Established in 1889, the University of New Mexico (UNM) is the state's leading institution of higher education. Its many outstanding galleries and museums are open to the public free of charge. The university's Pueblo Revival–style architecture is noteworthy, particularly the beautifully preserved 1938 west wing of Zimmerman Library, which houses the superb Center for Southwest Research and changing historical exhibits, and the Alumni Chapel, both designed by John Gaw Meem, a Santa Fe–based architect whose mid-20th-century work became a template for new campus buildings for years to come. Newer structures, such as Antoine Predock’s George Pearl Hall tip their hat to Meem, but are distinctive in their own right. Adorned in 2012 with Federico Muelas’s mesmerizing Flor Azul/Blue Flower art work, the 900-square-foot LED and sound installation is best seen at night. It joins the numerous contemporary sculptures that make this campus worth a stroll; Bruce Nauman’s 1988 "The Center of the Universe" is a destination in itself. Stop at the campus Welcome Center (505/277–1989 to pick up self-guided campus art and architecture tour maps.

UNM’s campus easterly spread leads directly into the heart of Nob Hill and a quintessential assortment of Route 66 and Art Deco–era remnants. Vintage motels and gas stations with neon signage house cool galleries, microbreweries, cafés, upscale furnishing shops, and more. The circa 1947 Nob Hill Business Center sits right on old Route 66 (Central Avenue), sandwiched between Carlisle Boulevard and Amherst Drive SE, and is still the heart of this neighborhood. Anchored by the wonderful Mariposa Gallery and IMEC, Amherst Drive (just the one sweet block between Central and Silver) is the primo side street by far. Other noteworthy businesses—from some of the city’s best restaurants, to offbeat shops, the Guild indie cinema, and a good mix of professional and student hangouts—run along Central, both a few block east of Carlisle, and to the west, back to UNM.