San Miguel de Allende is a stunning Spanish Colonial gem in the arid mountains of central Mexico, just three hours north of the capital. Its colorful history is a vivid mixture of Spanish and Mexican culture, as evidenced in the city’s architecture, food, and lively plazas. Although San Miguel has been wowing visitors for decades with its pretty cobbled streets and confectionary-colored cathedral, a crop of new restaurants, bars, and boutiques means that even if you’ve visited before, there’s plenty more to experience in this buzzing south-of-the-border destination.
After checking into the chic, art-filled Hotel Nena (rooms from $135), walk nine minutes through bright, cobbled streets to the Jardín Allende, the city’s central main square. The tree-lined gardens offer shade from the perennial sunshine, and wrought-iron benches provide the perfect spot to sip a café con leche while watching street vendors hawk hand-stitched dolls and balloons. The jardín is also the best place to admire the magnificent Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel, the city’s iconic pink cathedral. After snapping a few Instagrammable shots, walk two minutes to Café San Agustín (21 San Francisco, Zona Centro), purported to have the best hot chocolate and churros in all of San Miguel.
After breakfast, get lost amid the hillside streets lined with bougainvillea-draped houses, then pop into the Mercado de Artesanias (Lucas Balderas S/N, Plaza Lanaton), a buzzing artisan market where you can bargain for everything from textiles and jewelry to shoes and souvenirs. After your sartorial needs have been met, walk 10 minutes to Ten Ten Pie (average main: $6, 21 Cuna de Allende, Zona Centro) a restaurant with outdoor patio seating that occupies a bustling corner square. Margaritas and tacos are always a good choice, and with any luck, you’ll see a wedding party pass by, replete with flower-laden donkeys.
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After people-watching over a slow lunch, walk two minutes to Mixta, a boho-chic boutique filled with housewares, accessories, and clothing that may quickly consume your entire shopping budget. Wander past scores of tempting shops as you continue south toward peaceful Parque Juárez. Turn right on Calle Nemesio Diez and you’ll end up back at Hotel Nena, where the open-air rooftop Sky Bar—complete with plunge pool—is the perfect stop for a late-afternoon cocktail as you watch the sun set over distant mountains.
Freshen up for dinner before heading across the street to Café Rama (average main: $10), a funky, Art Nouveau restaurant that features quirky art, and an ever-changing menu of both Mexican favorites and classic comfort food (think chicken pot pie or Swiss fondue).
Next door lies the city’s swankiest address, where the Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar at the Rosewood San Miguel de Allende (rooms from $330) offers a wide array of mescal and tequila, plus a cart selling fine cigars.
Get up early and walk five minutes to the Saturday Organic Market, set in an open area within the famed art and language school Instituto Allende. Stalls overflowing with produce, local cheese, handmade soaps, and fresh salsas vie for the attention of passersby. Grab a hearty breakfast of tortillas, beans, and rice from one of the many food vendors, then find a seat at the picnic tables.
Hail a $3 taxi for the two-mile ride to El Charco del Ingenio, an ecological preserve and botanical garden in the hills east of town. The magical landscape—with waterfalls, towering cacti, and deep gorges—gives visitors a sense of the Guanajuato region’s unique flora and fauna.
After a leisurely walk among the native plants lining the garden’s looped trail, taxi back to Geek & Coffee, a quirky café in a serene outdoor setting. With beverages rivaling those of any big-city coffeehouse, plus toothsome sandwiches and quiches (some with a spicy Mexican twist), it’s the perfect place for a light lunch. It’s also conveniently located next to the Fábrica la Aurora, a converted water mill-turned-art space that now houses some of the city’s best artists, galleries, and boutiques.
After perusing paintings and sculptures, walk 17 minutes back toward the central square for a sundowner. Just off Jardín Allende is Restaurante Cielo (9 Correo planta alta, Zona Centro). Grab an icy cerveza as you take advantage of the perfect photo op—the cathedral silhouetted against a fiery sunset.
For dinner, nosh on the best enchiladas in town at Hecho en Mexico (average main: $12, 8 Ancha de San Antonio, Zona Centro), a buzzy restaurant with a festive interior courtyard, then finish off the night at La Galería (1 Carretera Celaya, Villa de los Frailes), a classic 1930s-style bar on the edge of town that offers top-class cocktails and live music.
It’s a 15-minute walk to quaint Café Buen Día (3-A Del Pueblito, Zona Centro), an inexpensive breakfast option with great coffee and Mexican classics such as chilaquiles or huevos rancheros.
The mountainous desert landscape surrounding San Miguel de Allende is best seen on horseback, so set out with Leisurely Country Horseback Riding on a guided tour through rivers and canyons. As you ford streams and revel in the cactus-filled scenery of the “real” Mexico, listen to the Stetson-topped cowboys whistle a serenade.
After a filling, home-cooked lunch back at the ranch, unwind with an afternoon at one of the area’s best hot springs, La Gruta. Just 15 minutes by cab from Zona Centro, a massage followed by a few hours relaxing in the thermal pools will ease muscles sore from a day in the saddle.
For fun and friendly happy hour drinks and live music, head to 007-themed Bond’s Gin Bar and Whiskey House (30 Hidalgo, 3rd Floor Terraza, Zona Centro), or the cool and aptly named Tres Hojas (Three Sheets) Cocktail Bar (37 Correo, Zona Centro). Alternatively, grab a bench around the jardín and listen as mariachi bands add music to the star-filled night.
A few small-yet-filling plates at Tapas SMA (36 Umaran, Zona Centro) make for a low-key dinner, and if you’ve still some fun left in the tank, cross the street and sing your heart out at Mama Mia’s famous karaoke night.
Where to Stay
Top-of-the line hotel Rosewood has a chic spa and a glamorous outdoor pool, while the hip boutique Hotel Nena across the street offers a more urban vibe. Contemporary Hotel Matilda (rooms from $287) is known for its restaurant, Moxi, presided over by famed Mexican chef Enrique Olvera, while Casa 1810 Hotel Boutique (rooms from $250) has elegant Spanish Colonial architecture. Whimsical Casa Carly (rooms from $65) is set amid gardens and ponds across from the Fábrica la Aurora, and Casa Carmen Bed and Breakfast (rooms from $120) is a charming 350-year-old colonial home.
United and American Airlines both fly from George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston to Del Bajío International Airport in Leon, an hour and a half drive from San Miguel de Allende. Alternatively, flights from many major U.S. hubs land in Mexico City, which is an easy and inexpensive 3-hour VIP bus ride away from San Miguel.
When to Go
San Miguel is known locally as the “City of Eternal Spring,” which means the weather is almost always perfect for a visit. Just be sure to pack a sweater for the slightly cooler evenings in fall and winter.