Cobblestone streets rimmed with walls painted in bright hues, a lively crafts tradition tucked into alleyways, and a high concentration of artist expats have turned San Miguel de Allende—a four-hour drive north of Mexico City in the Guanajuato region—into a south-of-the-border destination for anyone who craves design. Recently, the 60,000-population city’s colonial-chic motif began to evolve to include contemporary design. While still holding onto UNESCO World Heritage Site roots (earned in 2008) but also embracing movers and shakers in the design world in Mexico and beyond, a new crop of boutiques, restaurants, cafes, and galleries showcase San Miguel de Allende’s next chapter.
Where to Stay
Open since November, Live Aqua Urban Resort San Miguel de Allende—a 153-room hotel a short walk from the town center—is an haute twist on the hacienda. From the copper sculpture out front to stairs of trickling water, sculptural art is in abundance. Rooms flaunt glass-walled bathrooms with soaking tubs and vibrant tile in the walk-in shower. Partnering with Los Dragones Tequila Company—founded 10 years ago by an MTV producer—means the swank cigar bar pours its tequila (in pretty blue packaging), but Mexican wine labels are on the menu, too. Even the spa leans into modern design, a refreshing departure from dated pastel color choices at most spas.
Where to See Art
It’s easy to spend a half day at Fabrica La Aurora, a former textile factory dating back to 1902. Paired with pop-up shops for working artist studios, antiques dealers, furniture makers, and fiber artists are the grinding and tamping from two espresso cafés, including Geek & Coffee, tucked into a weathered brick structure with red paint trim and next to a duck pond. Mariló Carral’s avocado-shaped chairs, a riff on the Acapulco chair, are sold through Carral Espacio Galeria. Find Mexican decorative antiques (from cowhides to masks and mirrors) at Cantadora Antiguedades, near the former factory’s entrance.
What if, instead of browsing for art, you want to create masterpieces? Studios on the mezzanine level of Ignacio Ramirez Center—overlooking the courtyard, where live-music concerts are sometimes held—give instruction in everything from oil painting to luthiering (violin making). Two-week classes are the perfect deep dive into art. Art exhibits are hosted here as well. The salmon-colored arched ceilings and doorways of this former convent, which dates back to 1755, have inspired artists for many years.
Where to Shop
On the ground level of a building housing Bovine on top (as the name suggests, it’s a meat-focused brasserie) are four high-end designer pop-ups operating as a collective with Codigo Postal Design since 2017. Elisheva and Constance’s statement jewelry pieces are sold beneath artfully dangled Edison light bulbs of varying heights, while quirky neon signs (one reads “Need Money for Art”) might inspire you to buy furnishings, such as a set of gold dining chairs or a pair of knee-height black-and-white ceramic skulls. Apparel for men and women—from kaftans to bejeweled sneakers—at La Colektiva Hojasanta are runway-ready.
Doce 18 operates a “concept house”—basically, like a food hall but with design thrown in—with an attached bar and coffee room that both encourage lingering. There’s also a hotel, a restaurant, and an art gallery. Where else can you shop for tableware and throw pillows, and maybe pick up a pair of new sunglasses, while munching on pastel-colored macarons?
Where to Eat and Drink
Australian chef Paul Bentley’s Bovine opened in 2017, bringing locally butchered meats into a glam space featuring gold and brass, nail-head plush green chairs, and geometric black-and-white floor tile. Start your visit with an artisan cocktail (such as a “Spicy Red” with chile accents, or the pineapple and rosemary notes in the “Romarin”) on the rooftop patio, where one “wall” is the open kitchen. Bentley cut his teeth at Daniel in New York City and in Mexico at Mi Amor in Tulum.
Plated menu items at The Restaurant, owned by L.A.-native chef Donnie Masterson (formerly of Tavern on the Green in New York), are pure art. And if that’s not enough eye candy, check out the vertical green wall, just past the courtyard seating, with its many historic columns. Fresh off The Restaurant’s 10th anniversary, inspirations for the cuisine come from San Miguel de Allende (like the cheese plate loaded with local selections) but also beyond (such as seared Pacific salmon with Moroccan barbecue sauce).
Open since 2016, Quince Rooftop continually ranks as one of the world’s best rooftop bars, in part because you’re shoulder to shoulder with Colonial and neo-Gothic architecture as you sip a cocktail or enjoy sushi. For a quieter vibe, arrive early in the evening or for lunch—there’s also an all-day Sunday brunch—because, after dark, international DJs spin music. Postres from in-house bakery Boulangerie Bleu—such as chocolate lavender mousse cake—are worth saving room for.
If you want to travel to the source, only a 40-minute ride from San Miguel de Allende is an emerging wine region anchored by Cuna de Tierra, which dates back only to 2009 but has won many medals in wine competitions. Its name means “cradle of the earth.” Cube-shaped buildings crafted from stone are a Napa-fied version of wine country. Grapes grown here and made into wine include Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Semillon. Cuna de Tierra also produces olive oil from its own orchard.