

Downtown Albuquerque has all the US 66 fanfare you’d expect to find along the Mother Road.

The downtown area has also undergone a successful revitalization.  There’s now plenty of restaurants and night clubs with trendy neon signs out front, and a giant new theatre complex.

Some classic touches remain in downtown Albuquerque, like this overpass for the Santa Fe Railroad.

If you have time, drive Central Avenue from one end of town to the other.  Since this is part of old US Route 66, the entire road is lined with neon signs and funky motels. Only about half of the old signs are still illuminated, the rest are either dark, or falling apart.  Some parts of Central Avenue are a bit run-down, so use caution, especially at night.

Albuquerque’s Old Town

Albuquerque’s Old Town is west of downtown, and just one block north of Central Avenue.  Take Central past the Lomas Blvd. intersection, then turn right on San Felipe St. NW.

Just like most other New Mexico towns, Albuquerque preserves its history in its Old Town district, complete with a town square.  Dominating one side of the public space is San Felipe De Neri Church, a beautiful old adobe building adorned with white crosses.

San Felipe de Neri is Albuquerque’s oldest Catholic parish.  The old adobe building dates back to 1793 (replacing a structure that collapsed during a rainy summer the previous year).

Early April is a great time to visit, as the trees surrounding the church reach full bloom.

Around the old town square you’ll find a few restaurants and shops, as well as one sidewalk (in front of the La Placita Dining Room) where Native Americans sell jewelry.

Back on Central Avenue, and just a few blocks away from Albuquerque’s Old Town, you’ll find Garcia’s Cafe.  I stopped to take a picture of the restaurant’s colorful neon sign, but I also heard from my New Mexico insider that Garcia’s serves up some great food as well.

I wrote this page a few years before Breaking Bad acquainted the world with Albuquerque and Walter White.  You can see much more of Albuquerque in the Breaking Bad Tour.  Also, a visit to Albuquerque is incomplete if you miss Balloon Fiesta in early October.

Note: This trip was first published in 2006.

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