If you were to ask me what my favorite city in the world was – besides, LA, of course – Mexico City would be somewhere in my top 3 choices. I have always loved visiting Mexico. But Mexico City is on a whole other level of culture, fun, and beauty. The Mexico most of us are familiar with are the typical beachside towns, where you hardly even get to experience the actual towns outside whatever resort you might be enjoying. Mexico City is bustling, it’s sprawling. It’s eclectic and its popularity amongst travelers only seems to be growing. It may be another big city – in fact, it’s the largest city in North America and the 3rd largest in the world – but there is absolutely nowhere on earth quite like it in my opinion.
I cannot tell you how many friends I have that unanimously didn’t just enjoy Mexico City, they loved it. Friends of all types from all backgrounds. I honestly thought that there was absolutely no way this city could possibly live up to all of these insane expectations. But alas, they did. And then some. I am not a paid Visit Mexico spokesperson. But I will say with complete confidence that if you go to Mexico City – and you do it right – you will without a doubt fall in love. (And it won’t even cost you that much!)
THE ANGELENO’S GUIDE TO MEXICO CITY
I did my fair share of research before my recent trip to Mexico City. I have had several friends go before me who gave me the full rundown. If you’re looking to visit Mexico City soon, here’s what you need to know:
- Prepare for the high altitude. Mexico City is about 7500 ft above sea level. And it can affect you if you’re not used to it like most us Angelenos!
- There are two airports in Mexico City, make sure you remember that when scheduling your flights and pickups/dropoffs
- Get money from a bank ATM for a lower exchange rate. Most people/places will take American dollars, but try not to use them if you can avoid it. Pesos or credit cards are definitely best.
- Take Ubers! For convenience, safety and reliability reasons. (Do not taxi.)
- And speaking of driving, traffic in CDMX is LEGENDARY. You thought LA was bad? Wait till you try getting across town at rush hour! Just be aware is all!
- Alternatively, rent a bike. They’re everywhere, the roads are built for bikers, and it’ll be a faster trip without a doubt.
- Don’t overly fret about the water. It’s not a good idea to drink directly out of a faucet (better safe than sorry), but I have yet to personally have any issues with even ice or water from hotels and restaurants.
- You will potentially stand out as a tourist if you are wearing shorts, flip flops (nice sandals are ok for girls), anything revealing (duh), and get this: sunglasses. No one in Mexico wears sunglasses and it freaks me out! If any of this feels concerning let me remind you, I am a 5’8 platinum blonde who doesn’t leave the house without red lipstick and not once did I feel unsafe or concerned about the way I was perceived. Be aware that looks always matter when it comes to traveling abroad, and do your best to keep things like that in mind.
- Opening and closing hours are more suggestions than rules in Mexico City. Shop/restaurant owners kind of do as they please, and we respect that.
- Getting reservations at the popular Mexico City restaurants like Pujol, Maximo Bistro, Quintonil, Contramar, Rosetta, etc are difficult on short notice. Try to book the ones you really want to go to as far in advance as possible. This can be done directly on their respective websites, and you have the option to waitlist should your first choice not be immediately available.
- Tipping is definitely the norm at restaurants. Street food or takeaway not as common.
- Consider taking a street food tour! CDMX street food is a huge culture, but if you don’t know where to start (like most of us), leave it to the pros! My friends recommended this one to me: Club Tengo Hambre
- Lastly… don’t try to do too much. Pick 1-2 “must-see’s” a day, let the rest fall into place, and enjoy yourself!
NEIGHBORHOODS TO KNOW:
CENTRO: metropolitan, historic, museums,
CONDESA: hip, young, fun, you’ll end up here at some point!
ROMA: bohemian, similar to Condesa and conveniently located in the same area.
POLANCO: the “Beverly Hills” of CDMX, aka fancy, chic, great high-end shopping.
CUAUHTÉMOC: a little metropolitan, a little young and hip, very close to Juárez
JUÁREZ: “the new Roma”, young, upcoming, fun, and home to “Zona Rosa” where many of the city’s LGBTQ clubs/bars are
COYOACAN: most associated with Frida Kahlo, art, vibrant history
SAN ANGEL: another stunningly beautiful wealthier part of town, home to the famous San Angel Saturday open-air market
The latest luxury hotel to open in CDMX within the last 10 years is the jaw-dropping architectural beauty – The Sofitel. This 40-floor modern gem recently celebrated its official opening in February 2020 and I had the pleasure of being one of the first to experience it! I fully encourage you to read my “48 Hour Guide to Mexico City” where we go more in-depth about staying at the Sofitel, but for the level of service, the amenities, the location, to the overall experience – for the price – I can say with confidence that this is where I’ll stay going forward. It’s fun, it’s young but still upscale – checks all the boxes.
If you, like me, wish that every hotel check-in process would start with a glass of Veuve then the St. Regis can help you with that. Let your wildest bougie dreams come true! I stayed here on my last trip to CDMX and loved it, but as mentioned – it’s fancy. The thing you’ll notice about Mexico City though is that even the seriously fancy stuff is relatively in reach, rates here can be as low as $269 which is crazy when you consider what you get – hello, Veuve as mentioned and a butler.
Hotel La Valise is THE hip/chic/expensive spot to stay in Mexico City. They have a very popular property in Tulum as well, and their Mexico City location is just as stunning. It’s also located in a great part of town that is accessible to fun restaurants and areas to walk.
Hotel Condesa DF is one of the best boutique hotels is one of the best parts of town – Condesa. I have had a few friends stay here who loved it. Plus their rooftop – as mentioned – was one of my favorite stops on the trip.
The Four Seasons Mexico City has a similar story to the St Regis; if you want to do a bougie stay, this is another great option to consider. Especially if like me, there’s no way in hell you’d be able to afford a Four Seasons vacation anywhere else. Why not do it in Mexico City!
OTHER RECS: Hotel Carlota, Four Points Roma, Roma MX, Hippodrome, Downtown Mexico, Casa Nuevo 120, Los Alcobas, Hotel Habita, Camino Real
Arguably my personal favorite restaurant we went to in Mexico City – a very likely story it turns out. Contramar is known for its incredible seafood spread (think ceviche, fresh grilled fish, etc) and their primo people-watching scene at lunchtime. You cannot visit Mexico City and not go to Contramar – I demand it. Make sure you make a reservation and make sure you order the tuna tostadas!
EL CARDENAL (Centro)
El Cardenal is one of CDMX’s “OG” traditional Mexican restaurants and is 100% not to be missed! If you’re planning on touring Centro Historico (which you should!) then make the walk over to El Cardenal for breakfast beforehand, or for lunch and dinner. Basically – you can’t go wrong with this spot. It’s a favorite amongst so many people – locals and travelers alike. “Es muy autentico.”
MÁXIMO BISTROT (Roma)
Another restaurant that came highly recommended was Maximo Bistrot Local. They’re open for lunch and dinner and from what I’ve heard you’re fine either way you choose. I happened to go for lunch (couldn’t get a dinner reservation in time) and it was everything everyone said it would be. Did I know it had a lot of Italian influence, nope, did it make it that much more fun and interesting, yep. Their known for their oxtail gnocchi – split at your own risk because it really is that good.
YES! I can now say I’ve been to one of the top restaurants in the world! Pujol is the crown jewel of Mexico City. Chef Enrique Olivera truly helped put Mexico City on the map in terms of the city being a destination for distinct food and dining. So as you can imagine, Pujol is relatively difficult to get into. Most people book quite far in advance. Sometimes you get lucky like we did but it’s definitely advised to book as far in advance as possible. Pujol is an absolutely stunning space, the experience is as you’d expect – different and incredibly special – the staff is out of this world, and it truly exemplifies and amplifies fine Mexican cuisine. I will say, Pujol is as expensive as you’d imagine it to be so come prepared for that.
Lorea was our first dining experience in Mexico City and it completely set the tone for the rest of our trip. Mexico City is quickly becoming one of the top dining destinations in the world and restaurants like Lorea truly put it on the map in terms of fine dining. Fine dining in Mexico City is a trip though, Lorea, for example, offers a 14-course tasting menu at just $70 per person. If you’re a foodie traveling on a budget, your one splurge should be Lorea. You’ll never forget it.
SUD777 (El Pedregal)
Talk about an all-encompassing “WOW factor”, SUD777 is an experience from start to finish. Not only is the space itself an entire experience, but the meal will also completely blow you away. It’s a bit upscale but not as stuffy feeling as some of the other restaurants, this still feels “fun”. It’s inventive, artistic, and totally delicious – make the reservation, take the drive.
Quite possibly my new favorite restaurant in CDMX is Bajel, located inside the brand new Sofitel Hotel. Not only is it just an absolutely stunning space with views like you’ve never seen, but the food is simply unforgettable. We did a chef’s tasting and were absolutely blown away, what a gastronomic experience. If I could revisit any of particularly fancy restaurants on this list, this would be it.
TAQUERIA EL CALIFA (Condesa & Juarez)
Did someone say tacos? Finally? Yes. If you are in the mood for tacos and a sit-down restaurant type of situation, El Califa is your destination. Not only is it your destination, it will also totally blow your mind. I think I ate about 8 tacos that night and I regret nothing. They are open all day long but their late-night scene seems to be where it’s at. The one thing absolutely worth trying here are their “costras” – which are like tacos but the tortilla part is made of cheese… #mindblown. And I’ll just let you in on a little secret, the best tres leches cake I’ve ever had in my life is at Califa. It was also my favorite treat I had in Mexico City period – I said it!
LA CAPITAL (Condesa)
For Mexico City being a city of late diners, a lot of the restaurants close surprisingly early! La Capital was somewhat a happy accident while we were trying to find a restaurant open past 10 pm, but it ended up being quite a number of our favorite restaurants in the end. La Capital is a great “happy medium” restaurant – it’s not too fancy, not too casual, but the food and the ambiance are absolutely fantastic. They offer truly incredible and what you’d think of as “authentic” Mexican food, so if that might what you’re looking for, you’ve found it.
EL MORO CHURRERIA (several locations)
Is it really a trip to Mexico if you don’t eat a churro? El Moro isn’t just any churreria though, it’s the OG of churrerias. They’ve been dusting delicious carb sticks with cinnamon and sugar since 1935, and today they have 9 locations all over the city. I visited the location at the Mercado Roma, which is a fun place to go for all kinds of things, it reminded me a lot of the Grand Central Market. But it’s better because… churros. Duh.
Cutest little creperie/wine bar I ever did see. Looks like something straight out of LA (or France?) and they serve, without a doubt, some of the best breakfast and crepes I’ve ever had. I didn’t get to stay for wine but, just another reason to come back!.
SALON RIOS (Cuauhtémoc)
Classic “Cantina” cultured paired with modern touches, Salon Rios is just a great central spot with sidewalk seating (my favorite), amazing food (don’t sleep on those tuna tacos), a great casual yet lively atmosphere, and awesome drinks.
OTHER RECS: Yuban, Lardo, Rosetta, Zoku, Lalo!, Quintonil, Casa Virgina, Tori Tori, La Docena, Huset, Mero Toro, Bravo Lonchería, Dulce Patria, Azul Historico, Tacos Don Juan, Taquería Tlaquepaque, Cicatriz, Cafe Nin, Quesadillas Maria Isabel,
CITYZEN BAR (Cuauhtémoc)
When it’s a nice day – or night – out, all we really want is a decent rooftop bar, amiright? Cityzen is another incredible gem located at the top of the new Sofitel Hotel. It’s partly covered but there is a wrap-around patio that is open-air and lets a nice breeze blow through. And being located on the 38th floor you can only imagine the views from this place – something you need to see to believe.
*Another great bar in the hotel is called Freehouse, it’s a bit like a cozy speakeasy and they offer incredible cocktails and a major vibe.
KING COLE BAR (Cuauhtémoc)
King Cole Bar to my delight was located inside of our hotel, the St Regis. Much like its New York City counterpart, the King Cole Bar is an absolutely stunning work of beauty, style, and class. We were at this bar more than I’d like to recount – shout out to Alejandro and Pepe – but it’s because it was consistently fantastic. Definitely the local meeting place for big-timers, I fit right in obviously, but not at all intimidating or unwelcoming. The opposite in fact. Ain’t nothing wrong with a classy joint here and there, especially one with indoor/outdoor seating, great cocktails, live music, and decor fit for royalty.
LA AZOTEA DE BARRIO ALAMEDA (Centro)
This place was recommended to me by a new friend on Instagram who’d been kind enough to message me her Mexico City favorites. She lives there after all so she was definitely one to be trusted. La Azotea is located in Centro, and is just a 5 minute walk from big sites to see such as the Palacio de Bellas Artes. Climb about 100 steps (which is like 300 steps at sea level) to the rooftop to find an absolute GEM of a little hangout – fresh air, views, cocktails, delicious food, friendly faces and all. My friend instructed me to order a Carajillo and if you’re like me and love a good espresso martini when desperate times call for desperate measures… then you are going to love a Carajillo.
FIFTY MILS (Juarez/Cuauhtémoc)
If you thought the King Cole Bar at the St Regis sounded bougie, Fifty Mils at the Four Seasons might have them beat there. Between the absolutely stunning courtyard setting, the fancy “a-la Four Seasons” cocktails, and the fitted waitstaff, it’s definitely an experience. And I was so here for a bougie moment – and a solid Instagram post of course.
CONDESA DF (Condesa)
Who doesn’t love a good rooftop situation right? Located in the heart of Condesa, CodesaDF is one of the area’s most popular boutique hotels. Their rooftop is open to the public and definitely caters towards the young more hip crowds. So naturally, I went, and naturally, I loved it. If it’s a nice day or night out, stop in – it’s usually open.
HANKY PANKY (Juarez)
Per my previous confession about basically never leaving the King Cole Bar… I disappointingly did not make it to a number of bars I had intended to visit. Hanky Panky being one of them. I cannot speak from personal experience but I can say with quite a bit of confidence that this bar IS an experience. First off, you have to have a reservation – it’s that kind of bar. Secondly, it’s a speakeasy. Lastly, it sounds so “LA” it hurts my feelings I cannot wait to come back and see what this place is up to.
LA CLANDESTINA (Condesa)
I am a huge fan of Mezcal, in fact, it is easily my spirit of choice. La Clandestina was another bar that came highly recommended that I regrettably did not get to, but I am told if you too are a fan of Mezcal then this is one place on earth you need to experience to confirm your appreciation for the beverage.
LOUP BAR (Roma)
For my fellow wine lovers… meet Loup Bar. Loup Bar is known for their incredible list of natural wines, as well as for their great food menu to pair. You know I will travel for wine and food, so Loup came highly recommended by several friends; I love that this a more low key yet chic spot. A great place to go when you’d love a glass of wine with a side of warm and cozy ambiance.
OTHER RECS: El Bosforo, La Lavanderia, Limantour, Pata Negra, Cicatriz, Gin Gin, Felina Bar, Aurora, Xaman, Baltro, La Ópera,
What about men in fringe, tight pants, and colorful masks doesn’t already sound appetizing as hell? Throw in spotlights, a hugely enthusiastic crowd, cheap cold beer, tacos, and you’ve got yourself a night at LUCHA LIBRE! I am not kidding you when I say Friday night Lucha Libre was my favorite part of the entire trip, and arguably one of the best nights of my whole life. Take that and do what you will.
I honestly barley know how to begin trying to explain the experience that is Xochimilco. It’s hands down one of the wildest, strangest, most unique experiences I think I’ve had in all my 30 years. What I want to say won’t really make sense, but Xohchimilco doesn’t really make sense either, so here goes nothing. Xochimilco is a place you go *with a group* to float down canals on very colorful gondolas that are all packed like sardines on the water where there is zero traffic regulation, there is a lot of booze, there are mariachis on boats for hire, delicious food and trinkets on boats for buying, and a lot of other strange yet entertaining activity.
Here’s the deal. It was cool… but it was wild. If you’ve got kids, or if you’re just a couple without a guide, I actually would not recommend Xochimilco. But if you’ve got a group, or a friend/trusted individual who knows the ropes, DO IT. Be careful, I would personally hire a driver to get you there and back (it’s about 45 minutes outside the city center), don’t be an idiot and you’ll have an absolute blast.
Unsurprisingly so, Chapultapec Park is one of the largest city parks in the world. Really though – this park is never-ending and it’s absolutely GORGEOUS! Chapultapec Park is very central, and the best of what it has to offer – including the Chapultapec Castle and the Museum of Anthropology – is very easy to access. Besides museums and the castle, Chapultapec Park includes a zoo, botanical gardens, walking trails, vendors, several man-made lakes with pedal boats, and so much more. You could spend a whole day strolling through these gorgeous grounds, and so you should – with some stops along the way.
One of those stops should definitely be the stunning site that was once the home to Mexico’s one-time emperor, Maximilian. Chapultapec Castle, now the Natural Museum of History, overlooks the entire city below and it’s an absolutely fascinating and beautiful place to visit. It’ll take you a minute to hike up the hillside, and you will run out of breath thanks to that altitude, but boy is it worth it! (It’s also not literally a hike, it’s a walk uphill, it just seems to go on for forever when you’re out of breath.)
If you have an interest in learning about the history of pre-hispanic Mexico (Aztec, Mayan, etc) the Museo Anthropolgia is an absolute must. We spent hours walking through each time period if you will, looking at pieces of history you can hardly fathom being as ancient and beautiful as they are. This was one of my personal favorite parts of the trip. So if you have time on your walk through the Chapultapec Park, stop in at the museum.
There are a couple of amazing Mercados to visit in Mexico City, but the one we ended up visiting was La Ciudadela Mercado de Artesanías – a market known for it’s more locally crafted and more traditional goods. They offer all kinds of Oaxacan textiles, blankets, silver, jewelry, bags, leather, housewares – anything “Mexico” you can think of they have. I have to admit, I typically hate the idea of “things” or “trinkets” but this market was incredible! I ended up with some beautifully embroidered bags. And so wished I’d had enough room in my suitcase for some of the glassware and housewares. Next trip.
Whilst meandering through Historico Centro you will find it damn near impossible not to run into the massive architectural masterpiece that is the Palacio de Bellas Artes. It’s here inside the marbles walls that you will find gorgeous and expansive murals from several artists including Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Rufino Tamayo. Wether it’s a new exhibit, a concert, or an event, there is always something fun and interesting happening here.
Want to see those mysterious pyramids you learned about at the Museo Anthropolgia IRL? You can! Teotihuacan is admittedly a pretty far drive outside the city center (about an hour). But it’s another absolute “must” according to most if not all who have visited. This was another spot I didn’t personally make it out to this trip. But I am told it’s worth noting to go early in the morning while the sun isn’t too hot and the tourists are at a minimum.
The Frida Kahlo Museum is kind of a non-negotiable. It’s a completely one-of-a-kind experience, and I promise you will be glad and grateful to have gone. The Frida Kahlo Museum, aka Casa Azul, was Frida’s beloved home for twenty years. Located in the colorful and charming neighborhood of Coyoacan, you immediately get a sense of the appeal. When Frida passed away, Diego Rivera donated her house to the government and turned it into a museum. The home has been in the exact condition she left it in since the ’50s. And it’s a surreal thing to experience in person. I personally loved seeing her clothes that were put on display (that were just discovered in an untouched room in 2004!). And how so many designers today are still inspired by her stunning style.
PRO TIP: if you plan on visiting the Frida Kahlo museum and you want to take photos, be sure to purchase a photo pass in the coat check room! This is not advertised, but it’s available and it is affordable. Also – buy your tickets online ahead of time, save yourself the time you’d have to wait in line.
Located within in short distance to Casa Azul you will find the Museo Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo – which is equally as worth seeing and experiencing and will have 1/4 of the tourists.
OTHER RECS: Museo Soumaya, Museo Tamayo, Museo Franz Mayer, Palacio Nacional, Museo Jumex, Casa Barragan, Museo del Tequila y Mezcal