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Zapopan Centro May Be Guadalajara's Best Kept Secret

Updated: May 8

Whether a resident or a tourist in Guadalajara, where do you head for a fun night out when you've aged out of Chapultepec, Colonia Americana feels overrun by expats, and Andares is just too sceney?


Our "go-to" neighborhood for a fun night out lately is Zapopan Centro. Before you spray your morning coffee... hear me out.

Zapopan Centro is Guadalajara's best kept secret
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For those who only know Zapopan's historic center for its baroque Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Zapopan or the iconic restaurant Fonda Doña Garbina Escolastica (try its hearty pozole and savory sopes), my claim may come as a surprise.


But big changes are afoot in Zapopan Centro. This year, the sleek new MAZ+ building (part of the Museo de Arte de Zapopan) is set to open at the easternmost side of the Centro in the shadows of the Monumento Arcos de Zapopan, shown above.


This modern behemoth is the crown jewel of a newly inaugurated Zapopan "museum district," which spans 7 blocks from the MAZ+ to the Basílica. A handful of restaurants, bars, and cafes are set to occupy the ground level of MAZ+, while a few blocks to the south, the cool kids are moving in.


A Quick Geography Lesson


Zapopan Centro, the historic district of sprawling Zapopan, is technically part of the Guadalajara metropolitan area. But its narrow streets, centuries-old architecture, baroque Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Zapopan, and total absence of mega apartment towers sets it apart from the Guadalajara metropolis directly south and Vegas-like Andares neighborhood a few minutes west.

map of Zapopan Centro

Strolling Zapopan Centro's narrow and bustling streets can feel like stepping back in time. The neighborhood is often jammed with Tapatio (as local natives are called) families out for an afternoon stroll, pensioners doing their weekly shopping, and vendors selling artisanal wares along the pedestrian blocks of Andador 20 de Noviembre, with nary a tourist in sight.


I consider it an unofficial and unspoiled "Pueblo Mágico" surrounded by an ultra-modern metropolis.


The New Wave


While Colonia Americana in central Guadalajara garners all the buzz, Zapopan Centro is quietly transforming itself, with young and worldly natives driving the effort, not foreigners.


In the southeast corner of Centro, which has long housed the aforementioned Doña Garbina Escolastica, a new wave of hip and creative restaurants, bars, and cafés is emerging, unlike anything that's existed in the neighborhood up to now.


Below is a look at the noteworthy arrivals shaking things up.


Zapopan Centro is Guadalajara's best kept secret

AXNO


This bar/restaurant oozes cool even before you step inside. It features a stunning dining room on the ground level with giant modern art pieces, a backlit bottle wall, and candlelit tables surrounded by agave plants.


But the real action is on the rooftop. Ascending the stairs, you find a smaller open-air bar with a handful of tables artfully arranged on two levels, with views of the surrounding Centro.


Some nights, a DJ mixes electronic music while young locals sip creative tequila-based cocktails and snack on novel interpretations of simple Mexican classics -- think tacos, ceviches, guacamole, and grilled corn. The tequila selection here extends to super-premium bottles ideal for sipping, to the delight of true connoisseurs.


Binaural Café


An espresso bar with a great vinyl collection? Yes, please!


Binaural café may be new to town, but they're already doing two things exceptionally well. First are the classic Italian coffees (espresso, cappuccino, macchiato, etc.). Second is the music, with the baristas taking turns spinning records on a turntable discretely located behind the back bar.


coffee in Zapopan Centro

Their music collection (courtesy of locally-owned Sonoro Records) is curated for an indie-loving audiophile, with classics from the Arctic Monkeys, Interpol, and Radiohead alongside newer releases from Toro y Moi, Billie Eilish, and Jungle, among others.


Though it's only been open for about a month, the kind and attentive service (you can request records if sitting at the bar), combined with excellent coffee and boho vibes is already drawing a steady stream of patrons.


A canine-friendly spot, I know we'll be dropping into Binaural regularly for shots of espresso and new music listening sessions.


Cerveza Zorra Bistro Pub


dining in Zapopan centro

The word also got out quickly about Zorra.


This handsome, minimalist pub features tropical plants and a semi-circular bar. Designed with Earth tones and natural materials, it's a soothing space that offers a delightful respite from the diabolical afternoon heat we've suffered recently.


In contrast to their sister establishment AXNO, Zorra's focus is craft beers, with the rotating list displayed on a hand-written chalkboard above the bar.


On our last visit, the selection included Czech and New Zealand Pilsners, Mexican IPAs and Porters, plus a Japanese rice lager. Zorra also offers a small but well-chosen list of (mostly) European wines.


Snacks are savory, simple, and satisfying -- think grilled sandwiches, fish tacos, green salads, and traditional ceviches.


The space fills up on weekends but can be delightfully low-key on a weeknight. True to their name, our dog Diego is also welcomed at Zorra with a bowl of water and an orange slice.


nightlife in Zapopan

Salón Candela 


A self-described "taverna tropical," the vibe at Salon Candela is bohemian casual, with sophisticated libations and sometimes a touch of attitude.


A dark and intimate space with live music a few nights a week, this boite draws a mostly younger crowd out on dates (and I can see why). This is a cool bar predating the recent wave of newcomers.


Creative cocktails are the main focus at Salón Candela, with a small, select offering of beer and wine rounding things out.


Snacks are Yucatecan-inspired with Asian influences, including tacos de camarones and fiery aguachiles. Somewhat surprising for a cocktail bar, the food is innovative and delicious.


Weeknights may see a downtempo DJ set or karaoke with full crowd participation -- you never know what you might stumble upon during a night out here.


Zapopan Centro is Guadalajara's best kept secret
Live music at Enora

Enora


While not technically in Zapopan Centro, Enora is worth a short detour. It's easily reached on foot or by bicycle by heading east from the historic zone on one of the most beautiful streets in the metro area.


Traveling on foot down the charming, pedestrian-friendly Av. Aurelio Ortega with huge shade trees, you reach Enora in the cobblestoned Colonia Seattle neighborhood.


And unlike the venues described above, Enora attracts a slightly older crowd, albeit a creative and sophisticated one.


With two outdoor terraces and a cozy interior, it's our favorite spot for live music (jazz, bossa nova, blues) and a snack on Thursday evenings. The food is fresh, seasonal, and vegetarian-friendly, with an ever-changing list of wines (mostly European), beers and cocktails.


On weekdays, Enora can also be a tranquil place to grab a coffee and work remotely, or meet a friend for a leisurely lunch. On the other hand, weekend brunch is a 3-ring fresa circus, and not the best time to visit.


How to Get to Zapopan Centro


From downtown Guadalajara, the light rail Linea 3 runs northwest to Zapopan Centro. The trip is roughly 7 stops and takes about 20 minutes. The cost for one ride is $9.50 MXN.


From Colonia Americana, Providencia, or elsewhere, it's easier to grab a bus heading north along Av. Americas to Zapopan Centro, or take an Uber.


book a Guadalajara hotel

For the intrepid traveler, bike lanes run the length of Avenida Camacho from Guadalajara into Zapopan Centro, where you will find multiple MiBici stations for convenient parking.


I would discourage you from driving into Zapopan Centro as the traffic makes you want to cry most of the time, and street parking is virtually impossible to get.


If you must bring a car, your best bet for parking is at the Estacionamiento Público on Calle 5 de Mayo just south of Javier Mina.


Where to Stay


Modern hotels in Zapopan Centro aren't quite as rare as a unicorn, but it's pretty close. Airbnbs are also scarce. Could there be a better barometer of a neighborhood flying under the radar?


Perhaps the best option a mere stone's throw from the Arcos de Zapopan on Av. de las Americas is the highly-rated Hotel NEXT. The more traditional Hotel Real Zapopan to the south side of the Basilica is also well-located and on a quieter street.


travel to Guadalajara

While the Providencia neighborhood is right down the hill, it's a completely different vibe -- think gleaming modern towers, expense account restaurants, and the occasional WeWork office. That said, hotels are more plentiful there.


If staying in the thick of the nightlife corridor appeals to you, try the top-rated Grand Fiesta Americana Guadalajara Country Club. It about 10 minutes by car to Zapopan Centro and features some of Guadalajara's top dining destinations (La Docena, Allium, Hono) right outside your door, which can come in handy once you've exhausted all that the historic district has to offer.


 

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Resources

AXNO. 28 de Enero 194, Zapopan Centro. Closed Sundays & Mondays.

Cerveza Zorra Bistro Pub. C. 5 de Mayo 272, Zapopan Centro. Closed Mondays.

Binaural Café. Calle Javier Mina 311, Zapopan Centro. Closed Mondays.

Salon Candela. Calle Javier Mina 183, Zapopan Centro. Closed Mondays.

Enora. Av. Aurelio Ortega 515, Los Maestros, Zapopan. Closed Mondays.

Fonda Doña Garbina Escolastica. Calle Javier Mina 237, Zapopan Centro. Closed Mondays.





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