The Ultimate Jetset Travel Guide to Oaxaca, Mexico
Did you know that Oaxaca, Mexico was named the #2 City in the WORLD by Travel & Leisure this year?! This cultural gem of Mexico is hardly a secret anymore, but unlike a lot of “hot” destinations, Oaxaca has managed to keep its authentic charm, making it the perfect blissful vacation combination of being tourist-friendly without feeling touristy at all. In fact, one of my favorite parts about Oaxaca was that we were seemingly the only Americans there! All of the locals wanted to ask (in Spanish) where we were from, and they all were so excited that we were visiting their beautiful city.
If you’re looking for a chill Mexican getaway and a relaxing vacation full of eating, drinking, hanging & shopping local markets, Oaxaca needs to be on your bucket list!
Where to Eat + Drink in Oaxaca
Mexican food. Isn’t it the absolute best part about any trip to Mexico? I don’t know about you guys but there are few things I love more than endless tacos, guac and margs. Did you know Mexican cuisine ranks as one of the world’s best cuisines and was the first cuisine to receive UNESCO culinary heritage status?? Which I’m prettttty sure is all thanks to Oaxaca.
From their street food, to their gourmet rooftops, I have zero doubts that ANYWHERE you eat in Oaxaca is going to blow your mind. This region of Mexico is extremely (and rightfully!) proud of their food and cocktails, and that passion beams into every kitchen in this city.
If I had one Oaxaca food rec to give you guys, it’s this one. This was my favorite meal we ate in Oaxaca!! It’s casual, and so cute, and every bite is soooo good!! The atmosphere is also perfect for a group, so if you’re coming here to celebrate a bachelor or bachelorette party or a birthday party, this is your spot. My favorite dishes were the pork belly, the queso, and the ribeye. The plates were great for sharing, too, and the prices are so dang reasonable for what you’re getting you’re going to want to order the whole menu!! Ask to eat outside on the rooftop, and make sure you order a cocktail – they are so delicious!!!!
Catedral is Oaxaca fine dining at its best (mind you, “fine dining” in Oaxaca is still many, many times more affordable than anything you’re used to in the states!), and the food is so good. This restaurant is run with love from its hands-on owner of 50+ years, the lovely Carina, and she is the absolute sweetest. Even at over 70 years old, you’re likely to see her running around, giving patrons kisses on the cheek, and watching you enjoy your meal. All of the recipes the restaurant uses are from her family and trace back generations of Oaxaqueños. This restaurant is one of the best rated in the city, and after your very first bite into Carina’s incredible Oaxacan food, you’ll understand why.
This Oaxacan restaurant has a beautiful patio with a gorgeous view of the Santo Domingo Church, and the food is to-die-for. And, even with their delicious mexican cuisine and gorgeous views, what really shines about this gem is the wonderful service. Casa Oaxaca feels like you’re eating at someone’s home, and is definitely one of the best places to eat in town.
This casual multi-story bar near the main square serves up some of the best street tacos in Oaxaca – and some delicious cocktails while they’re at it. It’s the perfect casual meal you’re looking for if you get in off a late flight, or just need a cold beer and some tacos after a long day walking around. Head straight to the rooftop for a really cool ambiance, or cozy downstairs for a totally different vibe.
This adorable coffee shop with an adorable garden courtyard makes for a perfect place to relax inbetween sightseeing, or a perfect cafe to work from if you’re a digital nomad in Oaxaca (or just trying to get a little work done on your vacation). Hierba Dulce has a delicious breakfast and brunch menu, and is a great spot for vegans traveling to Oaxaca, as well!
Ladies, if you have a beer-loving bf with you, make sure to check out this rooftop brewery. One of their stouts won a national beer award competition this year and they have a fridge full of their top competitors. The food is also BOMB, and the rooftop is a perfect Oaxacan lunch spot.
For ice cream or dessert, Manolo Nieves is your spot! Next door to La Mezcalerita, this adorable ice cream shop has been family-run for generations! Stop by and try one of their classic or very inventive flavors of ice cream (yup. This is where we tried GRASSHOPPER ice cream!!)
In Oaxaca – even the most luxurious hotels are generally around $200 a night, which is amazing! My absolute favorite of this category is the Hotel Los Amantes. It is located directly across from the church and has one of the most beautiful rooftops in the whole city (pictured here)! Even if you don’t stay here, you have to come for a glass of wine or a meal here! It’s stunning.
Also in the heart of the city is the beautiful Quinta Real Oaxaca, located just 150m from the Santo Domingo Church. The colonial-style property has elegant archways, high ceilings and cozy patios, as well as this gorgeous outdoor pool.
For Location & value:
El Diablo y La Sandia – Boca Del Monte
This super-cute boutique bed and breakfast hotel was perfect for a few days in Oaxaca. It has a rooftop terrace, a delicious breakfast in the morning, and an ‘honor bar’ full of cervezas. It’s located an easy 5-minute walk to the center of town, the Zócalo and the Santo Domingo church.
With an outdoor swimming pool, a beautiful courtyard, and huuuge spacious rooms just 300M from the Santo Domingo Church, Hotel Parador Los Alcalas (with rates under $100 US per night) is a great place to base from for your stay to Oaxaca. I was definitely impressed by the rooms and the location of this place for the price.
The Best things to do in Oaxaca
The city is very walkable and I loved walking all around it! Everywhere you look, you’ll find a new favorite Mexican restaurant, outdoor market, or rooftop bar to check out.
Explore the Zócalo
Oaxaca’s hopping main square is called the Zócalo, (officially called Plaza de la Constitucion) and it’s a prime spot for people-watching, picking up a souvenir or two and seeing the city transform from day to night. At night, there’s throngs of people walking around and live music fills the square. It’s beautiful!!
Go see the Santo Domingo Church
The Templo de Santo Domingo is the heart of the pueblo of Oaxaca. It dates back to 1555 and it’s intricate details make it one of the most beautiful churches in the world.
Nearby the church, you’ll find many restaurants and rooftops to relax on, as well. My favorite was the Hotel Los Amantes rooftop.
Go Mezcal Tasting
You can drink lots of mezcal cocktails all over town, but if you want to really learn about the process of making Mezcal, and the nuances that go into each different variety, you’re going to want to head a little ways out of town to El Rey de Matatalan, a small distillery that will walk you through the traditional process of Mezcal, before presenting you with a Mezcal tasting! It’s fun and definitely worth a half-day trip out of town to do it.
Shop for Handmade Textiles
Oaxaca’s vibrant culture is mirrored in their biggest export – textiles. Throughout the city, you’ll find rugs, embroidery and textiles with some of the most beautiful artisanal patterns you’ve ever seen! And the prices are so good, I dare you not to coem home with a new rug. Some of the best places to shop for textiles in Oaxaca are Huizache and Mercado De Artesanias.
Do I need to know Spanish to travel to Oaxaca?
Not necessarily, but it definitely helps a ton if you have some minor working level of Spanish to get around. Most of the locals in Oaxaca don’t speak English, and I was surprised how much I needed my Rosetta Stone Spanish lessons! You’ll also surprise yourself with how much you pick up on being in a place like Oaxaca for a few days – by the end of your trip you’ll have trouble not speaking in Spanish!
Is it safe to travel to Oaxaca?
In short, yes! While Mexico has been getting a bad rap lately for its safety concerns and national turmoil, Oaxaca is one of the safest areas of the country right now. I didn’t feel unsafe at all in Oaxaca, and was actually surprised at how safe it felt in comparison to areas like Cancun. As I say with anywhere that the media tends to call “unsafe”, please be cautious and aware on your trip but don’t let your fears stop you from seeing the world!