San Miguel de Allende with Kids
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (SMA) is routinely listed among the top small cities in the world. Given the hype, the recommendations of friends, and our appreciation of Mexican culture and food, it was finally time to book a trip. We headed down in April for five nights for spring break.
Getting to San Miguel de Allende
The closest airport to San Miguel de Allende is Querétaro (QRO), however there aren’t a lot of flights to QRO. The far more popular choice is Leon (BJX), roughly 1.5 hours from San Miguel. From LAX our only direct flight options were a red-eye or a very late arrival, neither of which was appealing, so we opted to connect through Mexico City (MEX). We left LAX at 7am on Aeromexico, had a layover of almost three hours in Mexico City, and landed in Leon at 4:35pm. We had a driver waiting for us (through Bajio Go), and arrived at our hotel (Live Aqua) a little after 6:00pm. It was a long travel day considering that LA and San Miguel de Allende aren’t really that far from each other. A faster option would have been to simply land in Mexico City at 12:40 and have a driver waiting – roughly a 3.5 hour drive – but our kids would rather be on planes or in airports than in cars for long stretches of time.
Flying back, there was a direct Aeromexico flight from Leon to LA departing at 9:30am – much better! We left the hotel at 6am, again with a Bajio Go driver, and arrived at the Leon airport at 7:30. Check-in was easy, except that Aeromexico insisted that we check some fragile artwork that was a few inches longer than their allowed carry-on size. It easily would have fit under the seats on the plane, or in the overhead, but they wanted their 600 pesos for a checked bag fee. As a result I will try to avoid Aeromexico for future Mexico travel – easier said than done unfortunately. No issues with the flight after check-in. We arrived into LAX right on time at 11:20am.
What to Do in San Miguel de Allende
Over four and a half days we explored, and ate, a lot! And we had San Miguel de Allende practically to ourselves. Apparently mid-April is a very good time to visit. The following week, Holy Week, was supposed to be far busier.
Day One: We arrived late on a Monday, walked into town from our hotel (13 minutes), and quickly discovered that most restaurants are closed on Mondays. The only available options for our increasingly hungry kids looked to be Italian. We didn’t come to San Miguel de Allende for Italian food though! So we kept walking and came across Los Milagros. It was perfect, although we got way too much food. We then strolled back to our hotel and went to sleep.
Day Two: We signed up for a food tour with Taste of San Miguel. We highly recommend doing this – even my kids who don’t always enjoy walking/food tours! After breakfast at the hotel, we slowly wandered south to Parque El Chorro, arriving just before the tour’s noon start time. We met our guide Leslie, an American ex-pat chef, and two other tour participants and set off for a 3.5-hour walk around San Miguel. With stops at five restaurants and an ice cream cart, we ate very well, and Leslie gave us the history of San Miguel de Allende and pointed out the sites along the way. Definitely do this your first day. We discovered several restaurants that we wanted to return to, and we got a much better feel for the city overall. After the tour we returned to the hotel for some downtime, and then went back into town for tacos and bubble tea (we were still too full for a formal meal), and we enjoyed music in the main square.
Day Three: We spent the morning at Fabrica La Aurora, an art center only a few minutes’ walk from our hotel. We had breakfast and coffee at Cafe de la Aurora and then walked through virtually every art gallery at the complex. Whatever your taste in art, you can find it there! We loved a few of the galleries…although some were outside our price range. We ended up buying several pieces of art, and a lot of ceramics, from Hilo Negro. Given how close the gallery was to our hotel, we left everything for them to wrap up and came back the following day to pick it up…at which point we bought more – including the pieces that AeroMexico wouldn’t let us take on board. Luckily the gallery packed everything so well that nothing was broken when we were forced to check it.
After Fabrica we returned to our hotel and then went into town. We walked through the Mercado de Artesanias Lucas Balderas, searched out several chocolate stores that we had read about, and ended at Hecho en Mexico for a very late lunch. We walked back to the hotel, had some downtime, and then returned to town for burgers, green beans and bubble tea around 9pm. For whatever reason we never had a normal eating schedule our entire trip. We were very casual with meals overall and simply ate when we were hungry.
And if it sounds like we walked a lot, we did! We averaged 13,000 steps and over five miles a day. We never took a taxi anywhere.
Day Four: We started at Fabrica La Aurora again for breakfast, shopped a little more, and then slowly wandered into town for lunch at our favorite spot from the food tour – La Casa del Diezmo. It’s closed on Wednesdays, so this was our first chance to return. After an excellent lunch we returned to the hotel for some pool time. It was spring break after all! Then the hotel told us that it would plan a private movie night for us on the terrace, so we went back into town for a light dinner and then watched Mary Poppins Returns under the stars. We had all wanted to see the movie anyway, and it was a perfect setting!
Day Five: On our last day we changed up our routine a little. For breakfast we had fruit and pastries we had brought back the night before, and then the kids relaxed at the hotel while we (the parents) went back to Fabrica La Aurora. We had coffee at Geek and Coffee – an excellent little cafe on a courtyard with a playground. This would be a great place for young kids to run around while you’re eating breakfast. We then picked up our last packaged artwork from Hilo Negro and walked back to the hotel.
After some pool time, we all walked into town and headed to Nicosio Comedor. Lunch was amazing (details below). Then, because my son hadn’t been able to play football/soccer all week, we purchased a cheap ball and went in search of a field. We never found one. Parque Benito Juarez looked to be our best bet, given how large and green it looks on Google Maps, but we searched the park and only found paths and basketball courts. Maybe we missed the grass? Or maybe there is none? At any rate the park is very nice and the kids had fun running around, and we kicked the ball around for awhile on the paths and then on a basketball court, but it wasn’t ideal.
Then it was off to Rosewood San Miguel de Allende – literally one minute from the park. We took a tour of the resort and ended up at Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar, overlooking the city, for drinks and snacks. Then it was off to Dôce 18 for a very light dinner.
We had noticed altars being set up everywhere in town our final day. It turns out that the Friday before Palm Sunday is the Night of the Altars in and around San Miguel de Allende. The altars are dedicated to the Virgin Mary and the loss of her son. Some were elaborate, some were simple, some took up large portions of (closed) streets. The Rosewood even had one set up in front of the hotel. I don’t think Live Aqua did? And the houses with altars were handing out fruit drinks and/or popsicles to anyone who stopped by.
After walking around looking at altars, we returned to the hotel and packed. We departed early the next day.
San Miguel de Allende Hotels: Live Aqua
Our hotel choice in San Miguel de Allende came down to Live Aqua vs Rosewood. I had stayed at and toured other Live Aqua properties in Mexico and was always impressed with the brand. And we’ve stayed at three Rosewood hotels/resorts around the world – Mayakoba (Playa del Carmen), London and Abu Dhabi. We opted for Live Aqua based on the recommendation of friends who were familiar with both, as well as price.
There was a lot that we liked, and didn’t like, about Live Aqua San Miguel de Allende, but overall we were happy with our choice. When we travel somewhere like San Miguel, we don’t want to be sequestered in an amazing resort. The town is the star. We simply want a well-located hotel with a good pool for downtime, and maybe some kid activities that emphasize the local culture. Live Aqua is a 13-minute walk from the center of town, and it’s less than five minutes from Fabrica La Aurora.
The pool is excellent for kids – fairly shallow with overwater hammocks – and we spent two afternoons there. We would have been at the pool all four days, but it was closed for maintenance our first two days, which was annoying. And even more annoying was that we weren’t given any advance notification. On our first afternoon we all got into swimsuits, got the kids sunscreened (never fun), and went down to find an empty pool. When I complained to the Assistant Manager, she set up the movie night for us. This was a highlight, and it definitely made up for the pool closure.
The rooms at Live Aqua are gorgeous. Unfortunately they’re not connecting. My full review is on TripAdvisor.
San Miguel de Allende Hotels: Thoughts on Rosewood San Miguel de Allende
I arranged a tour of the Rosewood San Miguel de Allende after our first two days at Live Aqua when we were very disappointed that the pool was closed. We could see why people love the Rosewood. It’s a gorgeous property and the view is excellent (there’s no view from Live Aqua). The pools are great, including a very shallow pool for toddlers, and the kids club is up to Rosewood standards. The service level is excellent as well. You get the impression that a lot of employees have been around since the resort opened in 2011. And our challenge finding a place in SMA for my son to kick around a football? That wouldn’t have been an issue at Rosewood, where there are vast lawns, perfect for running and playing.
In the end though we realized that we were happier at Live Aqua than we would have been at Rosewood. The Rosewood is too perfect, and it’s geared to an international clientele (Rosewood is based in Hong Kong). All of the staff spoke perfect English. In fact, we really only heard English. The music throughout the resort and at Tapas was American pop. That’s not what we want when we travel. We want culture. We want to know where we are in the world. We loved that at Live Aqua we heard Spanish the vast majority of the time, from both staff and guests. It seemed like most guests we passed at Rosewood were from the US.
Rosewood Mayakoba was similar to Rosewood San Miguel de Allende, but in that case we wanted to spend full days at the pool and beach. In San Miguel there’s so much to do outside of the hotel that it would be a waste, at least for us, to spend too much time at the hotel. If you have very young kids and want to take advantage of the kids club, nanny program and shallow pool – absolutely, stay at Rosewood. If you have older kids, and/or if you’re coming to San Miguel de Allende for the food and culture more than for pure relaxation, go for Live Aqua.
San Miguel de Allende Restaurants: Where to Eat
We ate in roughly a dozen restaurants in San Miguel over the course of five days. There are two that we LOVED that we would return to SMA just to dine at again:
La Casa del Diezmo
On our food tour we stopped at La Casa del Diezmo for cochinita pibil panuchos and lemonade with chia seeds. We enjoyed the panuchos and lemonade so much that we returned for lunch and ordered five panuchos and five lemonades, and we will do the same when we return. Our best meal in San Miguel de Allende. Make sure that you try the salsas as well. We thought the panuchos were best with generous amounts of the green salsa, and some spicy brown salsa dripped on sparingly.
Nicasio Comedor Mexicano
We searched TripAdvisor for the best restaurants in San Miguel de Allende and found Nicasio Comedor, ranked second in the city. The ranking is deserved! It’s a tiny restaurant – we were lucky to get a table for five at 2pm – and the menu is small. Note: always look for restaurants with only a few dishes on their menus! Plus the menu is only available in Spanish, which is always a good sign.
We ordered the avocado with pork belly, the enchiladas and flautas, and everything was excellent. Unfortunately they didn’t have the cauliflower, so we’ll order that when we return!
And we would return to our second-tier restaurants as well – after we go back to La Casa Del Diezmo and Nicasio Comedor! They are:
Dôce 18 Concept House
The Kitchen at Dôce 18 is comprised of several restaurants in a high-end food court setting. The fried green beans from Birdie’s Burgers are excellent. I think we placed 10 orders over the course of the week. The fish tacos at Taco Lab are excellent as well – especially with the yellow salsa. The burgers from Birdie’s are pretty good – especially if you want a break from Mexican food. The pizza from Centanni was rated “ok” by my kids. And we were big fans of the bubble tea from Tipioka, stopping by often.
We only found Restaurant Los Milagros because most other places in the city center were closed on Mondays, but it was very good. Order less you think you should, since the portions are huge. The Volcano Bowls can easily feed 2-3 people. Likewise the fajitas would be good for two. There was live music the night we went – a nice touch.
Hecho en Mexico
Hecho en Mexico was a decent walk from Live Aqua, but it was highly recommended by friends so we wanted to try it. Where I said above that we look for small menus? That’s because restaurants that only make a few things typically make them very well. This was the opposite – a large menu with wide variety of Mexican and international foods, including burgers, seafood and salads. There were even kids menus – the only place in SMA we saw those. We all ordered Mexican and our food was good – just not as good as the other places we went. We did appreciate that they poured us water when we sat down, and refilled our glasses often. Nice to not be served plastic bottles for a change. And yes, the water is clean and safe to drink in restaurants.
Café San Agustin
Head to Café San Agustin for caramel-filled churros. We never ate in the restaurant – we simply paid at the bar for churros, waited while they were prepared in front of us, and then walked across the street to the courtyard of the Templo de San Francisco to eat them. So good!
Near Dôce 18, Panio is the best bakery we found in San Miguel de Allende. We stopped by virtually every day for pastries to take back to our hotel and have for breakfast the next morning – or at least as pre-breakfast snacks while people were still waking up.
Fabrica La Aurora
I mentioned above that we had several breakfasts at Fabrica La Aurora – at both the Cafe de la Aurora and Geek and Coffee. Both are good if you want to make a morning out of visiting Fabrica and shopping for art, or if you’re staying at nearby Live Aqua. I don’t know that either is worth the walk just for breakfast if you’re staying in town though.
(Everything is in US$)
Since we have five people, it’s never easy figuring out what our best room options will be at any given hotel. When I emailed Live Aqua San Miguel de Allende, and they suggested two deluxe rooms for $492 each, or $4,920 for two rooms for five nights. However, I found far cheaper prices online. Annoying – why wouldn’t a hotel give its best rates directly? Anyway, it’s a good reminder to look at all of your options when booking. Travelocity and Hotels.com both quoted $3,690 for the same rooms for the same nights. Normally I would book through Travelocity, but there’s still a promotion through hotels.com/venture where you can book with a Capital One Venture card and effectively get 20% back (though a free night and 10x miles). So that reduced our actual price to $295/room/night, or $2,952 total – almost $2,000 less than Live Aqua quoted directly, and a very good price for a very nice hotel. Live Aqua doesn’t charge a resort fee, which is awesome.
I booked round-trip flights (LA-Leon-LA) through Travelocity for $489 each.
The Bajio Go transfers were $119 each direction. I tipped roughly $25 each trip.
I booked the Taste of San Miguel food tour through TripAdvisor for $267 total (my 13-year-old counted as an adult).
Meals throughout San Miguel de Allende were anywhere from $40 to $70 for all of us, including a 20% tip but not including alcohol (we didn’t order drinks other than water or maybe aguas frescas most places).
Note: the Rosewood bought us a round of drinks. Otherwise we paid for everything this trip normally.
Have you been to San Miguel de Allende? We had a very relaxed week of exploration, dining and culture – exactly what we wanted – but I know we missed some sites. What were your favorite things in San Miguel, with or without kids?