As Mexico’s second-largest city, Guadalajara delivers a less frenetic alternative to the nation’s capital. And, while many of the images recognized as Mexican have their roots here – mariachi music, wide-brimmed sombreros, the Mexican hat dance and charreadas (rodeos) – Guadalajara is as much a vanguard of the new Mexico as it is guardian of the old. An embarrassment of museums and theaters drive the cultural life forward, fusion chefs have sharpened the edges of an already legendary culinary scene and foresighted local planners are doing their damnedest to tackle the traffic.

Guadalajara can’t match the architectural homogeneity of smaller colonial cities, though its historic core, anchored by the wonderful cathedral and Instituto Cultural de Cabañas, is handsome. The hipster Chapultepec neighborhood is sprinkled with fashionable restaurants, coffeehouses and nightclubs. The mellow suburbs of upscale Tlaquepaque and grassroots Tonalá are folk-art shoppers’ dream destinations, while Zapopan has some interesting colonial architecture.

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