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San Miguel de Allende with Kids ~ A Different Kind of Mexican Vacation

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When you think of a Mexican vacation, you probably envision sandy beaches, turquoise blue ocean waves, and all-inclusive resorts. 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 about feeling, seeing, tasting and experiencing. We visited for a week and loved it so much, we returned for a full month in this beautiful Mexican city. In fact, we hope to move here someday. Take a look at my recommendations for things to do in San Miguel de Allende with kids.

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

The central square, or Jardín, in San Miguel de Allende (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

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.

San Miguel de Allende's colorful colonial architecture and cobblestone streets

San Miguel de Allende's colorful colonial architecture and cobblestone streets (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Located in the state of Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende offers the best blend of its colonial Spanish roots and the culture of Mexico's native peoples. About 140,000 people live in SMDA, with approximately half living in the city and the other half making their homes in surrounding rural communities. It's widely regarded as one of the safest areas in all of Mexico, too.

Parroquia San Miguel Arcángel

Parroquia San Miguel Arcángel (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

1. 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.

San Miguel de Allende's Jardín

San Miguel de Allende's Jardín (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

2. El Jardín

The Jardín is San Miguel's central square, situated directly in front of the Parroquia. Most Mexican cities' primary plazas are called zócalos and are located in front of the primary cathedral. Since the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel is a parish church, the square referred to as a Jardín (garden) instead.

San Miguel de Allende dolls

Local artisan selling handmade dolls (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Indeed there is a garden in the Jardín, a beautiful one filled with boxwood shrubs, fountains, and a bandstand. Benches in and around the garden are plentiful, and are often filled with locals and visitors chatting and taking in the scene. Come on a Saturday night to listen to mariachi bands competing for attention and tips.

Cool off with a paleta, or popsicle, in the Jardin in San Miguel de Allende with kids

My daughter cooling off with a paleta, or popsicle, in the Jardín (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

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.

A hat vendor in San Miguel de Allende's central square

A hat vendor in San Miguel de Allende's central square (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

3. Parque Benito Juarez

A visit to Parque Benito Juarez is a must during any visit to San Miguel de Allende with children. It's like a miniature version of New York City's Central Park. Parque Juarez features a playground, walking/jogging trails, basketball courts (sometimes used for soccer matches), fountains, and permanent exercise equipment. Midweek we found the park to be a mellow place to wander or read. On Sundays, this green space often bustles with people and offers art for sale by local artists.

My kids loved the climbing structure in the playground at Parque Benito Juarez

Climbing structure in the playground at Parque Benito Juarez (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

4. 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.

Pet birds for sale at Tianguis de Los Martes in San Miguel de Allende with kids

Pet birds for sale at Tianguis de Los Martes (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

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. (This is easily found near the produce at the city's largest super market, La Comer.)

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.

A vendor selling fresh fruits at Tuesday Market in San Miguel de Allende with kids

A vendor selling fresh fruits and juices at the Tuesday Market (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

5. La Esquina Mexican Toy Museum

La Esquina Mexican Toy Museum shows off the artistry and history of traditional Mexican toys. The museum is made up of five rooms, which contain toys from various regions of the country. You can read the signs in English or Spanish to learn about the toys. Children, however, are more interested in playing with toys than reading about them. Therefore, the most memorable part of your visit will probably be to the small experience room where kids can get their hands on some of the darling playthings.

San Miguel de Allende's Toy Museum

San Miguel de Allende's Toy Museum (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Be sure to go up to the roof for incredible views of the city and to pose in the playful character cut-out. Check out the on-site store on the first level, too, to purchase a toy to take home. If you don't have time to make it to the museum during your visit, pop into the Esquina's additional toy store right next to the Parroquia in the Jardín.

The play room at La Esquina Museo del Juguete Popular Mexicano was my kids' favorite part!

The play room at La Esquina Museo del Juguete Popular Mexicano (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

6. 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's located within an ecological preserve and provides a view of a lake called Presa de las Colonias.

A greenhouse at El Charco del Ingenio

A greenhouse at El Charco del Ingenio (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

The views and walking paths are lovely, but kids will be most interested in a play area that includes a net climbing structure plus a cement slide adorned with two snake heads! (See video below.)

Grab one of the many affordable green and white taxis to take you about 15 minutes out of city center to Charco del Ingenio. If you don't mind a long, uphill hike, you could walk to the gardens instead. Take a look at directions from the Charco del Ingenio website.

Cactus and other plants at Charco del Ingenio

Cactus and other plants at Charco del Ingenio (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

7. Local Events

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.

Dia de los Locos Parade in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Dia de los Locos Parade in San Miguel de Allende (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

8. Dia de los Locos

The craziest festival of the year in San Miguel de Allende is surely Dia de los Locos (Day of the Crazies). My family was lucky enough to experience this playful day and its parade during our month-long visit in June. A parade winds its way through the city. Expect simple floats, marching bands, and plenty of dancing, dressed-up characters. This holiday supposedly celebrates Saint Antonio, for which one of the colonias (neighborhoods) is named in San Miguel.

Stake out your spot in the Jardín in advance and bring along an umbrella, or buy one from the many wandering vendors. Not only can you use the umbrella as shade from sun or protection from rain, but also parade watchers turn the umbrellas upside down to catch candies flung into the crowds by parade participants.

A "float" in the Dia de los Locos parade

A “float” in the Dia de los Locos parade (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

9. Instituto Allende

San Miguel is home to Mexico's oldest art school, Instituto Allende. This has led to the city becoming 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, then you can still stop by and wander through the galleries here.

Instituto Allende helped establish San Miguel de Allende as an artistic city

Instituto Allende (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

There are also two places to eat at Instituto Allende. One is a little coffee shop good for a light breakfast, lunch or snack. The other is a restaurant, Bistro Mi Casa, which is open for dinner and boasts surprisingly good views of the Parroquia. The live music (on Wednesdays and Thursdays during our stay) was incredible. Beware, however, that there is a cover charge and the audience was a subdued older crowd of expats who did not appreciate any whispering during the performance.

A tile mural on display at Fabrica la Aurora

A tile mural on display at Fabrica la Aurora (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

10. Fabrica la Aurora

Once a textile mill, Fabrica la Aurora now houses dozens of art galleries featuring the works of local and expat artists. Some of the factory machines are still on display. View all sorts of art here from hand-woven placemats and adorable bird feeders to impressive wall-sized paintings and modern sculptures. Be sure to keep a close eye on your children at all times here, lest they accidentally “buy” some priceless artwork.

Fabrica la Aurora is located just outside of city center and is easily and affordably reached by taxi. There are two decent restaurants on site, as well as a courtyard coffee shop.

Fabrica la Aurora is a beautiful place to wander in San Miguel de Allende with kids

Fabrica la Aurora is a beautiful place to wander (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

11. Shopping

Wander off in any direction to find an array of boutiques selling Mexican handicrafts and art galleries of all kinds in San Miguel de Allende's downtown. I recommend stopping into Ono off the main plaza for its amazing selection of handmade goods including leather purses hand-painted by local artists.

Although not typically fans of shopping, my kids enjoyed wandering in and out of the many stores in San Miguel de Allende. My 10-year-old son was on a constant search for painted ceramic animals (animalitos) to add to his collection. Meanwhile, my 13-year-old daughter found plenty of silver jewelry and cute fashions. If your kids tire of walking, distract them with an inexpensive toy purchased from one of the wandering vendors in any of the city's squares.

Be on the lookout for handicraft markets during your stay in San Miguel de Allende with kids, too. You can find these listed in the Atención newspaper, or you just may stumble upon one as you explore the city.

Toys for sale at Plaza de la Soledad in San Miguel de Allende with kids

Toys for sale at Plaza de la Soledad in San Miguel de Allende (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

12. Biblioteca de San Miguel de Allende

Here's your chance to put that high school Spanish language to good use by asking a local, “Dondé esta la biblioteca?” The Biblioteca de San Miguel de Allende is a library, of course. It offers 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.

Courtyard at Biblioteca de San Miguel de Allende

Courtyard at Biblioteca de San Miguel de Allende (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Head to the Biblioteca's gift shop to sign up for a 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.

Biblioteca de San Miguel de Allende gift shop with its impressive mural

Biblioteca de San Miguel de Allende gift shop with its impressive mural (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

13. Museo de San Miguel de Allende

Museo de San Miguel de Allende is located very near the Parroquia within the former house of one of the leaders of Mexico's revolution from Spanish rule, Ignacio Allende. At this museum, learn about the city's history and its important role in the country's revolution. Video displays are in Spanish but most of the signage is available in English. Kids will likely find a visit here less than thrilling but they might dig the displays that show how Allende and his family lived in this massive hacienda back in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

A courtyard at Museo de San Miguel de Allende, former residence of one of the city's namesakes, Ignacio Allende

A courtyard at Museo de San Miguel de Allende, former residence of one of the city's namesakes, Ignacio Allende (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

14. Spanish Language Schools for Families

Turn your family vacation in San Miguel de Allende into a learning experience by enrolling in Spanish language lessons. My kids adored their summer camp experience at Centro Mexicano de Lengua y Cultura (also known as Josephina School). That's saying a lot, since they beg NOT to go to camp back home. When I lamented the high cost of attendance, both kids exclaimed, “That's because it's fun and we actually learn something!” (Cost was $250 USD per kid per week, 9 am – 1 pm, Monday – Friday in summer 2018.)

My kids with their beloved instructor, Monica Centro Mexicano de Lengua y Cultura in San Miguel de Allende

My kids with their beloved instructor, Monica, at Centro Mexicano de Lengua y Cultura (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

After two hours of Spanish lessons, the kids work on craft projects like making pineapple-shaped piñatas, painting animalitos, or making decorative throw pillows. (Seriously, the crafts they made here were way more impressive than anything my kids have ever brought home from camp in the U.S.) One day per week, students embark on a field trip with such activities as making pizzas at Mama Mia Restaurant downtown or shopping the Tianguis Market.

Sister school Centro Bilingue de San Miguel follows a similar format and many of the teachers work at both locations. Individual and group adult Spanish lessons are available at both schools. I highly recommend my helpful and patient instructor, Sara!

The beautiful flowers my kids made at Centro Mexicano de Lengua y Cultura in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

The beautiful flowers my kids made at Centro Mexicano de Lengua y Cultura (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Where to Stay in San Miguel de Allende with Kids

Rosewood Hotel San Miguel de Allende

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 to other Rosewood locations, you get a lot of luxe for your pesos in San Miguel.

View of San Miguel de Allende from Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar at the Rosewood Hotel

View of San Miguel de Allende from Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar at the Rosewood Hotel (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Although we never stayed the night here, we spent a lot of time taking in the amazing view from their rooftop tapas bar, Luna. Day and month passes for the pool and fitness center are available for non-guests.

Rosewood San Miguel de Allende pool

Rosewood Hotel pool (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Vacation Home Rentals in San Miguel de Allende

Both times our family visited San Miguel de Allende, we booked a vacation rental home. We loved having the extra space to spread out, relax and sleep well. Plus, a kitchen makes snacks and meals easier and more affordable. A rental makes a stay in San Miguel de Allende with kids feel more authentic, too.

My kids doing a happy dance outside our San Miguel de Allende vacation rental

My kids doing a happy dance outside our San Miguel de Allende VRBO vacation rental (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

From crazy inexpensive to downright palatial, you can find all sorts of San Miguel de Allende home rentals via VRBO. Safe and centrally located neighborhoods include Centro, Guadiana and much of San Antonio. Take a look at San Miguel de Allende accommodation options via TripAdvisor now.

I was in love with the backyard at our San Miguel de Allende rental home

The backyard at our San Miguel de Allende rental home (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

How to Get to San Miguel de Allende

Located in the center of the country, San Miguel de Allende isn't the easiest destination to reach. It's about a four-hour drive from Mexico City. Bus service is available from the country's capital, and supposedly the buses in Mexico are quite upscale. It's much easier, however, to fly into either León (airport code BJX) or Querétaro (airport code QRO). Although Querétaro's airport is technically a little closer to SMDA, either destination will take about an hour and a half to reach. Plus, I've found more flights available flying in to Léon.

For safety's sake, I recommend arriving before dark. The sun sets around 6 pm in winter and around 8 pm in summer. The drive to San Miguel de Allende is mostly without any street lights, through minimally populated farm land and tiny towns on a two-lane highway. If you have a late arrival or early morning departure, hotels near the Léon airport are extremely affordable and many offer free airport shuttles.

Mojigangas, celebratory life-sized puppets, in San Miguel de Allende

Mojigangas, celebratory life-sized puppets, in San Miguel de Allende (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

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 began considering a move to Mexico last year.

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 close with 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. For me, huge cities are overwhelming and the suburbs are boring. San Miguel de Allende's size seems just right for my family.

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 the United States. I want them to focus more on experiences and less on things. I want more connection and adventure. Most of all, I hope our dream to live in San Miguel de Allende comes true some day!

A colorful mural at Parque Juarez embodies the spirit of San Miguel de Allende with kids

A colorful mural at Parque Juarez embodies the spirit of San Miguel de Allende (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

More About San Miguel de Allende and Expat Life

Want to learn more about visiting San Miguel de Allende with kids? Check out these trustworthy resources below.

Moon San Miguel de Allende

I found Moon San Miguel de Allende to be a wonderful resource, both for planning our trip and for writing this story.

A Better Life at Half the Price

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. 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.

Becoming an Expat 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 so that you can find the right place for you. It also provides practical tips for moving to this country.

On Mexican Time

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 life in San Miguel.

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico with Kids

Save these Tips for Visiting San Miguel de Allende with Kids

If you're considering a San Miguel de Allende family vacation, be sure to save this story. Simply pin the image above to Pinterest. I hope you'll follow Travel Mamas on Pinterest while you’re at it!

Want to know where to eat in this beautiful Mexican city? Check out my picks for the best restaurants in San Miguel de Allende. If you want to learn or brush up on some Spanish before your visit, check out why I recommend Rosetta Stone!

Do you have any questions about things to do in 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.

About Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama

Colleen Lanin, MBA, is the founder and editor-in-chief of the popular travel blog, TravelMamas.com. She is an expert in travel with kids and without. As the author of the book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents how to make the most of traveling with babies and children. Colleen loves sharing tips on hotels, cruises, spas, theme parks, and global lifestyle topics. When she is not traveling the world, she lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

Comments
  1. Thank you for this. Planning a getaway in Feb for my wife and the kids (both under 4). Really appreciate the insights.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Luis – Happy to help you with planning your trip! I hope your family loves San Miguel as much as ours does!

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