Destination: Albuquerque, New Mexico
Duration: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Average fare: $290 via Southwest Airlines out of Hobby Airport
What to do: Founded in 1706, Albuquerque is a history buff's dream. Old Town offers walking and biking tours of the historic heart of the city, with 10 blocks of centuries-old adobe homes, shops and restaurants centered around a main plaza. On the north end of the plaza is San Felipe de Neri Church, built in 1793 and one of the oldest surviving structures in the area. Just to the east, you'll find even more to explore: just try to choose between the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, or the kid-oriented Explora! Science Center and Children's Museum.
A short drive south is Art Deco-style KiMo Theatre, which has been showing first-run movies since 1927 (and which is rumored to be haunted). It's just one of the many stops to be made along a self-guided tour of the old Route 66 that once brought a nation of car travelers across the southwest. For best results, begin the tour at dusk, the better to take in the dozens of retro neon signs that still line the route—especially in the wonderfully walkable Nob Hill district, which combines history with hip new cafes, bars and galleries.
Another short drive to the north will take you to Petroglyph National Monument, where you can marvel at the massive lava flows and rocks into which Native Americans and Spanish settlers alike carved drawings, designs and symbols between 400 and 700 years ago. This volcanic escarpment west of the city is just one of Albuquerque's natural geologic boundaries; to the east are the dramatic Sandia Mountains, which reach elevations of 10,000 feet—or another 5,000 feet higher than the already-elevated city, which sits at 5,312 feet above sea level.
Winter brings skiers to Sandia Peak, where the packed powder offers an assortment of green and blue trails (and the occasional black diamond) through the Cibola National Forest. Regardless of whether or not you're there to strap on the skis (or snowboard), all visitors should make a point of taking the Sandia Peak Tramway to the tippy-top of the mountain by means of the longest aerial tram in the U.S. The tram ascends nearly 4,000 feet in just 15 minutes to a final elevation of 10,378 feet, offering a stunning view of Albuquerque below and roughly 11,000 square miles of New Mexico countryside. Once at the top, hikers and backpackers can take the trails back down the mountain, while those just there for the view can take it in at High Finance Restaurant & Tavern—the only place we know of to get green chile alfredo two miles high.
What to eat: James Beard award-winning Mary & Tito's Cafe should be on every visitor's agenda, whether they care about the prestigious culinary prize or not. Though owner Mary Gonzales passed away in 2013 at the age of 92, daughter Antoinette Knight still runs the New Mexican restaurant that has been a fixture since opening in 1963, specializing in rich carne adovada and made-from-scratch red and green chile.
Chef Jennifer James keeps the Beard love coming at her restaurant, Jennifer James 101, for which she's been nominated as a James Beard Best Chef: Southwest semifinalist six years in a row. Friend and business partner Nelle Bauer was born and raised in Bryan, Texas, and you'll often find the two working side-by-side in the open kitchen, which turns out everything from grilled Spanish octopus with potato-jalapeño hash to a root vegetable cassoulet. The menu changes with the whims of the chefs and the seasons but is consistently delicious.