Guadalajara, the ‘Mexican San Francisco,’ offers a gay accepting environment south of the border
Mexico’s second-largest city, Guadalajara, delivers much of what visitors genuinely seek when visiting this country: mariachi and folk-music culture, fine tequila, authentic arts and crafts, superb regional cuisine, restored Spanish Colonial architecture and overwhelmingly friendly and engaging people.
What many visitors may not know is that Guadalajara is home to a well-established, energetic and welcoming gay and lesbian scene. From quaint, gay-friendly B&Bs to wildly popular dance clubs, this festive city has much to offer LGBT travelers. It’s why the city has lately earned the nickname "the San Francisco of Mexico."
Guadalajara lies at the heart of the state of Jalisco, the state where most of Mexico’s tequila is produced. It’s situated about 5,000 feet above sea-level and is just a short flight or half-day bus ride from the country’s most popular gay beach destination, Puerto Vallarta, as well as the Spanish Colonial cities of Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende the capital of Mexico City.
Although 1.5 million people live within the city limits and nearly 5 million people reside in the metro region, Guadalajara feels more laid-back and manageable than most cities its size. The metro area rolls out west from the city center to the upscale and quite modern business district, where you’ll find large international hotels and a smattering of office towers, and also to the east, which is home to the quaint arts villages of Tonala and Tlaquepaque. To the immediate northwest, historic Zapopan is another community rife with galleries and restaurants.
The city is relatively easy city to drive in, and a car does allow a deeper exploration of the surrounding Jalisco. But Guadalajara is also served by an extremely affordable and generally safe fleet of taxis (though it’s best to have your hotel or restaurant phone for a cab, and also to agree upon the fare before you get in).
Most gay nightlife and B&Bs are located in the downtown area El Centro and the adjacent Zona Rosa, which is easy to navigate on foot as long as you exercise common-sense precautions (avoid walking alone at night and along quiet side streets).
The major sights of interest here can be divided roughly into two categories: Those located within the historic city center, and those that require longer forays by taxi or tour group. Within the city center, head for the centrally located, rectangular Plaza Tapatio (residents of Guadalajara are known as Tapatios). Facing or very near this plaza you’ll find such landmarks as the enormous 16th century cathedral, the excellent Museo Regional de Guadalajara and the famed neoclassical opera house, Teatro Degollado.
At the plaza’s east end, be sure to stop by Instituto Cultural Cabanas, a former orphanage comprising numerous grand courtyards and housing astoundingly beautiful (and enormous) ceiling and wall murals by Jose Clemente Orozco.
Outside downtown (20 minutes by taxi), nearby Tlaquepaque is a must. Stroll along the city center, and especially on Independencia, which is lined with galleries selling fine crafts, artwork, antiques and home furnishings, with styles ranging from traditional to contemporary (and quality that is is consistently high). There are several noted restaurants here, too. Also consider a visit to nearby Tonala, which has long been renowned as a center of traditional Mexican pottery.
Few visitors to this part of the world pass up the chance to explore the town of Tequila, where the liquor of the same name is distilled at dozens of distilleries, including famous ones like Jose Cuervo and Sauza. You can take a taxi or book a trip through a tour company — hotel staff and innkeepers can easily help you plan a visit.
Tapatios approach dining with style and gusto. Some notable spots for higher-end, creative cuisine include Cocina 88, renowned for its fresh seafood and on-site wine store, and La Matera, a bustling Argentine and Italian restaurant with an attractive patio (steaks are an obvious specialty here).
You can also savor some wonderfully prepared meals at Escuela Culinaria Internacional, a renowned cooking school with a restaurant as well as cooking classes open to the public. A 10-minute walk north of the main gay nightlife strip in Centro Historico, Vida is a friendly and cheery LGBT cafe that’s ideal for coffee, light snacks and conversation.
In Tlaquepaque, the dining scene is focused mostly along Independencia. Here you might try Hacienda Real San Pedro or Casa Fuerte, which both serve exceptionally tasty and creative modern Mexican fare. Around the plaza that Independencia leads into, you’ll also find dozens of street vendors selling cakes, tacos al pastor, tortas, churros and frozen ices (ice cream sold out of long metal tubes flavored with vanilla, walnut and fruit).
The majority of Guadalajara’s gay and lesbian bars are in Centro, many along busy Avenida Prisciliano Sanchez. Here you’ll find one of the most popular gay discos in the city, Circus Club, which especially packs them in on Friday nights. Also considering stopping by casual but hip Club YeYe, a friendly lounge drawing a mixed crowd of women and men and the campy Ruta Caudillos disco.
In the more fashionable Zona Rosa, there’s Angel’s, a long-running popular disco (especially after-hours on Saturday nights).
Still farther west (take a taxi), the most stylish gay club in the city (and one of the nicest in Mexico) is Black Cherry, a capacious warehouse club with two big dance floors, a small patio and a highly sophisticated sound system. The owners of Circus and Black Cherry also run a more laid-back, mixed gay/straight bar and lounge in Zona Rosa called Link that cultivates a mellower vibe, its DJs spinning trance and chill-out music. Monica’s Disco has for years been a favorite place to dance and watch drag shows.
Guadalajara has many great gay-friendly accommodations. Of particular note are the several smaller, historic inns around the city, the cushiest being Villa Ganz, which occupies a handsome historic home along a smart residential block in Zona Rosa and contains a handful of stunningly appointed suites. In back you’ll find a glorious courtyard and garden, where Continental breakfast and evening snacks and wine are served.
Other inviting but more reasonably priced small inns around the City Center include a gay-owned, Moorish-inspired mansion called La Perla that has artfully decorated rooms and the beautifully restored Old Guadalajara B&B, which has four large suites decorated with old-world antiques. The building occupies part of what was a convent during the 16th century.
One interesting, highly affordable choice aimed squarely at the gay-male market is Hotel Lit, which is close to Centro gay nightlife and offers a mix of private and shared rooms, the cheapest of which cost around $15 per night. This new and nicely run property is basically a hostel with something of the vibe you might find at a gay sauna (massage service is available, and free passes are available to a nearby gym). There’s wi-fi and a computer terminal, and guests have use of a fully equipped kitchen.
Larger mainstream properties of note include the posh Presidente InterContinental Guadalajara, which is right across the street from a large outdoor shopping mall and within walking distance of Black Cherry. Right in the city center, the historic Hotel Morales captures the rich charm of the city center. It’s an easy walk to gay bars, and home to a beautiful lobby bar — if nothing else, stop in for a drink in the early evening and soak up the charm of this grand old building and the surrounding historic area.
LITTLE BLACK BOOK
Accommodations: Hotel Lit (HostelLitgdl.com). Hotel Morales (Hotelmorales.com.mx). La Perla (LaPerlagdl. com). Old Guadalajara B&B (Old Guadalajara.com). Presidente InterContinental Guadalajara. Villa Ganz (VillaGanz.com).
Bars & Clubs: Angels Club. Black Cherry (Blackcherry. com.mx). Casa Fuerte (Casafuerte.com). Circus Club (Grupocircus.com/web/circus). Club YeYe. Link (Grupocircus.com/web/link). Monica’s Disco (MonicasDisco.com).
Ruta Caudillos (RutaCaudillos.com).
Dining: Cocina 88 (Cocina88.com). La Matera.
Resources: Tourism Guadalajara (Vive.Guadalajara. com.mx). Tourism Tequila (TequilaJalisco. gob.mx).
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 18, 2009.