San Miguel de Allende (SMA) is a colorful town built into a mountain valley just a few hours north of Mexico City. While you’re exploring the area, you’ll smell the scents of fresh tacos grilling, gaze down alleys of brick buildings and vibrant paint, hear the sounds of mariachis echo throughout, all while walking along cobblestone streets.
In San Miguel, it may feel like you’ve just stepped into the past – with a culture and vibe reminiscent of an early 18th century city, morphing into an artist retreat. And with all of the energy around you, it’s easy to get lost and wonder the streets for hours.
With that said, here are some recommendations on places to go and things to see:
#1 Zona Centro
The center of town. The hallmark of San Miguel. The place you’ve probably seen most on Instagram.
Zona Centro is the first place you should head to when arriving in San Miguel de Allende. Here, you’ll find the Parroquiade San Miguel Arcángel – the Grand, neo-Gothic 17th-century church known for its soaring pink spires & lofty, ornate sanctuary. In front of that is Jardin Allende, a beautiful, small park with manicured trees, benches, and vendors surrounding the property.
In this area, you can grab tacos, get some lemonade, buy a few souvenirs, all while enjoying some time to relax in the garden area, or peak into the soaring church that defines San Miguel’s iconic skyline.
This area is full of energy, and you’ll feel it right when you arrive. There is always music playing by a local band or two. Smells of authentic Mexican food grilling under fire will ratchet up your hunger. And there are vendors (everywhere) selling gifts and treats.
Notably, though, this area is not as “in your face” as other tourist towns in Mexico. If you’ve been to Cancun, Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, or any other party town in Mexico, you’ll know how aggressive some street vendors can be.
In San Miguel, however, that is not the case.
Kind and calm purvey over the square.
#2 Rancho Xotolar
About 15 minutes outside the city is a small ranch called Rancho Xotolar. This property has been owned and operated for 4 generations under the same family, producing cheese, milk, and other goods for the local economy, while also providing an unforgettable experience – horseback riding through the rugged terrain of central Mexico.
Here, you’ll experience the true cultural life that is Mexico, today and yesterday. You will enjoy wide open spaces, not like a tourist, but as a member of the Morin Family, which guides you through the valley while providing a rich overview of the area (and no shortage of jokes throughout the ride).
You will head through spectacular countryside with breathtaking views and stunning landscapes, race horses along a river, and walk alongside hundred-foot cliffs. The main guide, Thomas, is just about the nicest and most accommodating human you’ll ever meet. And at the end of the journey, you’ll be able to join him for a home-cooked meal on the ranch, with food locally supplied.
If for some reason I teleported back to SMA and could only choose one activity to do, this would be it. No other adventure provided for more laughter, excitement, and cultural learning than this activity.
#3 Rosewood San Miguel de Allende
Arguably the most beautiful property in San Miguel, the Rosewood hotel offers stunning views across the city, while providing a relaxing spot to enjoy a cocktail or two during sunset.
While walking to the property, you’ll be greeted by stunning landscapes and gardens. Head into the main lobby, and here, you’ll find yourself surrounded by local arts and crafts, paying homage to the city’s artistic background.
For the main event, head up the stairs to the rooftop area, where you’ll find a few different bars and seating areas. Find the one that overlooks the church downtown, take a seat, and get ready for a light show during sunset, as the city transforms from saturated oranges and reds to deep blues.
#4 Mercado de Artesanías
Mercado de Artesanias is a long and narrow market that winds along a dry river bed. Vendors line the corridors selling handmade gifts, jewelry, art, souvenirs, as well as food and groceries.
The market is broken into two main components, with some inside areas that look like large covered flea markets selling predominately food and groceries (especially cacti — lots and lots of cacti leaves for sale), and other outdoor areas that twist and turn through beautiful, colorful streets, which focus mostly on the sale of goods and souvenirs.
You’ll have to dedicate at least 30 minutes to getting lost inside the market without any plans for escape. With that in mind, you’ll have time to walk along each storefront, chatting with vendors, and evaluating different products.
Not everything for sale is cut from the same cloth.
Some items look like true works of art sold at a discount rate, which is not surprising given San Miguel’s storied history as an artist enclave. Other products will shock you.
Can a flavorful, Mexican rendition on a papier-mache cat really sell for $200?
But come to this market for an eclectic experience. You’ll again find comfort in the kindness of each vendor, who hardly ever press you to buy something, and maybe you’ll become the newest home for that papier-mache cat.
#5 La Mezcaleria
Let me make a blanket statement:
A five course meal of incredible quality, with a few drinks to pair, at a cost of $20 per person.
Does that sound possible?
To my astonishment, yes — it absolutely is possible. And it’s happening every night at La Mezcaleria. You should make a reservation now. Or don’t.
(more on that in a second)
At this restaurant, you’ll find some of the most hospitable staff in all of San Miguel. It felt like your satisfaction was genuinely the lifeblood of the restaurant, where every pleasure or displeasure was matter of top concern to the staff.
On top of this, the food was second to none — with authentic Mexican dishes prepared to perfection, as well as some more unique local favorites (how about some worm salt and roasted crickets?). But beyond the food, the experience was like no other.
Time for a personal anecdote:
Yearning for some mezcal after a long day, this restaurant seems like a logical choice for anyone (it has Mezcal in its name, after all). So we decided to test our luck without a reservation.
After showing up, the staff immediately took it upon themselves to entertain us, while crafting a table from scratch.
Come back in 30 minutes?
Sorry we’re booked tonight?
Apparently that’s not something you’ll hear at La Mezcaleria, even when they’re at full capacity.
Quickly, some wine and mezcal samples were pushed in front of us for the wait, all while the staff rushed in a flurry to scrap together a table.
Upon getting a table setup, we grabbed our samples, and were then greeted with a few free appetizers. Some rounds of incredible food were brought out, laughs were shared, drinks were poured, roasted crickets were tried — and finally — we asked for the check.
By the end of the evening, when we could not think to even stomach another bite, the host offered some desert. To which we politely declined.
2 minutes later, a free round of dessert came out. No was not an answer here.
At the end of the night, with dozens of plates finished, and equal parts of drinks consumed, the total check came out to $20 a person.
5-star service with quality to match, at a price you wont see elsewhere. Give it a go at La Mezcaleria.
Reservation or not (although I’m sure they’d appreciate a call in advance), the service and food will leave you astonished.
#6 Lavanda Cafe
Enjoy a tasty breakfast or brunch in an atmosphere that captures the uplifting and vibrant vibe of San Miguel.
This small cafe is notable for it’s delicious egg dishes, bohemian vibe, and unique coffee mixes (tonic water and lavender with coffee is real, and it’s real good). While enjoying your meal, you’ll be treated to a small show by a local musician, adding a little extra push towards peace for your day ahead. Be prepared for a small wait, though, as this spot is extremely popular.
#7 Andy’s Taco Cart
Swing by street Insurgentes 85 in San Miguel late night for some mouth watering tacos on your way home. You’ll know you’re near when you smell an alluring taco scent like none before.
That, mi amigo, is Andy’s Tacos.
At 15 pesos a pop (less than $1), you can put back tacos to your heart’s content. Each has a rusty, smokey, and intense flavor, and the stand offers a lively experience — with a good crowd typically hanging about, a few bar stools to wait on, and some music playing.
Each taco is served with freshly chopped and grilled al pastor, beef, or chorizo. For the price, you might as well try all three and find your favorite.
San Miguel de Allende is truly one of the finest cities in Mexico that has not been blasted across Instagram (we’re looking at you, Tulum).
The people are kind, welcoming, and love a good joke. The town is rich with culture and adventures to experience. And the landscape and cityscape blend together to form views that will take your breath away, whether it’s sunset, sunrise, or high noon.
After traveling to a dozen plus cities in Mexico, San Miguel might take the top of the list. Cheers to thinking you’ll feel the same.
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Have you been to San Miguel de Allende? Let us know your favorite spot in the comments below.