San Miguel de Allende with Kids ~ A Different Kind of Mexican Vacation
When you picture a Mexican vacation, you probably envision sandy beaches, turquoise blue ocean waves, and maybe ancient Mayan or Aztec ruins. San Miguel de Allende has none of these things. It’s not a major city full of museums and attractions like Mexico City, either. So, why visit San Miguel de Allende with kids? A vacation here is less about doing and more about feeling, seeing, tasting and experiencing. My family loves it so much, in fact, that we hope to move to San Miguel.
Located in the state of Guanajuato, this city of 70,000 people offers the best blend of its colonial Spanish roots and the culture of Mexico’s native peoples. With its cobblestone streets, sunset colored haciendas, and beautiful central square, San Miguel de Allende feels like a little slice of Europe in the heart of Mexico. But it’s a very Mexican town, too, offering traditional cuisine, a penchant for celebrations and festivals, and the patience and welcoming spirit of Latin America. Here’s what to expect during a visit to San Miguel de Allende with kids.
Parroquia San Miguel Arcángel
The pink sandstone Parroquia San Miguel Arcángel stands in the center of the city. Its neo-Gothic towers and facade were built in 1880. The original church dates back to the 1600s, though. The fairytale architecture of this parish church is so pretty and it’s my favorite color, too! Along the coast, you may wish for ocean views. But in San Miguel, it’s all about views of the Parroquia.
The Jardín is San Miguel’s central square, situated directly in front of the Parroquia. Most Mexican cities’ primary plazas are called zocalos and are located in front of the primary cathedral. Since the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel is a parish church, it’s referred to as a Jardín (garden) instead.
Indeed there is a garden in the Jardín, a beautiful one filled with boxwood shrubs, fountains and a bandstand. When my family passed through the square on a Saturday night, two mariachi bands competed for attention and tips – one on the band stage and another in front of the Parroquia. Benches in and around the garden are plentiful, and often filled with locals and visitors chatting and taking in the scene.
Vendors wander through the plaza, peddling hats, candies, baskets of handmade dolls, and other handicrafts. Restaurants surround the Jardín, and despite the primo location, offer good food at affordable prices.
Monthly calendars of events are posted at the corners of the Jardín. Find these for a listing of San Miguel’s plethora of local happenings including festivals, gallery shows, concerts and more. You may also want to purchase a copy of Atención, the local Spanish/English newspaper, which details local happenings and classes.
Art in San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel is home to Mexico’s oldest art school, Instituto Allende, and has become a mecca for artists from all over the world. Art classes are offered here in both English and Spanish. Sign up for workshops on ceramics, jewelry making, painting, sculpture, basket weaving and more. Some are as short as one week long. There’s even a summer art program for children! If you don’t have time for a class, you can still stop by and wander through the galleries here.
The city itself is a piece of artwork, with a parade of colors on display at every turn. Start your day in the Jardín and wander off in any direction to find an array of boutiques selling Mexican handicrafts and art galleries of all kinds. I recommend stopping into Ono off the main plaza for its amazing selection of handmade goods including leather handbags hand-painted by local artists.
Be on the lookout for handicraft markets during your stay in San Miguel de Allende with kids. We stumbled across one in Parque Juarez on the weekend and another in Guadiana Colonia, the neighborhood where we rented an apartment for the week. Of course, you can find these listed in the Atención newspaper as well.
Parque Benito Juarez
A visit to Parque Benito Juarez is a must during any visit to San Miguel de Allende with kids. It’s like a miniature version of New York City’s Central Park. Parque Juarez features a playground, walking/jogging trails, basketball courts (being used for soccer during our visit), fountains and permanent exercise equipment. Midweek we found the park to be a mellow place to wander or read. On our Sunday visit, this green space bustled with people and offered a crafts market.
Biblioteca de San Miguel de Allende
Here’s your chance to put that high school Spanish language to good use by asking a local, “Donde esta la biblioteca?” The Biblioteca de San Miguel de Allende is a library, of course, offering up books in both Spanish and English for kids and adults alike. But it’s much more than that. There’s a cute onsite cafe, plus many expats and locals come here to hang out in the darling outdoor courtyard.
Head to the Biblioteca’s gift shop to sign up for an affordable guided tour of the city or nearby destinations, like Dolores Hidalgo or Guanajuato City. Even if you don’t want to purchase a tour, pop in to get a look at the impressive mural painted across the shop’s ceiling.
Tianguis de Los Martes
Tianguis de Los Martes is an open air flea market that takes place every Tuesday just outside San Miguel de Allende’s city center. It’s an easy cab ride away and worth the journey.
Find everything from clothing, furniture and toys to freshly cooked hot meals, leather goods and pet birds for sale at Tianguis de Los Martes. When buying produce, stick to fruits that can be peeled or buy iodine to wash your bounty for safe eating. Although you should not haggle with clerks in stores in the city, feel free to bargain with sellers here for the best price. (I’m not much of a haggler and wanted to support the local sellers so I just paid the offered prices.)
El Charco del Ingenio Botanic Garden
Escape the city for a bit with a visit to El Charco del Ingenio. This unusual botanic garden features walking paths amongst wild flowers, cactus, succulents and other greenery. It is located within an ecological preserve and provides a view of a lake called Presa de las Colonias. My kids made up a game about wizards and mythical creatures and had a ball chasing each other here.
Hitch a complimentary ride to the botanic garden from Mesones opposite the Civic Plaza at 9:30 am Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Look for a 14-passenger van with El Charco’s logo on the side. Return trips are made at 1 pm. Or, do as we did and grab one of the many affordable green and white taxis to take you about 15 minutes out of city center to Charco del Ingenio.
La Gruta Hot Springs
A popular place for families, La Gruta is home to two large outdoor pools, one tepid and the other quite toasty from the area’s natural hot springs. La Gruta (the grotto) is so named for its domed cave that’s filled with even warmer water. Afterward a swim, you can unwind in gardens filled with fig trees, picnic tables and loungers. An onsite cafe serves breakfast and lunch. Massages and reflexology are available at their onsite Adelo Spa, too.
I’m kicking myself for mistakenly thinking La Gruta was open only in summers. Alas, you can visit year-round. This gives my family something to look forward to experiencing during our next visit to San Miguel de Allende with kids.
Where to Eat in San Miguel de Allende with Kids
Besides the beauty and friendliness of San Miguel de Allende, it’s the food that I miss most. My family’s favorite restaurant was Hecho en Mexico in the Guadiana neighborhood. We loved it so much that we ate here four times during our one-week visit. Si, it was that good. We kept coming back for their darling outdoor patio, friendly and attentive service, and extensive Mexican menu with special options just for kids. Best of all is their Camarones Guajillo, shrimp served with guajillo peppers and butter sauce. Their generous guacamole appetizer is pretty impressive too.
For breakfast with a view of the Parroquia San Miguel Arcangel, pull up a chair on the sidewalk patio at El Rincon de Don Tomas. As a chilaquiles connoisseur, I was particularly taken with theirs, served with eggs and beans. Be prepared to be hounded by street vendors, though. I recommend waiting until after your meal to make any purchases to avoid an onslaught of additional sellers.
After one visit, my son kept asking to go back to the restaurant with the chess board. Alas, I think the teenage boy with whom he played a match had brought the board to Mercado SANO. Unfortunately, we didn’t see him (or his chess board) on subsequent visits. This multi-level market features an organic grocer and several stalls with foods like gluten-free waffles, frozen yogurt, coffee drinks, fresh-squeezed juices and more. There’s free WiFi, too. This spot makes a good place for a light snack or quick breakfast.
It’s worth splurging on dinner and drinks at Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar at the upscale Rosewood Hotel. This swanky locale charges luxury prices, but serves up panoramic views of the city of San Miguel de Allende. Note that their tapas sizes are larger than what you’d typically get in Spain or the U.S., so you probably don’t need to order as much food as you might think. Children are welcome and can choose from a kids’ menu.
Where to Stay in San Miguel de Allende with Kids
For a grand stay in San Miguel de Allende with kids, you can’t go wrong the elegant Rosewood Hotel San Miguel de Allende. The location near Parque Juarez is ideal and the grounds are stunning. In comparing prices at other Rosewood locations, you get a lot of luxe for your pesos in San Miguel.
Our family rented a three-bedroom apartment with living room and small kitchen from HomeAway for the duration of our visit. We loved having the extra space to spread out and relax during our stay. Living like a local rather than staying in a hotel made our visit to San Miguel de Allende feel more “authentic” too. From crazy inexpensive to downright palatial, you can find all sorts of San Miguel de Allende home rentals via HomeAway.
Take a look at other San Miguel de Allende accommodation options via TripAdvisor now.
Why We Want to Move to San Miguel de Allende
Our desire to move to San Miguel de Allende started before we ever visited this wonderful Mexican city. The cost of living in in the U.S. keeps increasing —- healthcare, housing, groceries, entertainment. Everything. Based on proximity to the U.S., our family’s fondness of Mexican cuisine, the welcoming Mexican culture, and the ease and usefulness of Spanish as a second language, we started to consider a move to Mexico months ago.
When I studied abroad in France, I found it much easier to befriend other expats from around the world (who were also eager to make new friends) than to get in with the locals. Therefore, I like that San Miguel de Allende has a high percentage of expats (about 10 to 15 percent of the population). Additionally, San Miguel is located in the desert highlands, with near ideal temperatures year-round. Plus, I love small, walkable cities. Huge cities are overwhelming, and the suburbs are boring. San Miguel de Allende’s size seems just the right fit for my family.
While there, we toured long-term rental homes and were blown away by the beauty of the haciendas with their courtyards and multiple balconies, beckoning to enjoy the outdoors. We also toured the kids’ prospective international school, where classes are taught in both Spanish and English and attended by locals and expats. It felt very…peaceful.
I miss the sense of calm and peace this city and its residents exude. I am ready to embrace a slower pace of life, where cars bumble over cobblestone streets and patiently stop for pedestrians. Although I love my country, I want my kids to know a life outside of America. I want them to focus more on experiences and less on things. I want more connection. And adventure. I believe we will find that in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
More About San Miguel de Allende and Expat Life
Want to learn more about visiting San Miguel de Allende with kids? I found Moon San Miguel de Allende to be a wonderful resource, both for planning our trip and for writing this story.
If you’re considering becoming an expat too, I highly recommend A Better Life at Half the Price. Written by my friend and fellow travel writer, Tim Leffel, the book discusses in detail the benefits and pitfalls of living abroad. Tim also gives sound advice for making a move to a foreign country. I especially appreciated the chapters on numerous developing nations, which were based on his personal experience and interviews with other expats. His book was instrumental in helping me narrow down our search for a new home to Mexico.
For those of you considering a move to Mexico, I suggest reading Becoming an Expat Mexico. This guide will help you get a sense for different regions, cities and pueblas to find the right place for you. It also provides practical tips for moving to this country.
To get more of a sense of what it’s like to live as an expat in San Miguel de Allende, you will enjoy On Mexican Time. Although this memoir is based on the author’s experience of moving to Mexico from Los Angeles in the 1980s, you still get a sense of the allure (and drawbacks) of a life in San Miguel.
Do you have any questions or comments about visiting San Miguel de Allende with kids? Let us know in the comments below!
A Note from The Travel Mama: I paid full-price for everything mentioned in this article. I will always let you know if I receive a media rate or comp. All opinions are mine, as always.