The Basilica is one of the best things to do in Zapopan

The Best Things To Do In Zapopan Jalisco (2023)

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Zapopan, Jalisco is a hidden gem that is largely unknown outside of Latin America. Within Mexico, Zapopan is known as a wealthy municipality in the Guadalajara Metropolitan Area. While the Plaza Andares Mall and Puerta de Hierro Hospital attract a good deal of tourism, they pale in comparison to the pilgrimage of the Virgin of Zapopan

Historically, Zapopan was a small town near the city of Guadalajara that grew a lot of corn. However, in the late 20th century there was a good amount of development in technology, finance, and education. A number of small farmers found themselves sitting on million-dollar plots of land because of a nearby university or soccer stadium. 

There are a couple of different ways to look at Zapopan. The municipality of Zapopan is the large western annexation of the Guadalajara Metropolitan Area. It includes both Tabachines on the north side of the Anilo Periferico freeway all the way to Bugambilias on the southern side of the Anilo Periferico. It is the largest municipality in the state of Jalisco, larger than Guadalajara in terms of population but not area. There has been a great deal of residential growth on this side of the metro area as the population continues to swell. 

Secondly, when people within the Guadalajara Metropolitan Area talk about Zapopan they are usually talking about the historic Downtown Zapopan neighborhood. Centered around a 17th-century Franciscan Basilica, Downtown Zapopan is a popular destination for families to eat and relax on the weekends because of the festive atmosphere. 

Most travelers that make their way to Guadalajara will also visit Zapopan. It is worth highlighting the best things to do in Zapopan for first-time visitors because many of the best activities are still under the radar. 

The Best Things To Do In Zapopan Jalisco

Zapopan is a great place to travel because of the historic center, shopping malls, excellent public transportation, and good restaurants. Many people first get to know Zapopan because of work or school, and fall in love with the place because it is a charming city.

More and more local families are choosing to relocate to the surrounding areas outside of the Anilo Periferico because of modern building construction, good schools, and some of the best restaurants in the city

While there are lots of things to do in Zapopan, it will always be a complement to Guadalajara. It can be hard to tell where Zapopan ends and Guadalajara begins.

We are going to start by looking at some activities that are distinctly from Zapopan but work down the list to see some attractions you might have assumed were in Guadalajara

In September 2020, Governor Enrique Alfaro inaugurated Line 3 of the Guadalajara Metro System. There is a massive transit center that connects pedestrian plazas to Downtown Guadalajara and Downtown Tlaquepaque.

This is the first line of the metro that serves the tourist attractions of the metropolitan area. There are huge playgrounds underneath the elevated train that kids absolutely love. 

On a personal note, I think that the police in Zapopan are some of the kindest and most professional police officers that exist in Mexico. I live in Zapopan and owned a business in the municipality for about five years where I would interact with them on a regular basis.

The word that I heard used to describe the police in Zapopan is effective. They do their job, they are professional, and they are kind. Walking on a Sunday afternoon, my kids stopped to admire the horses of the Zapopan mounted police. One police officer noticed and asked if he wanted to sit in the saddle. They took pictures with them, talked about horses, and generally made my kids’ day.

My interactions with the Zapopan police have been largely positive and I know my neighbors feel the same way. 

Without further ado, here are the best things to do in Zapopan.

1. Visit Downtown Zapopan and the Basílica de la Virgen de Zapopan 

The historic core of Downtown Zapopan has a lot of charm. It is much smaller than Downtown Guadalajara but that makes it easier to navigate. The heart of Zapopan is the Basilica. 

The entire area was built around a baroque-style Franciscan church and abbey. In 1940 Pope Pío XII elevated the church to the category of a Minor Basilica. In 1979, Pope John Paul II visited Zapopan and celebrated mass making it one of the few churches in Mexico to receive a Pope. The plaza in front of the Basilica de Zapopan is named Plaza de las Americas Juan Pablo II to commemorate the occasion. 

The main pedestrian street is called Prolongacion 20 de Noviembre and is lined with stone arches (Arcos de Zapopan), fountains, public art, and restaurants with plenty of outdoor seating. The weekends are packed with people dancing in the plazas.

There are vendors in the main plaza selling street food and Huichol beaded art. On the far side of the Basilica is a Huichol museum. One block in the other direction is the Zapopan Art Museum which always has some really unique and interesting exhibitions.   

October 12th is Día de la Raza in Mexico and the Romeria de la Virgen de Zapopan in Guadalajara. Millions of Catholics make a pilgrimage from the Guadalajara Cathedral to the Basílica de Zapopan. It is an ancient tradition led by hundreds of Native dance troupes performing the entire way to celebrate the Virgen de Zapopan.

The indigenous dance troupes continue to perform in the plaza for weeks after the parade. It is one of the largest religious events in Mexico even though the Basilica receives pilgrims year-round. 

My favorite thing to do in Zapopan is eat and drink. I think that Salón Candela is one of the coolest bars in the Guadalajara Metropolitan Area. It is a tiny space but they have live music playing everything from rock to pop and jazz. My wife took me to Salón Candela when we were just starting to date to see a group called Troker.

The lead singer of Troker played at our wedding and we have seen them at Salón Candela several times since. It is a special place, to say the least, and I assure you the food is amazing. They have a stellar lineup of specialty tequilas and an innovative cocktail program. 

La Res Publica Steakhouse just put a new location in Downtown Zapopan that is way cooler than its original location. La Fonda de Doña Gabina Escolástica and Hostería Del Angel are absolute classics for traditional Mexican cuisine. There is birria, tortas ahogadas, and street corn to be found all over the main plazas. There is no reason for you to go hungry in the downtown area. 

2. Andares Shopping Mall

Andares has grown into a really large multiuse development with one of the best malls in Western Mexico. It started out with just one small corporate building but has grown into a neighborhood.

The shopping center is the nicest mall in town. There are now three corporate towers, a Hyatt Regency, and some luxury apartment homes. The main drag is a dead-end street with some of the finest restaurants in the region. Considering there is a Ferrari dealership just a couple blocks away, there are always a bunch of high-end vehicles just sitting in valet spaces in front of the Hyatt. 

The biggest difference between Andares and the malls in the United States is that people get really dressed up to come to the mall. Girls look like they could be going out to a nightclub, which Andares has as well. Even the folks that come in from the country are wearing their best clothes. I remember seeing a couple of cowboys in expensive boots and sombreros holding a bunch of bags from the luxury department stores. It is an ideal place for people-watching. 

Andares attracts wealthy shoppers from across Western Mexico. There is nothing like it in Morelia, Tepic, Aguascalientes, or Colima. When I first moved to Guadalajara I was unimpressed. The price of a pair of Quicksilver board shorts is significantly higher than they would cost in San Diego.

As I have gotten to know the restaurants, go to the movie theater, and use the coworking office, I have really come to love and respect this mall. Everything works at Andares and it is pretty. There are wheelchair ramps so pushing a stroller is more convenient than any other part of the city. It is a very well-thought-out shopping mall. 

3. Stroll Avenida Aurelio Ortega

Right across the street from the Downtown Zapopan arches and transit center is one of the most beautiful streets in Zapopan and the Guadalajara Metropolitan Area. Avenida Aurelio Ortega is a cobblestone street with a linear park running down the middle. There are huge trees creating lots of shade making it one of the best places to take a walking tour in the region. Each block has speed bumps at the crosswalks and pedestrians are given the right of way. 

About 200 meters down Av. Aurelio Ortega from the transit center is a free park and playground called Villa Fantasia. In the past, there was a small zoo with some monkeys and birds but it has been closed for some time now. It really doesn’t matter because the playground is huge and really well thought out.

There are roughly ten zones with different activities for kids of different ages. From antique water pumps to a garden and a storm drain that was converted into a climbing wall, the kids can get lost in their imagination. 

There are street vendors selling treats like pitayas, coconuts, and mixed fruit cups. Pitaya season is one of my favorite times of the year. 

Av. Aurelio Ortega runs through one of my favorite neighborhoods, El Seattle. No, that is not pronounced like the city in Washington State but rumor has it that a large group of United States railroad workers settled here in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and built some big houses. There are some majestic old mansions with mature trees and huge lots. The neighborhood is only a few minutes from Avenida Patria and Avenida Americas, two of the busiest thoroughfares in the region but it feels like it is a different century. 

Make sure to stop for coffee at Enora Café. It is run by some of the most important coffee roasters in Mexico. The food is excellent and the design is an art deco masterpiece. Next door to Enora is Villa de Patos which is a high-end, organic, from the country to your table market and restaurant. It reminds me of something I would see in Venice Beach but with Mexican country undertones.

Two blocks up from Enora is Pollos Kiki which has the best grilled chicken I have tried in Guadalajara. Just make sure to get a table on the patio. That grill puts off a lot of smoke and everyone in the neighborhood will know that you ate at Pollos Kiki when you leave. 

During the Pilgrimage of the Virgin of Zapopan, Av Aurelio Ortega turns into a street fair with food vendors and even some small rides. 

Av. Aurelio Ortego is a hidden gem in the Guadalajara Metro Area and even Zapopan. 

4. Trompo Mágico Children’s Museum

Trompo Mágico children's museum in Zapopan, Jalisco

Currently, the Trompo Mágico Children’s Museum is closed for renovation and not scheduled to reopen until April 2024. The old Trompo Mágico was an amazing experience that my kids went crazy for. I can only imagine what the new museum is going to look like. I recently saw an interview with Governor Enrique Alfaro saying that the new Trompo Mágico will be the best children’s museum in Latin America and they are pouring resources into it. 

I will be checking back when they open so stay tuned. 

5. Parque Metropolitano

There are two very large parks in Zapopan. Technically, Bosque Colomos is in Guadalajara but forms the border between the two municipalities in a very nice part of town.

Parque Metropolitano is a very large piece of land in between the Estancia and Ciudad Granja neighborhoods. It borders the Plaza Galerias Shopping Mall and the Panamerican University. 

Guadalajara hosted the Panamerican Games in 2012 and a good deal of sporting infrastructure was built for the games in the Metropolitan Park. The aquatic center and the tennis courts are some of the nicest in the region and continue to host big competitions. 

Even before the Panamerican Games, the Metropolitan Park was a great option for families to enjoy a playground or have a Sunday barbeque. The park is busy in the morning every day of the week with walkers and runners. There is a duck pond, a dog park with an agility course, a butterfly reproduction center, bike rentals, and much more. 

My favorite activity at the Metropolitan Park is movie night. Cinema Live has showings at parks all over the city but I like ones held at the Metropolitan Park. There are movies for both kids and big kids. Bring a blanket or some camping chairs and enjoy an open-air movie experience. A concessions stand helps fund the event so make sure to buy some snacks. 

6. Charros Baseball Stadium

Guadalajara actually has two professional baseball teams now that play at the Charros Stadium in Zapopan. The complex was built for the Panamerican Games in 2012 and turned out so nice the local business community came together to sponsor a team that in just a few short years won the Pacific League title and represented Mexico in the Caribbean Series

Currently, the Charros de Jalisco and the Mariachis de Guadalajara play in the Panamerican Stadium. The Charros play in the Pacific League which runs from October to January with the possibility of playing in the Caribbean Series in February. 

The Mariachis de Guadalajara play in the Mexican League which runs from March through August. 

The Panamerican Stadium in Zapopan is smaller than MLB stadiums in the United States making the games much more intimate. The crowd feels rather well-to-do with a little more money than your average LA Dodgers fan. There is some great local food at the stadium but I love sitting at the Cantineta restaurant along the first base line. It is a fun way to see the games. 

7. Chivas Professional Football (Soccer)

The official name of the team is Futbol Club Guadalajara but the stadium is located in Zapopan on the outskirts of town. Chivas is one of the top two teams in the Mexican soccer league with fans from all over Mexico and the United States. Catching a game at Chivas Stadium is easily one of the coolest things to do in Zapopan. 

The 2026 North American World Cup will schedule several games in Mexico and Chivas Stadium is set to host a couple of those games. This is a really big deal for Guadalajara and for Zapopan. The stadium is already really nice but will see some upgrades to accommodate the huge crowds that will come to town to see the event. 

8. Parque de los Niños y las Niñas

Right next door to the Charros de Jalisco Estadio Panamericano is the Zapopan municipal government office complex. They built a really large park and sports complex on the adjacent property. There are playgrounds for little kids, a roller skating rink, a small amphitheater, an awesome skatepark, and top-notch Little League baseball facilities. 

The neighborhood around the park has started to open more small businesses to support the park like ice cream shops and small family restaurants. This is a really cool neighborhood that travelers with kids need to check out. 

9. Tianguis del Sol

Tacos de cesina

In Mexico, a tianguis is a street market. Most of the tianguis are open-air, weekly markets that are set up early in the morning and broken down in the late afternoon. The Tianguis del Sol is a semi-permanent market that operates three days a week, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. Some of the stalls have laminate roofing and some do not. It is a really inexpensive place to go shopping for imported and used clothing but the real treasure is the food. 

There are a couple of legendary food stalls that are worth the trip alone. Cecina House (AKA El Gran Taco) serves up Toluca-style tacos with salt-cured cecina or green chorizo with french fries. They are both awesome and a Toluca specialty.

The fried quesadillas from El Roger can not be missed. They come bathed in salsa, cream, and cheese. You can order them with any number of a dozen fillings. For dessert, the gorditas de nata from Cremeria Salcido is over the top. It is a muffin-like bread with requesón cheese, cream cheese, ate fruit paste, and burnt caramel cajeta. It is almost too big to put in your mouth but has a good chunk of the traditional desserts from Jalisco in one serving. 

10. Glorieta Chapalita Sunday Art Market

​Chapalita is right on the border of Zapopan and Guadalajara but the Glorieta Chapalita falls on the Zapopan side of the line. This is one of the most popular residential neighborhoods in Guadalajara because it is quaint and very walkable. On Sundays, an open-air art market is set up in the traffic circle (glorieta). In addition to the art vendors there are food vendors, used booksellers, yoga classes, and a lot of families just hanging out in the park. 

There are dozens of restaurants within one or two blocks of the Glorieta Chapalita. It is one of the best ways to spend a Sunday in the metro region. 

11. Zapopan Mercado del Mar

I have a thing with visiting the traditional markets in Mexico. Mush like my wife enjoys visiting the malls in the United States, I want to visit the best markets when we explore a new town in Mexico. 

The Zapopan Seafood Market will show you the jewels of the Pacific Coast near Jalisco. You may be familiar with some of the fish but I assure you there is always something new. 

In addition to the seafood stalls selling fresh fish, there are a bunch of restaurants that have access to plenty of top-quality ingredients. I have always enjoyed eating at Restaurante Puerta del Mar. From raw oysters to aguachiles and zarandeados, they have a great menu. 

One thing to remember is that many Mexicans abstain from eating meat during Lent. The demand for fish skyrockets and this market turns into a madhouse. Try to avoid visiting during Lent because it is not a casual shopping experience.

12. Kartodromo Checo Perez

Sergio ‘Checho’ Perez is a Team Red Bull Formula 1 driver and hometown hero. He got his start racing go-carts around here and wanted to encourage more people to enjoy motorsports.  

The Kartodromo is easily one of the top things to do in Zapopan for locals and visitors alike. It gets the adrenaline pumping.

Where To Stay In Zapopan

  1. Candlewood Suites (Business-style hotel)
  2. Presidente Intercontinental (Great mid-range hotel)
  3. Hotel Camino Real (Best to have a car)
  4. Mansion del Sol (Best budget option)
  5. Hard Rock Hotel (Best rooftop pool)
  6. Hyatt Regency (top luxury hotel in Zapopan)
  7. Hotel Next (Downtown Zapopan)

Map of Zapopan, Jalisco

I think you might be surprised to see just how big this beautiful city actually is. 

FAQ: Zapopan, Jalisco Travel Tips

These are some of the most common questions that I see about Zapopan.

What is Zapopan famous for?

Zapopan is famous for the Andares shopping mall and the luxury Puerta de Hierro neighborhood that is next door. People come from all over Western Mexico to go shopping at the high-end boutiques. 

More importantly, the rich history of the Basílica de Zapopan attracts millions of Catholics to contemplate their faith and appreciate the petite statue of the Virgin of Zapopan. 

How many days is enough in Zapopan, Jalisco?

Visiting Zapopan is a part of visiting Guadalajara. You are going to want to spend at least seven days in the metropolitan region in order to include the different towns, Tequila, and Chapala. I would budget at least one day for Downtown Zapopan, the Basílica, and Av. Aurelio Ortega. Everything else kind of depends on your interests and schedule. 

What is the best time to visit Zapopan?

Fall is by far the best time to visit Guadalajara and Zapopan. It has the best weather and an insane lineup of cultural events. October is packed with cool things to do in Zapopan and Guadalajara. 

Is Zapopan, Jalisco safe?

Zapopan is the safest municipality in the Guadalajara Metropolitan Area and overall all a very safe place to visit. There are still a few things that travelers need to be aware of. I recommend reading my complete article on safety in Guadalajara to get a better idea of the challenges in the metropolitan area. It is hard to look at just one municipality without knowing what is happening across town. 

Conclusion: Things To Do In Zapopan, Jalisco​

There was this video going around of a young clueless lawyer from Monterrey that was offered a job in Zapopan. She had no clue where Zapopan was or what the town was about. Even as a native Spanish speaker, she was mispronouncing the name Zapo-PAN rather than zaPOpan. 

Zapopan is rad. It is a modern and luxurious town with an important historical site and lots of culture. It really is the best of both worlds: traditional and modern. 

I hope you get a chance to see Zapopan for yourself and enjoy a little bit of what it has to offer. 

Thanks for reading and I will see you next time. 

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