With its cobblestoned streets, colonial architecture and strong cultural scene — not to mention plenty of interesting new places to eat and shop — it’s easy to see why San Miguel de Allende has become a haven for travelers (and, admittedly, lots of retirees). There is no shortage of galleries displaying works by local and international artists, plus boutiques selling the kinds of fashion, jewelry and home designs you’d expect to find in a stylish capital like Mexico City, which is just three hours away. Here’s how to make the most of your day in this colorful and charming getaway.
Tulum’s cult-favorite café for a pick-me-up recently opened a second location in San Miguel de Allende. Get to Ki’Bok Coffee (Diez de Sollano y Dávalos 25) when it opens at 8 for your drink of choice, including pour-over, Chemex, cold brew or the Hemingway (a double espresso with brown sugar, topped with foam and a dusting of cinnamon), all made with single-origin beans organically grown in Veracruz. Despite the early-morning toll of church bells, the city seems to awaken slowly, which makes it an ideal time to stroll to El Jardín, the main square. There you’ll find the 17th-century La Parroquia (Plaza Principal S/N), the origin of the aforementioned bells. The city’s most iconic site is known for its stunning neo-Gothic pink spires. A few blocks away, El Correo (Correo 21-23) has been a mainstay for more than two decades and serves up hearty dishes like huevos tirados, eggs scrambled with black beans and a smoky, spicy chipotle sauce.
A quick taxi ride from the city center, Fábrica La Aurora (Calzada de la Aurora S/N), a former textile factory that now contains more than 50 galleries of contemporary art, antiques and handicrafts under one roof. Here, you can shop for pricey antiques like intricately carved wooden armoires and religious figurines at La Buhardilla and amazing woven wall hangings, rugs and other textiles inside Nelly Lorenzo’s tiny studio. There are plenty of paintings and sculptures, too — everything from world-renowned artists like Frank Stella, Andy Warhol, M.C. Escher and Keith Haring inside Skot Foreman Fine Art and abstract pieces by Mexican artist Fernando M. Díaz in his namesake gallery. A number of studios also offer hands-on workshops, should you be interested in metal-working at Van Doren Metal Art or mixed-media and acrylic painting at Galeria Manuk.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, head back downtown for lunch — and some shopping — at Dôce 18 Concept House (Relox 18), home to a mini food hall, a Casa Dragones tequila tasting room and individual shops selling flowers, home designs, books and more. Fuel up with something quick at Taco Lab, a casual spot from much-loved local chef Donnie Masterton, or linger over a sit-down meal at Jacinto 1930 from chef Matteo Salas of highly lauded Áperi; don’t miss the tuna tostadas or the beef rib tamale.
Now it’s time to wander. Walk up, down and around the cobblestoned streets of Zona Centro, and you’re bound to come across a boutique that you can’t help but step inside. At the minimalist Kingsley Market (Aldama 43), owner-designer Lisa Kingsley collaborates with Mexican artisans to create her soft leather handbags, intricate silver jewelry and lightweight scarves. You’ll find a similar aesthetic at Evoke the Spirit (Hidalgo 14), which carries handwoven textiles from Oaxaca, yarn paintings by the Huichol tribe and other made-in-Mexico treasures. And at Recreo (Recreo 26), browse silk kaftans and flowy knits made from cashmere and alpaca.
If instead you prefer being out in nature, take a cab up to El Charco del Ingenio (Paloma S/N), a 220-acre botanical garden that overlooks the city. Follow the dirt trails to see native Mexican plant species, including cacti and succulents of all kinds.
Sunsets in San Miguel Allende are best experienced from on high, chilled glass of wine or cocktail in hand. Sip in style at the Rosewood San Miguel de Allende hotel, where you can take in the view from a comfortable lounger at the Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar (Nemesio Diez 11). For a bit more action — and a pre-dinner snack — La Azotea (Umaran 6), which you enter through Pueblo Viejo, is just off the main square and is a go-to for margaritas and shrimp tacos served inside jicama tortillas. (Note that children are not allowed.)
The aforementioned Masterton also runs one of the city’s top tables, The Restaurant (Sollano 16), which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. He uses sustainable and organic produce from nearby farms as much as possible in dishes like sweet corn risotto with huitlacoche (a delicacy made of corn fungus) oyster mushrooms, squash blossoms, epazote (a Mexican herb) and pecorino, and chocolate adobo-braised beef short ribs with poblano-mashed potatoes and braised greens. Visiting on a Thursday and craving a taste of home? Book in advance for Hamburger Night, when the menu features the “In-N-Out,” “La Mafiosa” and other takes on the beloved burger.
Bovine (Canal 16), from Australian chef Paul Bentley, is the new game in town. The brasserie turns out steakhouse classics like a rib-eye strip or 45-day-aged côte de boeuf for two and sides such as creamed spinach and fried potatoes.
Ask most locals where to go for a nightcap, and they’ll likely point you to El Manantial (Barranca 78), located on a quiet corner downtown. Swinging saloon doors lead inside this small and dimly lit bi-level space, which occasionally hosts disco nights and other events. Order up a mescal or margarita (two-for-one on Thursdays) and settle in. Despite its old-school feel, the seafood-focused menu is decidedly modern, with a range of tostadas, ceviches and tacos.