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Albuquerque: Austin for Families

October 27, 2006, 10:27 am · Filed under: Life, New Mexico

After moving my family here two and a half years ago, I’m ready to declare Albuquerque “Austin for Families.”

Austin, Texas, is a great town. I was only there for a long weekend a few years ago, but in that time saw four shows and every one of them was amazing. Additionally, it’s got great weather, a nice river-front and a friendly feel. And, if you’re a webbie, don’t forget SXSW!

Like Austin, we have the weather thing. New Mexico is a very sunny place. What’s nice about Albuquerque in particular is that, at 5500 feet above sea level, our temperatures are actually pretty moderate compared to somewhere like Phoenix. We also don’t have the humidity of places farther east like, well, Austin.

Even deserts have flowers

Tibetan monks paint a sand mandala
at UNM

The Albuquerque International Balloon
Fiesta is the largest in the world

Bandelier National Monument

Lunch with aliens in Roswell

All photos copyright Andrew &
Stephanie Hedges

But it’s not the weather that makes Albuquerque so great for raising kids. This area has so much to offer you could spend a lifetime exploring and not experience it all.


Albuquerque has some fine museums. Natural History houses the scientists who control the Mars Rover. Explora is as good as any hands-on science museum in the country. The Rio Grande Zoo is top notch and always seems to have a baby something to look at (the baby camel was really cute). Even the aquarium rocks. The National Atomic Museum is a bit creepy, but still well done. None of this is surprising because this area has the highest percentage of PhDs per capita in the country thanks to the presence of Sandia and Los Alamos laboratories and collaborations with University of New Mexico, a major research institution. There are scientists everywhere! For just $80, a family can join the New Mexico BioPark Society and gain entrance to the zoo, aquarium, natural history, and Explora for a year.

Arts & Culture

Santa Fe is better known as a hub of the arts, but Albuquerque is no slouch. In fact, I prefer the more down-to-earth feel of the arts community here to the sometimes snooty Santa Fean “aesthetic.” There is great community theater going on here, too. One of my family’s favorites is Gorilla Tango Theater. They do a fun, kid-appropriate improv show every Saturday night. Albuquerque has some of the best known slam poets anywhere and hosted (and won!) the 2005 National Poetry Slam. The University of New Mexico also attracts great productions and cool cultural shows such as Tibetan sand mandala painting. In addition to fine arts and theater, there is a thriving Native American and Hispanic folk arts community here. On the Plaza in Old Town, you can buy jewelry and other handicrafts directly from the people who make them.

The food, oh the food!

How many states have a state question? In New Mexico, it’s “Red or green?” As in, will you have that smothered in red or green chili sauce? Of course you can opt for “Christmas,” a little of both. New Mexican food is different from Mexican food you’ll find in other parts of the country. Go to Phoenix and you won’t find sopaipillas or fideo, delicacies both! Plus, you’ll find items on the menu here that anywhere else would be marked with five spiciness stars just sitting there minding their own business.

Bike Friendly

Albuquerque has earned kudos from the League of American Bicyclists for being a bike friendly community. Bicycling Magazine named Albuquerque the third best cycling city (with populations between 200,000 and 500,000) in the U.S. There are nicely maintained bike trails crisscrossing the city, plus it’s almost always nice enough weather to hit the road on two wheels.

Rio Grande, Sandia Mountains, Bosque

Yes, the climate here is desert, but don’t let that conjure up images of shifting sand dunes and Saguaro cacti. We have high mountains to the east and the famous Rio Grande running through the center of the city feeding a lush flood-plain called the Bosque. Take the tram to the top of the Sandias and you’ll take in a breathtaking view of the city. It really is spectacular. We have great mountain biking, hiking, camping, rock hounding, rock climbing, skiing, rafting, and of course the world’s largest balloon festival all right here.

The Rest of New Mexico

The rest of New Mexico has it going on as well. Here is just a sampling of the many great day-trips you can make with Albuquerque as your home base.

Cost of Living

I grew up in the Seattle area and lived for six years in Washington, DC. Both are great towns, but what Albuquerque has going for it over either of them is a reasonable cost of living. You can actually buy a house here without giving up your firstborn.


To be fair, there are some downsides to raising a family in Albuquerque. The Albuquerque Public School system is the largest in the nation. The entire city is administered as one school district. As the father of 9 and 8 year old daughters, I am most familiar with the elementary schools. Within APS the quality of the grade schools varies tremendously. There are some that are outstanding. There are some that are truly scary. Do your research! Another option is to do as we did and live in the neighboring town of Rio Rancho. The schools there are consistently good.

Another knock on Albuquerque is the crime rate. Yeah, they’ve filmed a few episodes of C.O.P.S. in New Mexico. Honestly, I haven’t noticed that Albuquerque is all that different from any city in this regard. Any crime is mostly avoidable once you know the lay of the land. Just like anywhere, you need to be smart to be safe.

Finally on the map?

Albuquerque is only now being discovered. Kiplinger Magazine recently listed Albuquerque as a top U.S. city for “smart living.” Orbitz says this is a top 5 travel destination worldwide over the next few years. Forbes Magazine ranked Albuquerque the #1 city in the whole United States for starting a business.

We devote a page in our Jobs area to why Albuquerque is so great. Once candidates look into it, it’s not a hard sell. I think most people just haven’t thought much about it.

We still occasionally hear comments like “There’s a New Mexico? Do you need a passport to go there?” We all know Americans are notoriously poor at geography, but come on, it’s part of the United States! New Mexico is the fifth largest state, in fact, and shares borders with Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, and, yes, even “Old” Mexico.

The whole Southwest is booming. Places like Denver, Phoenix, Tucson, and Austin get a lot of the press in that regard, but Albuquerque deserves a look as well.

This entry was first published on The Loop, the blog of my former employer, Clearwired Web Services.

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