Mexico’s second-largest city and capital of the state of Jalisco, Guadalajara dates its founding to 1542; soon after, construction began on its Cathedral, an eye-catching combination of Palladian, gothic and neoclassical styles, flanked today by wide plazas and colonial-era buildings that make the Centro Historico, the historic downtown, pleasant to explore. The city proudly celebrates its own home-grown musical style at the nearby Plaza de los Mariachis, where bands serenade and rows of restaurants serve up local specialties like birria, a savory stew of mutton or goat and roasted chiles, and tortas ahogadas, pork-stuffed sandwiches smothered in a tangy chile and tomato sauce.
Just about any uniquely Mexican feature you can name originated in the country's second-largest city. Guadalajara is the birthplace of mariachi music, the Mexican hat dance (janabe taptio), the sombrero, the stately Mexican rodeo (charreada), and tequila.
Despite its association with most things considered exclusively "Mexican," the name Guadalajara is derived from an Arabic phrase, wad-al-hidjara, that means river of the stones. Capital of the state of Jalisco, Guadalajara is considered as cultured and imposing as Mexico City, but without many of the larger city's problems (no smog).
Although thoroughly modern and cosmopolitan, the city safeguards its cultural past. Five plazas near the city center anchor a well-preserved colonial district and some of the city's most beautiful architecture. The Regional Museum of Guadalajara is a baroque work of art itself and contains 14 exhibition halls housing archeological treasures, artworks dating from the 17th century, cultural exhibitions, and the 1,700-pound Meteorite of Zacatecas discovered in 1792.
A not-to-be-missed attraction is the tour of the Tequila Sauza bottling plant. In the time-honored tradition of all such booze tours, free samples are available in the tasting room at the conclusion of the tour.
One of the best reasons to go to Mexico is the shopping, and Guadalajara offers the modern Plaza del Sol mall with its 300 stores, the Astral Plaza near the Hyatt with upscale boutiques, several shopping centers, and -- for traditionalists -- the Mercado Libertad, the city's largest outdoor market. Stalls at the Mercado Libertad offer a wide variety of Mexican crafts and art, and the mercado merchants are ready to bargain.
Finally, don't leave without a visit to Tlaquepaque, located five miles east and south of the city center. A quaint arts and crafts community, Tlaquepaque's shops carry local work from weavers, glass blowers, potters, leather workers, and weavers.