ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The temperature hovered near 100 degrees as we biked past seedy motels, drug dens, dive bars and abandoned warehouses.
It’s the most fun I’ve had on a two-wheeler in years.
Our group of eight – including guide Brad Frye – was on the Biking Bad tour through downtown Albuquerque to see a dozen sites where the iconic television series “Breaking Bad” was filmed.
The show, which aired on AMC from 2008-13 and can still be seen on Netflix, won 16 Emmys and is listed in the Guinness World Records 2014 edition as the highest-rated TV series of all time based on its ranking of 99/100 on metacritic.com.
“Breaking Bad” told the story of Albuquerque high-school chemistry teacher Walter White – played by four-time lead dramatic actor Emmy winner Bryan Cranston – who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. To secure his family’s financial future before he died, White partnered with a former student – Jesse Pinkman (three-time supporting actor winner Aaron Paul) – to build a crystal-methamphetamine empire.
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True, the three-hour, seven-mile tour took us past some of the less attractive parts of Albuquerque’s downtown. Frye, who has been leading Biking Bad tours for six years for Routes Bicycle Tours & Rentals and binge-watched the show three times, described the tour as an up-close look at the city’s “gritty Western charm.”
But we also pedaled past beautiful tree-lined neighborhoods with homes dating back more than a century and saw the progress of an ongoing downtown multimillion-dollar revitalization project. It’s led to the opening of upscale bars, theaters and art galleries along Albuquerque’s Central Avenue corridor – the historic Route 66.
‘Breaking Bad’ put spotlight on Albuquerque, New Mexico
Albuquerque’s sunny climate, wide-open desert spaces with expansive views of the Sandia Mountains just east of the city, cultural diversity and generous tax incentives have made it a popular filming location for movies and TV shows. No production has elevated the city’s visibility more than “Breaking Bad.”
“We definitely saw an uptick in tourism as a result of that show,” said Brenna Moore, communications manager for Visit Albuquerque, the city’s tourism board. “It raised the awareness of the city, particularly in international markets.”
“Breaking Bad” finished its run eight years ago. A popular spinoff called “Better Call Saul” – telling the story of Walter’s ethically challenged attorney Saul Goodman (four-time Emmy nominee Bob Odenkirk) – is still being filmed in Albuquerque.
Most of the prominent “Breaking Bad” filming locations can be seen on the bike tour, although a few – including Walter White’s house in the eastern part of the city – require a car ride. Here are my favorite “Breaking Bad” sites.
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Jesse Pinkman’s house
Bad things happened inside this stately, two-story Spanish Colonial home on a quiet street just a few blocks from downtown Albuquerque. Built in 1920, the 3,500-square-foot house went on the market in 2015 for $1.6 million. “Meth lab not included,” the listing agent for Coldwell Banker noted in a tongue-in-cheek press release.
Jesse’s fictional parents lived in an even older home just a few blocks away. The Pinkman family house dates to 1909s.
The Candy Lady store
This shop in Old Town is a must-see for “Breaking Bad” aficionados who want to experience the dark humor that helped make the show so enthralling.
Owner Debbie Ball – “the candy lady” – first became well-known in Albuquerque when she started making X-rated cakes and candies in the 1980s. When “Breaking Bad” started production, she was approached by the show’s prop master to whip up a sugary concoction that looked like methamphetamine.
“The sex was good until the drugs started,” she joked about the evolution of her store.
Ball produced 150 pounds of blue-tinted rock candy that was used in the show’s first three seasons. Today, she says 20 to 30% of her sales are from “Breaking Bad” memorabilia, including packets of blue rock candy.
I ingested some while I channeled my inner Skinny Pete and Badger, two of the show’s meth-dealing characters. I didn’t get high, but I did get a tummy ache.
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Walter White’s house
“Breaking Bad” diehards know the address by heart – 308 Negra Arroyo Lane. Of course, that isn’t the real address of the White residence, a modest three-bedroom ranch in a section of town known as Northeast Heights.
Many of the show’s most dramatic – and amusing – scenes were filmed here. One of the most memorable is the episode from Season 3 in which Walt – upset that his wife Skyler wouldn’t let him dine with the family – tossed the pizza he’d brought home onto the roof. The pizza stuck.
Numerous fans have since tried to replicate Walt’s feat in a twisted sort of pilgrimage. It got so bad that the homeowner erected fencing around the property to keep pizza-slinging fans away and show creator Vince Gilligan issued a public plea for them to stop. There are also red cones on the street in front of the house to prevent gawkers from parking too close.
It is a private residence, so if you decide to visit, don’t linger. I took a photo from a block away and quickly departed. The homeowner was sitting in the front yard and it was clear she wasn’t keen on having company. Hard to blame her.
A-1 Car Wash
Fans of the show know that in the first season, Walt worked part time at a car wash to help make ends meet. Later in the series, he and Skyler bought the car wash as a front to launder millions of dollars of meth money.
That business, known as the A1A Car Wash (“Have an A-1 day!” was a frequent line in the show) is a five-minute drive from the White residence. It’s now called Mister Car Wash, part of a Tucson-based chain that owns more than 300 car washes in 21 states.
Los Pollos Hermanos, the Dog House and that motel
Our Biking Bad tour took us to several downtown eateries that were used as filming sites. Java Joe’s, which drug dealer Tuco used as his hangout, is worth seeing for the colorful mural painted on the east side of the building.
The Dog House drive-in was a popular filming location and the place where Jesse gave away his cash to a homeless man. The restaurant’s retro neon sign with a tail-wagging dog is fun to see after dark.
Walt and meth conspirator Lydia frequently met at the Grove Café on Central Avenue, a popular breakfast spot. It’s where Walt poisoned Lydia with ricin-laced Stevia.
“People like to make the joke, ‘Be careful of the Stevia at the Grove,’” general manager Andrew LoBue said, adding that the restaurant’s appearances on the show “helped put us on the map.”
Just down the block from the Grove is the Crossroads Motel. The low-end lodge was depicted as a drug den and spot for other illicit activities. From the looks of it today, the Crossroads was perfectly cast.
Los Pollos Hermanos, which drug kingpin Gus Fring used as a base of operations, is really a fast-food restaurant called Twisters. It’s about a 20-minute drive south of downtown Albuquerque.
Seemingly every restaurant and hotel in the city has some sort of connection to “Breaking Bad.” We stayed downtown at the Hotel Andaluz, named after a region in Spain called Andalusia. When it opened in 1939, it was the first building in New Mexico with air conditioning.
The Andaluz hosted the wrap party for the cast and crew at the completion of the show’s final season.
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Dan Fellner of Scottsdale is a freelance travel writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at https://global-travel-info.com.