The San Rafael and Santa Maria neighborhoods are two under-appreciated gems in the center of Mexico City. They retain their residential, hometown vibe while offering tourists who want to get off the beaten path some great options for eating, seeing the sights, and exploring the city. Here are some of our favorite places to discover in these two great hoods.
Eating and Drinking
Taco stands and mom-and-pop places abound in these two neighborhoods, with a fewer trendier cafes and popular restaurants thrown in for diversity. A staple in Santa Maria is Kolobok, one of the city’s only true Russian restaurants – think creamy, delicious borscht, intense Russian beer, and midnight-dark Russian bread. Boca del Rio in San Rafael is a throwback to an earlier era and is popular for its seafood – try the fried plantains and deep-fried garlic, if you dare. La Santa is a popular local pizza joint in San Rafael, serving up big sliced pizza reminiscent of a New York slice, while the stands at Mercado La Dalia in Santa Maria are a great option for Mexican fare.
Camino a Comala, a third-wave coffeeshop, has a home in both neighborhoods, and the newish Pan de Maria has dense donuts, heavenly pan de muerto, and all kinds of delicious imported goodies. La Oveja Negra in Santa Maria is famed for its tacos de barbacoa, while La Especial de Paris ice-cream shop in San Rafael has been making ice-cream fans happy ever since the 1920s.
Pan de Maria, Santa María La Ribera 138, Sta María la Ribera, 06400 Ciudad de Mexico, CDMX, 01 5571592039
San Rafael is known for its alternative art gallery and exhibition spaces such as the Espectro Electromagnetico and Galeria Hilario Galguera, but with unmarked entrances, you have to be in the know to find them. San Rafael is also home to the El Eco museum, a tiny exhibit space full of contemporary art. Santa Maria boasts the Kiosko Morisco right off the main plaza, with its stunning moorish architecture and fascinating history. Also off the main plaza is the Geology Museum; the building itself is a good enough reason to stop by.
San Rafael was once a center of theatrical activity, and you can see the husk of its beautiful Cine Opera on Serapio Rendon Street. You can also go back in time at the Teatro Sergio Magaña, housed inside an ancient church on Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Street. Both neighborhoods have some incredible turn-of-the-century architecture that is still intact and provides lots of fun for amateur photographers.
Espectro Electromagnetico, Joaquin Garcia Icazbalceta 31, San Rafael, 06470 Ciudad de Mexico, CDMX
Galeria Hilario Galguera, Calle Francisco Pimentel 3, San Rafael, 06470 Ciudad de Mexico, CDMX, 01 5555469001
Staying in Town
Because both neighborhoods are still so locally focused, there aren’t a whole lot of hotel options, but the beautifully restored Patio 77 is a great B&B to stay in that will get you close to everything. The owners have created thoughtful decor schemes and their ancient windows are double-glazed to help keep out the noise. The staff are friendly and helpful, and there is a bevy of guidebooks plus a big binder that the owners have put together giving details of things to do in the neighborhood.
The Real Deal Experience
Make sure you take the opportunity to wander down Ribera de San Cosme Avenue, any day but Tuesday when the vendors rest, to see the massive variety of trinkets, pirated goods, and clothes on display at the stands that are set up permanently on this street. You can also take in the San Cosme market for a taste of what most neighborhoods markets in the city are like – colorful, chaotic, and full to overflowing with meat and produce.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.