Cabo San Lucas’ emerald green coastline and idyllic beach towns dotted with all-inclusive resorts and luxury villas are what most people think of when they think of Mexico. But a quick 45-minute flight east of busy Puerto Vallarta is Guadalajara, Mexico’s cultural hub, a blend of old world charm and modern life.
Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city and hotspot for traditional Mexican culture (tequila and birria originated in the state of Jalisco) is known for its vibrant arts scene, culinary delights, colonial architecture and is often considered like the epitome of Mexico.
The metropolitan city is divided into five municipalities – Guadalajara Metropolitan, Tlajomulco, Tlaquepaque, Tonalá and Zapopan – and six designated “magic towns” within two hours of driving. There is a lot to see, eat and do in this city, so we have put together a guide to explore the city of Guadalajara and its Mexican heritage.
The best place to stay is either in the historic city center, which offers easy access to many architectural monuments and cultural attractions, or in the trendy Zapopan district. Quinta real, a member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts, offers spacious suite-style rooms furnished with antique-style decor in an ivy-covered stone building reminiscent of colonial-era haciendas.
For more contemporary accommodation, the design Hotel Demetria at Lafayette is a chic boutique hotel with an on-site art gallery. Trendy restaurants and landmarks are all within walking distance of the city hotel, but the rooftop pool with city views will give you a reason to relax, too.
Guadalajara is often overshadowed by its big sister, Mexico City, but there are plenty of top-notch restaurants here that celebrate both traditional Mexican cuisine and dishes from around the world. A good place to start the foodie adventure is a cold tejuino, a fermented corn-based drink made from cane sugar and lime juice, frequently sold at roadside vendors.
Spend time in the trendy Colonia Lafayette district and admire the beautiful architecture of the houses that embody both a modern and a traditional motif. There you will find Bruna, an experiential outdoor restaurant and art gallery that revisits contemporary dishes such as wellington beef served with mole and seafood flautas stuffed with shrimp, octopus and sole. But most impressive is the menu of inventive cocktails that come with extraordinary presentations that are part chemistry experiments and part cocktail magic.
For more libations, around the corner, Big Charlie is a cool cocktail bar that uses seasonal ingredients for its handcrafted cocktail menu. (Tip: you can hang a reservation on their Facebook page).
Named as one of the best restaurants in Latin America, Alcade, led by Noma chef alum Paco Ruano, offers a small but powerful a la carte menu that celebrates local flavors and ingredients infused with the chef’s European influences. Opt for the nine-course tasting menu where Chef Ruano gets creative and shows off his culinary skills.
For fresh seafood there is Beluga Oyster BarAn airy, upscale restaurant with a fun vibe and exceptional service. The menu is a long list of raw seafood dishes and hot items such as sashimi toro, Peruvian ceviche, and grilled oysters, but don’t miss the melting Wagyu beef that the waiters can (or not) try to feed you. Head toward Nadim on the roof for a nightcap in a trendy living room with greenhouse-like interiors with pretty floral walls and hanging plants. Take in spectacular skyline views and dance to a DJ playing until the wee hours of the night.
The best place to immerse yourself in the culture of Guadalajara is in the city center on the Plaza de Armas. It’s a crowded historic square with lush green trees, ornate benches, and an Art Nouveau bandstand in the middle of the square. Stroll inside the twin towers of Guadalajara Cathedral, a mix of Gothic and neoclassical influences, and one of the city’s most iconic landmarks.
Tequila drinkers will want to venture an hour from Guadalajara to the “magical tequila town” and the birthplace of the iconic spirit. Skip the car ride and board the adults-only tequila train, formerly known as the José Cuervo Express. Secure a seat in the new elite wagon outfitted with wood panels, luxurious interiors and an open bar stocked with premium tequila, including the small bundle Familia Reserve– Jewel in the crown of José Cuervo – Maestro Dobel, and 1800 among other spirits.
The charming town is home to 20 distilleries including the oldest in Latin America, La Rojeña which is located in the heart of Tequila opposite the 93 rooms Solar de las Animas Hotel, one of the few high-end hotels in the region.
Spend the afternoon in Tlaquepaque, an artistic colonial district filled with galleries, shops and restaurants. Stroll along Calle Independencia, a cobbled pedestrian-only street, and enjoy the sound of live mariachi bands playing in the background. The walkway is adorned with playful statues and colorful artisan shops filled with pottery, leather goods, and handmade jewelry. Look for a store called Del Corazon de la Tierra which showcases indigenous art and other handmade handicrafts and textiles.
For more Mexican produce and authentic cuisine, head to the three floors
Mercado Libertad, the largest indoor market in Latin America also known as Mercado San Juan de Dios. There, you’ll find a mishmash of tightly packed stalls selling everything from toys and sandals to Mexican spices and tortas.
The author was the guest of the Reserva de la Familia.