Explore the many design boutiques in San Miguel’s town center. Near the city’s main entry point, Casa Armida is like Restoration Hardware gone goth: a two-floor furniture and design space with moody, oversize lanterns, spooky gargoyle door fixtures, and carved with skulls. Nearby is Mixta, on Pila Seca, a lively boutique known for its hand-picked selection of local, Mexican, and international precious jewelry, custom-designed furniture, and intricate handicrafts, like jewel-toned place mats stitched in Chiapas and clutches woven with indigenous textiles. Rachel Horn Interiors is the interior-design firm responsible for giving many local businesses (like the Rosewood San Miguel hotel) their Spanish-colonial-meets-21st-century look, and plenty of visitors stop in to nab Horn’s unique wares, like tin metal candle holders ($49.50 for set of three) or her signature Marrakesh mirrors ($330-$498).
Check out the San Miguel art scene where it all started at the stately Instituto Allende, founded in 1938 by a Peruvian artist and diplomat. Still a thriving art school, the peaceful arcades are also a lovely spot to stop and relax. Next, visit El Nigromante, the local fine arts institution that’s home to a museum, school, cultural center, and artists’ galleries. Visitors can take classes in drawing, painting, sculpture, music, and even traditional Mexican dance with local artists; later this year, a digital lab will open for visiting photographers, who love San Miguel’s eternally gorgeous natural light and long visibility.
Explore the motherlode of the city’s galleries at Fabrica La Aurora, an early-20th-century former textile factory. When the factory went out of business in the nineties, the wealthy owners kept the original structure and rented out spaces for artists to work—now, it’s home to 35 galleries, thirteen artist studios, and several antique stores. Many offer tours and classes to non-pro visitors in disciplines including painting, watercolor, monoprint, and sculpting. KURO Fine Art, featuring Mexican painters, is a favorite for visitors, as is Fernando M. Diaz Art Studio (Diaz has had twenty international solo exhibitions).
Stop by the Casa de la Cuesta museum, where the permanent Other Face of Mexico exhibit showcases the more than 500 masks which owners and folk-art dealers Bill and Heidi LeVasseur (originally from Maine) have amassed over fifteen years of traveling rural Mexico. The masks give a glimpse into various Mexican subcultures, like Christmas Pastorela masks from Michoacan, a city between Guadalajara and Mexico City. Reservations are necessary.