Visiting San Miguel de Allende with kids can be one of the best experiences you’ll have in Mexico. For anyone who hasn’t heard of it, San Miguel de Allende is one of Mexico’s prettiest colonial towns, and a popular tourist destination for domestic and international visitors alike.
Getting to know San Miguel de Allende
Once a quiet backwater, in the mid 20th Century San Miguel de Allende began to draw a trickle of vagabond artists from across North America. Finding a pleasant climate and peaceful community, these interlopers settled down in the town, living on a shoe-string and giving the town a rather international flavor.
Today, somewhere between 20,000 to 25,000 foreigners live in this town, making up a sizable chunk of the municipality’s 140,000 inhabitants. Over half are from the United States, and San Miguel de Allende nowadays has a bit of a reputation as a retirement village for Americans. Having said that, San Miguel de Allende’s unique demographics are an asset not a liability, and you’ll find locals of all origins more than welcoming. The end result is a pleasant town that cherishes its unique culture, and has gone to great pains to preserve its idyllic colonial center. This also happens to be one of the best places in Mexico for international cuisine.
What to Bring for Your Children
San Miguel de Allende has perfect warm weather year round, with of course the odd cold days in winter and very hot summer afternoons. The streets are OK for your stroller (many had narrow sidewalks, some streets have cobble stones) and if you forget anything important you'll probably find it here. In any case these are items you may want to arrive with:
Things to Do in San Miguel de Allende with Kids
Most of San Miguel de Allende’s main attractions are located in the colonial center, and are reachable by foot from one another. Taxis to or from anywhere in town shouldn’t cost you more than MX$50. Weather in San Miguel de Allende is good all year round, making the town great for exploring on foot.
While there aren't many activities for kids, most of those that will spark interest to adults are also child friendly and make up for a great family visit.
This central garden effectively serves as San Miguel de Allende’s main plaza, but is significantly leafier than the average Mexican zocalo. During the week, this is a mellow spot for a coffee or lunch, and a perfect location for a bit of people watching. On weekends and during school vacations, el jardin explodes with activity, as day trippers from across central Mexico pour in to explore the colonial center. Whatever time you arrive, expect to end up here at some point, as it’s a good spot to get your bearings.
Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel
This imposing Catholic church is immediately recognizable for its unique architecture. According to local lore, the church’s distinct neo-Gothic facade was designed in 1880 by local architect Zeferino Gutierrez, who drew inspiration from a faded postcard from Belgium. The church can be found on the southern flank of el jardin, and is impossible to miss.
Museo del Juguete Popular Mexicano
Located a few blocks uphill from the main plaza, the Museum of Popular Toys should be a first port of call for anyone visiting San Miguel de Allende with kids in tow. This cute little museum has some wonderful exhibits of classic Mexican handcrafted toys. The museum is interactive at every step, meaning the kids will constantly have something to keep their hands and minds occupied. If you can, try to make time to join in one of their regular workshops with local artisans. These are fairly regular events during peak season, though you’ll have to inquire on-site for details.
Parque Benito Juarez
Named after Mexico’s influential 19th Century liberal president Benito Juarez, this park is a great place to take the kids to burn some energy. There’s a good playground at the heart of the park, which gives way to a network of jogging trails further afield. If you come mid-week, you can expect peace and quiet, but not so on weekends. Sundays in particular tend to be quite lively, with local artists lining up to peddle their works to the hordes of tourists who come here for picnics.
Museo de la Mascara
The San Miguel Mask Museum shows another face of Mexico – literally. This private collection of over 500 ceremonial masks highlights Mexico’s cultural diversity, and is a must-see for anyone passing through San Miguel de Allende. Curators Bill and Heidi are extremely knowledgeable, and are a wealth of information on the masks themselves. Best of all, the proceeds from the museum go towards funding a local day care center.
El Charco del Ingenio
El Charco del Ingenio is a botanic garden just outside the colonial center. Spread over 170 acres, these gardens include native scrubland, wetlands and a few short hiking trails. The big deal here, however, is the cactus garden. They have dozens of cacti of every shape and size, and by the time you leave you’re guaranteed to have a newfound appreciation for these prickly plants. The gardens tend to be quiet during the week, but fill up fast on weekends. Try to arrive early to beat the crowds and the afternoon sun, and don’t forget to pack plenty of water.
Mexico’s oldest art school, the Instituto Allende offers art classes in both English and Spanish. These classes are available for even short stay visitors, with some courses being doable over a week or two. Anyone with a twinkle of artistry and a bit of time in San Miguel de Allende should consider hitting this place up.
Biblioteca de San Miguel de Allende
This historic library is a favorite haunt for university students and the afore-mentioned expats alike. They have a wide range of both Spanish and English language books, and a pretty good on-site cafe. This is by no means a mandatory site, but serves as a quiet haven of tranquility for when the crowds around El Jardin get a bit too much. Retreat here in the afternoon, and enjoy this oasis of peace and quiet.
San Miguel de Allende is beloved by Mexicans for its colorful tradition of festivals, which draw visitors from all over the country. During festival season, expect accommodation to be booked out, so make travel arrangements well in advance.
Fiestas de San Miguel de Allende
The last week of September is known by locals simply as las fiestas. The festivities are centered around the Feast Day of St. Michael, which falls on September 29. However, the entire week is one massive party, celebrating local culture and tradition. Each day of las fiestas is packed with parties, cultural events, indigenous dances and religious rituals. It’s a melange of culture and celebration that’s hard not to love, and well worth your time if you can time your visit well. The week of celebrations culminates in the procession of St. Michael, where the image of the saint moves through town to the main church.
Where to Eat in San Miguel de Allende with Kids
San Miguel de Allende has no shortage of restaurants, and is arguably one of the best spots in Mexico for anyone hanging out for some international cuisine. Most of the restaurants are huddled around El Jardin and surrounding streets. The main drags of Avenida San franscisco and Correo are both splitting at the seams with good eats, along with small coffee shops and a smattering of bars.
Half a block south west of El Jardin, keep an eye out for the highly rated Restaurante la Azotea which serves up a good selection of Mexican fare, and boasts one of the more generous happy hours in town. During the evenings, their margaritas are second to none. Also, don’t miss out on their tasty jicama shrimp tacos...and great views!
Where to Stay in San Miguel de Allende
As with eating, accommodation is easily found around El Jardin and surrounding streets. As one of central/north Mexico’s biggest tourist destinations, San Miguel de Allende sure has a lot of options. Throw a stone, and odds are it’ll land in front of a hotel, retreat or boutique posada. While some budget options do exist, San Miguel is more geared towards mid and upper range accommodation, particularly health spas and the like.
If you’re looking for something with a little distance from the hustle and bustle, I definitely recommend delightful Hotel La Puertecita. This retreat just outside the colonial center is located in a historic building overflowing with verdant gardens and a fantastic pool kids will love. Their biggest claim to fame is their excellent health spa and alternative therapy services. They offer massages, hot stone chakra treatments, facials and more. On top of this, their rooms are some of the most peaceful in town, and immaculately furnished with carved timber furniture (you may want to read my full review) and some perks if you're traveling with toddlers (they do have cribs available which will come in handy if you don't have one of your own or travel bed rails). While getting to it is not easy without wheels, the quiet nights will more than make up for the 50 MXN ride.
My Thoughts on Visiting San Miguel de Allende with Kids
I had heard about San Miguel de Allende for years, about it's cobbled streets, fine weather, good restaurants, and how all these factors had made it a favorite city among expats, mostly from USA and Canada (though there are many from Europe as well). I was eager to visit it, and dram my own conclusions.
I have to agree with most of the reasons that attract long term residents, as well as short term visitors. There's no lack of restaurants, great hotels, and a peaceful and safe vibe...everyone seems to get along. Families visiting San Miguel de Allende with kids will find it a place where they can walk around safely and enjoy high quality family fun.
This said, while the city does have some points of interest and activities for families with young kids, you'll probably run out of things to do after two or three nights so I'd limit a visit to a couple of days or three to really enjoy the town.