Fuchsia bougainvillea spilling over terracotta walls. Atmospheric cobblestone streets. Church bells clanging in the distance. I could be in Spain or Tuscany, but this is much closer to home.
What to do in San Miguel de Allende
Some say San Miguel de Allende is the prettiest city in Mexico. It is straight out of a colonial storybook and now tops many travel lists of some of the world’s best places to visit. What to do in San Miguel de Allende? There is truly a lot to see and do.
Located in the central highlands, about three hours northwest of Mexico City, this small city is big on charm, character and sophistication.
A growing expat community (about 10 percent of the city’s population are from mainly the U.S., Canada, and Europe) proves it’s not only a popular place to visit, but also to live full or part time. “There’s something about the people this city attracts,” said Faith Fuller, a documentary filmmaker who moved here about five years ago. “They’ve traveled the world, are very successful, but they’ve chosen to make San Miguel de Allende their home.”
There is a multitude of things to do in San Miguel de Allende from art classes and musical events to horseback riding and hot springs. Plus, the weather is fantastic so you can visit year-round.
Founded in 1542, the city is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and a quick stroll around the well-preserved historic center, filled with buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries, will show you why. Right in the heart is the pink Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel or main parish church with its gothic spires punctuating the sky straight up from the main plaza, El Jardin. The old town is a charming maze of narrow streets lined with stone and stucco homes painted in the regulation earth-tones of terracotta red, burnt orange, and subdued yellow. My favorite thing was to just get lost admiring all the lively plazas, leafy courtyards, and breathtaking rooftops.
Arts in San Miguel de Allende
Around the center, duck into the cultural institutes such as the Instituto Allende and the Escuela de Bellas Artes. Centro Cultural Ignacio Ramírez “El Nigromante,” also known locally as “Bellas Artes” is a beautiful former monastery that was converted into a fine arts school. Don’t miss the murals of Pedro Martínez, plus the unfinished mural by celebrated Mexican painter David Alfaro Siqueiros. There’s also a museum, an auditorium, two art galleries, and a charming courtyard café. Founded in 1950, the Instituto de Allende offers courses and degrees in visual and fine arts that are recognized by most North American universities. You can also enroll in “lifelong learning” workshops which are taught in English and range from Spanish learning and jewelry to weaving and watercolor.
For an afternoon trip, hop in a taxi and head just 15 minutes from town to the delightful San Lucas Winery. Enjoy brunch at the main restaurant housed in a stone lodge-like building with cozy fireplaces. Making about 35,000 bottles a year, the boutique winery offers daily tours and tastings given by their dynamic, female winemaker from Argentina. “When she was pregnant with me, my mother said that I was her only child who made her crave grapes,” joked Mailen Obon, the chief winemaker, during our intimate tasting.
When you’re ready to get out into the countryside for a bit of adventure, there’s horseback riding, ATV tours and hot air balloon rides. And once you get tired from that, head to the hot springs at La Gruta Spa to soak in the warm, mineral-rich waters.
Where to Eat in San Miguel de Allende
Home to more than 350 restaurants and several expansive markets, San Miguel de Allende is bursting with restaurants of all kinds. Need a quick taco, they go that. How about a swanky rooftop lounge? Yep. Or just great local, hacienda style for all your Mexican favorites. There were so many great spots to try here, I will have to return again and again.
See more on my post on Where to Eat in San Miguel de Allende.
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Where to Stay in San Miguel de Allende
I made my home at the contemporary and art-filled, Hotel Matilda (rooms start at $409 USD). Named best city hotel in Mexico by Travel + Leisure last year, this boutique hotel has a stunning light-filled lobby atrium with a clubby yet modern feel. Books line the walls, but the centerpiece is a striking, three story mixed-media painting by Bosco Sodi. Other contemporary art pieces are displayed throughout the hotel including a piece by Diego Rivera. The 32 rooms are a mix of white marble, fluffy white linens, and classic furniture. Out back is a lush pool area, spa and fitness center.
Book Hotel Matilda here.
The highly acclaimed restaurant, Moxi is a partnership with famed Mexican chef Enrique Olvera, who many consider the best chef in Mexico. You can indulge in a six-course tasting menu or choose a la carte dishes of modern Mexican fare inside a small, softly-lit space with banquettes and a wonderfully white and blue painted wood plank ceiling.
Check out my video of the Hotel Matilda here:
Other top choices of hotels in San Miguel de Allende include the brand new L’Otel (suites start at $375 USD), a former mansion turned modern white-on-white hotel with just 10 suites inside, Doce-18 Concept House, a mixed use building with galleries, shops, and a modern food hall, and the classically luxurious Rosewood San Miguel ($490 USD starting rates), which has more of a resort-feel with its larger grounds and not-to-be-missed Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar, a lovely place to take in the sunset over the city.
Where to Shop in San Miguel de Allende
Visitors can explore most of the city on foot, wandering its quaint streets while browsing for handicrafts and embroidered clothing. Stroll through the Mercado de Artesanias, which sells a wide variety of pottery, hand-embroidered textiles, silver jewelry and metal star lanterns. Many high-end boutiques can be found scattered throughout the old town. Popular Mixta (Pila Seca 3, Centro) aptly offers a mix of unique home decor items, clothing and jewelry. Popular with celebrities and fashionistas, Virgins, Saints, and Angels sells unique jewelry pieces handcrafted in San Miguel. They have a small boutique inside Cafe Rama (Calle Nueva 7, Centro) or a showroom by appointment only (they also sell at Club Tattoo in Las Vegas). The serape, also known as a shawl or poncho, has its origins in this area. At Recreo San Miguel (Recreo 26, Centro) each garment is individually designed to combine traditional and modern and is handmade with luxurious fabrics like silk, wool, and cashmere. About a 15-minute walk from the center, Fabrica La Aurora is a former textile factory turned into a vibrant, modern space housing galleries, design stores, artist studios (with classes), and boutiques.
What Not to Miss in San Miguel de Allende
Do a tequila tasting of Casa Dragones, a luxury, boutique brand co-founded by Bob Pittman, the creator of MTV and chief executive of iHeartMedia Inc. and by Bertha González Nieves – the first woman ever named a tequila master by the Mexican government. One of Oprah’s “favorite things,” the spirit is made exclusively in small batches, each bottle handcrafted from pure, lead-free crystal and individually hand-numbered and signed. Try it at the reservations-only tasting room at Doce-18 Concept House or the even more exclusive 17th century, private home which housed the former stables for the battalion Dragon, an elite cavalry that helped lead Mexico to independence.
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