Get Your Art Fix in San Miguel de Allende
A spate of new boutiques, a burgeoning wine scene, and edgy modern artists are transforming this formerly sleepy UNESCO World Heritage City.
1. Where to Stay
Explore the heart of San Miguel at La Puertecita (from $185), an ecofriendly boutique property tucked away on a quiet residential street just steps from the main square. The traditional, quintessentially Mexican décor in the 24 rooms here gets a local spin from hand-carved windows, wrought-iron furniture, and jewel-toned, hand-sewn bedding, all by area artisans. At night, down a warming shot of one of the rare tequilas at the in-house lounge or dip into the bubbling outdoor Jacuzzi.
Experience a contemporary take on the colonial hacienda at the five-star, two-year-old Rosewood San Miguel (from $295/night). The sprawling grounds feature fragrant lavender gardens and a three-tier outdoor pool perfect for leisurely midday laps (or a nap in a poolside chaise). Locals love the hotel’s Sense Spa for chill-out treatments like the Lavender de Allende (a full-body exfoliation using wild lavender followed by a warm quartz pressure-point massage) but the rooms are also designed with maximum relaxation in mind: All 67 have airy patios and candlelit soaking tub alcoves. Post-soak, stroll along the hotel’s central al fresco corridor, home to a collection of Pop-surreal prints by Pedro Friedeberg. Stop by the hotel’s darkly opulent 1826 Tequila Bar before heading out for dinner: the in-house tequilier will help you parse the over 120 tequilas and over twenty mezcals on the menu.
Enter a world of art at Hotel Matilda (from $327/night), which boasts an indoor-outdoor lobby filled with avant garde paintings and prints by emerging and seasoned artists alike (look out for a portrait of the hotel’s namesake by Diego Rivera). Even the hotel bar’s bathroom has become a destination thanks to its Instagram-ready Spencer Tunick photograph of 18,000 nude models. Rooms are outfitted with local materials, like Mexican calcutta marble floors, with luxe touches like oversized Malin & Goetz bath products, floor-to-ceiling windows, and a patio or terrace overlooking the central, well-manicured courtyard and heated infinity pool.
2. Where to Eat
Take in the breathtaking view at La Azotea, a trendy central haunt that's become the preferred watering hole and/or lunch spot and/or date night pick for the local art and style set. The intimate rooftop spot serves up traditional Mexican dishes like spanish tortillas ($5) and jicama and shrimp tacos ($6), which pair nicely with a crisp cucumber martini ($5).
Get inspired by the Asian-influenced plates served at the Restaurant, helmed by American chef Donnie Masterson (from Tavern on the Green). Pass through the unassuming entryway into the whimsical alfresco courtyard, where tables sit amid bubbling fountains, vertical wall gardens, and centuries-old stonework. Plates are tapas style and tend to mix the sweet and spicy: top-sellers include the teriyaki-glazed pork riblets with serrano chilis ($8) and Tandoori chicken tacos ($8). If you can’t imagine downing another tortilla, come on Thursday for burger night: The meat is Chef Masterson’s own house-ground blend, and house-cured pickles come on the side.
Marvel at the exquisitely composed plates at Moxi, from celebrated Mexican chef Enrique Olvera (of Pujol in Mexico City). The chef’s varying tasting menu ($70–$130) inventively uses seasonal ingredients, as in the beef-jerky tartare with cactus, radishes, and chile-apple, or cod with eggplant, lime and corn chileatole. À la carte plates are no less bold, as in the lump-crab salad with guajillo and morita puree ($12) and short ribs with mole mancha-manteles ($21). The room itself is imaginatively designed with oversize chandeliers, low-hanging table lampshades, and sleek mirrored walls.
3. What to Do
Explore the many design boutiques in San Miguel’s town center. Near the city’s main entry point, Casa Armida is like Restoration Hardware gone goth: a two-floor furniture and design space with moody, oversize lanterns, spooky gargoyle door fixtures, and carved with skulls. Nearby is Mixta, on Pila Seca, a lively boutique known for its hand-picked selection of local, Mexican, and international precious jewelry, custom-designed furniture, and intricate handicrafts, like jewel-toned place mats stitched in Chiapas and clutches woven with indigenous textiles. Rachel Horn Interiors is the interior-design firm responsible for giving many local businesses (like the Rosewood San Miguel hotel) their Spanish-colonial-meets-21st-century look, and plenty of visitors stop in to nab Horn’s unique wares, like tin metal candle holders ($49.50 for set of three) or her signature Marrakesh mirrors ($330-$498).
Check out the San Miguel art scene where it all started at the stately Instituto Allende, founded in 1938 by a Peruvian artist and diplomat. Still a thriving art school, the peaceful arcades are also a lovely spot to stop and relax. Next, visit El Nigromante, the local fine arts institution that’s home to a museum, school, cultural center, and artists’ galleries. Visitors can take classes in drawing, painting, sculpture, music, and even traditional Mexican dance with local artists; later this year, a digital lab will open for visiting photographers, who love San Miguel’s eternally gorgeous natural light and long visibility.
Explore the motherlode of the city’s galleries at Fabrica La Aurora, an early-20th-century former textile factory. When the factory went out of business in the nineties, the wealthy owners kept the original structure and rented out spaces for artists to work—now, it’s home to 35 galleries, thirteen artist studios, and several antique stores. Many offer tours and classes to non-pro visitors in disciplines including painting, watercolor, monoprint, and sculpting. KURO Fine Art, featuring Mexican painters, is a favorite for visitors, as is Fernando M. Diaz Art Studio (Diaz has had twenty international solo exhibitions).
Stop by the Casa de la Cuesta museum, where the permanent Other Face of Mexico exhibit showcases the more than 500 masks which owners and folk-art dealers Bill and Heidi LeVasseur (originally from Maine) have amassed over fifteen years of traveling rural Mexico. The masks give a glimpse into various Mexican subcultures, like Christmas Pastorela masks from Michoacan, a city between Guadalajara and Mexico City. Reservations are necessary.
4. Insider’s Tip
Walking the streets of San Miguel is inspiring, but seeing what's behind closed doors is even better. Unless you personally know residents, you'll be hard-pressed to get beyond the facades of San Miguel’s fascinating, centuries-old dwellings. The local library, Biblioteca Pública, offers house and garden tours to private residences like artists' adobe homes and colonial mansions every Sunday. Check out the local weekly, Atención, on Fridays for a rundown of the homes on view that weekend. First-come, first-serve spaces fill fast (there’s no advanced bookings).
5. Oddball Day
While tequila may be Mexico's claim to fame, wine is having a moment in the state of Guanajuato, where San Miguel de Allende is located. Spend a day vineyard-hopping in the rural areas surrounding San Miguel—most wineries are within an hour’s drive of the downtown core. Hire a private car (approximately $40/hour) or taxi (approximately $20/hour), and start the morning with a hearty breakfast at Buen Dia Café on Pueblito 3, a popular ex-pat spot serving eggs al gusto and hot chocolate (a rich blend of Mexican and American milk chocolates). Take a fifteen-minute drive east on Highway 111 to Dos Buhos, a seven-acre organic vineyard growing ten varietals, including Tempranillo, Cabernet Franc, and Sauvignon Blanc. The owners are art aficionados and designed the winery to feel like a gallery, with original paintings by local artists in public spaces ($25 for two-hour tour). A few miles down the road, sip the top-notch Cabernet at rustic Rancho Toyan, where the labyrinthine cellar produces just 1,000 cases a year for local businesses. Next, head back in the direction of San Miguel on Mexico 51 to and Cuna de Tierra in Dolores Hidalgo, the most popular area producing red and white blends. After your tour, enjoy an al fresco lunch (reservations necessary; $45) with regional cheeses, cured meats like chorizo Salamanca and jamon Serrano, and artisanal breads while admiring the vineyard’s breezy, open grounds. Sit out your lunch coma at the interlinked mineral pools of the Mayan Baths ($7; reservations necessary) nearby. For the last vineyard of the day, hop on Highway 110 and drive 30 minutes to La Santisima Trinidad, a 117-acre estate sprawling with olive groves in lavender fields, now dedicating two acres of land to grapes for Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Merlot; there’s an on-site equestrian facility as well ($80 for a horseback ride on country trails). Back in San Miguel, end the day at El Mirador—a hilltop lookout point with the best sunset views. Uncork one of several bottles of wine—they’ll go perfectly with the killer view of La Parroquia’s spires and bell towers from Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar in the Rosewood San Miguel.
Mexico’s official tourism bureau offers a comprehensive overview of San Miguel de Allende.
San Miguel de Allende’s official CVB offers an extensive guide to hotels, restaurants, shops, services and more.
This humorous blog by a local expat covers culture, fashion, history, and general San Miguel ex-pat life.
For a list of happening events in San Miguel, visit the city’s official Facebook page.
This online visitor’s guide has the best information for curated walking tours in San Miguel.
This article was published on New York Magazine. Feature photo of Rosewood San Miguel courtesy of Rosewood San Miguel.