Especially for Día de Muertos.
For many visitors to Mexico City, Coyoacán is mostly known as the neighborhood where the Frida Kahlo museum is located. In fact, it’s about all I knew as well—that is, until I made the area my home last December. Though it’s just a few miles south of the bustling capital’s historic center, Coyoacán—which was the headquarters of Hernán Cortés during the Spanish conquest and only became an official borough of the city in 1928—feels like another world altogether.
Today, it’s a quiet, family-friendly area with windy cobblestoned streets, beautiful centuries-old architecture color-blocked in all shades of the rainbow, and two main plazas that are always buzzing with vendors, street performers, young couples strolling hand-in-hand, kids squealing, and—on most weekends—weddings at the 16th-century Parish of San Juan Bautista. (It’s also where you’ll find my favorite tamales in town.)
And this time of year, Coyoacán is one of the best places to experience Dia de Muertos, which takes place Oct. 31 to Nov. 2. That’s because the main squares are especially festive, and you’ll find locals dressed in costume, various cultural events, and large ofrendas (or alters) decorated with everything from fragrant marigolds and calaveras (skulls) made from sugar to candles. Plus, the mansion where the late director and actor Emilio “El Indio” Fernández once lived is open to the public for special activities from Oct. 26 to Nov. 18.
Now that I’ve lived here for almost a year, I can unequivocally say that there is much, much more to Coyoacán than Frida Kahlo’s childhood home (though that is still worth a visit). Here—in no particular order—are a few of my favorite places to eat, shop, and just while away an afternoon.
The intricately embroidered shirts, tablecloths, and other textiles may cost more than what you’ll pay at the neighborhood mercado, but rest assured your money goes far. That’s because the shop is part of the nonprofit Fundación Leon Trece, and helps give female artisans from Chiapas and Oaxaca a way to commercialize their handmade designs.
A glass-and-concrete building was constructed around a 20th-century house to create this beautiful, light-filled bookstore. It has an indoor/outdoor café and a schedule packed with musical performances and other cultural events.
Organic flour, grains, sweeteners, and dairy products are used to make everything from conchas to croissants at this always-packed bakery. If you can’t get a table, grab a few things to go—including the famous matcha cake—and sit in the park across the street.
You can’t come to Coyoacán without touring the childhood home of artist Frida Kahlo, which is also where she spent the last days of her life. Known as Casa Azul for its bright blue walls, the house has been beautifully preserved—including the kitchen, studio, and her bedroom. Make sure to book timed tickets online in advance to avoid waiting in what’s always a very long line.
This expansive public park doubles as a nursery that supplies the city with its plants and trees. For a fresh-air escape from the big city (or to walk off the tacos you ate last night), meander up and down the shady paths named for the type of trees that line them, including acacias and jacarandas.
This colorful neighborhood market is ideal for picking up mole and other edible souvenirs, as well as traditional crafts like woven baskets, piñatas, and ceramics. Wandering its crowded aisles will inevitably bring you to the yellow sign of Tostadas Coyoacán, where about $1.50 will get you a crispy tortilla layered with your choice of more than a dozen toppings (from chicken to shrimp to crab), plus lettuce, avocado, cheese, and crema.
Walk too fast and you just might miss this tiny, family-run bread shop, located in the narrow entryway of the owner’s residence on picturesque Avenida Francisco Sosa. It’s only open Thursday to Sunday starting at noon, and carries a variety of fresh-made baguettes as well as other goodies like scones and biscotti.
Even if you’re not in the market for candles, this wonderland of a shop (a few doors down from the Leon Trotsky House Museum) is worth a visit. It’s been around since 1960, and is currently run by the founder’s children. Here, wax in all shades of the rainbow is transformed into sculptural flowers, figurines, and other candles that double as works of art.
The paletas (or fruit-based popsicles) from this small, decades-old shop off the main square of Plaza Hidalgo come in countless flavors—including kiwi, watermelon, sour sop, strawberry, tamarind, mango with chile—but you really can’t go wrong. That’s because, unlike many others you’ll find, these are perfectly frozen and won’t immediately melt in the midday heat.
This is easily the best spot to eat on the restaurant-lined plaza of Parque Centenario, where you can fill up on suckling pig tacos, tortilla soup, and duck enchiladas served with two kinds of mole. It pays to wait for a table on the patio to take in the surrounding scene—just don’t be surprised if musicians and vendors hawking crafts approach you during your meal.
This peaceful new haven on Avenida Francisco Sosa is one of many cultural centers in the neighborhood, where locals gather to have coffee, see a performance, or take a dance class. Set inside a centuries-old mansion with an expansive garden, this one hosts changing art exhibits and various workshops (including landscape architecture and lithography) and is home to a tea-focused café and boutique selling made-in-Mexico crafts.
For a classic fonda experience, head to this hole-in-the-wall near the center of town. The inside is nothing special, but the comida corrida is not only delicious and a lot of food, but also a steal at 75 pesos (or about $4). Here, the traditional multi-course lunch includes soup, quesadillas, rice, and your choice of main; you can’t go wrong with the green chile enchiladas or the chicken with mole.
What's your favorite thing to eat in Mexico City? Let us know in the comments below.