Friday, June 14, 2024

A weekend in Guadalajara: What to do, see, and eat in Jalisco’s vibrant capital

Guadalajara. It’s fun to say and to see. My recent trip to Jalisco’s buzzing capital was influenced by multiple factors: friends from Mexico suggested it would make a great weekend trip, it was an easy flight from Mexico City, it’s the birthplace of mariachi music, and…tequila.

SOLD.

Guadalajara, for the weekend warrior, is a city of two things: surprises and simplicity. Here is where you swap the urban hustle for an hours-long, boozy lunch on a breezy terrace. It’s a place for strolling through elegant residential zones and suddenly stumbling upon a cozy cafe or a sexy wine bar. 

Eat, drink, and be merry while your neighbors, mostly tourists from Mexico, proudly sing along in El Parián. (Bethany Platanella)

In fact, I wouldn’t even call it a “city”, despite its ranking as one of the top five largest in Mexico. I’d call it a tightly-knit collection of towns, each with distinct style and personality.

If you’re lucky enough to have a long weekend to spare and feeling the itch to explore, here are some ideas of how to spend a juicy getaway in Guadalajara. 

Friday

Arrive early and drop your bags at your hotel in either colonia Americana or Lafayette. Beeline to your first hearty Tapatío breakfast of pan dulce, chilaquiles, fresh juice, and Masala chai tea on the leafy patio at La Cafeteria. If there is a line for a table, enjoy a complimentary coffee while you wait.

With your belly full, make your way on foot or by car to the beating heart of the city, the densely-populated and ever-lively historic center. Dominated by the Guadalajara Cathedral, you can enjoy various angles of its baroque, neoclassical, and Gothic facade from each of the surrounding plazas. 

Before becoming a contemporary art museum, Hospicio Cabañas was one of the largest and oldest orphanages in the Americas. Inside, you can find frescoes by Mexican muralist José Clemente Orozco. (Unsplash)

Take your time to walk around and visit:

  • Palacio del Gobierno
  • Rodonda of the Jaliscienses Ilustres 
  • Plaza de la Liberación 
  • Teatro Degollado
  • Plaza de Armas (especially if a carousel ride is on your to-do list)

A visit to Hospicio Cabañas is an ideal way to take shelter from the blazing afternoon sun. The 19th century Neoclassical orphanage-turned-HQ for the War of Independence is now a sprawling complex of national and international exhibitions and events. Come here for the art, the architecture, and the free 30-minute tour of José Clemente Orozco’s famous frescoes. 

That’s a lot of sightseeing. You deserve a drink and a snack.

Cantina la Fuente is a no-frills, locals-only watering hole that’s been in operation since 1921. Its towering ceilings reverberate the nonstop laughter, chatter, and live music that fill the space. When in Jalisco, one must drink tequila, and within the yellow walls of this historic cantina an ideal spot to indulge in your first sip along with a bag of crispy potato chips and a taco or two. 

Now is a good time to head back to your hotel to rest and freshen up for dinner. Before you do, take a peek in Limoncello, an artisan gallery in Colonia Americana with affordable and very beautiful Mexican-stye home items. 

Tonight, dine on vegan tacos at La Flaca’s intimate deck, or try Navaja, a new Mediterranean-esque establishment across the street.

Saturday

These figures represent for the artist the daily life of Mexicans the way he sees them: humble, kind, loving, cheerful and hard working. (Talleres Rodo Padilla/Instagram)

Start your day with a traditional breakfast at the bustling Mercado Libertad before taking a 30-peso metro ride on the pink line to La Revolución. Walk through the quiet neighborhood until you reach Calle Independencia in the center of Tlaquepaque. It’s colorful and vibrant and home to many artisan shops, art galleries, boutique cafes, and trendy restaurants. Pop into the Rodo Padilla Gallery for fun sculptures of fat people riding miniature bikes and Augustín Parra’s golden display of religious relics that have graced St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City.

When 3:30 p.m. rolls around, park yourself at any of the restaurants in El Parián that surround its central gazebo flanked by papel picada. If they haven’t started already, an energetic mariachi band will perform from this stage. Eat, drink, and be merry while your neighbors, mostly tourists from Mexico, proudly sing along.

For dinner, relax in the garden at El Abajeño for something traditional or make a reservation at Casa Luna for something a touch more fancy.

The sun should be setting at this point. Back in colonia Americana is Avenida Chapultepec, flush with bars and nightclubs. If you prefer a low-key nightcap? Almacén de Botellas is a lively establishment with outside tables and organic wine.

*Alternatively, you could spend Saturday in Tequila by way of the Jose Cuervo Express. Read about my experience. In this case, I would highly suggest extending your trip to Guadalajara by one day.

Sunday

birria
Jalisco is the the home of many of Mexico’s classic dishes, including the irresistible birria. (Unsplash)

Wake up at your leisure. Drive to colonia Tonalá, where somewhere between 3,500 and 4,000 vendors set up shop selling everything under the sun. Start at Plaza de Tonalá and wander, trying the street food and drink that Jalisco is known for: 

  • Un tejuino – a chilled drink made of fermented corn masa, brown sugar, and lime
  • Una jericalla – a type of flan
  • Birria – a slow cooked goat stew, sometimes made with beef instead. Often eaten with tortillas.
  • Tortas ahogadas – a chopped meat sandwich drowning in chile de árbol sauce

Walk it off with a visit to the Bernabe Gallery’s incredible collection of handcrafted ceramics, a steadfast tradition held within the family for over 200 years. If you’re lucky, one of the 10 brothers who now run the place will invite you on a tour of the workshop. The Bernabe family is extremely well-known for their role in Mexican craftsmanship and photos of famous people from all over the world (including U.S. President Obama) can be found on the walls.

When you’ve had enough shopping, return to your home base to pack and prepare for your evening flight. Leave time to visit Avenida Chapultepec, where local artists gather on Sundays to showcase their work. Meander through lovely Lafayette, a peaceful colonia adjacent to Americana and cascading with flowers, en route to La Tequila on Avenida Mexicana for a farewell lunch. 

The Bernabé family has dedicated several generations (more than 200 years of tradition) to the creation of petatillo pottery. (Bethany Platanella)]

La Tequila has been a staple in Guadalajara since the mid-90’s and currently boasts three locations. The sleek architecture weaves in regional design elements of stone and clay. Traditional Mexican dishes grace the menu, some with a modern-day twist like the vegan birria made with mushrooms that was to-die-for

Your cheerful server will offer you a tequila flight, and my advice is to take it. It’s cheap, it’s fun, it’s educational — and come on, can you think of a more appropriate way to say hasta luego to Guadalajara?

Need hotel options? Here are some popular choices to consider:

Bethany Platanella is a travel planner and lifestyle writer based in Mexico City. She lives for the dopamine hit that comes directly after booking a plane ticket, exploring local markets, practicing yoga and munching on fresh tortillas. Sign up to receive her Sunday Love Letters to your inbox, peruse her blog, or follow her on Instagram.

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