3 Albuquerque

PopulationMetro: 904,486
A celebrated TV show brings the curious to Albuquerque. What they find is what dedicated locals love best: a welcoming, progressive place that brunches above its weight.

It’s been a decade since Breaking Bad premiered and five years since its final bow, but the TV show, about an Albuquerque high school teacher turned meth chef, still has a hold on the Southwest metropolis of 550,000 people.

In fact, Albuquerque continues to draw visitors from across the world—either longtime fans or new devotees and Netflix binge-watchers—who are as enthusiastic at the prospect of visiting Walter White’s car wash and dining at Twisters Burrito (a.k.a. “Los Pollos Hermanos”) as they are about exploring the raw beauty in this gleaming gem of the Southwest.

Fortunately, the city has always prioritized the creation of resources and programming for residents and visitors, and it scores Top 5 in four of our six categories.

ABQ (because Albuquerque is hard to spell) ranks an impressive #1 among small cities in our Product ranking—indicative of deep infrastructure and local investment and led by a #2 ranking in museums. More than 20 span indigenous roots, Hispanic culture and even hot air balloons.

Place 56
Product 100
Programming 67
People 53
Prosperity 47
Promotion 64

It’s the second-most cultural small city, stacked with more than 100 galleries, a symphony orchestra, theaters and even an opera scene that’s getting national attention.

But “The Land of Enchantment”—a moniker long associated with the elemental beauty of the desert mountains and their mineral deposits—is not content with its good vibes and second-best Culinary scene in the country for small cities (amazingly, only behind Honolulu).

The city is aggressively recruiting entrepreneurs and young families in order to improve on its middling #68 ranking in our Prosperity category, with the Unemployment Rate and Median Household Income not even in the Top 50 among small cities.

The central business district of Albuquerque, New Mexico

In 2016, the city launched a downtown innovation and research hub called Innovate ABQ. And since every business hub needs tenants, six individual business accelerators, each designed for a specific industry, were also launched.

The rubber seems ready to hit the road on the city’s extensive investments in growing its downtown economy by way of public transit. The electric bus rapid transit system called the Albuquerque Rapid Transit (appropriately, ART for short) should launch by 2019 despite some delays and budgetary issues. Fortunately, given the density of cultural and economic opportunity blooming in the high desert, it is designed to makes frequent stops.