There’s nothing like Mexico travel where you soak up sunshine and beaches, explore Mayan ruins, and luxuriate at the resorts of Puerto de Playa and beyond. But there’s a whole, huge, country out there you’ve likely never seen. Put your finger on the middle of a map of Mexico and you’ll hover over rolling hills, historic colonial towns, cultural gems, and the town of San Miguel de Allende in the state of Guanajuato. This place is known for its old-world charm and colonial architecture where tourists often exclaim it looks more of Europe than what they expected from their Mexico travels. It also happens to be my super-happy place that I adore taking my kids to again and again for a month at a time on summer vacations.
But here’s the thing with San Miguel de Allende, otherwise known as “San Miguel” or SMA. It’s not always intuitive to know where to go and what to do with kids once you get there. Rest assured San Miguel de Allende is incredibly family-focused, kid-friendly and with plenty to see and do. Here’s where to get started:
Explore the Park
The only public playground in San Miguel de Allende can be found at Parque Benito Juárez where kids gather to play, buy gumballs that cost a single peso and explore the surrounding gardens. It doesn’t matter if the local kids only speak Spanish or the tourists chatter away in English, they somehow use that universal language of play to come together and have a blast. After getting to know some of the local families, hit the trails around the lush gardens and buy a treat or fresh coconut at one of the surrounding vendors. If your kids get tired of el Parque, there’s also a smaller play area next to Geek & Coffee cafe with a park and duck pond, along with local boutiques nearby.
See a Movie at Biblioteca Pública
Biblioteca Pública, or the Public Library of San Miguel de Allende Mexico, is unlike any other library you’ve probably seen. Enter the doors and check your backpacks at the front desk and warm yourself in the sunshine of the open air courtyard. A large fountain keeps little ones entertained, local students spread out at nearby tables and study, and grown-ups sip on coffee from the on-site cafe. A small children’s reading room can be found with tables to sit down and read from bilingual books. There are also plenty of books for older kids and grown-ups alike.
But there’s more than just books in this charming spot. Biblioteca Pública also offers concerts and movies and has space dedicated to lectures and year-round performances. Ask for a monthly flyer to check upcoming events the whole family will enjoy.
Stroll the Hilltop Gardens
Perched on the hills above San Miguel de Allende, El Charco del Ingenio delights visitors with native plants, cacti, dazzling trails, and whimsical fun. Kids sail down a slide shaped like a snake and explore secret trails while nibbling on ice creams and snacks from the on-site cafe. The views from this Nature Preserve are simply glorious and you can wind all the way down to the bottom of the hills to the water below. However, ambitious families take note. Although the breathtaking Botanical Gardens look like they would just be a mile or two from the center of town, take a taxi, or the free shuttle from the public library offered periodically throughout the week. The hills leading up to the gardens are steep and quickly turns into an aggressive walk with kids in tow.
Sail Down the Water Slides
San Miguel de Allende is short on public swimming pools and places to cool off but you can purchase a day pass at many hotels for just a few dollars per person. For something more adventurous, take a taxi out to the nearby Parque Acuático Xote Holidome for a Mexican waterpark adventure. Multiple swimming pools, a toddler play area, big kid slides, and more are built around the natural landscape of Central Mexico. It really makes you wonder why your own city can’t achieve the same blend of beauty and manufactured water slide fun back home. After a day swimming and adventuring, ask the gift shop to call a taxi back to your hotel.
Indulge in an Ice Cream from El Jardín
El Jardín attracts visitors to its lively pedestrian center with the towering Parroquia sitting front and center. Browse the shops and grab an ice cream before breaking down and agreeing to buy your kids the adorable toys sold by local vendors for $3 or less. El Jardín, or “the garden,” is also where spontaneous dance parties break out as a roving band of Mariachi players serenade visitors. Kids stay out late in Mexico, so take a siesta in the afternoon and plan to let the kids make new friends at the gazebo in El Jardín come nightfall.
Let Imaginations Run Wild at the Toy Museum
Located just a few hills up from El Jardín, Museo La Esquina del Juguete is a decidedly quaint toy museum stuffed with vintage and handcrafted toys from across Mexico. Not only is the museum a fun excursion that will take 1 to 2 hours, but it also offers a unique kid perspective on the surrounding culture and country. It’s an educational lesson they won’t even realize they’re getting. Over a thousand objects, handicrafts, and toys span over 50-years and winds up three stories of the building. Before you go, make sure to stop at the rooftop terrace for stunning views across the Parroquia below.
Brush Up on Your Spanish
Families quickly discover how welcoming the locals of San Miguel de Allende are and how accustomed they are to expats making themselves right at home. Stick around long enough, and the locals will ask if you live nearby among the large percentage of Americans, Canadians and other nationalities that now call San Miguel de Allende home.
Although no one will blink if you struggle with stringing together enough Spanish to ask where the bathrooms are, you can take some classes and enroll the kids in camp to get acclimated and enjoy the local culture. There are many kids camps to choose from, including the popular Centro Mexicano de Lengua y Cultura de San Miguel (+52 415 152 0763). Whichever camps you choose, expect for your kids to go on local excursions to the toy museum or market after making fresh tortillas and learning some Spanish. Many of the expats in town will also tell you that you can find a reliable and trustworthy babysitter through the schools.
Join a Festival
San Miguel de Allende is home to several world renown festivals, including the wildly popular Day of the Dead. The festival honors lost loved ones, but without the macabre, in a fun celebration of folklore and lively performances. There’s also the annual Dia de los Locos that literally translates to Day of the Crazies taking over one weekend day in June. Spirited locals parade through the city and throw candy to dancing crowds lining the streets. Meanwhile, November draws international musicians to the city for the San Miguel Jazz and Blues Festival with staged and spontaneous performances filling the town with lively music. But it’s not uncommon to just happen upon a seemingly random festival when wandering into El Jardín for the afternoon. Just join the party, look for free treats and balloons for the kids, and mingle with the friendly locals.
Take a Day Trip
There’s plenty to see and do in San Miguel de Allende, but you’re also just a stone’s throw from some spectacular sites and cities. Head to Sanctuary of Atotonilco, about a half hour taxi ride away, and take in the beauty of the “Sistine Chapel of Mexico.” Of course, a stop inside San Miguel de Allende’s glorious church, the Parroquia, is also a must.
For something more active just outside the city, horseback riding tours can be found with Xotolar Ranch or Leisurely Country Horseback Riding to see the expansive Mexican countryside. Ice cream lovers who want to see more during their Mexico travels head to Dolores Hidalgo for tasty and unusual treats. Sure, you can find your go-to favorites like chocolate or the slightly adventurous mango, but this town also serves up flavors like cactus, sweet corn, and… wait for it… Chicarrón. Fried pig skin infused ice cream, anyone? It’s an adventure your mouth won’t soon forget.
San Miguel de Allende Tips and Tricks
San Miguel de Allende is a very safe and welcoming stop for your Mexico travels, but like anywhere you go, keep your guard up in the evening hours and pay attention to your surroundings. Families with small kids should know that el Centro in San Miguel de Allende rolls on forever, and is primarily cobblestone with extremely narrow sidewalks. In other words, strollers are virtually unusable in many areas of town. Fortunately, taxis usually cost around $2 to $3 USD in el Centro, but prices can fluctuate without notice, during a weekend, or depending on the season. Change can also be scarce in San Miguel de Allende and local shops aren’t keen on accepting large bills, so break down your pesos as early and often as possible to pay for taxis, small toys, public bathrooms, snacks, and more.
For lodging, try one of San Miguel de Allende’s many Airbnb or VRBO vacation rentals. Bonus points that these spots come with weekly housekeeping, gardeners, and can even be found in gated communities. Moderately priced hotels can be found throughout town, but ask in advance if there’s a pool to maximize your entertainment options with the kids when relaxing at the hotel. Tourists looking to splurge stay at the Rosewood Hotel, which is just a skip over to el Parque. It also houses a rooftop restaurant with spectacular sunset views of the Parroquia. There are also several hotel options near El Jardín and el Parque to simplify the logistics as a family.
Wherever you stay, ask about the surrounding hills and what the walk is like. A ten-minute jaunt to El Jardín might sound like no big deal until you discover the hard way that your lodging is located straight uphill. Of course, an economical taxi ride can also be factored into your daily Mexico travel budget. Climb inside and relax as your green taxi carries tired kids and happy travelers to their casa soaring high above the illuminated Parroquia. As you look out the window at the twinkling lights dancing against the night sky, you’ll quickly learn the real beauty of San Miguel de Allende— it’s a magical place to really soak up and savor the experience. Ready to experience it for yourself?
All photos are the author’s unless otherwise stated.