An Insiders Guide To Finding Cool Experiences in Guadalajara, Mexico
Guadalajara, Guadalajara! Guadalajara, Guadalajara!
Tienes el alma de provinciana Hueles a limpio, a rosa temprana
A verde jara fresca del rio Son mil palomas tu caserio
Guadalajara, Guadalajara Sabes a pura tierra mojada
Table of Contents: Things to do in Guadalajara
- Explore the Historic Downtown
- Eat as much as you can
- Find the best murals
- Take mariachis to a serenade
- Go shopping in Tlaquepaque
- Vía Recreactiva
- Take a Tour
- Tequila Volcano
- Amusement Parks
- Fútbol (Soccer)
- Take a walk in the park
- Colonia Americana
- Get Coffee
- Go to Church
- Traditional Markets
- Take in a show at the Degollado Theater
- Agave Lessons
- Cantina Tour
- Lucha Libre Party Bus
- Zapopan, Puerto de Hierro, and Plaza Andares
- Archeological Sites
- Panteon de Belen
- Festivals and Events
- Quick Getaways from Guadalajara
- Guadalajara Travel Guide
1. An Introduction to Things to do in Guadalajara
Guadalajara is known as a huge Pueblo, or as the song goes, it has the soul of the provinces. Even though it is Mexico’s second City there is little comparison with the sheer size of Mexico City (CDMX). The State of Jalisco and the capital Guadalajara, have always been known as a hub of traditional Mexican culture. Tequila, folkloric rodeo and mariachi music help to define what Mexico is known for across the globe.
Today Guadalajara is a destination on its own. Balancing one of the best economies in Latin America with a spectacular quality of life. There are highly conservative and extremely liberal sections of society but they seem to get along in a rising-tide-lifts-all-boats type of way. I know immigrants from just about every continent who lovingly call this place home.
There is a lot of wealth and opportunity but there is also a level of poverty that suburbanites may not be acquainted with. While I feel very safe here, things are different from where I grew up in Southern California. You probably shouldn’t drink the tap water but I prefer the taste of my Agua Ciel to that stuff coming out of the faucet in San Diego anyway.
The world-class universities (specifically the medical schools) bring students from across the continent to study. The tech scene and more recently the movie production industry are bringing talent from across the globe to build a creative and integrated workplace. Jalisco has one of the highest rates of foreign direct investment in Mexico because multinational organizations like the business climate and the educated labor market.
As the community becomes more diverse so has the culinary arts scene. Not only can you find Korean barbecue, Venezuelan arepas, and regional Indian cuisine, but you can also find an astonishing collection of Mezcal from Oaxaca, wine from Baja California, and regional dishes from all over Mexico.
The beauty of Jalisco is that it maintains the traditions of centuries past while keeping in touch with what is going on in the rest of the world. There is a constant stream of contrasts that will surprise you and delight you at every turn.
This is a quick glimpse of what I think makes Guadalajara so great a place to live and visit. And this is just the beginning. I always keep a list of places to visit: museums, botanical gardens, pueblos magicos, birrierias, and beaches that I can’t wait to experience.
2. Explore the Historic Downtown (Centro Histórico)
Guadalajara was founded at its current location in 1541 and has not stopped evolving since. Walking the streets of the historic core is the best way to appreciate the history guarded in this beautiful city. There is a contrast of traditional and modern ways of life that we will see over and over again, and we are going to start in the oldest part of town.
Besides the amazing architectural heritage, there is a festival-like atmosphere downtown with food vendors, artists, musicians, restaurants, cantinas, museums, and lots of space to walk. Over the last century, the area has been redeveloped to create a series of plazas and pedestrian streets that link the most popular tourist attractions. In 2020, line 3 of the Guadalajara Metro was inaugurated, running underneath the main plazas and the Avenue 16 de Septiembre. After years of construction the whole downtown is more enjoyable than ever.
Downtown Guadalajara deserves more than just one day to explore. There are Tapatíos (the name for people from the State of Jalisco) who have lived their entire life in Guadalajara and still find new corners of downtown that take their breath away.
When I have guests in town, I love to give them one of my tours of downtown. I’ve lived here for ten years and I still love spending a Sunday museum hopping, enjoying a carriage ride, looking for new restaurants and cantinas. There is so much to see and do downtown.
From the Plaza de las Nueve Esquinas to the Hospicio Cabañas it is just over one mile. Even though you can walk a mile in less than 20 minutes, there are dozens of interesting things to see along the way. These are my favorites:
Plaza de las 9 Esquinas
My favorite walking tour of Downtown Guadalajara starts with breakfast in the Plaza de las 9 Esquinas (Plaza of the Nine Corners). There are a number of traditional restaurants situated around a quaint fountain and plaza. The restaurants are famous for birria, one of Guadalajara’s favorite local recipes. El Pilón de los Arrieros is a good option if you can’t decide where to eat.
Temple of San Francisco de Asís
The plazas around the Temple of San Francisco de Asís were originally one large property but the city has changed a lot since the first stones were set in 1550. This is one of the oldest churches in Guadalajara predating the Metropolitan Cathedral by 18 years. The original adobe blocks were replaced with intricately carved stone in the baroque style and later some neoclassical arches were added. In 1750 it was considered one of the most beautiful churches in New Spain.
The area is sometimes called the two temples but the second building is chapel and was built much later. There were six other chapels that were appropriated by the state in the 19th century which paved the way for Avenida 16 de Septiembre (a reference to Mexican Independence Day). The gardens around the the very enjoyable especially with mature trees and reduced vehicle traffic.
Biblioteca Iberoamericana Octavio Paz
Like many of the buildings in the area, this library has seen a lot of changes over the years. Originally it was a Jesuit college dedicated to Saint Tomas of Aquino. When the Jesuits were expelled from Spain in the 18th century the property was given to the royal University of Guadalajara. It continued to change ownership for another three centuries.
In the 19th century the architectural style was altered adding some neoclassical columns. In the 20th century, Big Three Muralist, David Alfaro Siqueiros painted some murals in the main hall of the library. The murals are by no means the most impressive works by Siqueiros but they are interesting none the less because his style is so distinct.
Guadalajara Metropolitan Cathedral and the Cruz de Plazas
The Guadalajara Cathedral is one of the most easily identifiable churches in Mexico due to it’s yellow, gothic bell towers. The first stone was laid in the mid-16th century and the Spanish renaissance style temple was dedicated in 1618. Earthquakes in the 19th century took down the original bell towers which were rebuilt in the style of the day.
The cathedral is open to the public but be respectful by taking your hat off and keeping your voice down. There are crypts underneath the pulpit and a very interesting museum of sacred art on the back side of the building.
In the 1950s, several building surrounding the cathedral were torn down to make plazas in the shape of the cross. While it is always controversial to tear down historic buildings, the resulting pedestrian areas are lovely and connect the most important museums in Downtown Guadalajara. Museum hopping is one of the most enjoyable things to do in Guadalajara.
La Rotonda de los Jaliscienses Ilustres
In the 1950s, Governor José Jesús González Gallo wanted to revitalize Downtown Guadalajara and make it a tourist destination. This involved tearing down some buildings including a church where the Rotunda now stands. Originally called the Rotunda of Illustrious Men, the name was changed to be more inclusive. You will recognize the names of the people memorialized because of the many streets that have been named after them. Its fun to see who they were and what they did. Ironically, Illustrious painter Gerardo Murillo, Dr. Atl, who was missing a leg was sculpted missing the wrong leg.
The Rotunda is a great place to catch a tour of the city in an electric carriage or on the double decker tour bus. It is also where you will find the entrance to the Guadalajara Regional Museum.
El Palacio de Gobierno del Estado de Jalisco
On the south side of the cathedral is the Plaza de Armas and state-level government palace. The whole area was remodeled when the metro was built and looks amazing. The government palace houses two excellent works of muralist José Clemente Orozco and some interesting information on the State of Jalisco.
The Degollado Theater is located opposite the Metropolitan Cathedral, on the far side of the Plaza de la Liberación. The neoclassical architecture is marked by huge columns and carves marble scenes of Greek theater carved in stone. Inside the theater is an immaculately restored 19th-century performance venue with four levels of balconies and detailed murals on the ceiling. Even if you can’t get a show, stopping for a drink at the cafe/bar is nice.
The Plaza in between the Cathedral and the Degollado Theater is called Liberation Plaza because Father Miguel Hidalgo declared the end to slavery here in Guadalajara. The big Guadalajara sign is located next to the statue of Hidalgo breaking the chains of servitude. Right behind the Hidalgo statue is the oldest cantina in Guadalajara, La Fuente. It is definitely worth a stop.
Keep heading east along the plazas past the Degollado, the Plaza de los Fundadores, the fountain of the kids going pee, the coat of arms, the Plaza Tapatía and the statue of the Inmolación de Quetzalcoatl and San Juan de Dios Market until you get to the Hospicio Cabañas
The Hospicio Cabañas, also known as the Centro Cultural Cabañas is an UNESCO World Heritage Site, cultural center, and the most important museum in this part of Mexico. The property dates back to the 18th century when it was operated as a Catholic charity taking care of children, the elderly, the poor, and the sick. In the 1930s Jose Clemente Orozco pained a series of 57 murals that are considered to be his masterpiece. If you only visit one museum in Guadalajara, it has to be the Hospicio Cabañas.
If you have a little more time or have an appointment at the immigration office in the Palacio Federal, it is worth it to walk around that area as well. When I first arrived in Guadalajara I had to spend a lot of time at the immigration office and I would make a morning out of it. I loved to eat in one of the historic restaurants or markets in the neighborhood after dropping off documents.
Right across the street from Palacio Federal is the Santuario de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe where they have been selling buñuelos for centuries. I usually went looking for a birria. Mercado Alcalde is two blocks to the south and has one of the best birrias in the city among other delicacies.
There are a lot of streets to walk and legends to hear about eccentric people. La Casa de los Perros and el Palacio de las Vacas have some good stories. Santa Monica Temple has a baroque facade that some people call churrigueresque. Right behind the temple is the Secretary of Culture in one of the most beautiful buildings from the porfirian era: El Edificio Arroniz.
Downtown Guadalajara deserves at least one full day to explore and if you are a history buff, much longer.
3. Eat as much as you can
Guadalajara is a world-class foodie destination. The combination of traditional eateries and fine dining establishments means there is a lot to choose from. Recently, a list of exceptional chefs including Francisco Ruano (Alcalde), Fabian Delgado (palReal), Tomás Bermúdez (La Docena), Oscar Segundo and Xrysw Rules (Xokol) have turned Guadalajara into a destination for the epicurean set. These chefs are forging relationships with the small farmers, fishermen, cheesemakers, coffee roasters, brewers, and winemakers to show the depth of tradition and artisanal products available in Mexico.
If you have a limited amount of time in Guadalajara it is worth doing some research to start with the best examples of each category. These are my suggestions
- Guadalajara’s Best Restaurants
- Guadalajara’s Best Tacos
- The Traditional Food of Guadalajara
- Gluten-Free Guadalajara
- Mandatory Mexican Restaurants
- Best Coffee in Guadalajara
- La Ruta del Tequila
My Top 5 Culinary Experiences in Guadalajara
Mexican markets are amazing. Under one roof you have a concentration of small vendors that represent local ingredients and recipes. Whenever you get to a new town you should check out the markets. In Guadalajara, the most important markets are Abastos (wholesale market), Alcalde (old school downtown market), Santa Tere (neighborhood-style), San Juan de Dios (massive indoor market), and the Mercado del Mar in Zapopan (seafood). For those of us not accustomed to eating in a market the experience is visceral. The food is exceptional but the experience could be life-changing.
I am not much of a fan of the torta ahogada. Not really my thing. When it comes to the traditional foods of Guadalajara, I am all about the birria. Jalisco style roasted goat stew is one of the great culinary traditions of Mexico. You can find excellent birria in the markets, in the Plaza de las 9 Esquinas or in the Chololo Hacienda. Do not miss out on this one.
Highly regarded as the best coffee in town, palReal has become one of the most celebrated kitchens as well. The weekend breakfast is packed, always. The lonche de pancita is one of the most Instagrammed dishes in Guadalajara, the encacahuatadas are my personal favorite, and everything goes down better with specialty coffee. Make sure to buy a few bags of coffee and learn about all the parts of Mexico that grow excellent coffee.
I like to think about the Guadalajara food scene before Alcalde and after Alcalde. Chef Paco Ruano put Guadalajara on the map as a destination for Haute Mexican cuisine. He has convinced the locals to try new things and paved the way for a modern food movement. I love sitting at the kitchen bar to watch all the action. Make sure to try the frijoles puercos appetizer and the arroz con leche dessert are world-class.
There is a building movement of traditional foods and ingredients in Mexico. Small farmers and heirloom ingredients are fighting back against industrialized farming. Xokol prepares heirloom varietal corn tortillas in the morning and operates a boutique restaurant in the evening. There are waiters but the chef comes out to explain the cultural significance of the ingredients and recipes.
When I have friends visiting from abroad, I would like them to have a memorable experience. Cruising Mercado de Abastos or Mercado Santa Teresita before deciding where we will actually sit down and eat is one experience. Introducing a friend to tripe tacos before a big soccer match in the Estadio Jalisco is another. I, personally, love the combination of liver and onion tacos, ox tail soup, and with a bottle of Rioja Crianza (Federico Paternina Banda Azul to be specific) out of a leather wine bladder while tail gaiting in the Plaza Nuevo Progreso. Now that is a culinary experience.
Look for experiences that you will be telling stories about for years.
4. Find the best Murals in Guadalajara
José Clemente Orozco Murals
Along with Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros, José Clemente Orozco is one of the three great Mexican muralists. Born an hour south of Guadalajara in the town of Ciudad Guzman, his family spent part of his youth in Guadalajara and would later move back to paint what are considered his masterpieces in the Hospicio Cabañas. The Orozco murals are little treasures spread about Guadalajara and can be found in the Hospicio Cabañas, the Palacio del Gobierno, the Museo de las Artes, and the Casa-Museo Clemente Orozco. Pick up a copy of John Steinbeck’s The Pearl for a quick peek at his style.
Check out the full article on the José Clemente Orozco Murals in Guadalajara.
David Alfaro Siqueiros Murals
Inside of the Biblioteca Iberoamericana ‘Octavio Paz’ there are some simple murals by famed Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros. If you have been to Mexico City to see the Poliforum Siqueiros you may be disappointed. If you are a major Siqueiros fan then you should stop by to see some of his early work.
Guadalajara Street Murals
They are all over the place in this town. My favorite places to look for cool street art is between the Colonia Americana and the Downtown Guadalajara area. Suerte.
5. Take Mariachis to a Serenade
They say that Mariachi music was born in the town of Cocula, Jalisco just 70 km to the southwest of Guadalajara. Even though it is difficult to truly ascertain the exact origins of this iconic musical style, it is very easy to find excellent mariachis in Guadalajara. Every year the International mariachi and charro (equestrian) festival is held in Guadalajara.
The best way to appreciate mariachi is with a serenade. You bring a group of musicians to an unsuspecting friend’s window and start playing your favorite songs. It is the classiest way I can imagine to ask someone out on a date. There is a plaza filled with mariachis available for parties and serenades 24 hours a day.
The Philharmonic Orquestra of Jalisco has a mariachi season inside of a 19th-century theater. The Parian in Tlaquepaque, another 19th-century building, has performances every day. If you want to listen to mariachi with dinner, there are hundreds of options.
I recommend learning a few songs before attending a dinner that includes tequila. It is impressive how tequila can make singers out of the most shy individuals.
6. Things to do in San Pedro Tlaquepaque
Nobody calls it San Pedro. That is the name the Spanish put. Everybody just calls it Tla-que-pa-que (Tla-kay-pah-kay). And however, you want to pronounce it, it needs to be on your list of things to do.
Tlaquepaque is famous for its artisans. They craft pottery (Tlaquepaque is Nahuatl for place where there’s clay), blown glass, leather works, carpentry and much more. Most of the workshops have been pushed to the outskirts and replaced by high-end galleries. You can find traditional folk art, and particularly ceramics, from all across Mexico. I really enjoyed the ceramic museum and seeing examples of all the regional styles. The clay in Jalisco is a completely different color than the clay in Oaxaca.
In 2018 Tlaquepaque received the designation of Pueblo Magico from the Secretary of Tourism for the work they have done to preserve and protect culture. The cobblestone streets and pedestrian malls house some of the best art galleries in the country. There are very high-quality examples of folk art from Western Mexico including pottery, embroidered textiles, leather, and even tequila.
On the weekends there is a festival-like atmosphere with musicians in the street, food vendors on every corner and of course, one of the oldest bars in this part of Mexico: El Parián.
There was a time when Tlaquepaque was a whole different city. Today there is no break in the urbanization between Zapopan, Guadalajara, and Tlaquepaque. Tlaquepaque is only 10 minutes east of downtown Guadalajara but it is a world apart.
Shopping For Traditional Folk Art In San Pedro Tlaquepaque
Downtown Tlaquepaque is what you think about when you imagine a picturesque, traditional Mexican village. Internationally renowned artists like Rodo Padilla and Sergio Bustamante have set up boutiques in beautifully renovated colonial mansions that line the cobblestone pedestrian streets. There is Instagram gold to be found around every corner.
Get A Drink In The Parián De Tlaquepaque
The Parián de Tlaquepaque is a collection of 17 different bars set in a 19th-century building. The bars are set around a kiosk stage where there are mariachi and folkloric dance shows every day. This is classic Mexico at its finest.
On Sundays, huge swaths of the city are closed to cars and opened up for pedestrians, bikes, skateboards and all sorts of non-motorized forms of transportation. The Mi Bici program allows you to rent a bike and get an intimate view of the city while not having to worry about bad drivers. The bike rentals are cheap and you can pick them up and drop them off at numerous locations throughout the area.
I recommend starting somewhere near the Glorieta Minerva roundabout and heading east down Av. Vallarta. Once you get to the city center walk the bikes around the main cathedral, the Plaza Tapatio, the Degollado Theater to the Instituto Cultural Cabañas and head back up by the San Juan de Dios market.
8. Take a tour
Since I have started writing this blog I have really jumped on the organized tour bandwagon. I am trying to learn as much as possible and I appreciate talking with tourism professionals. I love hearing stories from people who have dedicated a lot of time and effort to learn the history of a place.
Calandria Tour Guadalajara Downtown and Colonia Americana
The horse-drawn carriage tour of Downtown Guadalajara is one of the most enjoyable ways to see the city if you get the right operator. Cruising at 5 mph gives you an awesome view and time to appreciate the waves of architectural styles. Make sure to get an electric calandria rather than a horse-drawn one.
The City of Guadalajara is slowly swapping the horse-drawn carriages for electric ones because too many horses were dropping dead in the street creating a PR nightmare. Some operators took really good care of their horses and others did not. Today, it is better to take the electric carriages rather than ride with a sickly looking animal or a carriage in disrepair. The electric calandrias are a more enjoyable experience.
Choose a driver that is dressed in uniform as a tour guide with an embroidered shirt, boots and sombrero. The professional tour guides know more about the city and enjoy telling stories about all the buildings and monuments you will pass.
A calandria tour will cost between MX$300-400 for 30 or 50-minute rides.
The Tapatio Tour Doubledecker Turibus
The Tapatio Tour buss runs a hop-on, hop-off tours around Guadalajara, Zapopan, and Tlaquepaque. The cost is around 150 pesos per person.
9. Tour the Pueblos in the Tequila Valles Region
The Tequila Valley Region is not technically in Guadalajara but it’s less than an hour away and totally worth it. First and foremost, the agave fields are spectacularly beautiful but there is a lot of small town, ranching culture to experience.
I specifically say the Tequila Valley Region because I don’t think that the town of Tequila is the end-all-be-all destination. Tequila has some amazing experiences that are complemented by the other towns that circle the volcano.
There are haciendas, archeological sites, cult distilleries, hidden restaurants, and blue agave landscapes that will blow your mind.
This my complete article on things to do in the Tequila Valles Region: La Ruta del Tequila.
José Cuervo Express
Grupo Cuervo has created one of the finest touristic products in Mexico. The train ride through the agave fields is a premium experience and the highlight of many travelers’ time in the region. More than just a train ride, José Cuervo has built boutique hacienda experience that remind me of a Mexican Downton Abbey. Hotel Solar de las Animas is stunning, the distillery tour is run by professionals, and the events spaces are world class. It’s like Disney World for adults.
10. Amusement Parks
Guadalajara may not have as many world class amusement parks like Mexico City but that doesn’t mean there is any shortage of fun experiences.
If you are in Guadalajara anytime around Day of the Dead, you have to visit Calaverandia. Calaverandia is the first theme park dedicated to the traditions associated with Day of the Dead. It is a family oriented adventure park that the even the grown ups will love. There are light shows, traditional foods, rides and theater presentations related to the holiday. If you enjoyed the movie Coco, you will absolutely love Calaverandia.
The Guadalajara Zoo is one of the best in the country. I was just watching the Penguins From Madagascar movie with my son ad there was a reference to the penguins from the Guadalajara Zoo which I absolutely loved.
The Zoo is located on the outskirts of town where there is a lot of space and some animals are in open enclosures accessible through a safari tram ride. They take good care of their animals. The University of Guadalajara has a top-notch biology program that supplies the zoo and the aquarium with amazing zoo keepers.
In front of the Zoo is the Selva Mágica amusement park with small roller coasters and other games.
The Acuario Michin is small but new and in excellent condition. There is an emphasis on animals from Mexico both salt water and fresh water. The axolotl exhibit is really cool. They are amphibians endemic to the floating gardens of Xochimilco and highly endangered. There is petting tank where you can get up close and personal with the rays. If you have seen the movie Moana, you can empathize with the grandmother who loves all the different types of rays. I know I do.
Fiestas de Octubre
In October, the fair (Fiestas de Octubre) comes to town with a bunch of rides and games of chance. There are concerts in the fairground Palenque, which also happens to be where the cock fights are held beforehand. There is a junk food and tons of junk to buy. There is a farm animal festival running at the same time as the fair in a different location. It is a lot of fun for the kids to see the petting zoo and watch a rodeo.
Navidalia is a wintertime amusement park that is kind of a cross between the winter markets in Europe and the Tlalpujahua, Michoacan. There are music and theater presentations and everything is decorated to evoke a fairy tale feeling. It is a great option for the kids.
11. Attend an Chivas, Atlas or Leones Negros Soccer Game
Mexico is a one-sport country: there is fútbol and everything else. The vast majority of money destined for sports is allocated to the local soccer teams. There are two first division soccer teams, Chivas and Atlas, and the second division Leones Negros. Chivas is one of the most popular teams in the country. Atlas hasn’t won a championship since the 1950s but still has a strong following. The Leones Negros are associated with the University of Guadalajara which draws in a more family-oriented and intellectual crowd.
Estadio Jalisco: Atlas Fútbol Club and Leones Negros de la U de G
Atlas and the Leones Negros share the Estadio Jalisco. Chivas also played here until 2010 when they finished their new stadium, Estadio Akron, on the other side of town.
The Estadio Jalisco is an old, historic and some would say a sacred place. It was built in 1960, is the third-largest stadium in Mexico, and has hosted world cup and Olympic matches. The stadium is in a residential neighborhood where the neighbors rent out their parking spaces and sell tacos in front of their houses. The food outside the stadium is excellent and many of the vendors have been to every game for decades.
Estadio Akron: Club Deportivo Chivas
Honestly, the new Chivas stadium feels a little sterile after visiting the old Estadio Jalisco. Everything is new and comfortable but the food is terrible. It feels corporate, cold, and the people selling snacks hate their jobs. Chivas Football Club is one of Mexico’s top teams but the experience leaves a lot to be desired.
Even diehard Chivas fans will admit that the Estadio Jalisco is a better overall experience even though the Stadium is antiquated.
12. Catch a Baseball Game at the Charros Stadium
The Guadalajara Charros play in Liga del Pacífico along with Mazatlán and Culiacán. The winner of the Pacific League gains entry into the Caribbean Series. This is considered winter ball and many players from the US will use the time to get some additional at-bats and playing time.
The stadium was built for the 2012 Pan-American games and is really enjoyable. In 2019 the Charros won their first championship which helped fill the stadium. The level of play may not be on par with the MLB but the atmosphere is awesome. The smaller stadium gives you a close-up vantage point and the fan base feels well-to-do.
13. Bullfights in the Plaza de Toros Nuevo Progreso
It is not surprising that this brutal activity is a thing in Guadalajara. Given the amount of immigration from Spain to Mexico during the Spanish civil war, it was bound to happen. The professional corridas take place on Sundays at 4 pm in Spring and Fall. The atmosphere outside the plaza is excellent and the street food is world-class. Oxtail stew, liver and onion tacos are a couple of my favorite dishes. Bring a bottle of wine and buy a Spanish style wine bladder to bring it into the plaza. Just be prepared to watch six animals meet a violent death.
14. Go for a Walk in the Parks of Guadalajara
Guadalajara is much smaller than Mexico City and unfortunately, there is nothing that compares to Chapultepec Park. That being said, there are still some great places to get some outdoor time.
Bosque Los Colomos
You can tell how wealthy a community is by the condition of its parks. The Colinas de San Javier and Providencia neighborhoods have some money and they have, arguably, the best park in Guadalajara. The thematic gardens are very well manicured and this is a very enjoyable place to get your steps in. There are equestrian areas where kids and adults can ride horses. The park is free but parking has a nominal cost.
The Metropolitan Park is a very large park space with numerous jogging trails, bike trails, picnic areas and a lot of leftover infrastructure from the Pan American Games. The tennis courts host a pro event and the aquatic center has three Olympic sized pools with a diving platform. The facilities are a little run down because the space is so big and there are not enough maintenance dollars coming into the government-run facility. If you live on the West Side of the Guadalajara Metro Region this would be a good place to jog.
Bosque De La Primavera
The Primavera forest is considered to be the lungs of Guadalajara. This massive open space reserve just west of the periferico freeway is a mountain biker’s dream. There is still a lot of wildlife and some hidden hot springs.
La Barranca de Huentitán
Spectacular views and a challenging hike greet visitors to the Barranca de Huentitán National Park. The Santiago River has dug deep canyons along the North West corner of the periferico freeway. The trail is a little rough and includes a steep section of cable car tracks. At the bottom of the canyon is a bridge with distinctive red cantera stone pillars
Try to get their early to see the sun coming up over the canyon and avoid climbing back up the hill under the mid-day sun. During the rainy season the water is rushing and the landscapes are vivid green.
Out in the middle of nowhere on the freeway that leads to Chapala is one of the best skateparks in Latin America. Large, uncrowded bowls await those that have skateboards.
Parque Agua Azul
There really should be more parks downtown but Parque Agua Azul is a nice, old-school place to explore. The Paleontology Museum is small but has some interesting exhibits. The Jalisco Institute of Artesania is a gem. There is a cultural flee market on Saturdays.
Nighttime Bike Ride: Paseo Ciclista Nocturno
Another spectacular thing to do in Guadalajara is to take a nighttime bike tour (Paseo Ciclista Nocturno). This is a very well organized and very large bicycle group that meets every Wednesday (weather permitting). The pace of the bike ride is mellow with police escorts shutting down major intersections for the cyclists. A new path is taken every week but it has been going on for so long I am surf they repeat some favorites. The group meets at the intersection of Av. Mexico and Av. Chapultepec a little before 10pm. I shot this photo from my apartment in the Torre Minerva while a particularly large group was coming through. This is a super fun bike ride with cool people and a great vibe.
15. Cruise the Colonia Americana
This is one of the hottest neighborhoods for restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. In my opinion, the old mansions are a wonderful place to party. The Colonia Americana is considered to be a 20th-century architectural laboratory with some of the best examples of eclectic local style. The old mansions are cultural heritage and only some have been restored while another lay in ruins.
Many people describe the area as hipster because of the quantity of specialty coffee shops and fixed geared bicycles but it still retains a pre-gentrification authenticity.
The name is a blanket term applied to vast swaths of the westside of Guadalajara first developed during the Porfiriato era but continuing all the way through the 20th century. Originally, it was just a few blocks between Av Chapultepec and Av Enrique Díaz de Leon. Today it is common to hear this term applied to the area from Av Federalizmo to the Minerva.
After touring the Historic Downtown, I highly recommend touring the Colonia Americana on foot or on a bicycle.
Here is a link to the complete article on Chapultepec, Lafayette, and the Colonia Americana.
16. Get Coffee
There is an wonderful specialty coffee scene in Guadalajara. It will take you weeks to see all of the excellent coffee shops and roasters the city has to offer. Café Estelar, partners of the palReal Restaurant, won best roaster in Mexico in 2020 and compete in all the international competitions.
There is no way I could fit all my recommendations in this little space. Check out the full article on the best coffee in Guadalajara.
17. Churches of Guadalajara
Guadalajara is a very religious city. Throughout the centuries great wealth has been allocated to the construction of places of worship. The vast majority of these places of worship are Catholic churches. The churches of Guadalajara represent some of the best examples of architecture from each given era.
The Guadalajara Metropolitan Cathedral or Catedral de la Asunción de María Santísima
The belltowers of the Guadalajara Cathedral are emblematic of the city of Guadalajara. They have been recreated into the logos of numerous organizations from pharmacies to taxis. Interestingly, the belltowers are not original. Earthquakes in 1818 and 1849 damaged the original belltowers and they were rebuilt in a contrasting neo-gothic style.
The Guadalajara Cathedral houses the remains of cardinals, bishops, and a young girl called Santa Inocencia who was murdered by her father for converting to Catholicism. If you saw Narcos Mexico, the bishop killed at the Guadalajara Airport is laid to rest in the Guadalajara Cathedral.
Templo Expiatorio del Santísimo Sacramento
The Templo Expiatorio is one of the finest examples of Neo-Gothic architecture in Mexico. The church was commissioned by Porfirio in 1897 but the construction was halted by the Mexican Revolution and later the Cristero Wars. It took 75 years to finish. This is one of the best places to attend Christmas mass.
Basílica de Zapopan
In the Catholic church, a basilica is a special honor given to certain buildings that represent some historical event or a major saint. Zapopan is home to one of the most important pilgrimages in Mexico dating back to the 17th century. An image of the Virgin of Zapopan is carried from the Guadalajara Cathedral to the Basílica de Zapopan along with millions of the faithful.
Other Beautiful Guadalajara Churches
Located in the Chapalita neighborhood, the Santa Rita Temple is one of my favorite churches in Guadalajara. The architecture is mid-century modern and typical of the neighborhood of Chapalita. The food vendors outside of the church are excellent. This is one of the best places to get a corn on the cobb in Guadalajara.
I can not recommend enough that you take a walking tour of downtown Guadalajara. There are more beautiful and historic buildings that I could ever include in this brief summary.
18. Visit the Markets of Guadalajara
Visiting the markets of Mexico is one of the most enjoyable and culturally significant activities that everyone can agree upon. Even people that don’t like shopping will enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of a Mexican market. There are big marktets and little neighborhood markets. Do yourself a favor and make time to see at least one market and enjoy a great meal.
My personal favorite is the wholesale market but there are dozens of markets with different specialties. Santa Tere Market and the surrounding neighborhood is known to have great food. San Juan de Dios is famous for Jalisco style saddlery, leatherworks, and pirated everything else. There are seafood markets, flower markets, a corn market just to name a few. As Pablo Neruda once said, “Mexico is found in its markets”.
Guadalajara is less than 3 hours from the tropics, less than 2 hours from dairy country, and the shipments arrive 24 hours a day. This is where you can find some of the best examples of Jalisco-style birria, menudo, carne asadas as well as some good Asian food. The price of one of the best breakfasts in Guadalajara start as low as 50 pesos and the produce is about half of what you would pay in the supermarket for much better quality.
Mercado San Juan de Dios
Also known as Mercado Libertad but affectionately known as Saint Johnny or Taiwan de Dios is a massive indoor shopping experience. There is a food court but the majority of the mall is non-food stuffs like clothes, shoes, hardware and entertainment. The pirated movie section has a better selection than the store in the mall. If you are interested in equestrian culture you will be blown away by the embroidered saddlery. The handmade belts, cinterones pitiados, are works of art.
There are some really aggressive young men selling cell phones on the bridges approaching the market. Take caution. Anything pirated, anything that is too good to be true probably is. Buying stolen or pirated goods perpetuates a problem.
19. Take in a show at the Teatro Degollado
Seeing a concert at the Degollado Theater will be one of the highlights of your time in Guadalajara. The theater was built in a classical architectural style in the second half of the 19th century. It is a time capsule. You feel transported back in time as you walk in the door. Growing up in San Diego, I wasn’t familiar with this type of ornate theater before. It can be dificult to pay attention to the presentation because the theater is so beautiful. Sitting in one of the balconies, I would often look up a the mural on ceiling and wonder what were the most popular shows that played here in the 1800’s.
There are a number of different groups that use the Degollado Theater as their home base. The Philharmonic Orchestra of Jalisco has a season and plans events from classical music to the Beatles. The University of Guadalajara has a folkloric dance group that performs in the summertime. They also offer ballet interpretations of famous productions like Don Quijote de la Mancha.
My absolute favorite date night in Guadalajara is to dine at Restaurante Alcalde before going to the theater.
20. Agaves: Tequila, Mezcal, and Raicilla Tastings
Jalisco is the heart of tequila country and if you are interested in learning about the history and culture of agave-based spirits you should schedule a tasting at Mezonte. There are around 40 different classes of agaves used to make distilled spirits all across Mexico and Tequila just happens to be a class of mezcal that uses the Weber blue agave (agave tequilana).
Mezonte will give you a chance to try the whole spectrum of agaves while teaching you the difference between something industrial and something artisanal. This isn’t so much a bar as it is a classroom with alcohol. You are more than welcome to stop by and have a drink but the two-hour tasting is really the way to go.
These are other establishments with excellent selections of agaves bases spirits where you can continue your education.
21. Cantina Tour
If you are into history, there is a good chance you will enjoy drinking in a cantina or two. In a city as old as Guadalajara it is no surprise there are a number of classic classic cantinas that evoke the memory of a bygone era. Some of these establishments have been here for years while others are rather new but use older recipes.
The most famous traditional cantina in Guadalajara is Cantina la Fuente on Calle Pino Suarez in the heart of downtown, right behind the Miguel Hidalgo statue and the Plaza de la Liberación. The place has been there for a hundred years. If a business can hang on for a hundred years they are doing something right. There is an old bike hung on the wall, and antique cash register and huge blocks of ice keeping the beer cold like in the old days. The food is good, the tequila is commercial and there is probably a couple guys playing the marumba on the sidewalk out front. It’s an absolute classic.
On the other end of the spectrum is Cantina De La O on Calle Argentina just off of Av. Vallarta. The place is new but is was conceived by guys who love the classic old school cantina but wanted more a more artisanal menu. De La O doesn’t sell beer made by multinational companies preferring to sell local microbrews. The same thing with the cocktail list. They have an excellent selection of traditional Mexican fermented drinks like pulque, tepache and aguamiel, that you won’t see almost anywhere. They have some great food specials too like raw scallops and smoked oysters.
Los Famosos Equipales is on Calle Juan Alvarez and feels like a time capsule. La Occidental Cantina is in the Plaza de las 9 Esquinas neighborhood right where they sell the pitayas in the spring. They do some great cocktails with fresh pitayas that you won’t see anywhere else. Saloon del Bosque is in the Colonia Americana right next to the Casa Guadalupe Zuno. It is a little fancier in a well-maintained old mansion with table cloths and waiters in long-sleeve white shirts and bowties. The food is simple but excellent. Think albondigas, verdolagas, and guacamole with cecina.
Make sure to head over to Tlaquepaque to have a drink in the Parian. It’s a 19th century public bar. There are mariachi shows daily but my favorite was getting off work at 1 am and heading to the cantina to get a drink before heading home.
22. Things to do in Guadalajara at Night
Mexicans know how to have fun and Guadalajara is such a large city that there are things to do at night for every budget and style. The nightlife in Guadalajara doesn’t get going until much later than people from the United States are used to. The precopa, or drinks before the nightclub, runs from 9 pm until 11 pm and you will probably get to the nightclub a little before midnight.
My favorite things to do in Guadalajara at night take place in the Colonial Americana and surrounding neighborhoods. Not the bars on Av Chapultepec, but the side streets around Av Chapultepec have some incredible old mansions that have been renovated to show off the architecture with a great party.
Beer Bars, Breweries and Pubs
The Guadalajara nightlife scene is very trendy. One minute a nightclub is how and the next it sits empty for no reason than another nightclub just opened and took all the publicity, momentarily.
23. Lucha Libre Party Bus
Lucha Libre is Mexican wrestling in the Arena Coliseo downtown. The best way to see lucha libre is to go to the Red Pub (multiple locations) and take the double-decker bus from the pub to the downtown arena on Tuesdays.
Given the amount of history in Guadalajara, it is no surprise that there are a lot of museums. The most important museum in Guadalajara is the Instituto Cultural Cabañas. On the backside of the Metropolitan Cathedral is the Museum of Sacred Art. Directly across the street from the Metropolitan Cathedral is the Regional Museum of Guadalajara which has an anthropological look at the area around Guadalajara.
Hospicio Cabañas aka Instituto Cultural Cabañas
Designated a Unesco World Heritage site, this 19th-century Catholic hospital, and orphanage is part community center, part museum, and part theater. The murals of one of Mexico’s big three muralists, Jose Clemente Orozco, tell the story of Mexico from conquest to industrialization. The English language guided tours of the murals are enthralling. There are a number of rotating expositions by local artists, the Guillermo del Toro movie theater that screens all sorts of international genres of film, as well as an outdoor space that is used to stage ballet and theater productions (that incorporate the building’s architecture into the set design). Check the calendar to see what events are going on while you are in town.
Museo de las Artes de la Universidad de Guadalajara
You will quickly realize that the University of Guadalajara is a major patron of the arts in these parts. The Museum of the Arts (Musa) is housed in one of the earlier University of Guadalajara administrative buildings and has a wonderful schedule of exhibitions. There are more José Clemente Orozco murals in the auditorium that are worth a visit.
Museo de Arte Zapopan is the most important contemporary art space in the region.
Trompo Magico is a family (kid’s) museum on the outskirts of Zapopan.
25. Zapopan, Puerto de Hierro, and Plaza Andares
Zapopan is the western side of the Guadalajara Metropolitan Region. It is a large, independent municipality with it’s own city government and a lot of money. Downtown Zapopan is a quaint walking district situated around the Basilica of Zapopan with some excellent places to eat and drink. Cafe Candela is awesome.
Just a few minutes from downtown Zapopan is the high rent district of Puerta de Hierro, Andares and Colinas de San Javier. The same family that founded the Autonomous University of Guadalajara also built one of the the most popular malls in Mexico, Plaza Andares, zoned the area for skyscrapers and built exclusive residential communities. Puerta de Hierro is a very wealthy part of Mexico as you will notice in the car dealerships and luxury retail establishments. The food scene is not half bad either. Plaza Landmark and Plaza Andares have some excellent options if you are willing to spend the money.
There is some tech money in the offices above the plaza and you will see software engineers walking around on lunch breaks. The dress code is a little more formal than you might expect. Shorts and sandals are not in style and the girls go all out when it comes to fashion. The saying goes, “Mejore muerta que sencilla” (better dead than simple). The people watching at Plaza Andares is exceptional. There are some characters.
There are three important pilgrimages in the State of Jalisco that attract millions to walk and reflect on their faith.
The Romeria de la Virgin de Zapopan starts at the Guadalajara Cathedral and finishes at the Zapopan Basilica. This procession is celebrated on October 12 which happens to be Columbus Day. There are usually close to 2 million people that come out to see the native dancers and the image of the Virgen de Zapopan along the eight-kilometer parade route.
In addition to the pilgrimage that is within the Guadalajara Metropolitan Region, there are two more large events in the State of Jalisco.
Around Easter Time there is the Pilgrimage to the Pueblo Mágico of Talpa de Allende. It is popular for Tapatíos to start the trek from the town of Ameca, just outside of Guadalajara, and walk for several days to reach Talpa de Allende.
The other massive event is the pilgrimage to San Juan de Los Lagos. In the Highlands of Jalisco, not too far from Aguascalientes and Guanajuato, is the small town of San Juan de Los Lagos. There are pilgrimages to see the image of the Virgen throughout the year but the big one is for the Candelaria on February 2nd. As you drive through Los Altos de Jalisco it is common to see pilgrims walking along the freeway during much of the year.
27. Archeological Sites
There are two important archeological sites in the Guadalajara area. Guachimontones is the most popular and is locates about an hour outside of town at the base of the Tequila Volcano. The second and much smaller archelogical site is the Ixtépete Park. This park is located in the Zapopan Municipality on the corner of Av. Mariano Otero and Periférico.
Guachimontones Archeological Site
If you only have time to visit one archeological site than I recommend visiting the Guachimontones. There is a deposit of obsidian at the base of the volcano that the original people used to make tools like knives and traded all over the region. This was a large settlement with a chinampa agricultural system that supported close to 40,000 people. The pyramids at Guachimontones are unique in their conical shape. I recommend going in or after the rainy season because the area is bright green and oh so photogenic.
Just a few minutes away from Guachimontones there is a wonderful Hacienda nearby that is the perfect place to get lunch after exploring the ruins. Hacienda El Carmen is a luxurious boutique hotel that will take you back in time. The restaurant is lovely.
28.Panteon de Belen
The historic Belen cemetery is open year-round but the most popular time to visit is during the month of October leading up to Day of the Dead. There are daytime tours but the real treat is the nighttime ghost story tour. No cameras allowed.
29. Festivals and Events
Guadalajara was founded on February 14, 1542, and every year around Valentine’s day the Plaza de la Liberación hosts a pretty massive light show. The 14th is the best day but the decorations last about a week. This is a very Instagram friendly event.
Combination music and food festival that attracts some decent bands and Mexican chefs. Usually held towards the end of February. In 2019 the headliners were Stone Temple Pilots, Caifanes, Bush and 311.
Usually held in early March, the Guadalajara Film Festival is arguably the most important film festival in Latin America. The new films that are screened, the industry leaders and the massive public viewing parties make this a really fun event.
The Corona Capital music festival has been a huge success in Mexico City and in 2018 the festival made its debut in Guadalajara to some serious fanfare. The festival is held in May and you can find tickets on ticketmaster.com.mx.
The last couple weeks of August host a massive amount of mariachi music and Mexican cowboys. The cowboys down from the ranches to compete in equestrian competitions and the mariachis come from all over the world. This is a huge party and part of what makes Jalisco famous throughout the world.
I mid October the Tecate Coordenada music festival makes its way to Guadalajara. This is the longest running music festival and a local favorite. It is usually held in the Parque Trasloma near the Plaza del Sol mall.
This is Guadalajara’s longest running and the largest wine festival. The interest in wine has absolutely exploded in the last couple of years and events like this one are part of the reason why. For about $700 pesos you can taste hundreds of different wines from across the globe. The event is held in an event space on the second floor of Plaza Andares. You will run into a lot of the wine industry personalities of Guadalajara at this event.
Most of the month of October hosts the farm animal festival. Ranching is big business in the State of Jalisco and this fair brings ranchers from all over the country. Obviously, the food is spectacular and I find it interesting to see what kind of animals are being raised in Mexico. During the day the atmosphere is family-oriented with petting zoos and games but at night there is a lot of alcohol and banda music.
Fiestas de Octubre
October is when the fair comes to town. The Fiestas de Octubre run concurrently with the Expo Ganadera but in different locations. The fair is rides, games of skill and concerts. There is also a huge section of vendors selling junk made in China.
Billed as the most important beer festival, the Guadalajara beer festival has grown into a massive event. There are over 200 brands from all over the world.
From the 1st to the 4th of November downtown Tlaquepaque is decorated for Day of the Dead. There are altars, face painting, parades, concerts and lots of art. This is one of the more family-friendly events.
Mexican wine is really hot right now. There is a massive sense of pride in the Mexican wine industry. The Fevino Wine Festival is all about Mexican wine. Usually held in the Parque Trasloma near the Plaza del Sol Mall. Look for the festival in mid to late November.
In late November and early December, Latin America’s most important book festival happens in Guadalajara. The used to be more for publishers but the University of Guadalajara has turned this into one of Guadalajara’s most treasured events. There are massive crowds every day to see author talks, concerts and of course buy lots of books.
30. Getaways From Guadalajara
One of the best parts of living in Guadalajara is the proximity of really cool destinations that are very different from the city. Within just a few hours, you can be in the tropics or on top of a snow covered volcano. The State of Jalisco is amazing but there are a lot of neighboring states with unique experiences. The hardest part is trying to decide between the beach and a magical colonial town.
These are some of my favorite quick getaways from Guadalajara.
- The Pueblos Mágicos in Jalisco
- My favorite beaches close to Guadalajara
- Day of the Dead in Michoacan
- La Ruta del Tequila
- The Old Highway from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta
31. The Ultimate Guadalajara Travel Guide
- Is Guadalajara Safe?
- Where to stay in Guadalajara
- Where to eat in Guadalajara
- The Traditional Foods of Guadalajara
- Guadalajara Neighborhoods
- My favorite beaches within a couple of hours of Guadalajara
- The Long-Distance Bus Stations in Guadalajara
- The traditional markets of Guadalajara
This turned into a little bit more than I had originally planned. I have been updating the article for more than two years now and it reminds me of all the fun there is to be had in this town. I hope you find some cool ideas and have an absolute blast.