Visiting the Tonalá Market is one of the quintessential things to do in the state of Jalisco. What people call Guadalajara is actually a metropolitan region that includes nine independent municipalities all with their own unique history and culture. Tonalá is one of the nine municipalities of the Guadalajara area with a history that long predates the Spanish arrival to North America.
Tonalá & Tlaquepaque Tour: Arts Towns with a Local Expert
According to the Jalisco State Geography Institute, the name Tonalá comes from the Náhuatl ‘Tonallan’ which means, “Place where the sun rises” or “Place dedicated to the cult of the sun.”
For many centuries, Guadalajara was a Spanish city while Tonalá was a Native community. The word ‘tianguis‘ comes from the Náhuatl word for market. The Tonalá street market is one of the best ways to experience an ancestral tradition.
Today, Tonalá is synonymous with folk art. This is one of the largest producers of arts and crafts in Central Mexico. The area is home to some of the most sought-after and expensive ceramics in the country.
There are glass blowers, carpenters, and artists who work with paper mache and sheet metal. Artists have been attracted to Tonalá for centuries to learn new technologies and hone their trade.
Tonala market days are an experience but you can visit Tonalá any day of the week for the art galleries, boutiques, and workshops.
Visiting Tonalá is one of the easiest day trips from Guadalajara for first-time visitors. I recommend getting a tour guide if you are new to the area. The market is massive and can be overwhelming if you don’t speak Spanish well. A tour guide knows all the best shops and galleries to make the most of your time.
A Guide To The Tonala Market: Tianguis Tonalá
The Tonalá Tianguis is a traditional market that is set up and broken down two days a week for most of the year. The market is mostly dedicated to arts and crafts but there are food and home goods sections.
Market days are Thursday and Sunday when street vendors flood dozens of streets of Downtown Tonalá, the main plaza in front of the church, and just about anywhere they can find space.
The main road into Tonalá from the freeway is Avenida Tonaltecas. Street vendors set up stalls along the wide sidewalks of Avenida Tonaltecas and fill the plazas surrounding the church, the town hall, and the municipal market. It is easy to get lost in the tunnels of makeshift seller stands.
What is there to buy in Tonalá?
Let’s start with ceramics. This is what I know the best and shopping for fine ceramics gets me excited. Jalisco has a unique style of ceramics that is easily distinguishable from the Talavera of Puebla and the black clay of Oaxaca.
The mineral composition of the local materials is unique and so is the art. The style of painting, the animals, and even the colors that are often observed on the ceramics in Jalisco are easily identifiable.
I highly recommend looking at Mexicanía Boutique, it is one of the permanent shops in the main plaza of Tonalá.
They have one of the most beautiful selections of regional styles of ceramics that I have ever seen assembled in one place.
The finest ceramics in Tonalá belong to the Bernabe Family. They run a multigenerational workshop and gallery on Calle Hidalgo one block down from the main plaza.
Over the decades, the Bernabe Family has developed a unique style of high-temperature firing that is highly sought after. Their ceramics command some of the higher prices in Mexico.
When Barack Obama, Stephen Harper, and Felipe Calderon came to town for a summit of the leaders of North America, they ate on Bernabe plates.
The style of Bernabe ceramics is stunning. They are collectors items.
Ken Edwards is a famous ceramics artist who was originally from the United States, studied art in Japan, and eventually immigrated to Jalisco in the 1960s because of the history and culture of ceramics. He operated a ceramics studio for 50 years building up a cult following of collectors looking for his pieces.
Carpenters make furniture, trinkets, and toys. A stroll up Avenida Tonaltecas will see several furniture stores. I recommend taking precise measurements before going to look at furniture. Make sure that huge credenza fits through the door and make sure the bed frame fits your mattress. Trust me.
One of the cooler folk art experiences in Tonalá is blowing glass. You are probably not going to blow glass but watch how its done at a studio. Central de Vidrio Soplado has one of the best galleries. They are just a couple blocks outside of the touristy part of Tonalá on Avenida Tonalá.
There are more styles of local artesania in Tonalá than I can remember right now. The street market has a staggering number of unique treasures. Some are very high quality and others are cheap knockoffs. You have to see it to believe it.
Where To Eat In Tonalá
One of the more popular places to eat for locals is the Calle del Taco starting at Avenida Rio Nilo and Circuito Loma Norte in the Loma Dorada neighborhood. It is a few blocks away from the touristy part of Tonalá.
It is a blue-collar neighborhood that might be a little rough around the edges. However, you can often find some of the best food in neighborhoods like these. If you are new to the area I might avoid hanging around after dark.
Birria El Primo Memím
When I was getting Jalisco state license plates after purchasing a vehicle, I spent a good amount of time at the Verification Office in Downtown Tonalá. Birrieria Menem made the stress of the exercise a little bit easier.
How To Get To Tonalá
Tonalá is on the east side of the Guadalajara Metropolitan Area about ten minutes east of Tlaquepaque and 30 minutes east of Zapopan.
If you are driving to Tonalá, take Calzada Lázaro Cárdenas east and exit on Avenida Tonaltecas. Look for a private parking lot on the side streets off of Avenida Tonaltecas.
An Uber ride from Guadalajara to Tonalá will cost about 200 pesos.
The Central Nueva long-distance bus terminal is right on the line between Tlaquepaque and Tonalá. The majority of the buses arriving in Guadalajara from other states will stop at the Central Nueva.
The Central Nueva Bus Station is connected to Tlaquepaque, Guadalajara, and Zapopan by Line 3 of the Guadalajara Metro.
A taxi ride from the Nueva Central to Tonalá will cost less than 100 pesos to go 7 km.
The Guadalajara International Airport is about 30 minutes away in the neighboring municipality of Tlajomulco.
Is Tonalá Safe?
Tonalá has a complicated relationship with security. It is a large municipality with both safe and unsafe areas. Much like the security in Guadalajara, I recommend taking some basic precautions.
Downtown Tonalá during the day is perfectly safe. However, the greater municipality has the highest crime rate of the Guadalajara Metro Area. The locals complain about petty crime and there are sensational headlines from time to time.
In 2018, three film students were kidnapped, tortured, and murdered in Tonalá by mistake. The killings set off a wave of protests across Mexico. “The indignation that the case of the three students awakens in society is absolutely justified,” said Aristóteles Sandoval, the former governor of the state of Jalisco.
It is probably best practice to avoid the outskirts of Tonalá after dark while you are first getting acquainted with the Guadalajara Metropolitan Region.
Downtown Tonalá is perfectly safe during the day but I like the hotels in Tlaquepaque better to spend the night.
Final Thoughts On The Tonalá Market
Visiting the Tonalá craft market is easily one of the coolest things to do in Guadalajara.
I recommend visiting Tlaquepaque before Tonalá but they should both be on your list depending on how much time you have.
My mom has become a fan of fine ceramics. Touring the museums, shops, studios, and flea market of Tonalá you will learn a lot.