Guadalajara is the second largest city in Mexico, and the capital of the state of Jalisco, where we have been living for the past three months. Guadalajara is just a 25-minute scenic flight over the Sierra Madre mountains inland from Puerto Vallarta, so it’s easy to take a weekend trip. In this post I’ll detail 15 of the top things to do in Guadalajara, including where to eat, as always! (Scroll to the bottom of this blog post for our top food & cafe recommendations)
The Greater Guadalajara area has a population of 5.2 million residents, and follows behind Mexico City as the country’s second largest metropolis. The elevation is 1,665 meters, (5,000 feet), so the climate is fairly mild all year long. Because of the higher elevation, the air in Guadalajara (or GDL for short) is very dry. Paired with the smog pollution from all the cars, the air feels thick and heavy.
**FUN FACT: People from Guadalajara are called Tapatíos, just like the hot sauce! That’s because Tapatío was invented in California by migrants from Guadalajara!
I have to be honest, out of all our travels throughout Mexico, Guadalajara was our least favorite city (for the record, mine was Oaxaca and Sasha’s was Campeche), but by no means am I saying that we didn’t like it. It’s just that Mexico has so many incredible places to visit, and we’ve been spoiled! The reason we wouldn’t choose GDL as a place to live or spend extended time, is because of the lack of access to nature. We’re not really city people, and the only nearby hike (which I’ve included as one of the top things to do in Guadalajara below), is dusty, dry, crowded and uninspiring. However, we have met countless expats who have spent years in Guadalajara and loved it. GDL is a fun, hip city with interesting museums, an outstanding foodie scene, and a diverse array of residents, including students (The University of Guadalajara is here), expats, locals and tourists. Below I will detail 15 of the top things to do in Guadalajara.
WHERE TO STAY IN GUADALAJARA
We loved staying in a borough called La Colonial Americana; it was quiet and residential, but also had boutique shops, cafes and bars all within walking distance. It reminded us of a quaint and hip neighborhood in Portland, Oregon or Vancouver, B.C. Fun fact: the reason there are so many cafes in this area is because this is where the U.S. Embassy is located, and people used to wait 10+ hours to get an appointment, so cafes were built around the neighborhood to give people a place to wait and enjoy a cup of Joe.
15 TOP THINGS TO DO IN GUADALAJARA
- Hit the Bar and Restaurant Scene at Chapultepec
- Take a Street Art Tour
- Explore the City on an Electric Open-Air Buggy
- Get Into Nature at Bosque Los Colomos
- Hike at the Parque Mirador Independencia
- Visit Tlaquepaque
- Visit the Hospicio Cabañas Museum
- See the Largest Market in Latin America, San Juan de Dios
- Photograph the Catedral and the Guadalajara, Guadalajara sign
- Visit the Saturday night market at Templo Expiatorio del Santisimo Sacramento
- Rent a bike for no-car Sundays
- Visit Tequila
- Visit Lake Chapala
- Go Cafe-Hopping
- Eat a Torta Ahogada, Guadalajara’s Regional Dish
1. HIT THE BAR & RESTAURANT SCENE AT CHAPULTEPEC
If you’re looking for nightlife where all the cool kids hang out, look no further than the Chapultepec district; think of it like a restaurant / bar row along the main boulevard with a footpath in the middle with craft vendors set up.
2. TAKE A STREET ART TOUR
We went through Airbnb Experiences and found Karen, a passionate designer / artist very well plugged into the street art community. For just $10 USD per person, she shows you around some of her favorite art murals in the city for one hour, and you’ll learn a lot about Guadalajara’s art history and the political messages behind these murals. You can book your tour through Airbnb here.
Did you know that thousands of women and girls disappear every year in Mexico? You’ll see several art pieces dedicated to this, along with raising awareness for violence against women. As a female traveler, this was heartbreaking to see, but empowering to know that more awareness is being brought to light.
3. EXPLORE THE CITY IN AN OPEN-AIR ELECTRIC BUGGY
Like many big cities, horse-drawn carriage rides are offered. However, after some horses were dropping dead on the street from heat and exhaustion, the city introduced electric buggies, which are so much better for animal welfare and the environment! Please be careful about who you support when traveling, especially if it involves an animal.
4. GET INTO NATURE AT BOSQUE LOS COLOMOS
Just a 15-minute drive outside the city center, you’ll find a quiet slice of nature in Bosque Los Colomos.
While you’re in the area, walk across the bridge just five minutes to the other side and enjoy dumplings and ramen at Jukino, a casual joint with a lovely outdoor seating area. Try their duck gyoza…so good!
5. HIKE AT THE PARQUEADOR DE INDEPENDENCIA
This is as scenic of nature as you’ll find in Guadalajara, and unfortunately it’s not the most inspiring hike; it’s all downhill along a dusty cobblestone path that is difficult to walk on because of all the uneven surfaces; it’s hot, dry and very crowded because it’s one of the only main hiking / walking paths near the city.
6. VISIT TLAQUEPAQUE
First of all, can we just pause to appreciate how cute the name of this town is? It’s pronounced TLA-KAY-PAH-KAY. Located just a 20-minute drive outside the city center, this town is known for their ceramic products and is just a lovely quaint neighborhood to walk around in if you’re looking for a break from the big city feel. While you’re here, check out El Parian, a courtyard consisting of 16 restaurants and bars inside. Also, take a photo with the hanging umbrellas inside the Plaza de Artesanias.
7. VISIT THE HOSPICIO CABANAS MUSEUM
This complex was founded by the Bishop of Guadalajara in 1791 to combine the functions of an orphanage, workhouse and hospital. The building was constructed on a single level to facilitate the movement of the sick, the elderly and children. This is now a museum as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and inside you will find painted frescoes depicting hardship and pain.
8. VISIT SAN JUAN DE DIOS – THE LARGEST INDOOR MARKET IN LATIN AMERICA
San Juan De Dios is the largest indoor market in all of Latin America. With over 3,000 stalls, you can find literally anything from food to drinks to household goods to fashion wares; I was especially in love with the unique leather products and colorful shoes.
9. PHOTOGRAPH THE CATEDRAL DE GUADALAJARA
10. VISIT THE SATURDAY NIGHT MARKET AT TEMPLO EXPIATORIO DEL SANTISIMO SACRAMENTO
This is a lovely outdoor space to just relax from a long day of walking in the hot sun, and at night, it turns into a market filled with organic foods, cacao drinks, tacos, and flautas.
11. RENT A BIKE FOR NO-CAR SUNDAYS
One thing Sasha and I had to get used to when we moved here, was the fact that weekend mornings are eerily quiet with nobody on the streets. Mexico loves to party, so I think people stay up really late on Friday and Saturday and wake up late the next day. They don’t really get their day going until 9 – 10AM, which is when restaurants start filling up, so if you’re looking for some peace and quiet, wake up early and you’ll have everything to yourselves. This is how the streets looked in Guadalajara on Sunday morning at 8:30 AM:
Sunday is BIKE DAY in Guadalajara! The main streets are shut down to car traffic and open to pedestrians and bikers, which is so nice! Rent a bike and join the crew!
DAY TRIPS FROM GUADALAJARA
Did you know that there’s a town named Tequila, from which the famous spirit comes? Tequila is just a 1 hour, 15-minute drive from downtown Guadalajara, and here you can see fields upon fields of maguey plants (the plant from which tequila, raicilla and mezcal are made), and do tequila tastings!
READ RELATED: From Plant To Bottle – A Mezcal Tour in Oaxaca
Another nearby town is Lake Chapala, just 1.5 hours from the city center. This is a popular expat town and is Mexico’s largest fresh water lake.
WHERE TO EAT IN GUADALAJARA
Well, first you need to know all the great cafes to find the best coffee! I’ve compiled a list of our favorites, along with other local GDL-based blogger’s recommendations:
- Cafe Correcto
- Neretta Cafe & Gelato
- Happy Goat
- El Cafe de Terry
- Fitzroy Espresso Bar
- Caligari Cafe
- Taller de Espresso
- Laboratorio Singular
- Matraz Cafe
- Palreal & Cafe Estelar
- El Terrible Juan Cafe
Neretta Cafe & Gelato was our favorite local spot for breakfast, and it was located directly across the street from where we stayed!
The regional food in Guadalajara is called Torta Ahogada – a sandwich filled with various types of meats and covered in red sauce. (Basically a soggy sandwich.) Doesn’t sound like I’m selling this very well, hey?…that’s because it was my least favorite regional food that we’ve had in Mexico so far. However, if you’re going to try it (and you really ought to! Don’t let me dissuade you!), go to Las Tortugas Ninja – Ahogadas, Adolescentes, Mutantes (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). They make all their sauces in house from scratch, and put half green sauce, half red sauce. It’s a cute little spot in La Colonia Americana neighborhood that feels like you’re inside Grandma’s living room…but in a super hip way. 😉
When you’re downtown in La Zona Centra, go for lunch at Birria 9 Esquinas. This was one of our favorite authentic Mexican meals during our three months of living and traveling through Mexico. They are known for their birria (a meat stew home to the state of Jalisco), so that’s a must-try. They’ve got an open kitchen and friendly staff. Try their fresca limonada – fresh squeezed lime with agua mineralizada (sparkling mineral water) and a touch of sugar. Absolutely divine after 12 miles of walking in the sun!
Now you know all the top things to do in Guadalajara!
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