As travel restrictions began to ease this year, the first big trip I booked was to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Several years ago, I had visited the colonial hill town, staying at the iconic Rosewood San Miguel de Allende for the spectacular Day of the Dead celebration, which I wrote about here. That experience contained everything I would come to miss during lockdown: joyful gatherings, colorful pageantry and masks that had nothing to do with viruses. I had to get back there.
I’m happy to report that the San Miguel de Allende magic is alive and well. We spent a month there this summer, mostly strolling the vibrant 64-block historic core that is a UNESCO World Heritage site. From the pink sandstone spires of the Parroquia de San Miguel, symbol of this great city, to restaurants that could be at home in Brooklyn or L.A., the town oozes charm, artistry and a Bienvenidos spirit that makes you want to explore every cobblestone cranny.
As for Covid-19 and Delta variant concerns, the city enjoys spring weather almost year-round and is practically built for outdoor dining and social distancing. Rooftop and courtyard restaurants are everywhere around town, and we felt safe shopping and taking in the sights (with masks and distancing), particularly now that the vaccine has begun to roll out, and people everywhere are conscientious about masking and sanitizing, even outdoors. That said, infection rates are up this summer in Mexico, including in San Miguel, and even fully vaccinated travelers must take abundant precautions, as this New York Times article notes. All travelers to the U.S. are required to test negative before returning home or be subject to a mandatory quarantine.
Here’s a quick guide to the must-see and must-do in SMA, though getting lost on those enchanting streets is acceptable, too.
No place else captures the romance and colonial grandeur of San Miguel de Allende like the elegant Rosewood, just outside the center. Open since 2011, the property has 67 rooms and suites, with wood-beamed ceilings and handcrafted Mexican furnishings that make it feel more like a grand residence than a hotel. Most accommodations have private terraces or balconies, either with views of El Centro or to the resort’s gardens and pools. The standout is a 3,000-sq.-ft., three-bedroom presidential penthouse with its own dining area, three full baths and multiple terraces.
Although we were renting a house in town, we spent a few final nights at the Rosewood to soak in the splendor and immerse ourselves in the sophisticated breeziness of it all. Even in a city known for rooftop lounges and restaurants, the hotel’s Luna rooftop and tapas bar is a notch above. The weekly Sunset Sessions feature live music and rotating guest bartenders from around Mexico and beyond. If you’ve come all this way for a classic margarita, there really is no better place.
One rainy afternoon, my wife and I joined Ricardo, one of the hospitality team’s sommeliers, for a tequila tour that didn’t go much further than the hotel’s central courtyard. But, oh, the varieties and flavors, starting with San Miguel’s hometown favorite, Casa Dragones, and going deep into reserves and special editions of brands like Siete Leguas and Clase Azul. Occasionally, the hotel’s chef, Vincent Wallez, would appear with small plates of deliciousness so we wouldn’t go hungry.
The Rosewood also runs private outings to Via Organica, a pioneering organic ranch 20 minutes outside the city dedicated to promoting healthy nutrition through regenerative agriculture, sustainability, and fair-trade practices. It’s the sort of place where the butterflies help the sunflowers to help the bees to help the birds to help the chickens do their thing, and it all makes you want to hug the nearest organic farmer.
Rosewood recently launched a long-stay residences offer which features reduced nightly rates of up to 40% off when guests book an extended stay of 10 nights or longer. That includes a private 3-to-6-bedroom accommodation, individual garage, fully equipped kitchen, living area, and patio garden, in addition to all the amenities of the hotel such as housekeeping, room service, and more.
We ate at Inside Cafe five times over the course of our month in San Miguel. Up on the tiny rooftop, my wife and I split our brunch loyalties between The Sexy Mexican (fried eggs, chorizo and avocado over grilled cherry tomatoes and chili) and The Eggy Bagel (scrambled eggs and cherry tomatoes with greens and pesto on a surprisingly good everything bagel). To be fair, you can’t go wrong with either order.
La Parada is a Peruvian lunch and dinner spot in a gorgeous courtyard up the hill from the Parroquia. The Pisco Sour Catedral is twice the size of the regular, which makes it almost a religious experience. Chino Cochino is melt-off-the-bone pork ribs in mirin and a soy sauce reduction, with garlic mashed potatoes. Arroz con Pollo comes with a zippy edge, thanks to its salsa criolla.
It takes a certain level of self-confidence to name your dining establishment The Restaurant, but Chef Donnie Masterton is unquestionably the biggest fish in the culinary ecosystem of San Miguel. He’s known for local and sustainable dishes like coffee and ancho chili-braised short ribs with poblano chili, cauliflower puree and honey roasted baby carrots. But, honestly, the happiest, liveliest, tastiest evening we had in San Miguel was at The Restaurant’s Mo’ Better Burger Night (it happens every Thursday). I know we live in Los Angeles, but it was worth traveling to Mexico for Chef Masterton’s homage to the classic California In-N-Out Burger, with griddled onions, lettuce, tomato, cheddar cheese and secret sauce.
The Taco & Tequila Walking Tour might just be the best way to become a San Miguel local in three hours. The five-star Trip Advisor reviews got my attention, and I understood the fuss the moment we met our charming and enthusiastic guide. Oscar led a small group of us through seven perfectly chosen locations around town, sipping and sampling different agave drinks and tacos along the way. I’m convinced that every tour I take from now on needs a tequila component.
Waylon Hedegaard, a former union activist from North Dakota now living in San Miguel, started Fat Bastard Art Walks during the pandemic as a way to gather safely with people and visit the elaborate murals going up outside the usual tourist precincts. Hedegaard isn’t a critic or an artist himself but he’s a soulful street poet and champion of the unsung creators whose work often gets overlooked by visitors who stick to stock itineraries. These free tours (optional donations go to support artists and the non-profit Casa Community Foundation that serves women and adolescents in need) take you to some of the most beautiful places in San Miguel. You definitely don’t want to miss this opportunity.
I’m not gonna lie. The Mask Museum of San Miguel de Allende is kinda creepy but it’s an excellent way to get a look at the handiwork of traditional craftspeople from all over Mexico. American expat Bill LeVasseur keeps a trove of more than 500 masks in a ground-floor museum on a property that’s also his home and a seven-room B&B. After seeing this one-of-a-kind collection, it’s worth asking Bill if you can peek into one of the upstairs guestrooms, which have some of the very best views of San Miguel (You’ll understand why that is once you make the very steep climb to the casa on Cuesta de San Jose).
Whatever you do, you’ll enjoy it. San Miguel de Allende never disappoints.
I’m a writer in Los Angeles with bylines @ Forbes, The New York Times, GQ, Food Wine, O Magazine, Town & Country, and more. See www.davidhochman.com.