This bustling desert crossroads has an understated charm, one based more on its locals than on any kind of urban sparkle. In New Mexico's largest city, immediately west of the Sandia mountains at the point where the east–west Route 66 bridges the north–south Rio Grande, folks are more than happy to share history, highlights and must-try restaurants.
Centuries-old adobes pepper the lively Old Town area, and the shops, restaurants and bars in the hip Nob Hill zone are all within easy walking distance. Good hiking trails abound just outside of town, through evergreen forests or among panels of ancient petroglyphs, while the city's modern museums explore space and nuclear energy. There's a vibrant mix of university students, Native Americans, Hispanics and gays and lesbians. You'll find flyers for square dances and yoga classes distributed with equal enthusiasm, and see ranch hands and real-estate brokers chowing down beside each other at hole-in-the-wall taquerías (Mexican fast-food restaurants) and retro cafes.