Being a native Southern Californian who has visited much of Baja and a few other spots around the country, I thought I was decently educated on most things Mexico. This trip through 10 of its states has proven me wrong though– I was actually pretty oblivious. Turns out there are so many beautiful and delicious places I was completely unaware of (and maybe still are).
Many are also extremely easy to get to from the United States. Case in point: Guadalajara.
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Why Guadalajara, Jalisco, is the perfect short-break getaway
Located in the state of Jalisco, Guadalajara is one of Mexico’s largest cities. Just 4 hours from the coast and 4 from Guanajuato, its location was the perfect position for us to begin our trip through Mexico. It’s also in the perfect place if you’re looking for a short, cultural getaway from the United States. Being just a three-hour flight from LAX, it’s totally doable if you’re on a time crunch. What’s even better are the prices: we booked a one way flight with AeroMexico for only $110 direct!
Although you may not have heard of Jalisco itself, you’ve definitely heard of its famous creations. The birthplace of both mariachi music and tequila, these two things are usually the first to come to mind when most people think of Mexico. Guadalajara itself is also full of Spanish influence. The historic and beautiful center is full of museums, cathedrals and markets. Walking around it’s no surprise that it is one of Mexico’s largest cultural cities.
We spent three fantastic days around Guadalajara before moving onward. Still, I imagined if I had a regular 9-5 job back at home, this could also easily be done over a long weekend. With its culture, nearby attractions and the current great exchange rate for Americans, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be considering it for a quick trip. Here’s what I suggest as the perfect itinerary for three days in Guadalajara. If you’re even more crunched for time, you could surely fit most of the highlights into two days if you’re motivated.
How to spend three days in Guadalajara (+ short trips outside the city)
Day 1: Exploring cultural Guadalajara
Spend your first day leisurely dipping your toes into the cultural side of the city. The Catedral de Guadalajara is almost as old as the city itself and famous for its neo-Gothic towers. Farther down Avenida Republica is the Instituto Cultural Cabanas. Full of artwork and murals by José Clemente Orozco, you can walk around the beautiful building on your own to visit tor take a free English tour.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, head to Mercado Corona for an authentic and very economically priced meal. Popular in Guadalajara, try a torta ahogada or ‘drowned sandwich’. A roll filled with pork and drowned in spicy red salsa, I’m still upset I missed out on trying one of these. Other regional specialities include birria, a spicy Mexican stew usually made with goat or lamb, or some pozole, a corn hominy soup (both delicious). From here, there are many other plazas to roam through or have a drink in the sun from one of the many restaurants with outdoor seating.
After dark, the city really comes to life. If you’re looking for some mariachi music, head to the Plazuela de los Mariachis to see them in action at the different restaurants in the plaza. For dinner, I can’t recommend El Sacromonte in the Americana neighborhood enough. This cozy, Spanish-themed restaurant serves up some amazing and creative Mexican food. This was our first dinner in the city and it set our expectations extremely high for the rest of our time in the country. For one of the best soups of your life, order either the ‘Coyoacan’ or ‘El Viejo Progreso’ cremas as appetizers.
Day 2: Get educated in Tequila
Just an hour outside of Guadalajara (without traffic) lies the sleepy little town by the very popular name: Tequila. Just like champagne, to be named ‘tequila’ the alcoholic beverage must be produced within a specified region of Mexico, one of which surrounds the town of Tequila. With distilleries dotting the countryside and blue agave fields sprawling across the landscape, it’s truly worth visiting.
There are a few ways in which you could visit the area and the surrounding distilleries. If you wanted to go on your own, renting a car may be the best choice. If you take a bus it may only get you as far as the town of Tequila itself. While thoroughly worth visiting, it would then be difficult to get into the countryside to visit distilleries without your own transport. If cost isn’t too much of an issue, pick a nearby distillery from Tequila and a taxi would do.
If you’d rather leave all the planning to someone else, like we did, book a ‘tequila tour’. We chose the pricey, but well-reviewed, Tequila Tour by Micky Marentes for 1000 pesos each ($50 at the time) from our hostel. (The price is a lot higher online for some reason, so it’s recommended you also book from your accommodation if possible). Around 10am we got into the van and after picking up a group of loud and rambunctious Ecuadorian women we drove out into Jalisco. First, we visited agave fields and learned how the ‘jimadores’ take out the ‘piña’ from each blue agave. This is hard work, and we couldn’t believe how many must be chopped down in order to make one liter of tequila.
From there we learned about the process of making tequila and toured the Tres Mujeres distillery. Finally, it was time to taste the stuff. We tried 4 different types of tequila from one of the distillery’s underground cellars. From here we visited another distillery in town before having a late lunch at the Mercado Cleofas Mota market in Tequila. A couple micheladas later we were given some free time in the pungent town (it really does smell of tequila!) before getting back into the van and heading back to the city.
After a day of tequila tasting, you’ll need a hearty meal to set you straight. I recommend Pig’s Pearls, open late and located three blocks from Avenida Chapultepec in downtown Guadalajara. While it’s not Mexican food, this hamburger joint blessed me with one of the best hamburgers I’ve ever had. I could of eaten at least two of the ‘el chimichurri’ burgers, but I resisted and opted for their craft beer instead.
Day 3: The picturesque & posh sides of Guadalajara
A visit to Guadalajara is not complete without visiting its nearby pueblo, Tlaquepaque. Once completely separate from Guadalajara city itself but now just a suburb, upon entering you’ll feel like you’re worlds apart. With cobblestone streets and colorful buildings, Tlaquepaque holds onto its colonial history well. Being the tourist attraction it is, the buildings have all been beautifully restored and you might just feel like you’re in Europe rather than Latin America.
Wander through the nice shops and plazas before finding a bite to eat. There are tons of nice restaurants in the area, but we opted for trying some ‘mole’ and ‘chile relleno’ from Mercado Juarez. If you happen to be there in the evening, find a table inside the El Parián and watch the mariachis perform from the center stage.
If you haven’t yet done it, make sure to visit Avenida Chapultepec or ‘Chapu’ on your last night. This is a must during your three days in Guadalajara. Lined with bars and clubs full of students and reggaeton music, just people watching is an experience in itself. Many of the bars have drink specials, but what most people seemed to do was buy a bottle and split it between the table.
Where there are drinkers, there is street food. If you’re looking for one last delicious bite head to the most popular taco stand and order away.
Where to stay during your three days in Guadalajara
Guadalajara is a huge city, so it’s important to pick something centrally located. We stayed at the budget friendly Tequila Backpackers, but if you’re just coming for a weekend I’m sure there are some nicer options out there. While our room was large and clean, the breakfast isn’t something worth noting. Don’t sacrifice the precious stomach space just to save a buck and go find something much more delicious on your own.
Generally, I’d recommend anything in the neighborhoods of Americana, Lafayette or Zona Centro. While all of these are within walking distance from each other, Americana and Lafayette are more nearby the bars and upscale restaurants while Zona Centro is closer to the museums and cathedrals.