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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. My family loves it so much, in fact, that we hope to move here someday. We visited for a week last year and recently returned from a month-long stay in this beautiful Mexican city. Take a look at my recommendations for things to do in San Miguel de Allende with kids.

Things to Do in San Miguel de Allende with Kids

There are lots of things to do in San Miguel de Allende with kids (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 with kids bursts with color and beauty

San Miguel de Allende bursts with color and beauty (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 about half living in the city and the other half making their homes in surrounding rural communities.

You may spy mojigangas, giant masked celebratory characters, marching near the Parroquia in San Miguel de Allende with kids

You may spy mojigangas, giant masked celebratory characters, marching near the Parroquia (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin

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.

Jardín in San Miguel de Allende with kids

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

El Jardín

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.

San Miguel de Allende dolls

When traveling, I love to buy local, handmade souvenirs like these adorable 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 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

Cool off with a paleta, or popsicle, in the Jardin (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 wanders through San Miguel de Allende's central square

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

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 (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

My kids loved the climbing structure in the playground at Parque Benito Juarez (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

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)

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 in 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

Most of San Miguel de Allende's Toy Museum is for looking, not touching (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 was my kids' favorite part! (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

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.

Inside a greenhouse at El Charco del Ingenio in San Miguel de Allende with kids

Inside 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.)

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.

Charco del Ingenio botanic garden in San Miguel de Allende with kids

Flowers and cactus at Charco del Ingenio botanic garden (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

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 Atenciónthe local Spanish/English newspaper, which details local happenings and classes.

Dia de los Locos is one of the craziest festivals in San Miguel de Allende

Dia de los Locos is one of the craziest festivals in San Miguel de Allende (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

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 Jardin 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 in San Miguel de Allende with kids

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

Instituto Allende

San Miguel is home to Mexico's oldest art school, Instituto Allende, which 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, 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 helped establish San Miguel de Allende as an artistic city (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)

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 reached by taxi (for about 60 or 70 pesos from Centro). 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)

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)

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. 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.

The pretty courtyard at Biblioteca de San Miguel de Allende with kids

The pretty 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 ~ San Miguel de Allende with kids

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

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. Learn about the city's history and its important role in the country's revolution at this museum. 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)

Spanish Language Schools for Families

Turn your vacation in San Miguel de Allende with kids 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 (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 at 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 Hotel San Miguel de Allende pool

Splurge on a day pass at the Rosewood Hotel (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 feel more authentic, too.

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

My kids doing a happy dance outside our San Miguel de Allende HomeAway 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 HomeAway. 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

I was in love with the backyard at our San Miguel de Allende rental home this summer (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 started to consider 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 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 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 America. I want them to focus more on experiences and less on things. I want more connection. And adventure. 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?

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 to 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 a life in San Miguel.

Things to do in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico with Kids

Save these Tips for Visiting San Miguel de Allende with Kids

If you're considering visiting San Miguel de Allende with kids, be sure to save the graphic above to Pinterest!

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 is the founder/editor-in-chief of TravelMamas.com. As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show, NBCNews.com, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

Comments

  1. Oh wow! What an amazing place! I would love to take the family. We’ve been to Mexico several times, but we always stay at the same place. Time for something different!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      San Miguel really is so different from the resort beach towns. I hope you give it a try!

  2. What a beautiful, colorful city … and so full of culture!

  3. That place looks beautiful! I love all of the color and culture…what a great experience for your family!

  4. This looks like a beautiful city. I love the architecture and the history of the area.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Beautiful architecture really is important to me. I think that’s why I fell so much in love with Paris when I visited as a teen (and subsequently studied in France for a year during college).

  5. When I go on vacation I love to go to a real city with neighborhoods, markets, great food and get to know the local people. Tourist attractions are not my thing and ruins could be nice but I like to meet the people.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      It was so easy to meet and chat with locals and expats in San Miguel de Allende – very welcoming city!

  6. San Miguel looks like an amazing place. I am envious! This might push me to get on relocating to Mexico sooner rather than later.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Ooh! Where are you thinking of moving in Mexico, Dana? It’d be fab if we both moved to San Miguel! 🙂

  7. Thanks for the shout-out and I am glad your family liked it. If you move there, watch for a festival in June called Dia de los Locos–Day of the Crazies!

  8. Amy Desrosiers says:

    I have always wanted to visit Mexico. I love their culture, and food. I bet this would be a wild trip!

  9. Gosh that looks like a wonderful vacation for all ages. I know my whole family would find something they loved there.

  10. Wow, it just seems so vibrant there! I’d be super excited to have some adventures in San Miguel de Allende.

  11. What a cool vacation, I need to check this out! I am loving your photos!

  12. Looks like a great place to visit and so much to offer all ages. Will be pinning your post for possible vacation.

  13. What an amazing place to visit. I would love to take in the flea market there.

  14. I have always loved Mexico but we haven’t been to San Miguel de Allende yet. I’ll have to plan a trip there.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      San Miguel de Allende really is so different from Mexican resort towns. I like most places I’ve visited in Mexico, but I LOVE San Miguel de Allende!

  15. Claudia Krusch says:

    I would love to go on a Mexican vacation. We are starting to plan our trips for 2018. I will have to add Mexico to the possibility list.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Mexico is so close to the U.S. and Canada – it makes such a fun, easy and TASTY vacation destination!

  16. This sounds like an amazing place to visit, and to live! I love visiting Mexico.

  17. Such a great place. Reminds me of my birth country. Definitely worth checking out to move there.

  18. It is a very beautiful city. I would to spend a vacation here.

  19. Thank you for sharing your experience! My family is heading to San Miguel is April. We have lots of family there, but this will be our first time with kids. We have a 6 and 3 year old. Even though I am already very excited to share this special place with my boys your story brought on even more excitement.

  20. Once you’re a mother, you always have to prioritize your kids’ fun and entertainment above your own. Well, it takes away from mine but to see those smiling faces and twinkling eyes warms my heart. This article has helped me to imagine how happy my kids would be to go to this place. I cannot wait to plan this trip with my kids to San Miguel. Thank you for elaborately telling it all about where to go and what to eat. Good work!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Thank you for your kind words, Isabella. I hope you can bring your kids to San Miguel de Allende someday soon. I bet the whole family loves it!

  21. Shailu Jaswal says:

    Dear Colleen,

    I am planning to take our three kids in December. I am having a hard time deciding which airport to chose and what’s the best way to get there from Mexico City. Can you please provide some insight?

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      You have a few options. You could fly into Mexico City and take a very nice bus into San Miguel – but the ride is about 3.5 hours. The other option is to fly into Leon (airport code BJX) or Queretaro. Leon is about an hour and 10 minutes by cab from SMA, whereas Queretaro is only about 45 minutes from SMA. There aren’t many international flights into Queretaro, though. I don’t know where you’re flying from, but it is much cheaper to fly within Mexico than to fly from the U.S. Therefore, one option would be to fly to San Diego, CA and then take a cab or Uber to the border, walk over the pedestrian bridge and fly direct to Leon or Queretaro from Tijuana. We flew into Leon on our first visit from LAX and this time we will fly to Leon again from Phoenix (with a stop in Dallas).

  22. You know you’re in Mexico once you see bright colors everywhere! This sounds like a very fun experience for the whole family!:)

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