San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (Cynthia Pillsbury)
This is one of my most favorite places I have ever been. It has the charm of Florence, the sophistication of Paris and the warm character of well... Mexico!
- More about your oliver guide: Cynthia Pillsbury
- Trip type: Adult, City, Mountains
- Activity level: moderate
- Ideal length of trip: 4 DAYS.
to & from
Fly to Mexico City and hire a driver to take you to San Miguel (3-4 hours). If you take the red (pink) eye from San Francisco you can/will sleep in car. Another route is through LA or a hub in Texas and fly direct to Leon, which is a 1.5 hour drive to San Miguel. You do not need a car in San Miguel. Parking is very limited and a car is unnecessary; you can walk everywhere or take very inexpensive cabs.
Where to Stay
San Miguel’s usual suspect for Americans and wealthy Mexicans is the Rosewood. The weekend we chose to visit San Miguel there were four large weddings so the two hotels people (Olivers) had told us about (Rosewood & Hotel Matilda) were full. This actually worked out because I found a really lovely 10-room bed & breakfast, Antigua Capilla run by ex-pats from San Francisco. They have lovingly built a new building and restored a small chapel that is the heart/centerpiece of a very charming and authentic place to rest your head.
They serve delicious Mexican-style breakfasts and stock their refrigerator with craft beer made by Francisco, the hotel proprietor. The two things to note is that it sits on a hill, so it’s about a 8-10 minute brisk walk downhill and a steep climb at the end of the day/night. It didn’t bother us at all (so much good food, we welcomed the “hike”). Additionally, there is no pool- which is not unusual for most of these small bed and breakfasts, but something to note because the weather can be warm and it may have been nice to take a dip.
Where to Eat and Drink
- La Parada- Authentic and delicious Peruvian food. Don’t miss the Pisco Sour and the seafood dish (like a chioppino), it’s a cool, casual vibe. Go for dinner.
- Quince- Incredibly beautiful views at this rooftop eatery. Food was delicious, as were the cucumber margaritas! Go for lunch.
- The Restaurant (yes that is the name) is in a cool courtyard. Go for lunch.
- Jacinto- Another courtyard treat—amidst one of the coolest spaces I have ever seen, called “The Concept House.” It is connected to a very cool hotel, L'Otel, where I would consider staying as well. Don’t miss the flower shop, lotion+potion shop, tequila sipping bar, macaroon bar and beautiful apparel/jewelry shop. Go for a late lunch.
- Aperi- Sophisticated, quiet place for dinner. Food was incredibly, very high-brow and we were the only Americans in the small courtyard establishment, which we loved. Go for dinner.
- La Mezcaleria- Fun place to stop by for a mescal drink and appetizer before dinner. We didn’t have dinner, but a trusted local, says it’s one of the very best spots.
- Jardin Rama- You may walk by this place (across from Rosewood Hotel, not listed on any maps) and not think twice, but we were so glad we had the recommendation from a trusted local to have a authentic Mexican lunch, complete with a salsa bar and some of the best mole and shredded pork tacos. Go for lunch. Don't be confused by the place across the street, Cafe Rama.
- Luna Tapas Bar/Rosewood Rooftop- Get a drink and appetizers at the Rooftop bar at the Rosewood, incredible views to take in the city and Cathedral that is the central cornerstone for the town.
- Cumpanio- A chic bakery with a small café attached. We had a delicious warm chocolate treat late afternoon to sustain us during our cobblestone hike “home”.
What to Do
Shop, Shop and Shop some more…(and eat and drink)….
- Mixta- Clothes, jewelry, home décor, very cool and unique pieces
- Kinsley- Owned and operated by Lisa Kinsley (coolest ex-pat in San Miguel I am sure). She employs 20+ local artisans two blocks from her shop in historic San Miguel and creates beautiful jewelry, sustainable ostrich bags and clutches and cool wraps. The whitewashed little jewel of a shop is a few doors down from Hotel Matilda.
- Agua de Coco- Really cool dresses, bags and chic sandals. I could have bought ½ the store, owned by a neat woman from Brazil.
- El Nuevo Mundo- Great place to pick up traditional tops and dresses for presents
- Arte Limon Diez de Sollano & Mi Casa as Tu Casa- Sister shops that offer beautiful, classic Mexican shop for shirts, huaraches sandals and table top textile pieces and chic embroidered pillows.
- Fabrica La Aurora- A 5-10 minute walk outside of the main historic quarter is an old textile factory that has been converted into art galleries, antique shops and a really sweet outdoor café. Our favorite gallery was Marilo Carral, a local artist who works with textiles and oil paintings.
- Artes de Mexico and Na Cia Nal are two shops on the street you take to walk to the Fabrica la Aurora- ceramics, traditional dress, huraches (Mexican traditional sandals) and table-top, hand-painted lamps, silver- incredible craftsmanship.
- We didn’t have time, but a trusted and frequent San Miguel traveler recommended visiting the Hot Springs, La Gruta, which is about 15-20 minutes outside of town. Apparently you can get massages and have lunch there as well.
- Book ahead (way ahead) for hotel accommodations. San Miguel is a favorite places for wealthy Mexicans to get married (600+ weddings/year) and go on babymoons…
- Make dinner reservations, but no need to make lunch reservations.
- If you want to hit the spa and you are not staying at a hotel with a pool, consider going to Rosewood where you can get a day pass for the pool.
- Check-out the Cathedral on a Saturday (any time) if you can—there are weddings going on all the time and it’s fun to see!
- Bring your children’s shoe sizes so you can bring them home adorable huaraches.
- Bring an empty bag or a half-packed suitcase—the shopping is that good.
- San Miguel feels more like Spain than Mexico and they keep very European hours. Lunch does not start until 1:30-2ish and dinner around 9:00-9:30.
- Do not bring high heels, I repeat, do not bring high heals, even for dinner. The streets are cobblestone (think the hills of San Francisco meet the cobblestones of Nantucket) with very narrow sidewalks, if any. If you must, bring wedges. Men can get away with any casual loafer. I would not wear flip flops because of the uneven cobblestone.
- Anything goes for dress attire during the day, but it’s fun to dress up at night because the design and atmosphere of the restaurants are so chic and special.
- Consider bringing a fancy dress… we were invited on Friday pm to a wedding the next day… in the town’s bull ring… 800 guests, so what’s two more?!? We went and it was an A-M-A-Z-I-N-G…cultural experience. But I was not dressed up enough… luckily no one really noticed!
Nada, loved every minute in San Miguel. It’s in the top five places I’ve ever been and I had big expectations!
Bringing the kids? Check out Peter Scales’s San Miguel guide here.