“We’re still the place that people stop through on their way somewhere else,” said Antonio Guzman, the manager at Lu Cocina Michoacana. We’re sitting across from the plaza, having coffee and talking about tourism in Michoacan’s capital city, Morelia.
Across the street at the cathedral, a circle of Aztec dancers convulsed and brass horns bounced through the courtyard as a band stumbled through practice. Traffic grumbled around the gates. Later that night as we left the bar, mariachis hung out on a corner waiting for gigs. A trim musician, his shiny jacket buttons unattached, leaned against the pink stone wall with the glow of the street lamp illuminating the trumpet dangling from his hand. Even the silence here has stories, and the colonial center of Morelia is so well-preserved you could probably press your ear against the walls and hear history.
Morelia is one of Mexico’s most beautiful cities, a perfect octagon dotted with over 200 historical monuments. It has always been an intersection of cultures (more accurately, a battleground) and a central one to Mexico’s history. It was one of New Spain’s first cities and was later renamed for local revolutionary hero José María Morelos, who went to a local University that still exists today (and was taught there by Miguel Hidalgo, the grandaddy of Mexican Independence). But aside from a few festivals, Morelia gets little foreign tourist attention compared to Oaxaca or San Miguel. I don’t think tourism validates a city, but I do think it’s a shame for you to miss this place.
Here are some things I did with 24 hours in Morelia:
Fruit Breakfast at El Mago
My heart wanted carnitas or pozole or huevos rancheros, but my body told me that I needed fruit. My mom didn’t want to come here because the service has always been slow for her. This time, they were just out of certain fruits. But, with all the available bounty of Michoacán we still got an epic fruit salad with cactus fruit, mango, kiwi, and other tropical fruits, covered in yogurt, granola and honey.
Taqueria La Fama
This is a neighborhood taco spot that my parents used to live close to, so while it probably isn’t the most famous taqueria in Morelia, we have a special place in our hearts for it. If you’re walking from the cathedral area to the market, this is right on the way (and next to a very cute little plaza). The name of the game is pastor, and this is the place where I was introduced to one of my favorite tacos: a gringa. Who me? I asked. No, not you! Thin strips of pastor on a flour tortilla with melted cheese.
I wasn’t thrilled about the food, but string me up a hammock and I’ll gladly take a honeymoon here. You have to buzz a doorbell to get in , but it feels less like an exclusive club and more like…what’s the password to my awesome treehouse? There’s a tree with wandering branches hanging over the limestone patio, colorful walls covered in art, and little nooks tucked around the bar. The drinks, mostly pairing tropical fruits with mezcal and tequila, are fun and they’ve got a nice list of local mezcals as well.
A cute restaurant and bar with painted tile floors, brass lighting fixtures leading up the stairs, and a rooftop bar. There’s a small list of mezcals that come out on cleverly designed black trays, and I was quite happy with my $45 peso tobala. (A few blocks away from Tata.)
Jardin de las Rosas
A charming alleyway lined with cafes (and I assume when in season, roses?) The baroque style garden, neighboring college and church were built in 1557. This is a pleasant place to grab a coffee if unlike us you aren’t there when two police buses filled with riot-gear cops are stationed on the side. Apparently the Governor was visiting.
Centro Cultural Clavijero
An old Jesuit school and monastery built in the 18th century now houses a cultural center with rotating exhibits and events. The courtyard is massive, with seven arcs on each side. When I was there the second-floor hallways were lined with entries from poster competitions for movies, public health initiatives and social messaging. They were all winners in my mind.
Casa de Artesanias
For an intro into Michoacan’s rich artesania culture, come here and walk the rooms and store. Different towns in Michoacán are dedicated to specific folk art, like handmade guitars, copper, embroidery, and pottery. While heading straight to the source is clearly more fun, this is good way to get dazzled by these talented artisans. I’d say the store is better than the actual museum.
Mercado de Independencia
As always, the market is a great way to get to know what a city or region has to offer. Could be purple corn, could be some kind of animal horn, could just be really cute bootleg sweat pants. The area surrounding the food market is pretty expansive, but the important sections— prepared food, produce, butcher, cheese and spices— are manageable.
Palacio de Gobierno
We didn’t get to go in because the building was closed temporarily, but check out the murals here by renowned Mexican painter (and Michoacán native) Alfredo Zalce.
And of course, wander through the plaza, the cathedral, the aqueduct and if you need an airplane snack, head for the deli at Panoli.