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“The Mexican capital is more cosmopolitan than ever, with world-class museums, vibrant street art and bustling markets.”- The New York Times

Mexico City – or CDMX, as it’s now known- has been on the top of my destination list for several years.  I was honestly a little scared about going due to the city’s reputation as a dangerous place.  When my friend Julie – a former resident of eight years – talked about taking a visit, I knew that I wanted to tag along for a long weekend adventure.  The flight is only three-and-a-half hours non-stop from San Francisco.   I feel in love with a city that is trove of art, architecture and food.

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Like with any travel, be smart about your surroundings.  I felt completely safe at all times.  I would advise drinking bottled water to keep your stomach healthy.  A pack of Pepto chewables is not a bad idea if you’re not good with spicy food.   People seem to complain about the horrible traffic. Have you been stuck in traffic on the 405 in LA or been to San Francisco or New York recently?  The traffic didn’t strike me as noticeably worse.  Another thing to consider is that the elevation is quite high.  Sometimes people think that they are having troubles breathing related to the pollution, but it can also be due to the altitude. (A 2015 report ranked Mexico City’s pollution as similar in magnitude to Los Angeles).  Check weather reports to avoid the city in the really hot weather. Late fall and winter seem to be the ideal times to visit.  I am not quite sure how I managed not having a drop of tequila on this trip, so I am already planning how I can make a return trip to remedy the situation.

As I always share after my travels, here are my narrowed down TOP 10 suggestions. My insider tips, that you might not see listed in a guide book.  In no order…here you go!

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10. Stay at The Red Tree House.  Suggested by a few friends (and written up in the NYT), it is a cross between a boutique hotel and B&B. Set in the Condesa neighborhood, the owners did a complete renovation of the beautiful 1930’s home.  The staff (and Abril the dog) couldn’t be any nicer and helpful.  A different homemade Mexican breakfast each day and wine in the courtyard after exploring all day.  A perfect way to meet and chat with travelers from around the world. The interaction with other travelers might have been a highlight of the trip.

9. The Frida Kahlo Museum, also known as the Blue House for the structure’s cobalt-blue walls, is a historic house and art museum dedicated to the life and work of Mexican Frida Kahlo.  The building was the birthplace of Kahlo and is also the home where she grew up and then lived with her husband Diego Rivera for a number of years.  If you book online you can avoid the long lines wrapped around the block.

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8. Museo Rufino Tamayo is a public contemporary art museum located in Mexico City’s Chapultepec Park. A wonderful collection of modern and contemporary art.  Rufino Tamayo (Oaxaca, 1899 – Mexico City, 1991) began to collect pieces for his international contemporary art collection from the end of the 1960s, in order to give Mexicans access to twentieth-century art.

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7. EAT MEXICO.  A chef friend suggested doing a food tour and she couldn’t have been more right with this recommendation.  For four hours, Paco guided us on a private culinary walk through the markets and street vendors.  The Gourmet San Juan Market was a highlight, including a cheese and mole tasting, shopping for dried chilies. I am still dreaming of the blue corn quesadilla with fresh squash blossoms that I gobbled on the street. They also do a night tour which I want to sign up for next time, which includes street tacos and Mezcal.

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6. Markets: Mercado Lagunilla Sunday flea market.  Antiques, plenty junk to sift through – but treasures abound.  This has been taking place in the same site since colonial times!

El Bazaar Sábado (on Saturday, as the name implies) in the beautiful cobbled stone streets of San Angel. A little bit more folksy, but discoveries can be made.

5. Palacio de Bella Artes. Construction began at the turn of the century, when architects were fascinated by Beaux Arts and Art Nouveau – but the project was halted during the Mexican Revolution. It was ultimately completed in 1934, in Art Deco style – and the result is nothing short of spectacular.  Don’t miss the murals!

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4. Centro Artesanal La Ciudadela is a designer’s dream: a huge market filled with artisanal products from all over Mexico. (Note: you do need to do a little bit of weeding through some typical touristy items.) I always love picking up housewares for the home when traveling.  Look for the stunning handmade pottery made from black clay (Barro Negro) from San Bartolo Coyotepec in Oaxaca.

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3. Casa Luis Barragan.  It is hard to pick a highlight of the trip but this might take the prize.  For years, I have been an admirer of Mexican architect, Luis Barragan.  His use of texture, light, geometric forms, and color are like nothing that I have seen before. I loved his signature of hanging art slightly off center.  Worth a visit and paying extra for the right to photograph. In 2004, it was named a World Heritage Siteby UNESCO because it is one of the most influential and representative examples of modern Mexican architecture. Make sure to book far ahead of time.  I booked a month in advance and was able to snag the last tickets.

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2. Check out home decor concept store: Roma Quince. They’ve gathered a handful of supremely tasteful, local textile all in an old restored mansion in the Roma. Onora (in Polanco) carries beautiful hand local crafted home items from Oaxaca, Chiapas and Puebla. Onora is filled with contemporary housewares in monochromatic colors of black, grey and white.

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1. There is no shortage of great places to eat. Street food and a new surge of gastronomic treasures. Contamar is not to be missed.  I am still dreaming of the raw tuna tostadas.  Add Huset, Lardo, Maximo Bistrot Local, Rosetta, Pujo and San Angel Inn to your list for sure.  Califa is sort of Mexican fast food. Cheap, fresh but delicious.  Late lunch seems to be the main meal of the day.  I love how you can linger for hours and people watch.