The best things to do in San Luis Potosi, Mexico

Lilit Marcus, CNNUpdated 16th July 2018
San Luis Potosi, Mexico (CNN) — Riviera Maya? Already been. Mexico City? Too busy.
The state of San Luis Potosi isn't necessarily at the forefront of travelers' minds when they think about visiting Mexico. But that's about to change.
San Luis Potosi and its biggest city/capital of the same name (although locals, who are known as Potosinos, generally shorten it to just "San Luis") is on the verge of a major moment.
Several new hotel openings and a major new art museum are all a sign that this formerly-forgotten city is about to come into its own.
Your challenge? Travel there before all of your friends do.

Visit the new Leonora Carrington Museum

Carrington, a British artist who lived much of her life in Mexico, has experienced a newfound bump of popularity.
She was one of the major contributors to the "surrealist village" of Xititla, so it makes sense that the state capital of San Luis won the honor of a Carrington Museum, which is in a former prison. (Yeah, it sounds weird on paper but really works well in execution.)
The museum, which opened in March 2018, gives many options for encountering her work: In addition to her abstract and surrealist bronze sculptures, you can check out the electric-pink doors with her drawings stenciled on them as well as an interactive experience where one of her short stories is illustrated with full-room graphic animations reminiscent of the Miyazaki film "Spirited Away."

Explore the UNESCO-listed centro historico

The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, more commonly known as the Silver Road, was how silver was brought from the mines in the Mexican states of San Luis Potosi, Zacatecas and Guanajuato to ports and then back to Spain.
This route, which scored its UNESCO designation in 2010, includes the historic center of San Luis city, so keep an eye out for historical markers in Spanish and English giving more detail about specific buildings and structures throughout the area.

Brunch at La Parroquia

Brunch in Mexico is more likely to mean multigenerational families having a big meal together after church than overpriced avocado toast.
One of the best spots in town for breakfast or brunch is La Parroquia, a local institution in the city center that has become so popular they opened up a second location.
Before noon, you have the option to enjoy a buffet with cereal, juice and the like. But you can't go wrong with the menu, which has pitch-perfect takes on classics like huevos divorciados (eggs on small tortillas, one topped with red salsa and the other with green) and plenty of freshly made sweet breads and pastries.

Pick up essential oils at Botica Alhondiga

Botica Alhondiga keeps some of its old hand-labeled bottles on display.
Botica Alhondiga keeps some of its old hand-labeled bottles on display.
Lilit Marcus/CNN
Thanks to the UNESCO designation, many older buildings in the historic city center remain in their original condition.
One worth popping into is Botica Alhondiga, which has been a pharmacy since the 1800s and still keeps many of its old medicines and elixir bottles in glass cases so visitors can see how the place used to look.
Presently, Botica Alhondiga specializes in essential oils, so pick up some jasmine or rose oil while you're here.

Shop for handicrafts at Mercado Hidalgo

On weekends, the orange Art Deco-inspired Mercado Hidalgo is the place to see and be seen in San Luis.
Stalls along the outside wall of the market have food -- they don't all have places to sit, though, so be prepared to take your snacks to go -- while the middle rows are devoted to handicrafts. Your best bets are silver jewelry, wooden toys and pozole bowls in bright shades of blue and yellow.

Daytrip to Real de Catorce

Real de Catorce is only accessible via one tunnel.
Real de Catorce is only accessible via one tunnel.
Lilit Marcus/CNN
Real de Catorce, a former mining town deep in the desert about halfway between San Luis and Monterrey, was the second town ever given the Mexican distinction of "pueblo magico," or magic town.
Once you get there -- it's a 3ish hour drive from San Luis center, part of which goes over an old cobblestone road -- you'll quickly see why.
The mining town was abandoned after the revolution, and the only way to get to it is by a white-knuckle trip in a ramshackle Jeep known as a "Willy." Sitting in one of these while making hairpin turns down the side of a steep mountain is exciting enough, but locals are known to do it while hanging off the top or side of the Willy -- try it if you dare.
The best way to organize your visit is through Autentico San Luis, one of the only local tour companies wtih English-speaking guides.
Besides the abandoned structures, there are also two churches, the older of the two is bright white with a small cemetery out front, and it's a popular TV show and movie filming location. The main street is packed with small taco stands and souvenir vendors -- silver jewelry is quite popular, as are tchotchkes made by local Potosinos who adhere intricate bead designs with glue in a painstaking process.

Sample craft beer at La Oruga Y La Cebada

La Oruga Y La Cebada feels like a Mexican-flavored British pub.
La Oruga Y La Cebada feels like a Mexican-flavored British pub.
Courtesy La Oruga Y La Cebada
Although some might associate Mexico more with tequila and mezcal, craft beer is having a major moment throughout the country.
Head to La Oruga Y La Cebada, which means "The Caterpillar and the Wheat," to sample a couple of them. We recommend 2 De Abril, Tres Patrones and the locally-made 7B (Siete Barrios) while listening to music from the main square and admiring the occasional spontaneous fireworks display. Hardcore beer fans should also check out 7B's nearby tasting room.

Have dinner at Cielo Tinto

Cielo Tinto is one of those restaurants that will bring even the most snobby Mexico City resident out into "the provinces."
Located in a former hacienda, Cielo Tinto ("Red Sky") retains much of its original glamour (chandeliers, tile floors, an open air square in the center where you can sit under the stars), and the food matches.
Keep an eye out for upscale takes on local dishes, like a chicharron made with octopus instead of pork.

Swim and relax at the Conrad SLP

About a fifteen-minute drive from downtown San Luis, the Conrad is a hotel that makes it easy to mix urban and rural adventure.
The hotel's outdoor pool gets a lot of shade in the afternoon, meaning you can enjoy a swim without getting scorched by the sun.
Other features not to miss: upscale cocktails at Dry Martini Bar, helpful bilingual staff and outrageously comfortable beds.
Leonora Carrington Museum, Calz de Guadalupe 705, San Juan de Guadalupe, Julian Carrillo, 78340 San Luis, S.L.P., Mexico, (+52) 444 102 7800
La Parroquia, Avenida Venustiano Carranza # 303 San Luis Potosi 78000, Mexico, (+52) 444 812 6681
Botica Alhondiga, Calle Miguel Hidalgo 403, Centro Historico, 78000 San Luis, S.L.P., Mexico (+52) 444 812 2852
Mercado Hidalgo, Av. Hidalgo S/N, Zona Centro, 78000 S.L.P., Mexico, (+52) 444 812 4094
La Oruga Y La Cebada, Av Universidad 169, Centro, 78000 San Luis, S.L.P., Mexico, (+52) 444 812 4508
Cielo Tinto, Av Venustiano Carranza 700, Avenida, 78230 San Luis, S.L.P., Mexico, (+52) 444 814 0040
Conrad San Luis Potosi, Real de Lomas 290, Lomas 4ta Secc, 78216 San Luis, S.L.P., Mexico, (+52) 444 123 7700