OFTEN OVERLOOKED IN FAVOUR of colonial towns and baroque churches, Mexico’s big cities are the epicentre of today’s culture and cuisine. The vibrant city life here embraces both the past and present, and the traditional and avant-garde, all the while delighting visitors with unceasing Mexican hospitality.
Mexico City’s history is interwoven into its modern-day sights and sounds. A stay in the heart of artsy Colonia (neighbourhood) Roma will see you surrounded by restaurants, bars and hip galleries, while the neighbouring colonias, up-and-comer Juarez and leafy Art Deco Condesa, will also tantalise with their architecture and culinary scene. The National Museum of Anthropology in the Bosque de Chapultepec (a beautifully spacious city park) is a must for those willing to immerse themselves in the country’s pre- Columbian archives, but a visit to the nearby Museo de Arte Moderno will shine light on Mexico’s history through a contemporary stage.
Exit out the back of the museum and walk the park’s less-crowded southeastern paths to see The Sergeant, a tree that’s more than 400 years old. By sunset make sure you’ve found yourself a seat at Torre Latinoamericana where you can sip on one of the bar’s many cocktails and watch the city lights sparkle before ending your evening at world-class Maximo Bistrot or Quintonil. Beat the sun the next morning with a hot air balloon flight over the famous Pyramid of the Sun (the third-largest in the world) before spending the rest of the afternoon on a walking tour, exploring the city’s street food.
Guadalajara is the birthplace of mariachi music, the deliciously sloppy torta ahogada (a roast pork sandwich soaked in salsa), and some of Mexico’s best craft beer. Stay at colonia Las Américas to remain within walking distance of all the best bars and restaurants.
The massive San Juan de Dios market is the entrée to your day. Here you can try some of Guadalajara’s famous fare. Think birria (a meaty stew) and tortas ahogadas or try your hand at the mayo-drenched pork sandwich from Super Tortas Lokas y Kalientes. Right next door is the city’s famous Mariachi Plaza where you can mingle with the crowd while soaking up the sonidos (sounds) or even hire a band to follow you through town. Continue the culinary adventure the next day and head out to Tlaquepaque to enjoy the atmosphere of El Parian, a square filled with bars restaurants and live music, as well as the Museo Regional de la Ceramica (Ceramic Museum) and local art galleries. Grab lunch at El Patio Tlaquepaque and enjoy the all-female mariachi band, then head back into the heart of the city to sample incredible local beer at UMHO, a new gourmet brew pub by Cerveza Loba (voted one of Mexico’s best breweries). It’s hard to choose from the array of restaurants, but Hueso or Alcalde are highly recommended.
Monterrey has often been overlooked as a destination thanks to its reputation as a business district and its years of violence, which left it abandoned altogether. But the capital of Nuevo León has witnessed a stunning renaissance with its small but charming Centro Historico, the city’s old quarter, leading the way. When Monterrey weather heats up, locals head down to the Fundidora Park and meander along the river walk, its fountains misting passersby as they take in this expansive public park.
While you’re here, check out the Museo del Noreste for a look at the unique and complicated Texas-Mexico relationship and the Museo del Acero (Museum of Steel), which is curated inside a massive decommissioned blast furnace once belonging to the city’s steel foundry. For an up-close look at local food, head to the Mercado Campesino, a rough and tumble weekend market where, besides seeing live goats and pigs, you can sample some delicious mexican fare. If livestock and boisterous crowds aren’t your thing, El Capri or El Gran Pastor restaurants are lauded for their traditional northern barbeque. End your day doing what Regios (Monterrey locals) love best – watching their soccer team, the Rayados, kick the ball around the Steel Giant (the nickname for Monterrey’s soccer stadium). If you’re still on your feet afterwards, head back to Centro Historico to try one of the 42 craft beers at Almacén 42.
Forget everything you have ever heard about Tijuana. Once a centre of vice, the border town is now attracting people who want to enjoy the city’s vibrant arts scene and some of the country’s best cuisine. Get deep into borderland art with a visit to the Brotherhood Mural, which can be found along the border wall and is competing to be the longest mural in the world.
Then hop over to El Cubo, the gallery in the Tijuana Cultural Center, for some more mainstream exhibits. In the evening, don your sparkling ‘El Santo’ mask and head out with Turista Libre Tours for a night of Lucha Libre wrestling. On day two, wander down Avenida Revolución, but ignore the hawkers of cheap beers and trinkets. Instead, go to some of the new local galleries opening up along the avenue or step inside the Rodriguez or Gomez pasajes, tiny corridors off the main drag that feature eye-popping street art and small local shops and cafes. Let your afternoon hunger lead you to nearby Telefonica Gastro Park for some of the city’s best gourmet street food.
The salty breezes and rolling hills of Ensenada are really best explored by rental car. Glamp for a night out among grape vines and spend your first day vineyard hopping with Valley Girl Wine Tours, which will take you off the beaten path to some of the area’s best boutique wineries. Wake up to some fresh oysters with a splash of tabasco from a streetside stand downtown and then head north for a gorgeous coastal ride up to Puerto Nuevo to try its famous lobster.
Treat yourself to a luxurious dinner at one of Ensenada’s prime outdoor dining establishments – Malva and TrasLomita offer stunning settings with menus to match. On your final day, start with a leisurely drive through the valley’s rolling hills and a stop at Troika, the gourmet food truck on the patio of the Vena Cava winery. After lunch, continue your wine education with a self-guided winery tour using the Baja Wine Country app and a stop at Ensenada’s wine making school, La Escuelita.