Albuquerque is known as the ballooning capital of the world. Each year in early October Albuquerque hosts the largest hot air balloon festival in the world. Spectators and balloonist came from all over the world to participate in the 9-day International Balloon Fiesta. It is spectacular – attracting 550+ balloonists from 17 different countries. This year the fiesta is October 1 – 9. (For info this year’s event check here.)
In 2015 my family attended Balloons and Breakfast on the second day of the Fiesta. Balloons and Breakfast is a fund-raising event put on by the Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum Foundation. The ticket price includes premium/priority parking right in front of the museum, museum access, ticket to the fiesta field, shuttle to the field, breakfast, and a souvenir pin. The breakfast itself was not the highlight of the event. The highlight was the amazing views of the balloons from the second floor patio of the museum building.
One of the biggest events of the fiesta is the spectacular Mass Ascension. This is where all participating balloons launch in two waves, filling the sky with hundreds of balloons at once. Due to the weather we almost didn’t have a take-off that morning. Rain was forecast for the day. Weather plays a big part in determining if the balloons are allowed to go up or not. Too much wind, no wind, rain, a thunder storm, or lightning can all make it too dangerous to fly. The Mass Ascension on this day was delayed almost an hour because of the weather. The grandkids were bored and whinny but all that changed once the balloonists got the green flag. It was amazing! You can’t beat the view of the balloon field and mountains from the upstairs deck of the Balloon Museum! But the view from the field itself is amazing, too.
It is exciting to hear the roar of the burners and see the glow of the balloons in the early morning light. But to see these magnificent balloons take off and fly is thrilling. We even had the opportunity of seeing three balloons take off on a short flight and then land right in front of us.
You can learn about ballooning history and its significance today at the Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque Balloon Museum.
The Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque Balloon Museum celebrates the history and future of ballooning. This is a great place to visit after the balloons have all drifted away. This museum showcases the fascinating history of lighter-than-air flight and its significance to modern times. Some of the exhibits are hands-on, where you can play with devices that demonstrate the principles of ballooning. There really is nothing quite like this museum anywhere else, and it’s a must-see highlight of any visit to ABQ.
Artifacts from ballooning’s past through recent world record-breaking endeavors are displayed. Interactive activities explain the science and art of ballooning, including a balloon flight simulator. The Museum presents a variety of fun events throughout the year for kids, adults and seniors.
We got to the breakfast at the museum at 4:30 AM, had a less than stellar breakfast at 5:30 AM, so we were ready for lunch at 11:00. I solicited recommendations from the volunteers at the Museum for lunch spots. We decided on a local favorite called El Pinto.
The El Pinto is a 50+ year old local favorite. Our server told us that during the 9 days of balloon fiesta, the servers’ total tips were expected to total over $186,000. The restaurant employs about 300 servers. Sounds like a lot until you learn the base wage is $2.13 an hour.
The restaurant is close to the Fiesta grounds but during the short drive to the restaurant I felt we passed through some iffy neighborhoods. Once we arrived at the restaurant it was easy to see why this lovely place has long been an Albuquerque favorite for its New Mexican ambiance and flavor. It is owned by the “Salsa Twins,” Jim and John Thomas, whose parents opened El Pinto in 1962. The restaurant can seat 1,200 but it was still terribly crowded and the wait was long. We were finally seated on the lovely patio close to a charming fountain. Our young server was very helpful, answering all my questions about the menu. Menu items include traditional plates such as chile rellenos, tamales, enchilada plates, green chile cheeseburgers, and chile con carne. Once you’ve decided on your meal the next big question is red or green – red or green chile, that is! I decided to have the chile rellenos and I asked for both sauces on the side. After sampling each I opted for the green. The meal was served with sopapillos. (Yummy, I am a fan of this flakey dessert served with raw honey.)
The restaurant’s wall of fame has pictures of famous visitors like George Bush Jr., John McCain and other celebrities. Our server told us Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser, M.D. and How I Met Your Mother, etc.) is a regular when he‘s in town. We didn’t spot any celebrities the day we were there but we still had a great time.
There is so much to do in Albuquerque. Like the Balloon Fiesta itself, Albuquerque’s New Mexico cuisine is colorful and adventurous. I urge you all to come to New Mexico and learn about its rich history and its wonderful people. It is definitely an experience of a lifetime!