about the city
Oh, San Miguel, you charmer, you. A gringo's slice of Mexico, this place has somehow managed to retain its Mexican culture despite being a haven for snowbirds, reitrees, and bridal parties. Walking down the streets lined with buildings painted only in shades of yellow and red, you will hear a mixture of Spanish and English on your way to grab a café y pan dulce.
Every day and night seems to be a celebration, with confetti stuck in the cobblestones and sounds of mariachi music caught in the gentle breeze. A place where everyone is happy, San Miguel seems far from real. There's a reason why people come here and never come back, for here, life is slow and simple.
Sit back and relax on a terraza with a tamarind margarita in hand, and realize just how being "on Mexican time" can feel.
Before you go
Undeniably, San Miguel is full of a lot of wealthy Americans who have retired here or have a second home to come down during their cold winters back home. It's very easy to come here and only interact with Americans. Make sure to find activities that find you mixing with locals, and support the local economy. There are plenty of restaurants and artisan stores that are run by Mexicans. Support these I have listed them in this guide. And remember, things are slower in Mexico. Relax and enjoy instead of being demanding. Here is a book to get you in the mood: On Mexican Time.
where to stay
Rosewood Hotel- If you're looking for a fancy stay and have some money to spend, this is the luxury hotel of San Miguel. Beautiful grounds, stunning rooftop view, great service, and perfect little details make this place a truly relaxing getaway.
As I often do, I suggest AirBnB for finding options in these neighborhoods that make you feel at home:
Near Parque Benito Juarez- All around this lively park is one of the hearts of the expat community. You're not going to find too many locals living in this part of the city, as many tend to live in parts more on the outskirts or the western side of town. This neighborhood is quieter, away from the throbbing heart of the center but still within walking distance and surrounded by many restaurants and cafes. Here, you can find salsa classes, farmers' markets, and many old water fountains leftover from yesteryear.
Near la Parroquia- This is my preferred location, as you'll be closer to the hustle and bustle. This is the heart of the city. Walk down the classic red and yellow streets and get very lost- they all look the same! Staying here feels like you've gotten lost in another perfect little world. Be careful, as some spots could get pretty loud. I stayed in this AirBnB, and it was perfectly close to everything yet still quiet at night.
what to do
La Parroquia at night- Head here to hear mariachis, marvel at the break dancers and street performers, grab a churro, and ogle at the lit up beautiful architecture of the Parroquia. You can't help but pass by it during the day, but make sure to also visit at night for the low-key but lively fiesta.
Tranvía Turistico- This tourist trolley is run by the city and has a guide that narrates your tour of the city, including taking you to the old wash basins and the Mirador, a great lookout back at the city and onto the hills. The tour is cheap and only about an hour and a half. If you don't speak Spanish, make sure to sign up ahead of time for the two English tours of the day. They sell out quickly. You can buy your tickets at the southeast corner of the Parroquia plaza. If they're sold out, ask the ticket seller about getting a private tour. They're not too expensive and worth doing to hear about the history of the city and little stories and gems you'd never discover on your own.
El Mercado de Artesanías- You will find all the artisan goods you will ever want here at killer prices. I've bought paintings, earrings, bracelets, hand stitched pillow cases, huarache sandals, metal Christmas decorations, and more at ridiculously low prices. I have had more luck at this market than anywhere else in Mexico. Bring cash- card machines can be hard to come by. There are also lots of food stalls for fresh produce and other treats.
Spanish classes at Habla Hispana- I did two weeks here and opted for a homestay (homemade meals included!)- an experience I wish I could've done for far longer! I highly suggest this place. They deeply care about their students and providing them the best experience. When you arrive, they will give you a brief oral "test" to help place you in the correct class. The classes are broken into a grammar section, a conversation section, and a reading/writing section, helping you develop your Spanish from all angles. They also offer paid excursions and tours and free cooking classes.
Salsa classes- Arthur Murray (a well-known international dance academy that is more professional) and Sabor y Ritmo (more laidback and casual) are great places to start. From there, talk to the other students and see where they go out. The key is practice, practice, practice. Once you get the basic steps down, head out to a salsa bar at night. Locals are friendly and eager to teach you how to salsa, so don't be shy. Take a tequila shot and dive right in! Don't worry about missing a step- no one cares!
where to eat
Lavanda Café- Come here for breakfast, and expect to wait in line, or work from here in the afternoon for a quiet break. One room makes you feel like you're in abuela's home, and the other room has an open roof with ivy on the ways for feeling like you're in a little oasis.
La Azotea- This is my favorite spot in San Miguel! Fall in love with the heaping frozen tamarind margaritas and the small tapas to share. Bring friends and chat for hours while continuing to order small bites and fun drinks on the rooftop. Grab a spot early, before the sunset, or else it will be packed quickly. There's a reason I come here almost every night when in town.
Sunset drinks at the Luna Tapas Bar on the Rosewood Hotel's rooftop- This is an absolute must do. If you're there during high season, make a reservation or get there an hour and a half before the sunset to make sure to get a spot. The view is fantastic, and the drinks are fun but overpriced. You're paying for the atmosphere here- lots of beautiful drinking beautiful drinks amongst a beautiful backdrop. You're not going to find any locals here but many people who are all in their happy place.
Dôce 18 Concept House- San Miguel is getting hipster! Opening in 2016, this indoor, mega-trendy market houses a bunch of different expensive but cool stores, mostly of high-end artists of San Miguel (clothes, photographers, painters, soaps, loations, etc.) and a fancy "food court" with some incredible pop-up shops. My favorite is Taco Lab, but I'm very admittedly biased because this location tests out different daily small tacos, the best of which eventually make their way onto San Francisco's Tacolicious menu, which is a personal favorite restaurant of mine. Here, everyone can grab whatever food or drinks they want, including a by-the-glass, customizable, made just how you like it tea shop, and meet together at beautiful tables in a bright sunny room. Perfect for when no one can decide what they want!
Tio Lucas- This restaurant is a little dressier and traditional with white table clothes, but the hanging metal stars filled with candles and ornate wooden carved chairs are gorgeous and the stuff interior designers drool over. Hearty portions of "home-cooked" Mexican dishes will leave you satisfied, and the personable staff that treat you like you've entered their family home and live music will leave you happy.