My family and I have been vacationing in Baja California for as long as I can remember. I believe the first time I went I was six years old. In fact, my parents had both been traveling to Baja independently for years before they met each other 35 years ago. So believe me when I say that Mexico is awesome. But it’s much more that just the land of delicious tacos, beautiful beaches, and refreshing margaritas. Don’t get me wrong, there is a ton of great food and endless amounts of beach to relax on, but there have also been centuries of culture and change and turmoil that shaped the people and landscape of the country into what it is today. Guadalajara is a the capital of Jalisco and the cultural center of western Mexico with plenty of museums, art and shopping to fill any amount of time.
Guadalajara is really easy to get to – only a 3 hour flight from LAX and not terribly expensive for a round trip international flight. But if you want to save about $200 I recommend flying out of Tijuana. I’ve mentioned this before and if you’re within a few hours of the border it just makes sense. We pretty much fly Volaris exclusively, because they always have great deals and no hassle exchanges on tickets. We bought these tickets a year in advance for $99. My parents called me out of the blue and said, “Do you want to go to Guadalajara next year?” This was my first trip to mainland Mexico, how could I turn that down?
Where to Stay
We stayed at the Hotel Morales on Ave Ramon Corona, just a few blocks from the historic district of Guadalajara. I cannot recommend it enough. It’s a beautiful and historic hotel with comfortable beds, free WiFi, well functioning air conditioning, and a restaurant. The staff was really friendly, and spoke a good amount of English. There’s a pool and gym on the top floor, plus they have a spa for massages and facials, and a swanky rooftop deck bar. They even have rooms with jacuzzis in them. Can you say…honeymoon??
Our hotel was right in the historic area of the city, making it really easy to walk to the main square and other sites in the general vicinity. But for those long hauls we needed a car. So it was pretty awesome to discover that Uber is a thing there. We used it all the time; there were always multiple cars in the area and we never had to wait more than five minutes to be picked up. And it was so CHEAP. We took multiple rides that were more than 20 minutes and I never paid more than $8 US. I think I spent less on rides the entire time I was there than I did on my ride to LAX.
Another option, although it’s more of a one time trip, is to take a guided tour around the city in a horse drawn carriage. You can pick them up pretty much anywhere in the historic district and get a 40 minute or hour tour. It’s a fun, relaxing way to see a lot of the city – the driver will point out things along the way. Once we got going and our driver started talking we found out that he didn’t speak any English at all. We spoke a manageable amount of Spanish and it was only an issue a couple of times during the trip when we didn’t understand what he was saying, and couldn’t ask clarifying questions. We chalked it up to a funny experience but if you don’t speak any Spanish it might be helpful to find a driver that can speak at least a little.
Officially founded in the 1500s, Guadalajara is the capital of the state of Jalisco, the place of government and considered to be the cultural center of western Mexico. Liberation Square (Plaza de la Liberacion) is a great place to start because the Governor’s Palace (Palacio de Gobierno), the Guadalajara Cathedral (Catedral de Guadalajara), and Theater Degollado (Teatro Degollado) all border it. The Cathedral was built in the 1500s and 1600s and is actually two churches side by side and they are very different from each other. The double yellow spires of the Cathedral are the symbol for the city. In the corner facing the plaza there is a museum featuring sacred art and relics of the Cathedral. It’s 20 pesos to enter and it has some very nice religious paintings and a really neat room full of relics. The room on the top floor has a balcony that gives you a great view of the Plaza de la Liberacion and the Plaza de Armas on the other side of the Cathedral.
Plaza de Armas is across from the Governor’s Palace. The Place is open to the public (except Sundays) and features murals by the famous Mexican artist, Jose Clemente Orozco as well as a museum covering the history of the city. If you are fan of Orozco’s work, there’s a museum completely dedicated to it at the other end of the city called the Instituto Cultural Cabanas.
The Teatro Degollado was built in the 1800s and looks like the front facade of the Pantheon in Rome. It offers a range of performances from Flamenco to the Guadalajara Philharmonic Orchestra. Tickets are reasonable, if you want to get a little local culture in during your stay.
The neighborhood all around the Square is a worth walking around, there are a lot of really cool buildings and monuments to see other than what I’ve mentioned here.
If Guadalajara is famous for anything (other than you know, being the capital city…) it’s for its shopping districts. There are two distinct areas, Tlaquepaque and Tonalá. They are both about 30 minutes east of the city center, and about the same from each other. Uber is available to and from both locations.
Tlaquepaque is known for it’s artisan stores and lively main square. There are stores filled to the brim with beautiful things like had painted place settings, intricate figurative pottery, and brightly embroidered items. The closer you get to the main square (Jardin Hildalgo) the more vibrant the buildings get. The square was busy and full of people and carts selling trinkets, food and drinks through out. There’s a church on one side of the square, The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Solitude, pretty unassuming on the outside, but has probably one of the most beautiful altars I’ve ever seen.
Tonalá has a different feel from Tlaquepaque. The shops line several blocks of streets between Zaragoza and Constitucion off Avenida Tolantecas that sell everything from housewares, furniture, and decor to craft supplies. We couldn’t figure out why there would be craft supply stores selling plain wooden boxes, picture frames and the like until we realized – all those hand painted things being sold in town have to come from somewhere. (And it’s not Target!) My parents found some really amazing lanterns for their outdoor patio and got 4 of them for 100 pesos each. That’s about $5! Just remember that you have to carry everything you bought home, so don’t go too crazy.
Where to Eat
I’ve already mentioned how cheap taxis and shopping can be in Guadalajara, and that trend continues with the food. My parents live in La Paz, Baja and while it’s significantly less expensive than the US, even they were shocked at how cheap everything was here. I want to highlight a few of the places we ate at during out stay. Some were so good we ate there multiple times.
Taqueria Los Faroles on the corner of Ramon Corona and Prisciliano Sanchez in the historic district is amazing. They have a bunch of choices of meat for your tacos, including your usual chicken, carnitas, al carbon, etc. but also Cabeza and other stuff you might not be so down for. (I know I’m not) You won’t find a ‘carne asada’ because asada just means ‘roasted’ and it’s like trying to order alfredo sauce in Italy – it can’t be done. But these bomb tacos right here are a mix of pork and beef and the 5 of them cost me less than $2. Style it up with some onions, cilantro, and spicy salsa and you’re golden. I could probably eat a few plates of these…
We chose La Chata mostly by chance, but with a little help from a local. When my parents were checking out the menu outside the restaurant, someone told them that they had the best food in the whole city. How could they turn that down? I flew the red eye from LAX so I was hungry by the time I got to the hotel at 7am. We went there for breakfast and then came back for dinner that same day. We went back again the last day as well. The picture is of my favorite dish Tampiqueña, grilled kebabs of marinated beef, onion, bell pepper, and plantain. Enough to share, but you won’t want to! There might be a line to get seated and while it’s worth it, we never waited. Check back another day, and check out Karnes Garibaldi instead.
My parents’ friend recommended Karnes Garibaldi and we are so glad he did. It’s a unique place in that it actually holds the world record for fastest service. Now, we didn’t know that when we arrived so it was a little shocking to see food on the table before we had even ordered. As you are sitting down someone is placing chips, beans and grilled onions in front of you. There is really only one thing on the menu, Carne en su Jugo (meat in its own juices) and it comes in three sizes, small, medium, and large. The dish is kind of like a soup, with cut up pieces of meat with pinto beans and a handful of crispy bacon pieces. Its a play on a traditional Mexican dish and it is delicious. And you won’t have to wait long, your food will be out no later than one minute after ordering. But they don’t rush you out after you’re done. That European service plays right back in and you’re free to enjoy your time.
Lastly, I’m going to tell you where to get some amazing pastries. Croissants Alfredo on Liberation Square is on par with pastries I’ve had in Europe. Their namesake croissants are more doughy than flaky and filled with a number of different fillings like chocolate, peach, and other berries. My favorite was the blackberry. They also have my other favorite, canchas, soft, airy sweet bread with a frosting of confectioners sugar. They look like shells, hence the name. There’s also fruity empenadas, cookies, muffins, giant cinnamon rolls, and a bunch of other delicious items as well. There’s a Starbucks two doors down so grab your pastry before getting coffee, sit on their covered patio and enjoy some people watching before starting your day.
Guadalajara has so much to offer plus with its location it’s perfect for day trips to Tequila, Lake Chapala, and a little farther away – Puerto Vallarta. It’s super affordable, making it perfect for budget travelers. I felt that four days was a good amount of time and we saw a lot but didn’t feel rushed. We came back to the hotel for naps and ended each night with a night cap. I’m so glad to have had the chance to finally visit the mainland of Mexico and I can’t wait to explore more!
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