#3 Albuquerque, N.M.

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#3 Albuquerque, N.M.

This laid-back city offers resort-town ambience, a boomtown economy and cow-town prices.

What we loved: Miles of trails in the city along the Rio Grande's undeveloped banks and through cottonwood forests. More than 300 sunny days a year to enjoy cycling or hiking.

Albuquerque offers resort-town ambience, a boomtown economy and cow-town prices. And the city's laid-back pace gives you plenty of time to enjoy the sunsets. Shades of pinks, blues, reds and oranges -- best enjoyed from atop the Sandia Mountains -- frame the desert skyline with stark beauty.


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Architect Christopher Calott and his wife, psychiatrist Dora Wang, left San Francisco eight years ago for downtown Albuquerque. They bought a $160,000 Craftsman bungalow, which is now worth $280,000. "If we hadn't moved to Albuquerque, we would be working ourselves to the bone just to stay afloat," Christopher says. They are among the many professionals who moved here to reinvent themselves and advance their careers. Christopher, 45, left a full-time teaching post to launch an architectural firm, and the low cost of living lets Dora, 44, focus on writing books.

Value doesn't stop at the city limits. For about $200,000 you can get a two-story home with a mountain view in the pastoral North Valley neighborhood. In ritzy High Desert, in the Sandia foothills, $600,000 buys a 2,300-square-foot home with a deluxe kitchen and a fireplace in the living room. Hemmed in on three sides by Indian reservations and Kirtland Air Force base, Albuquerque sprawls to the west. Thirty minutes to the northwest in Rio Rancho, the state's fastest-growing city, buyers can find a new four-bedroom, 2,800-square-foot home for $294,000.


Many artists, fleeing pricey Santa Fe and Taos, have found a haven in Albuquerque, and their bohemian influence marks the Nob Hill art galleries.

The University of New Mexico and Sandia National Laboratories help to fuel the local economy, and their collective cranial power has sparked a number of energy and technology start-ups. Intel employs 5,200 workers at a nearby chip plant.

Healthy, outdoor living is central to Albuquerque's culture. You can hit the slopes in the morning and the golf greens in the afternoon for what locals call a "ski and tee."

But the West is still wild, and the city's one big downside is a violent-crime rate that's twice the national average. On the plus side, though, the rate is falling faster than the national average.

-- Thomas M. Anderson