Located in the Mexican state of Jalisco, Guadalajara is one of Mexico's largest cities and a place that I was lucky enough to call home for six months. If you have the time and freedom, I highly recommend living in Guadalajara - even for just a few months - but otherwise, a trip squeezed in with all the best things to do in the area will have to suffice!
To explore Guadalajara is to uncover endless fun. From enjoying tequila tastings and the hipster craft beer scene, to discovering street art in central Guadalajara and exploring Mexico's largest lake just an hour or two away, it's impossible to run out of activities.
There are so many cool things to do when visiting Guadalajara that it's very possible you'll never want to leave (trust me, I have first-hand experience with this). Here are 14 unique activities you won't want to miss in Mexico's second largest city.
Things to Know Before You Go
Now that you’re gearing up for your trip and planning the specifics of where and when you’ll go, there are a few things you don’t need to overlook.
I know just how easy it is to look towards the big hike, bucket list city, or beach of my dreams and forget about all of the little things in between that’ll make your trip run as smoothly as possible. Be sure to take into consideration these few things before you go to make sure you get all the good bits of your trip without the stress.
- Make sure you have travel insurance. A good travel insurance, like SafetyWing, will ensure you’re covered in case of emergencies. While you will have to pay upfront for your doctor or hospital costs, unless it’s for a pre-existing condition, you can file a claim and should be reimbursed. For any Americans reading this, fear not, healthcare in pretty much every other country is far more affordable than ours, even if you’re paying out of pocket.
- Do your best to learn a few local phrases in their language. No, I’m not expecting you to be able to have a fluid conversation with locals at the bus stop if you’re just visiting their country for a week but knowing your numbers (for prices), how to order something (“I would like…”), and basic greetings really will take you a long way. Mondly is a great app for phrases and vocabulary.
- Same thing goes for rental cars. If you want to rent a car to cover more ground in a country, do it in advance. Prices will be more affordable and that way you’re guaranteed to have your wheels waiting for you.
- Last tip certainly isn’t mandatory but it is helpful. Before you start booking your flights, hotels, and tours, consider opening up a travel credit card. Thanks to our Capital One Venture card, my husband and I have gotten countless free flights just by gaining points on everyday expenses.
1. Visit Templo Expiatorio on a Weekend Evening
On Saturdays and Sundays at around 5 pm, the plaza in front of Templo Expiatorio del Santísimo Sacramento comes alive with food, entertainment, and artisan goods for sale. This is one of my favorite things to do in Guadalajara during the weekend, and I'd recommend a visit to anyone planning a trip to Guadalajara.
There are charming dance classes for (mostly) older local people, plus a legendary clown show that both adults and children love (and you'll still enjoy it if your Spanish isn't up to scratch). The taco stand closest to the cathedral is not to be missed, and vegans will appreciate the many animal-product-free options at other stalls.
Pro tip: once you've had your fill of the crowds, head to one of the bars around the edge of the plaza and order a cold beer to enjoy while you watch the throngs of people below.
2. Taste the Best Tamales in Jalisco
This is a bold statement, but Tamales la Muñeca serves the best tamales in Guadalajara. As well as being delicious, it's a fun experience getting your order. There's no seating or staff — just a house behind a gate with a small menu on display. An older gentleman will take your order and then disappear inside to pack up your tamales before sending you on your way.
There's no website but you'll see the queue of hungry locals on Constancio Hernández Alvirde to the right of the cathedral as you look at it. This little hole in the wall is open every evening other than Mondays. Try to get there early as they usually sell out of most flavors pretty quickly.
3. Escape to the Beach
Guadalajara is perfectly positioned in Western Mexico to give visitors and residents easy access to some of the best beaches in the country. And when temperatures begin to soar in May, you'll be grateful for the ease with which you can escape the city's concrete jungle. Although not my favorite time to visit Guadalajara, if you're looking for summer sun, it is the best time to visit.
The following beaches are some of the best places to visit in Central Mexico and are all an easy bus ride away:
- Puerto Vallarta - head here for luxury resorts, wide sandy beaches, and super-fun nightlife
- Sayulita - the hippy crowd favors this part of the coast so head here if you like your beach trips with a laid back yogi vibe
- San Pancho - ditch the crowds and head further up the coast for a tranquil slice of Mexican beach life (this is my favorite spot of the three)
4. Have a Cocktail at One of the Top Bars in North America
Guadalajara's one and only entry on the list of the World's Best 50 Bars in North America is El Gallo Altanero in Colonia Americana.
This tiny bar is hidden above a cafe and it took me a while to find out about it but once I did, it became a weekend staple for my group of friends. For $5 you can enjoy a world-class cocktail in an Instagram-worthy setting among the city's coolest folks. Their margarita should not be missed!
Make a reservation if you're going as a group, or head there early as it fills up most nights.
5. Grab a Day Pass for Arnold Schwarzenegger's Old Gym
This might sound like an odd suggestion, but hear me out. Olympia Fitness is where The Terminator himself trained before he became a world-famous movie star.
The gym itself hasn't been renovated in decades, making it a fantastically kitsch spot to work out in. However, the reason it's on this list is the rooftop pool. This isn't only a place to get your lengths in: those in the know spend Guadalajara's hot summer days here with their amigos swimming and tanning poolside. The reception desk even sells beer!
There's no website and prices seem to fluctuate, so your best bet is to head over and grab your pass in person at Calle Calderón de la Barca, Arcos Vallarta, 44130 Guadalajara, Jal., Mexico
6. Sample Mezcal and Dance to Cumbia
Cumbia music is hugely popular throughout much of Latin America and is experiencing a resurgence among younger people in Guadalajara. There's no better place to enjoy the music and the culture that goes with it than in Pare de Sufrir.
This lively spot hosts fantastic DJs playing music that you likely won't have heard anywhere else. The bar also doubles as a mezcaleria and there are countless bottles to sample. Order a shot and a bottle of beer and sip on both until you get into the cumbia rhythm. Don't be tempted to shoot the mezcal. Trust me, you'll regret it the next day!
7. Go Shopping in Tonola
Tonola is located within the metropolitan area of Guadalajara and is a lovely way to spend a few hours. This charming city is best known as a handicrafts center and is one of the best places in Jalisco to buy authentic Mexican pottery. The street markets on Thursdays and Sundays are the best place/time to go and pick up a bargain or two.
Tlaquepaque is another great city in the metropolitan area of Jalisco to enjoy as an easy day trip. I had some of the best Mexican food of my life here, and it's worth exploring the side streets surrounding the main plaza to find tasty tacos aplenty. Mariachi bands play in the plaza on weekend evenings, so stick around until after dark to enjoy a cold beer with a side of live music.
8. Watching a Lucha Libre Fight
Lucha libre is part of traditional Mexican culture and is one of the most fun things to do in Guadalajara. Masked fighters do battle in (and sometimes out of) the ring while spectators cheer on their favorite fighters. It's loud, boisterous, and very good fun. Arena Coliseo is the place to go to see the action, and tickets can be bought at the door (have Google Translate at the ready as you'll need to make the transaction in Spanish).
For a Lucha Libre afterparty to remember, head to La Lupita Chapultepec to drink tequila shots served by staff dressed as luchadores (fighters).
9. Feast on Tortas Ahogadas
Torta ahogada is the local food that you're not going to want to miss. Translating to a 'drowned sandwich', this messy feast consists of a special crunchy Mexican bread stuffed with pork, refried beans, and onions, and smothered in a tasty sauce until soaked. The sauce can be mild or spicy, and you can go for a half-drowned option (media ahogada) if you want a less messy dining experience.
Enjoy this as a snack or a hangover-busting breakfast from one of the city's many food vendors if you went too hard on the tequila the night before.
10. Get to Know GAYdalajara
Guadalajara is one of the most welcoming cities in Mexico for LGBTQ+ visitors and the city is affectionately known as GAYdalajara by the local queer community. The majority of the city's venues are gay-friendly, but there are a few spots not to be missed if you're looking for camp fun:
- SinFin Cantina - their live drag shows are legendary and the atmosphere is very queer-friendly
- Peligro al Fondo - this is my favorite drag brunch spot of all time and it's hugely popular so be sure to book in advance
- Tacos GAY - this may not be the best street food around, but the friendly owner, rainbow decor, and fun atmosphere make it one of my favorite places in the downtown area to grab a bite before a night out.
11. Go Disco Dancing
Nightlife in Guadalajara is wildly diverse and there's something for every taste. If retro discos are your thing, don't miss Genesis. This downtown Guadalajara spot is the best place to boogie to the likes of ABBA, Donna Summer, Madonna, and camp current artists like Lady Gaga. The atmosphere is extremely fun and friendly, so be prepared to leave with lots more buddies than you arrived with. Come early to avoid the long queues.
12. Take a Day Trip to Lake Chapala
If you're ready for a break from the big city, head to Lake Chapala for some rejuvenating small-town vibes. Chapala is the country's largest freshwater lake and is about two hours from Guadalajara. Here, you can enjoy various boat trips, stroll the promenade, and see what life is like in Mexico's charming smaller towns.
If you prefer your day trips on dry land, you shouldn't miss the town of Tequila which is just an hour or so away so by bus (and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Here, you can join a tequila tour, hop aboard the Jose Cuervo Express Train for a booze cruise with a difference, or just soak up the local culture and listen to mariachi music in the central plaza.
13. View Art at MUSA
Guadalajara has some great art galleries and visiting the Cultural Institute Cabañas is on most art lovers' lists. However, MUSA is my top pick of Guadalajara art museums.
Positioned behind Guadalajara Cathedral, this central spot comprises two floors of contemporary works from international and Mexican artists. Exhibitions are temporary, so check the website to see what's on during your visit.
14. Try the Tastiest Tacos in Guadalajara
I discovered tacos al pastor while living in Mexico City and my love for them followed me to Guadalajara. There are dozens of local restaurants and street food serving these delicious grilled pork and pineapple tacos, but the best spot, in my opinion, is Tomate Taqueria. Each night, you'll find this huge restaurant filled with local folks getting their taco fix. It's not uncommon to queue for a table but it's totally worth the wait.
Enjoy These Unique Things to Do in Guadalajara
As you can see, there are plenty of unique activities in Guadalajara that will satisfy even the most adventurous traveler.
Looking for even more fun? Other things to do in Guadalajara which are more established tourist hotspots include:
- Shopping at San Juan de Dios which is the largest indoor market in Latin America
- Visiting the Government palace
- Taking a free walking tour of Plaza de Armas and other iconic locations
Whatever you choose to do with your time in Guadalajara, you'll almost certainly have an incredible time.
All photos by depositphotos.com.