Is Albuquerque like I am imagining it?
October 22, 2009 12:45 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking to move out of California with my wife, with the goal of buying a home for the future filthy light thief family. Mrs. flt's parents have been looking at Albuquerque, New Mexico based on statistics (housing prices, employment, etc) and their brief visit to the city. How is Albuquerque for young families and adults in search of a lively city? More details inside.

My wife and I currently live in California, and we'd like to stay except anywhere that seems to have the qualities we enjoy is out of our price range. Albuquerque has a temperate climate that is similar to coastal California, and I love the high desert in terms of appearance. Albuquerque seems to have plenty of open space for hiking and meandering.

We'd like a larger city with more diversity in amenities and attractions, as we've had our fill of smaller towns and college towns. For sake of comparison: of the three large California metropolises, we like San Francisco over the never-ending sprawl of Los Angeles and San Diego (though SF is far from affordable to own, on the salary of a government employee [me] and a high school math teacher [wife]). Does Albuquerque fit the bill?

Bonus points:
- walkable neighborhoods with amenities like parks and business districts a few miles from homes
- lively music/arts scene, local and/or touring
- reasonable public transit (ABQ RIDE is cheaper than local transit routes, if those prices are accurate)
posted by filthy light thief to Society & Culture (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I found this post from 2004, but with the first responder noting that the the city changed significantly in 5 years, I figured the answers might have changed in another 5 years.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:48 PM on October 22, 2009

Best answer: I live in Albuquerque and I love it. As "larger cities" go, it doesn't really feel like one. A complaint I hear from Californians is often that there's nothing to do, and that everything closes up downtown way too early. Those are fair critiques. The music scene is better than anywhere else I've lived, namely southwest Florida, and there are a few good venues here. The arts scene is thriving, but even better north of here in Santa Fe.

Albuquerque's in that weird halfway place between small town and big city. People who are strongly looking for either one will find themselves dissatisfied. Locals call this the Land of MaƱana: Everything happens at a slower pace than you might be used to in Cali. It's a mellow place with gorgeous sunsets, big skies, and plenty of bike/hiking trails for those who love the outdoors. The climate is as close to perfect as you're likely to find.

It's not the most walkable place. The bus system is decent, I hear (I don't ride it), and there's a train to Santa Fe if you want to get up there. Albuquerque has a wide range of different neighborhoods and something for everyone. I think there are a lot of parks here but you may have a different frame of reference for comparison.

The most important thing I should note about "Albuquirky" is that it really is a funky place with a funky vibe. There's plenty of Route 66 nostalgia, old motels with big neon signs. A large counterculture community open to all manner of alternative lifestyles. The International Balloon Fiesta brings several hundred colorful hot air balloons through town every October. People here love their green chile and they'll eat it on anything.

If you have other specific questions I will try to answer them for you. I've lived here three and a half years and it fits me like a glove. But everyone is different. :-)
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 1:14 PM on October 22, 2009

I can't directly answer your questions, but keep in mind that in the next 10 to 15 years, the southwest has the potential to face really serious water shortages as they drain the last of their aquifers and are forced to rely more heavily on the Colorado.
posted by Caduceus at 1:18 PM on October 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I moved to ABQ ten months ago from NYC in order to go to school and down-pace my life somewhat, and I think as far as "quality of life" goes ABQ has a lot to offer. I do not own a car, live near downtown, and ride my bike and/or take the bus a lot. I also use zipcar occasionally. It's very inexpensive, the city is very laid back, climate is great, there is not that much traffic, and it's surrounded by some truly amazing natural landscape. Having said all that, there is not a lot going on here culture-wise. This is OK for me now, b/c I do not plan to stay here forever, but it's something to definitely keep in mind: there's far more going on (in my view) in much smaller SW cities like Tucson or Flagstaff or Boulder. Being close to Sante Fe and Taos is also a plus however, and I don't want to slag ABQ too much, but depending on where in CA (SF? LA?) you are coming from, ABQ may feel a bit slow and culturally impoverished. But then again I don't have a family, so as far as raising a family I can see how ABQ may actually be a great place, especially compared with overpriced and congested CA. Feel free to memail me; I'm far from being an expert (I'm still new here!), but I am more than willing to try to answer any questions you may have.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 1:38 PM on October 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I can't directly answer your questions, but keep in mind that in the next 10 to 15 years, the southwest has the potential to face really serious water shortages as they drain the last of their aquifers and are forced to rely more heavily on the Colorado.

This both worries and fascinates me. Much of California is facing the same issue, some areas already creating localized depressions from taking too much water out without the aquafers being replenished. Coastal communities have desalinization as an option, but that is an expensive way to get around the lack of readily available water. Thanks for the reminder!

The Winsome Parker Lewis - thanks for the insight! Do you (or others) know of any good "welcome to Albuquerque" website that gives an overview of the neighborhoods and make-up of the city? I'd like to visit and see more than just the sights, but I have no idea where to start. Cheers!
posted by filthy light thief at 1:47 PM on October 22, 2009

Response by poster: HP LaserJet P10006 - currently, I travel 4+ hours to see most shows, and the only on the weekends because I work. I figure I should check Ticketmaster and other major ticket retailers to see what kind of shows stop in Albuquerque, vs surrounding areas (thanks for the list of other lively cities).
posted by filthy light thief at 1:50 PM on October 22, 2009

As far as neighborhoods in ABQ that meet your criteria, I would strongly suggest Nob Hill (near UNM) and/or NW (in and around Downtown/Old Town). Downtown is mostly dead at night (actually, really dead), and even though Nob Hill is slightly more expensive, it's really the only neighborhood in ABQ that can pass as "pedestrian amenable." The bulk of ABQ consists of suburbs that are as car-centric as anywhere.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 1:52 PM on October 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Albuquerque will be super-cheap compared to the California places you mentioned (and a lot of places, generally). The only financial concern you might have is that New Mexico generally ranks at or near the bottom in public schoolteacher pay (and Albuquerque Public Schools are not an exception within the state). So your wife might be taking a significant pay cut.

It's not what you'd traditionally call "walkable." Residential and commercial districts aren't necessarily miles away from each other, though, and you can certainly target residential areas that are near enough to the more commercial boulevards.

The public transportation system is on par with that of many other mid-sized, not-particularly-progressive cities. It doesn't seem to get significant use by the middle class. Outside downtown it is assumed that one owns a car (especially a family) and has no problem driving everywhere for anything.

It's going to be a step back from any place that dares call itself a city, culturally. But you can have a good time if you're really proactive about seeking out fun things to do downtown/near UNM. And it'd help if you were comfortable taking short trips to Santa Fe or Taos. The city can be self-segregating a lot of time (if you look at schools in different neighborhoods, you'll notice), but it also seems to always be growing and shifting, so demographics aren't exactly frozen in place. As a young family, people may try to steer you to a "suburb" like Rio Rancho, but you can enjoy the same sense of suburbia in ALBQ's northeast heights.
posted by aswego at 1:56 PM on October 22, 2009

The weekly rag here for culture listings, etc. is the Alibi.

BTW, I'm not sure where in Central Valley Coastal CA you are, but it sounds as if you live far from places like Santa Cruz or Santa Barbara? I've driven around that part of CA some (beautiful country) and there are certainly a lot of rural places and small towns. If you are driving four hours to go to see a band or whatever, then ABQ may actually be a breath of fresh air.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 1:59 PM on October 22, 2009

Definitely cruise around the Convention and Visitors Bureau site. Lots of good info there in addition to the Alibi site that LaserJet linked.

I second LaserJet's Nob Hill suggestion. It's a revitalizing part of town with lots of walkable living, shopping and dining. If that's the sort of thing you're looking for, you might also be interested in ABQ Uptown and the surrounding area. It's more expensive but one of the more active areas in Albuquerque.

Before I moved here from Florida I got in touch with the folks at The Apartment Store. Ultimately I ended up making my own arrangements, but not before they mailed me a packet full of maps and statistics and job info and everything else I possibly wanted to know. That was a nice and unexpected resource.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 2:06 PM on October 22, 2009

Best answer: I will try to give my impressions in a stream of consciouness kinda way-so I may jump around some.

The water situation in ABQ is not that bad long term. New Mexico does not get any water from the colorado and only a portion of the state (the far nw corner near farmington) is in the colorado watershed. ABQ gets its water from wells and the Rio Grande. As far as I know (I am a civil engineer with most of my experience in drainage issues) the ground water situation for Central New Mexico is pretty good-lots of recharge area with a good aquifer and deep enough to not be contiminated.

I lived in ABQ as a kid (3-7th grade) and for a year right out of college. I like it there-but the city is different than most sw cities (like flagstaff, tucson, phoenix, el paso...). It is vaguaely dingy most of the time and life can definately be slower paced. It has University of New Mexico and a fairly diverse downtown but nothing like SF will have. Most of my recreation was outdoors stuff both times I lived there and it does have some truly great ski areas close by and just about every terrain type except ocean. Oceans are hard to come by in that part of the world. With a two hour drive you can be in just about any kinda magnificent solitude you can hope for. It is at 5-7000 feet in elevation depending on where you are living and this can affect all kinda things like cooking, nosebleeds and how well your car runs. My favorite parts of the state to visit/camp are near Los Alomas, Las Vegas or in Catron County (the VLA is awesome for the space science geek). The stars are amazing there with the combination of high altitude, clear skies and lack of city lights. Watching clouds spill over the top of Sandia on a winter morning is one of my fondest memories of living there. The weather is not coastal or really like southern California. Not much rain (like 10 in a year in town), it can snow quite a bit in town(but not more than 1 or 2 a year) and it will get below freezing a lot of nights through the winter. It will get to 100 more than once almost every summer. The swings between day and night can be pretty extreme also-like 40 or 50 degrees.

Food- Some of the best restaurants I have ever eaten at are in ABQ(Garcias, Pioneer, Sadies, Rudy's and Blakes, mmmmm Blakes lotaburger-the New mexico version of In and Out) and all the food has a distinct flavor (that i have never tasted outside the rio grande valley) that can be quite spicy-like make you sweat kinda spicy. ABQ is not a town i would describe as walkable outside of the downtown/university area and it does have some sprawl-especially out on the west mesa.

Culture_The balloon fiesta every october is pretty cool and pretty much a week long party all over town. The luminarias around christmas time are hauntingly bueatiful. New Mexico tends to vote democrat-but it is a western, conservative democrat, the state is pretty strongly catholic. It is a poor state, like deep south kinda poor, and usually ranks last or next to last in most things. You are likely to hear spanish as much as english, and lots of signs will be in spanish.
posted by bartonlong at 2:20 PM on October 22, 2009

Best answer: I totally love Albuquerque. However, we're only a city because we're the largest conglomeration of people in five hundred miles. Anywhere else, we'd be a town.

Everyone so far has hit the high points; Downtown/Nob Hill are the walkable parts (I live Downtown and drive, oh, never.), the buses are about as good as you would expect, it is wicked cheap to live here, food is plentiful, our skys and vistas are unbelievably gorgeous.

For your wife- state government is currently seriously talking about education cuts, and my dad (a highly qualified SPED teacher with k-12 endorsement) has had a little trouble finding a job.

Our local blog community hangs out around Duke City Fix, which can be a good resource for what's happening. (Between the DCF and the Alibi, there's enough going on to keep me busy.)
posted by aint broke at 8:14 PM on October 22, 2009

Response by poster: How do Taos, Santa Fe, Tucson or Flagstaff fair against Albuquerque? From the basic information I've found, Flagstaff and Tucson are on the opposite ends for annual average snowfall, with Flagstaff getting 100 inches per year and Tucson getting under 2 inches. Albuquerque gets around 11 inches, Santa Fe: 18 inches, Taos (Ski Valley): 30 inches. Taos looks really small, Santa Fe and Flagstaff seem more expensive. Tucson seems similar to ABQ in land area and population, with about 2,000 more homes listed under $3k. (Sources: wikipedia, and

All of those basic details ignore the human factors of what it's like to live in those communities. Any insight? Thanks for all the suggestions and insight so far!
posted by filthy light thief at 9:53 AM on October 23, 2009

Taos is tiny- if you're looking for somewhere where you will learn everyone in town's name in six months, it is totally the place for you. Or if you're a really hardcore skier. Otherwise, not so much.

Santa Fe is smaller, more yuppified, and significantly more expensive. Public transit is ok, for a town its size. It takes a lot of pride in its artistic community, especially in the downtown/plaza area, four out of five buildings are galleries.

Tucson is a nice city, but is classic desert. (As opposed to ABQ's high desert which is actually very different.) It definitely hangs out around a hundred degrees for most of the summer. When I was there last, the bus system was pretty dismal, but that may have changed in the last few years.
My impression from years of hanging out (but never living there) is that neighborhoods are very stratified, all the nice houses are in one part of town, all the poor folk live on the other side. (I don't find this to be true in ABQ- there are nicer and less nice parts of town, but even in my total barrio neighborhood there are a few really nice places, and vice versa.) If you do look at Tucson, choose your neighborhood carefully.
It's entirely possible that Tucson is even more Hispanic than Albuquerque but you're going to hear a lot of Spanish in either.

I've only been to Flagstaff to ski, but I liked it well enough when I was there. (Good skiing!)
posted by aint broke at 10:28 AM on October 23, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks! Fantastic info, all of it.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:00 PM on October 23, 2009

Response by poster: My town is smaller than Santa Barbara or Santa Cruz, and more removed, too. ABQ is sounding pretty spiffy, and may well require a weekend visit or something of that sort.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:10 PM on October 23, 2009

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