Oaxaca City has always intrigued me. Everytime I heard the name “Oaxaca” I would feel a little tingle in my heart, that pull of curiosity that’s lead me around the world time and time again. Each time someone would describe their experience, I could feel the enthuasim in their voice. This year, after living in Tulum for 4 months and collectively 3 years, I knew I had to have a more authentic experience and get to know the soul of Mexico.
As I’ve now spent about 2 weeks (eating) in Oaxaca City and 8 days in Puerto Escondito, I can affirm that the pull that brought me here was entirely worthwhile. This city is filled with color, history, charm, and of course undoubtedly some of the best food in the world. Each corner delights you with a new discovery to tempt each of the senses. I prefer morning strolls through the city while sipping the best Oaxacan coffee to fuel my inspiration to create my day.
Surrounded by montañas, the city is not far from nature and vegetation. In fact, in 20 minutes you can be hiking the surrounding hills overlooking the city, or exploring the agave plantations that produce mezcal for the rest of world. We can’t talk about Oaxaca without talking about Mezcal. Mezcal is a type of alcoholic beverage that is made from the agave plant and is a significant part of Oaxacan culture. It has gained international recognition in recent years, but it’s important to note that only mezcal made in Oaxaca can be legally called “mezcal” under Mexican law.
This is because Oaxaca has a unique combination of climate, soil, and tradition that gives its mezcal a distinctive flavor and character. In fact, many Oaxacan mezcal distilleries use traditional production methods that have been passed down through generations of families.
Mezcal, the Zapotec’s say, is medicine. I had the delight of visiting one of the oldest mezcal plantations in Santiago Matalan and tried over 10 varieties from a Maestro Mezcalero named Jeronimo. He guided us through the correct way to taste mezcal, you must respect it, kiss it, and drink slowly with intention. He mentioned he gives the medicine to his father to stop seizures in their tracks. I can definitely feel that mezcal elicits a different vibration in my body than any other alcohol I’ve tried.
So, if you want to try the real deal, Oaxaca is the place to be. Oaxaca is known for its mezcal amongst many other things such as textiles, coffee, mole, ceramics, and beyond.
I could go on for days, but in short, it’s quaint, lovely, and welcoming. I want to back pocket it for myself as more people begin to discover this city, but I feel compelled to share what’s made my time here so special, including the businesses and people that have become my community.
Welcome to my guide of Flâneuring Around Oaxaca City – An Artist’s Guide
/ flɑˈnœr / noun, plural flâ·neurs [flah-nœr]. French. a person who lounges or strolls around in a seemingly aimless way; an idler or loafer: the flâneur, that cool, aloof observer of urban society.
What to Do In Oaxaca City
If you’re anything like me, you probably like to sample all that a place has to offer through its cuisine, cafes, artisans, and landscape. Perhaps you’re a digital nomad working remotely and appreciate locations with a good work-life balance. This is a fusion of my recommendations for all of the above.
My ideal days include a bit of structure with plenty of room to be surprised and delighted. I typically start my days at my favorite cafe’s journaling and reflecting, while getting inspired by the surroundings to carry me through till the evening, where I like to unwind with connection, music, and surprises.
Often I’ll walk 10 miles a day just wandering, stumbling upon hidden curiosities and often debating what I can fit into my carry-on to bring home. Finding new opportunities behind interesting doorways is common, and quite literally that’s how I birthed my Emotional Release Breathwork Workshop here with a local yoga teacher. If you’re new to the solo traveler way, being open, warm and curious will get you a long way in a new place.
One of my favorite days here in Oaxaca was an adventure with a driver named Oscar. Me and a beautiful Mexican family spent a day touring local villages, learning the mythology of an “enchanted lagoon”, eating mole in the mountains, watching a local woodworker craft molinillos for Oaxacan chocolate, and hiking in the forest seeing 1000 year old trees.
The tour was mostly in Spanish, so I didn’t get all of the details.. but honestly going and just surrendering to the experience was awesome. By the end of the day I felt like I was essentially part of their family. A 5 hour car ride through the mountains will do that to anyone, I think. The entire day cost $300 pesos (15 USD) and can be booked with Yiere on Whatsapp (+52 1 951 135 3245) — the “Sierra Norte” tour.
Without further ado, let’s jump into the heart of what to do in Oaxaca City, including itineraries for my favorite neighbourhoods, restaurants, and of course, cafes.
Where To Stay & Stroll in Oaxaca City
Today, I want to take you on a journey through the vibrant and captivating streets of Oaxaca City, where two neighborhoods have stolen my heart and are absolute must-visits: Jalatlaco and Xochimilco. These charming areas are bustling with creativity, culture, and a bohemian atmosphere that will make any creative feel inspired just by stepping outside!
Walking is the best way to see the city by far. If you need to get around at night, or longer distances, taxi is definitely the way to go. Each ride is only about $50 pesos ($3) in the city, super reasonable. I found a gem of a human named Ricardo who took me everywhere, including the airport and surrounding towns. Ricardo (+52 951 196 6212).
First up, let’s explore Jalatlaco, a hidden gem tucked away just east of the city center. As you wander through its narrow cobblestone streets, you’ll be greeted by colorful facades, quaint cafes, and walls adorned with captivating street art. This neighborhood is a haven for local artists and creatives, with countless galleries and workshops showcasing the region’s rich artistic heritage. Don’t forget to indulge in a cup of artisanal coffee in one of the trendy cafes, where you can sip your latte while admiring the local artwork that adorns the walls.
My morning flow started at Once in Oaxaca enjoying a latte outside in the sun. Then I’d go to Santa Hierba for brunch, an amazing vegetarian bistro with really good, healthy food. Apparently their veggie burger is also to die for, but I can highly recommend their huevos rancheros with mole, ginger turmeric shot, and juice.
If you’re feeling something more authentic, browse Mercado de la Merced, have a Tejate [teˈxate] a non-alcoholic maize and cacao beverage traditionally made in Oaxaca, Mexico, originating from pre-Hispanic times or a Cafe de Olla mexican clay pot coffee with cinnamon and dark sugar. You can get any traditional breakfast under 100 pesos ($5 USD) there and get to know the locals at their huge communal tables. Try a Memela while you’re at it, don’t forget!
If you need to co-work for the day, definitely try Onno and one of their pastries (so good.. still dreaming of their cinnamon roll) and browse Micha nextdoor while you’re there! This local design studio makes and sells furniture, textiles, clothes and unique pieces.
I stayed in Jalataco in a local artists home and found it was an ideal spot to explore the rest of the city. It is only about a 15 minute walk from the center, and the area is perfect to walk around and feel a cozy neighborhood vibe out of a storybook.
Next on our list is the neighborhood of Xochimilco, known for its enchanting colonial architecture and lively atmosphere. This bohemian district boasts an abundance of art and ceramic galleries, boutique shops, and cozy cafes where you can unwind with a delicious cup of Mexican coffee. My favorite thing to do is just take a stroll along the picturesque streets, lined with colorful adobe houses and archways.
I would recommend starting the day with a Street Art Bike Ride hosted by Coyote Aventuras around the neighborhood, grabbing a cup of coffee at El Volador and people watching with a book, and then letting yourself get lost. I felt super safe personally in Oaxaca and especially during the daytime, allow yourself the grace of roaming. If you’re sick of mexican food, try this Middle Eastern gem for lunch Adama. If you’re not sick of Mexican food (how could you!) try my favorite stand for tlayudas and quesadillas, right in front of Cozana piano bar. It’s 3 women making fresh food from their heart and fresh corn, what more could you want!
Perhaps check out the piano bar after for live music on their roof, and good cocktails. I never ended up visiting but poked my head inside twice, as the interior looked upscale and enchanting. Next time!
Whether you choose to immerse yourself in the artistic vibes of Jalatlaco or soak up the charm of Xochimilco, these two neighborhoods are the perfect havens for art, cafe, and food loving folks seeking an unforgettable experience in Oaxaca City. Get ready to embrace the creative spirit, indulge in aromatic coffee, and uncover the hidden treasures of these vibrant districts.
Where To Stay, Sleep, Recharge
- Maison Oaxaca: Jude is an awesome woman in Oaxaca who has multiple Airbnb options. She cares about quality, and is committed to creating unique sanctuaries around the city. Check out all of her options on her Linktree here.
- Grana B&B: For a more curated upscale stay in the center, stay in this beautifully restored colonial house, where friendly hosts, comfortable rooms, and a homemade breakfast await. The owners are super lovely, and the interior thoughtfully curated.
- Casa Paramo: Slightly outside the city center, immerse yourself in the local culture while enjoying the modern comforts and traditional Oaxacan design. Rodrigo owns this space (and the next one) who is a really great human to know, and provides many recommendations as a former tour guide around the city.
- Casa Stellla: Unwind in this charming and stylish Airbnb, offering a peaceful retreat in a tranquil neighborhood while being close to Oaxaca City’s vibrant attractions. It’s literally all downhill from here, and on this hill sits Humito where you can enjoy live music at 7pm and watch the sunset, it’s the best view of the city in my opinion!
What To Do In Oaxaca City (other than eat)
While Oaxaca City is glorious and filled with plenty to keep you occupied, what stands out are the pueblos near the city, and natural landscapes surrounding it.
Hierve El Agua Hike & Mezcal Tour: I was happy to join Coyote Aventuras on a day trip to the natural pools overlooking the mountains, followed by a challenging hike, more swimming, and a tour of a local mezcal distillery. This travel company is awesome because they really care and give back to local communities while also valuing sustainability.
For this adventure, I awoke bright and early at 5am, starting the day with local memelas, coffee, and conversation with the group. Upon arriving at Hierve El Agua, we had time to swim in these natural wonders while the sun greeted the day over the mountains. It was probably one of the most incredible sights I’ve ever seen. Afterwards, a local guide named Saturno led the way with a feathered hat and hiking stick, while our guide educated us about the sacred land.
Free Walking Tour: At 10am each day, a free walking tour of the city is offered. I always love to start my trip with these, as you get to know the city through the eyes of locals and begin to understand the layout, history, and ask any questions you may have. I like to imagine the first 2 days or so as “laying the foundation” to the rest of the time spent on a trip, getting the logistics settled and just landing.
Sofar Sounds Concert: If you’re lucky enough to catch a Sofar concert while you’re in Oaxaca, you won’t regret it. They have hidden concerts in intimate venues, with amazing artists and it attracts a lovely community of locals. One of the best nights was spent at a Sofar Sounds show!
Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca: The botanical garden has some amazing species native to Oaxaca, and offers tours each day in english at 11am. The plants come from different regions of the state, both from arid and humid climates, from lowland tropics and temperate and cold mountainous areas. The Garden represents the great diversity of climates, geological formations and types of vegetation that characterize Oaxaca. You must go at 11 with a guided tour to get in.
San Agustín Etla: This picturesque town is about 40 minutes from the city, and worth a visit. It’s only about $250 pesos ($11) by taxi. Don’t miss the CASA Art Centre Museum, an incredible space in an old abandoned textile factory meticulously restored in the hills above San Augustin Etla. They have rotating art exhibitions and cultural events. For lunch, head to Dulce Peligro, a hidden gem of a french bakery with fresh bread, pastries, pizza, and sandwiches amongst a charming backyard. The whole process is handmade and ingredients are of the best quality.
Oaxaca Language Exchange: This is a Whatsapp group with frequent social activities, with the intention of sharing languages. Also check out Oaxaca Hiking Club on Whatsapp as well! I went on a nearby hike with a small group by bus and it was truly a gem of a day.
Do not miss out on the markets of Oaxaca. I would often spend hours strolling around, sampling food, people watching, and sometimes shopping! There’s so many types of ceramics, textiles, and other handcrafted wares that you’ll want to save room in your luggage. I may or may not have given a bag of clothes away to a local thrift store to resell, opting to create room for wooden spoons, coffee, clothes and mugs. Oh yeah, and mezcal.
Mercado 20 de Noviembre: This is the big one, with more than enough food options to keep you full for lifetimes. There’s also one right next to it with all the stores, selling local goods. I recommend trying tlayudas, tejate, mole, and fresh jugo verde.
Mercado de La Merced: A smaller market with more than enough variety, near where I was staying. I prefer this one as it’s less overwhelming, and has a wide open space (cafeteria style) to enjoy your huevos rancheros. Also, try a nieve which is a fruit sorbet style icecream. Try the tuna flavor (not the fish, it’s a pink cactus flower and tastes like red fruit). They also have beautiful fresh flowers in the back where you can create your own bouquet for 100 pesos or so ($5).
Mercado Tlacolula: Only open on Sundays, and that’s what makes this market special. I kept hearing about how amazing this market is, but sadly I didn’t get to go this time! It’s about 45 minutes away from Oaxaca City, and worth a visit from everyone I spoke with. I’m linking this blog post here that is the ultimate guide!
Where To Sip The Best Coffee in Oaxaca City
- Once in Oaxaca: This place is owned by local artist (my airbnb host!) Jamie Levin, who has created this vibrant space fusing art and coffee, the two best things in life IMO. This is a cozy cafe that offers a great selection of top quality coffee, and locally made pastries. Bonus points because they have oat milk, a charming garden with tables to journal at and offer a welcoming vibe to connect with friends in the morning, or work in the afternoon!
📍 Maps Location Here
- Kiyo: Kiyo is a trendy coffee shop that offers a unique blend of Mexican and Japanese culture. They specialize in matcha lattes and other tea-based drinks, but also offer a variety of coffee options and their espresso is heavenly. Try their Kiyo shake espresso drink made with Oaxacan chocolate, it’s next level good. They also sell yummy snacks and coffee beans, and have a few tables to hang (currently writing this post from one of em!)
📍 Maps Location Here
- Sagrado Filemón I Pan y Café: This cafe is known for its artisanal bread, dynamite breakfast and pastries, as well as its excellent coffee. They use organic and locally sourced ingredients, and have a lovely terrace with a view where you can sit and enjoy your food and drink. Perhaps bring a book, pass the time and start your day off right!
📍 Maps Location Here
- Café El Volador: This is a charming coffee shop located in the colorful Xochimilco neighborhood in a bright red corner building. This cozy café has a unique vibe that’s perfect for people watching while sipping on delicious coffee. There are plenty of cozy nooks and crannies to relax inside and out. The café offers a variety of coffee drinks made with their own beans, as well as pastries. If you’re looking for a relaxed way to start your day, definitely don’t miss Café El Volador!
📍 Maps Location Here
- Onnno Lonchería: This was the first place I went in Oaxaca City and I visited most days since! This is an amazing spacious cafe that ticks all the boxes.. a place to eat well, drink well, connect well, work well, and treat yoself to their delicious pastries, because, well why not. They also offer to go coffee in an efficient way in wonderful compostable cups. DO NOT MISS their breakfast sandwich, horchata iced coffee, and cinnamon rolls. The staff are super lovely, welcoming and don’t mind if you stay and work at their big communal tables all day. Thank you Onno for being my “home” cafe here always with a smile 🙂
Sidenote: the owner runs an outdoor HIIT workout on a rooftop 3 days a week called Puro Somos great to balance out all the pastries – check it out!
📍 Maps Location Here
6. Marito&Moglie cafe: Beautiful outdoor cafe with strong wifi. The ambience is great and the courtyard is lovely, with a tree acting as half the shade, and the hum of people enjoying each other’s company in the background. Popular spot for co-working, communing, and great pour over V60 coffee as well as fresh daily baked pastries.
📍 Maps Location Here
Where To Eat in Oaxaca City
The moment you’ve all been waiting for. My motto was “eat now move later.” I legitimately graced myself with a permission slip to eat anything I wanted for 3 weeks, and can safely report after landing, I have zero regrets. I suggest giving yourself the same grace, as every meal you have will be incredible and likely less than the price of a gallon of oat milk back home.
Experience a fusion of flavors at Cobarde, where innovative Mexican cuisine meets international influences. Enjoy creative dishes and a vibrant atmosphere on a rooftop with a view. Slightly upscale modern vibe, great for a date!
Elevate your dining experience at Pitiona, a renowned restaurant offering a refined take on Oaxacan cuisine. Prepare to be dazzled by their exquisite dishes crafted with locally sourced ingredients on their rooftop overlooking bell towers.
Immerse yourself in a fine dining experience at Origen, where traditional Oaxacan ingredients are transformed into elegant and artfully presented dishes. Prepare for a culinary journey like no other in a beautiful space. Try their plantain appetizer and risotto. Highly recommend for a solo hot date!
Beautiful view of the church and mountains from a cactus lined terrace with unique food and cocktails! A magnificent place to watch the sunset and reflect on the day.
Start your day at Pan Con Madre, a charming bakery in a tranquil courtyard offering a wide array of freshly baked goods, from pastries to artisan bread. Delight in their scrumptious creations and enjoy a cozy atmosphere.
Does your tummy need a break? They have delicious ginger shots, alongside creative healthy dishes with plenty of veggie and vegan options. I had a mole enchilada for brunch here and it didn’t disappoint. Oh yeah, and the golden milk was delicious. And coffee. I tried many things.
Unassuming bakery & cafe set in a classic Oaxacan house with colorful walls & a courtyard patio.
For a taste of Oaxaca’s famous mole, head to Los Pacos Oaxaca. This no-frills restaurant serves up some of the best mole dishes in the city. I can honestly report I had a spiritual experience eating the mole here. They give you a little dish to try 10 moles, you decide on your favorite, and then they prepare it with meat or vegetables in my case, and cheese. The Oaxacan cheese was divine. I could have rolled out of the restaurant down the hill if it wasn’t for my taxi.
Enjoy a casual lunch at Itanoni, known for its authentic Oaxacan tortillas and traditional dishes. Dive into the local flavors and savor the rich culinary heritage. I saw this on a Vice documentary (the Munchies series) and it didn’t disappoint.
Indulge your sweet tooth at Corazón de Cacao, a delightful cacao cafe serving delectable treats made from high-quality Oaxacan chocolate. Taste and learn about different Oaxacan chocolates! It has a different flavor than any chocolate I’ve ever had in my life on this planet thus far.
My time in Oaxaca City was one of contemplation of my time in Mexico, and the appreciation I have for the culture. I spent my days journaling, eating, walking, and mostly just trying to be as present as possible in the in between moments. I will miss the freely thrown buenas dias on the streets, the smiles and hugs from strangers, the mole that is descended from the heavens, the mangos as meals, the colors everywhere that ignite a creative spark, and just how good it felt to experience the land.
I am so grateful for everyone I met that took me under their wing, showed me around, or shared a meal with me. I recommend visiting Oaxaca City with love in your heart, an open mind and a curious soul.
Flâneuring Around Oaxaca City – The Artist’s Guide
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