Oaxaca City is one destination in Mexico you won’t soon forget. It seems to find its way inside travelers’ tender hearts, who simply can’t help but fall in love with all that Oaxaca has to offer.
There are myriad things to do and see in Oaxaca’s charming city center and beyond in the surrounding Central Valleys of Oaxaca.
Whether you’re sipping a shot of artisanally distilled agave inside a cozy mezcal bar (mezcaleria) or wafting away at the smoke from the meat aisle in the local market, there’s a memorable travel moment to be discovered when you visit Oaxaca.
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I stayed in Oaxaca City as a digital nomad for two months and came across many such moments.
In this guide, I am sharing all the best things to do in Oaxaca, including unmissable off-the-beaten-path activities in addition to the popular Oaxacan staples.
Read more below and feel free to add your suggestions to this responsible Oaxaca bucket list in the comments!
The Best Things to Do in Oaxaca City
1. Eat Typical Oaxacan Food @ Mercado Noviembre 23
Oaxaca is teeming with markets, so what better place to debut your Oaxacan adventures than in the hustle and bustle of one?
Not only can you get a feel for local life here, but you also get to try traditional Oaxacan food staples like tlayudas (sometimes dubbed as “the Mexican pizza”), mole, and tamales.
The November 23 Market features a food hall, which has become famous for its smoke-filled meat aisle. Vegetarians/vegans and folks with respiratory complications beware — this isn’t your ordinary food market.
Here, raw meat hangs in the air waiting to be selected by a hungry visitor. Your selection is then sizzled to street-food-style perfection and served with a heaping portion of sides (lettuce, tomato, marinated onion) and, most importantly, quesillo (Oaxaca cheese).
If you’re not a fan of smoke (or meat), you can eat elsewhere. We popped a squat at the crowded Comedor Tipico La Abuelita, underneath all the colorful papel picado flags, and feasted on a tlayuda the size of our heads (with an extra portion of quesillo on the side for good, cheesy measure). I ordered my favorite drink, a spicy michelada, and it was one of the best I’ve had in Mexico.
Prices here are about the same as you’ll find anywhere in the Noviembre 23 food hall, so find a seat that feels right and order away.
After your meal, get lost in the market’s maze and visit the nearby Mercado Benito Juárez; you’ll find stalls upon stalls of mezcal, produce, artisanal and commercial products, and even fried grasshoppers — Oaxaqueños’ favorite snack!
2. Visit Artisanal Mezcal Distilleries in Mezcal Country
Oaxacan culture and mezcal are inseparable which is why learning and tasting mezcal on a mezcal distillery tour is an absolute must-do activity while in Oaxaca.
Even if you don’t enjoy mezcal, it’s such an important part of the culture and so vital for the Zapotec indigenous communities and their livelihoods.
I recommend several mezcal tours to do this experience with — check out the guide to see what a day tour visiting mezcal distilleries near Oaxaca City is like.
3. Explore the Zapotec Ruins of Monté Albán
Monte Albán is a must-visit in Oaxaca, as it’s one of the state’s and country’s most important archaeological sites. The indigenous Zapotecs once ruled here, atop what’s called the “White Mountain” overlooking the city and the Central Valleys of Oaxaca.
Visiting Monte Albán is a popular thing to do in Oaxaca City because it’s an easy and affordable activity for the whole family. Doors open at 10 am and admission costs $85 MXN pesos.
You can tour the ruins on your own or with a guide during the cooler hours of the morning (2–3 hours) and be back in the historic center in time for lunch at Boulenc (a top place to eat in town).
Read my guide to Monte Albán for more tips!
4. Tour the Beautiful Jardín Etnobotánico of Oaxaca City
The Ethnobotanical Garden in the heart of Oaxaca City is a gorgeous, cactus-filled garden. This beautiful green space in the middle of Oaxaca’s historic center is not to miss.
Visitation is only by tour (you can’t walk around on your own), but, thankfully, they offer daily tours in both English and Spanish.
The Spanish tour is slightly shorter, and not to mention cheaper, so if you want to practice your Spanish skills and shave off a few bucks, you could do that (which is what we did!).
- $50 pesos for Spanish tours, $100 for English tours
- Guided visits take around one hour (Spanish) and two hours (English)
- English tours depart Mon–Sat at 11 am
- Spanish tours depart Mon–Sat at 10 am, 11 am, or 12 pm
- Straw hats are provided if you need one
- Please respect the flora and take only photographs
- Check times and learn more here
The location of Oaxaca’s botanical garden is right behind the Templo de Guzmán Cathedral in the historic center.
5. Celebrate Oaxaca’s Festival of Indigenous Dance & Culture (La Guelaguetza)
La Guelaguetza is one of Oaxaca’s most traditional and beautiful festivals!
This annual festival celebrates the indigenous cultures of Oaxaca in a multi-day celebration filled with lively dancing, storytelling, music, regional costumes and food, and more.
You can experience the fiesta yourself atop Cerro del Fortín, another fun (and free) thing to do in Oaxaca City.
If you’re in Oaxaca City around mid-June, then don’t miss out on this festival!
Want to learn more? You can read more about the significance and history of La Guelaguetza here.
6. Shop Artsy Clothes & Jewelry at the Designer’s Market
If you love good vibes, all things design, trendy fashion, local music, and artisanal jewelry, then you’ll fall head over heels for the Atemporal design market hidden in Oaxaca’s city center.
It took me weeks living in Oaxaca to finally stumble past this adorable market.
At this market, you can shop for handmade clothes and jewelry from regional and international artists, indulge in artisanal ice cream, or just hang out with a beer in the back dining room!
7. Try Tejate the Ancient Aztec Drink of Cacao & Corn
Yes, visually, it doesn’t look very appetizing but I assure you that tejate — an ancient Aztec drink of cacao and corn — is actually very delicious.
You will find tejate in Oaxaca at several stands around town. My favorite place in Oaxaca for drinking tejate is located inside the La Cosecha organic market.
8. Experience Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) in Oaxaca
The first time I experienced the Day of the Dead in Sayulita, Mexico is an experience I’ll never forget.
But Oaxaca? Oaxaca’s celebration of Día de Muertos is off the charts. Most major cities in Mexico will celebrate the Day of the Dead with an elaborate multi-day festival filled with candle-lit altars, organized dances and music, and parades to the local cemetery to honor the dead.
If your visit falls between October 31 and November 3, you will get to experience the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca City — it’s not to miss!
9. Wander Oaxaca’s Oldest Neighborhood of Jalatlaco
Jalatlaco is Oaxaca’s up-and-coming neighborhood, despite being one of its oldest.
Its atmosphere is very different from that of downtown Oaxaca, in that it feels much more like a village than a city.
Colorful homes and buildings line the quiet streets of this neighborhood.
Inside them, you’ll find converted cafés, art studios and galleries, and coworking spaces that will both surprise and delight you!
One of our favorite stops here for lunch is at Santa Hierba. The space is so cute and, most importantly, their food, service, and vibes were amazing!
If you need to get some work done while in town, the coworking space Céntrico is a good spot for fast Wi-Fi. Around the corner from here is our friend Jaime’s beautiful art studio, Once in Oaxaca. Make sure to go and say hi!
10. Find Organic & Local Goods at the Outdoor Mercado La Cosecha
La Cosecha is one of my favorite markets in Oaxaca! Not only can you shop for fresh, organic produce and goods here, but you can also enjoy high-quality Mexican street food.
Speckled around this intimate and hidden outdoor courtyard are stalls serving fresh juice, coffee, tejate, pastries, and more.
Tip: La Cosecha is a featured stop on the walking tour of Oaxaca. In other words, tourists will descend onto the market sometime around 11 AM. Maybe plan your visit for the early morning or late afternoon to enjoy the market without the crowds.
11. Step Inside Oaxaca’s Local Art Galleries
Art galleries in Oaxaca are anything but far and few between — stepping inside one (or many!) is one of the best things to do on a trip to Oaxaca City. Without the art galleries, Oaxaca simply wouldn’t be the same.
12. Go on a Day Trip to Mitla, Hierve El Agua, & Tlacolula
While there is already so much to do in and around Oaxaca’s city center, going on a day trip allows you to explore more of the Central Valleys of Oaxaca.
Mitla is one of Mexico’s most important Zapotec archaeological ruins, after Monté Alban, which makes it a popular day trip from Oaxaca.
Hierve El Agua almost needs no introduction, as it’s one of the top activities to do in Oaxaca state! Oaxaca has become famous abroad thanks to these petrified waterfalls. However, there’s a lot of conflict between the communities that govern the site and the land on which Hierve El Agua sits. Make sure to check the local situation before setting out on your trip.
Tlacolula is famous for its Sunday market, which is one of the largest markets in Oaxaca. If you get to go on a festival day, like the Féria de la Nieve y el Mezcal that we got to experience, then it’ll be even bigger and better!
13. Bike to the Widest Tree in the World (El Tule Tree)
The Tule Tree is the world’s widest tree (in width) and it’s located in the indigenous Zapoteca town of Santa María del Tule, just a short taxi or bike ride outside of Oaxaca City.
A taxi/Uber is the fastest way to get there, but biking to the town via a deserted and converted train track path from the city is an eco-friendly and fun way to explore.
For more details on how to get there, read my guide to visiting the Tule Tree in Oaxaca.
14. Peek Inside the Ornate Templo de Guzman Cathedral
If you’re lucky during your time in Oaxaca, you’ll get to see inside the spectacular Templo de Guzmán Cathedral in the heart of the city.
Why lucky, you ask? The hours for visitation are a little ad-hoc. Doors might open after 4 pm, but not always at the top of the hour.
I know, it’s terrible advice to just say, “Go and check it out and see if you get lucky,” but that’s really what we had to do during the weeks we were in Oaxaca.
After two months there, we finally got to peer inside on a random afternoon when the doors were open for a wedding party.
And if you can, don’t miss out on seeing the treasures of Tomb 7 inside the Santo Domingo Cultural Center/Museum.
15. Stroll Oaxaca’s Historic City Center (“Free” Walking Tour)
Oaxaca has a “free” walking tour, and I put free in quotation marks because donations are requested (well, expected) at the end of the tour, just like all the free walking tours in the world that are run by volunteers.
These tours do offer local insight which, in my opinion, is always worth it!
While the Oaxaca walking tour isn’t as great as some others I’ve done in Mexico (like the one in San Cristóbal de las Casas), it’s still one of the best cheap things to do in Oaxaca City.
More Tours in Oaxaca City:
- Oaxacan Street Food Tour 🌮
- Traditional Cooking Class in Oaxaca 🌽
- Oaxaca City Street Art Biking Tour 🚲
16. Admire the Beautiful Museo Textile de Oaxaca
The Textile Museum of Oaxaca is a hidden gem and a wonderful free thing to do in the city.
The building has an incredible history, from its beginnings as the orchard grounds of a 16th-century Dominican convent to the historic Casa Antelo to a charitable hospital, and now the textile museum.
Today, it serves to inspire and educate about design, contemporary art, and the rich textiles that Oaxaca is known for worldwide.
17. Watch a Guerrero’s Baseball Game at Eduardo Vasconcelos Stadium
A baseball game in Oaxaca? That’s right!
Unbeknownst to most tourists, there is a baseball stadium in Oaxaca City home to the professional baseball team of Oaxaca — the Guerreros de Oaxaca.
The season starts in March each year, so if you’re visiting Oaxaca City in the spring or summer, you might consider catching a classic baseball game! Enjoy all the classic food and drinks served at any American baseball game, but for half the price.
You can check the roster, schedule, and purchase tickets online here.
18. Grab Dinner & Drinks on a Rooftop Overlooking the Historic Center
In the historic heart of Oaxaca, there are several rooftops where you can enjoy a nice meal, craft cocktail, or simply catch a panoramic view.
- Terraza Istmo
- Los Amantes
- Brio Café
- La Mezcalerita
- Asador La Azotea
As you’ll see, Oaxaca City is gorgeous and lively at night, with warm lamps illuminating the cobble streets and music escaping from open doorways on every corner — the perfect atmosphere to take in from the rooftops!
19. Hang Out on the Zócalo (Main Square)
The Zócalo in Oaxaca is the best place to sit on a shaded bench and watch the world go by.
Not only are there a handful of cafés and restaurants from which you can sit and enjoy live music with decent food or a drink in hand, but there are also boutique shops, weekly events, and an artisanal market spread out the park.
One night, we joined a group of dancers for salsa night in the park. On another day, we enjoyed live choir music on the steps of the cathedral.
There’s a lot you can learn from and about Oaxaca City’s local life if you just sit still long enough to take it all in. The Zócalo is the ideal place to do just that.
20. Visit the Political Square of Plaza de la Danza
La Plaza de la Danza is considered the political heart of the city. As such, it is host to many festivals and events throughout the year.
Festivals you might see celebrated in this forum are:
- Festival of Temal y Tejate
- La Guelaguetza
- Artisanal markets
- Día de Muertos
But even if there’s nothing going on while you’re in town, a quick jaunt to visit the church and courtyard with its fountain and vendors is a must-do.
21. Sip on a Traditional Oaxacan Hot Chocolate (or Cold!)
The reputation of Oaxaca’s chocolate proceeds itself. It’s delicious, homemade, and a staple in Oaxacan culture and cuisine.
Oaxacan hot or cold chocolate has a unique blend of cacao beans, cinnamon, sugar, and even almonds or chile for spice. That said, it’s not your silky kind of chocolate. It’s more complex and granulated in texture, even as a drink.
Nonetheless, it’s delicious! One of my favorite places for drinking hot/cold Oaxacan chocolate is the chocolate bar located inside the Paseo V mall (to the left of McCarthy’s Irish Pub).
22. Learn About Local Oaxacan Artists at Museo De Los Pintores
For a deeper look into Oaxaca’s art scene and history, a visit to the Museo de Los Pintores Oaxaqueños (MUPO) is a must-do activity.
Inside this restored colonial mansion are many interesting paintings including a few exhibits and galleries showcasing local Oaxacan art.
Entry into the museum is donation-based, so this is a budget-friendly thing to do in Oaxaca City. The visit itself is self-paced and takes about 30 minutes.
23. Shop Fairtrade Souvenirs at La Casa de las Artesanías de Oaxaca
If you’re not sure where to shop in Oaxaca, then start at La Casa de las Artesanías de Oaxaca.
Here, you can find every item needed to dress from head to toe — handmade hats, bags, shoes, shawls, pants, blouses, jewelry, and more.
They also feature handmade items for the home, including table runners, blankets, hammocks, and artisanal ornaments and decor.
The prices are fair, the selection is large, and you can walk away knowing your purchase goes back to the hands that made your clothing.
24. Get Great Coffee & Food at Muss Cafe
There are several cafes in Oaxaca to sip on coffee or work on Wi-Fi, but none will charm you as much as Muss Cafe.
We loved coming here each week to enjoy food and drinks (and work a little on our laptops) atop their beautiful rooftop!
25. Treat Yourself to a Massage at Xü’ukx Natural Spa
Finally, getting a massage is a fun and relaxing thing to do in Oaxaca City before you head back home from your vacation.
We found the Xü’ukx Natural Spa to be a great choice. The ambiance is quiet and relaxing, and the masseuses who worked on Paul and me (we did a couple’s massage) were accommodating and friendly!
They were able to fit us in last minute and the process was seamless. We were offered water (and even a shot of mezcal) after our session. The cost for a deep tissue massage was around 600 MXN pesos, but if you pay in cash you can get a $100 pesos discount.
Enjoy These Amazing Activities in Oaxaca City!
From elaborate festivals to market food and mezcal distilleries to timeless museums, there is so much to see and do in Oaxaca.
I hope you have the most wonderful time visiting this beautiful city!
🌿 As always, please remember to visit responsibly; shop local and barter ethically, dispose of your trash properly, leave natural spaces and historic monuments unmarked, and always consider your impact on the community and environment.
If you have any questions about the above activities in Oaxaca, or what to do beyond the city, feel free to leave me a comment below and I’ll get back to you!
More Oaxaca travel inspiration:
- An Insider’s Guide to Oaxaca City’s Best Markets
- Where to Drink Tejate in Oaxaca
- Unmissable Tours & Day Trips From Oaxaca
- 8 Best Coffee Shops & Cafes (With Wifi) in Oaxaca City
- Best Mezcal Tours in Oaxaca City
- How to Visit Monte Albán Near Oaxaca City (Zapotec Ruins)
- 13 Best Places to Live in Mexico as a Nomad
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