Oaxaca is a Foodie and Arts Haven destination

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Even the pronunciation of Oaxaca—WaH-Ha-Kah—sounds like a magical incantation. It’s no surprise then that Oaxaca, a mountainous state in southern Mexico that is located in a valley among evocative foothills, conjures a hopeful spirit of enchantment. 

The city, with its colonial architecture, brightly painted buildings, cobbled streets and shops brimming with black pottery, whimsical wooden figurines and intricate embroidered textiles, borders on otherworldly. Add in its famously inviting restaurants that serve up soulful local dishes like mole and the alluringly gritty mezcalerias (artisanal mezcal bars) that pepper the streets, and the whole town is rife with a vivaciousness that might rub off on you.

Just ask entrepreneur Ginger Diaz and her husband/business partner Mario, who took their first trip six years ago before opening Felíz Modern. They’ve been returning regularly ever since.

 “We were so inspired by the amount of artistry in and around Oaxaca,” she says. “We’ve been able to meet with the artists that make items for Felíz Modern and Rancho Diaz, and it’s very fulfilling to visit their homes, meet their families and watch how they have perfected their craft through generations.”

The chef and owner of La Gloria, Burgerteca and The Frutería, Johnny Hernandez, agrees. A veteran traveler to Oaxaca, Hernandez continues to be influenced and inspired by the city and region, whether its food or the folk art that fills his eateries and home. 

“Of course, I first went to Oaxaca for the food and to discover the mezcal, but I soon became entranced by the artists and their artistry. I felt these expressions of the culture, whether rich mole or clever alebrijes (the wooden carvings), embroidery or black pottery, combined to define the place,” he says, adding that he always suggests also visiting nearby villages such as Etla, known for its galleries, and Teotitlán, famous for weaving.

For a truly authentic experience, consider Fluenz, a weeklong Spanish language immersion program. Guests stay in an artfully bedecked, villa-style home in Oaxaca’s historic district, taking one-on-one lessons during the day, then exploring the city in behind-the-scenes outings at night. “To be immersed in the culture of Oaxaca is to live the most dynamic version of Mexico,” says co-founder Carlos Lizarralde.

Go: Aeromexico flies to Oaxaca from San Antonio International Airport with a stop in Mexico City and American Airlines provides service there with a stop in Dallas-Fort Worth.

Eat: Casa Oaxaca El Restaurante—Johnny Hernandez says,“(The) very innovative restaurant is street food-inspired and a favorite.” casaoaxacaelrestaurante.com

Stay: Meld with the creative spirit of the city at design-centric Pug Seal Zapoteco, a dreamscape for art and architecture buffs. Expect luxury and awe, without pretension. pugseal.com/oaxaca-eng.html

Do: Take a food tour or cooking class with Seasons of My Heart (where Ocho at Hotel Havana chef Jesse Kuykendall trained). Peruse the Sunday market, Mercado Tlacolula, learn all about mezcal and taste it with Mezcal Educational Tours, or book a Get Your Guide Tour, which can include art lessons, bike rides or cultural hikes. seasonsofmyheart.commezcaleducationaltours.comgetyourguide.com