Read any tourism pamphlet or travel guide and you'll likely see the word magical thrown around like it ain't no thing. But it's rare that a pre-planned vacation can fully embody such an elusive word. That is, unless you're headed to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, aptly nicknamed el pueblo mágico. You see, in order for a trip to be truly magical, it needs to have some elements of surprise, the feeling of being absolutely special, and authenticity that'll make you want to be a local, for real. Just a few hours outside of Mexico City, San Miguel de Allende offers all of the above and more. It's the kind of big little town that feels like home even before you discover what each cute cobblestone road holds around every turn.
As one local told us, "I wake up in San Miguel de Allende with nothing to do, and by the end of the day, I still haven't done it all." From a sunrise hot-air balloon ride worth waking up for to late-night street tacos you'll fall asleep dreaming about, a day full of activities in SMA is unlike any other. With parades and events occurring on a regular basis and a wide range of local art galleries, shopping, and unique destinations (Hello, desert hot springs!), there's more to discover in SMA than you'll be able to fit on your calendar.
Our advice? Don't even try. Instead, bookmark this page with our top spots, watch our quick-hit video to get the full San Miguel de Allende vibe, and then go ahead and book that flight. You can arrive with a full itinerary (ours was pretty dope, if we do say so ourselves) or wing it with the friendly locals when you get there. That's just one of the awe-inspiring tricks up this magical town's sleeve.
Food & Drink
With outdoor seating and occasional live music, Lavanda's atmosphere is just one thing to love. It also happens to have the best coffee in SMA. Chilaquiles, cazuela (you won't regret adding extra bacon), and a wide range of eggs Benedict options make this a spot to hit twice while you're in town.
The aroma of freshly baked pastries is all the advertisement this beloved spot needs. But just in case, here's our vote of confidence: This place is worth a visit.
Mexico doesn't mean Mexican food for every meal. In the case of La Parada, it can mean damn good Peruvian, too. We suggest the octopus and the arroz con pollo (though you can't go wrong with a ceviche to start). Finish your meal with a crema helada and you're in heaven for the night.
On every trip, there's one meal that's so good, it's worth the plane ticket in and of itself. With its Top Chef acclaimed cook master, Matteo Salas', beautiful tasting table, mouthwatering kobe beef, and baby squid with brown butter and leeks, dinner at Áperi is that meal. Not to miss.
Forget everything you know about tacos. Then, book a trip to SMA and get the Gringa with Bistec from Insurgentes. That way, you'll know what a taco is supposed to taste like.
Thursday night is burger night at The Restaurant, which means it'll be lively till late with locals chomping on big-as-your-head burgers and not-to-miss sides (the Esquites, a twist on a common Mexican corn salad, was especially bomb). If you're lucky, chairs will get moved and dancing will begin.
Josephine's vegan shakes and smoothies are so satisfying you'll wanna ask the blendmaster exactly how she does it. Try the cheesecake or the mint chocolate chip for some refreshing, filling wizardry.
Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar at Rosewood Hotel:
Panoramic views of the sunset, blankets on hand for a night chill, and margaritas ready to be doubled: Yep, this is your magic-hour spot.
Casa Dragones Tasting Room:
This newly minted tequila tasting bar (yep, that's right, a bar of just the world's top tequila) is made of custom-carved obsidian tiles and sits in the middle of a concept department store. That means you can have a swig, or several, in-between your purchases,
Art & Activities
The Chapel of Jimmy Ray Gallery:
The badass artist's live-and-work space triples as a public gallery. This mystical, fully mosaic-tiled property sits on the outskirts of town, but it's worth a quick trip for a guided tour by its master Anado McLauchlin. Bonus points if you use Ray's self-made compost-toilet art piece.
Horseback Cantina Crawl with Coyote Canyon Adventures:
This ain't your mama's pony ride. It's an hours-long jaunt from hilltop viewpoints to side-street saloons that your guidebook won't find for you.
Hot-Air Balloon Ride with Globo San Miguel:
When the opportunity to hover thousands of feet above a beautiful and meaningful landscape presents itself, take it. It's worth forking over the pesos and waking up early.
Gil Gutierrez at Bistro Mi Casa:
You'll have plenty of opportunities to turn up (as the youth say) in San Miguel de Allende, but to wine, dine, and act refined, we recommend booking a front-row seat to see Mr. Gutierrez's live band. It doesn't hurt that the cozy little dining hall is situated next to one of the best church views, either.
La Gruta Hot Springs:
Drive about 15 minutes out of San Miguel de Allende and you'll arrive at a natural hot-springs club that's inexpensive to enter and reasonably priced to enjoy. We're talking affordable massages; Micheladas and snacks; and cavernous, naturally heated pools they'll have to drag you out of at closing.
The top contemporary Mexican designers — spanning fashion, jewelry, and home accessories — gather in one sleek concept shop, complete with a gourmet food court and that aforementioned tequila tasting bar. Designers including Carla Fernández, Armour Jewelry, Sangre de mi Sangre, and Laura Kirar.
Thanks to this homegrown-designer startup, luxury capes, wraps, and caftans inspired by the traditional poncho — but made with some of the finest fabrics in the world — have again become a staple in San Miguel de Allende.
Enter through Mixta's light-soaked front courtyard and you'll find a great store for funky threads and gifts (jewelry, home wares, and clothing). It sources the world for pieces from small designers.
A standout on the well-trodden cobblestone streets of SMA, Kingsley Market is a sleek, minimal store for high-end, ethically produced jewelry and accessories that honor the traditions of Mexican artisans. It's the best stop in town for vintage Taxco silver.
The Artisan Market:
Get lost for hours in the best and most affordable haven for quirky Mexican souvenirs. (Hello, brightly printed Frida Kahlo bags!) It's great for tapestries, inexpensive ceramics, and awesome lanterns. Bonus points if you find Ruth, the owner of a silversmith stand with a workshop outpost in Colonia Guadalupe. Truly a local's secret, her stand at the Artisan Market (as well as her corresponding home base) is the gold mine, or rather silver mine, of amazing boxes and purses — all handmade right in front of you and adorned with local semiprecious stones and crystals.