The hub of community life in Guadalajara, for locals and visitors alike, is the city's Centro Historico, which is framed by colonial era churches and government buildings, all arrayed around a series of plazas. Vendors sell freshly made chips, roasted nuts, fruit, and ears of corn to hungry passersby. People watching is great, day or night, and it doesn't cost ni un centavo.
While the Centro Historico teems with colonial architecture, public art grounded in more contemporary styles abounds throughout the city. You don't need directions to find these pieces— they're everywhere. Challenge yourself and those traveling with you to find and photograph as many as possible; it's a fun and free way to see more of Guadalajara.
Visiting Mexico's markets, whether to buy or browse, is a pleasant way to spend a morning or afternoon. Guadalajara's Mercado Libertad (also called Mercado San Juan de Dios by locals) is Latin America's largest market, selling fruits, vegetables, and other foods, as well as colorful handcrafts that make fantastic and affordable souvenirs.
If bullfighting is too bloody and too dramatic, charreria might be a lower-key—and equally traditional—activity for you to enjoy. Though bullfighting and charreria may seem to be throwbacks to a bygone era, don't be fooled—both are alive and, well, kicking in Guadalajara and are well-attended each weekend by loyal, enthusiastic fans.
Taxis are inexpensive when traveling in the city center, though many parts of the city are highly walkable if you're really keen to save money. Yet another option for getting around is the city's growing public transportation system, comprised of an underground subway system, the Metro, and the Tren Ligero (light train). Fares are under $1 US.
A visit to Guadalajara isn't complete without experiencing live mariachi music. Though the annual International Mariachi Festival, held in September, is mariachi madness, accompanied by grand horse-mounted processions and dancing, it won't be hard to find mariachis at any other time of the year. The best place to look for them is the aptly named Plaza de los Mariachis, at Avenida Javier Mina and Calzada Independencia Sur; the best time to find them is the afternoon and early evening.
Guadalajara has numerous world-class restaurants serving diverse cuisine, including Cocina 88, Suehiro, and El Sacromonte. The prices at these restaurants are reasonable for their quality and service, but if you're on a tight budget, you can't go wrong with Guadalajara's street food.
The torta ahogada is the city's signature sandwich, piled high and deep with chopped meat, then doused in a soupy chile sauce. Every local has his or her favorite spot; ask anyone for a recommendation.
Admittedly, bullfighting isn't an activity that will appeal to every traveler. It's a bloody sport that results in the bull's death and, not infrequently, the injury of the torero. But for travelers looking for an inexpensive and “live like the locals” way of spending a Sunday afternoon, the toreo can't be beat. Guadalajara's Plaza de Toros Nuevo Progreso is easily reached by the city's tren ligero, a recent addition to its public transport system. Tickets start at just under $5 US.
Having saved so much on the other parts of your trip, treat yourself by going all out for your accommodations. The Del Carmen Concept Hotel is a hip and friendly boutique hotel in the city center, with large rooms whose prices range from approximately $200-300 USD. Each room is named after—and decorated in the style of— a Mexican surrealist or expressionist artist. If a stay here would stretch your budget too much, come by to soak up the vibe at the lobby bar or listen to live music on its patio.
It is often called Mexico's “Silicon Valley,” but there's something for everyone in Guadalajara.