The pictures have been posted and the thrills described. But how did my back-to-back trysts with Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Austin stack up?
Reason: This is going to shock people, but the three best gastronomic experiences I had were in New Mexico, and two of those in Albuquerque. First the Golden Crown Panaderia’s Green Chile Bread rocked our worlds. Then I had a divine trout and leek sauce dish at Zinc in Nob Hill. Finally, my delicious Ayurvedic meal at Annapurna in Santa Fe can also be enjoyed at their Albuquerque branch.
Winner: Santa Fe
Reason: No-brainer here. It’s just gorgeous, like the genetically blessed supermodel who could never be mistaken for anyone else. As if more justification were needed beyond the fact that the Spanish settled here in the 1609 (duh – you pick the best spot first!), it consistently ranks as a top 10 US vacation destination - it was number four in this year's Conde Nast Traveler Readers Choice Awards - and is one of those places whose name alone evokes a dream lifestyle.
Reason: Austin is known for its friendliness, but we had a few instances of rudeness that really startled us, such as a bike store employee yelling, “Can’t you see we’re closed?” Santa Fe is friendly, but a little tourist-weary. But in Albuquerque, everyone was warm, chatty and uber-helpful, with strangers taking 30 to 45 minutes to talk to us, draw maps, tell us where to eat, etc.
Reason: It’s like no other place in Texas or even the US, really, thanks to its defiant weirdness. It’s the legendary hipster mecca. It’s the home of South by Southwest and Austin City Limits. It’s a big party year-around…and never lacks a blazingly good soundtrack. (There’s even live music in the airport, for crying loud.) It makes you wish you could only be half as cool.
TRAFFIC/CONGESTION (between the two “big cities”)
Reason: We didn’t encounter ANY traffic – not even during Friday “rush hour.” For the largest city in New Mexico (population 800,000), that ain’t bad. One reason may be that it has two 75 mph interstate freeways (25 and 40) connecting perpendicularly to disperse traffic. In comparison, Austin (population 1.5 million) has one main artery, and we got stuck on it twice.
COST OF LIVING
Reason: Kiplinger’s 2009 Cost-of-Living Index puts Austin ahead – it scores a 94, whereas Albuquerque and Santa Fe come in at 98 and 100, respectively. (100 is the average, so anything lower is cheaper than average.) The biggest factor? According to CNN’s Cost-of-Living Comparison Tool, housing in Austin costs 16% less than in Albuquerque.
p.s. A huge reminder about why I’m on the prowl: Los Angeles scores a painful 142 on the Cost-of-Living Index.
Reason: I wasn’t sure who’d come out on top on this one between Austin and Albuquerque. (Santa Fe, at 75,000 people, is just too small.) Then I see Kiplinger’s 2009 Best Cities rankings, which this year “focuses on places that have stable employment plus the talent to create new, well-paying positions.” Both cities make the list, but Albuquerque edges Austin out (#2 vs. #8).
Reason: I don’t think I even need to explain this, do I? Sleepy New Mexico’s got nothing on Austin’s wild scene, thanks to its countless live-music venues, bars, and festivals. Also, let’s not forget those 48,000 very thirsty University of Texas students. Or that Travel & Leisure “America’s Favorite Cities” rankings put it #2 for live music and #4 for singles/bar scene.
Reason: Santa Fe just doesn’t have the real estate bargains and job opportunities that make for a win-win. Austin and Albuquerque have both, which means it comes down to tiebreakers. If I were single, Austin would probably win out. But I’m not, and these days, less congestion and niceness matter more than nightlife. Clinching the deal, US News & World Report just named Albuquerque the Best Place to Live for 2009, putting Austin #3. So close, but “the ABQ” takes it!
Final tally: Albuquerque 5, Austin 3, Santa Fe 1. Let the planets re-align!
4 years ago