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Sense of Place: Oaxaca, Mexico

The eponymous capital of the state of Oaxaca is the handicraft hub of Mexico. In other words, it’s an art and shopping lover’s paradise.

Hotel Escondido
Hotel Escondido is nestled right in the city’s center.

When it comes to souvenirs, Oaxaca offers far more than your standard tchotchkes. Rather, this is one of those bring-an-extra-suitcase types of destinations. “You’ll find handwoven textiles produced with natural dyes, intricately embroidered huipiles and blouses, pottery formed from the famous black clay of San Bartolo Coyotepec, and gorgeous baskets, bags, and hats crafted by palm weavers,” says Oaxaca resident Vera Claire.

The Mexican city is celebrated for its folk art and handicrafts, customs that Claire works hard to preserve. She’s the founder of Cosa Buena, a nonprofit that hosts retreats that connect visitors with local artisans. “If you want to understand the culture and history of Oaxaca, one of the best ways is through the crafts,” she says. “It’s amazing to think that some of these traditions are more than 2,000 years old!”

cosa buena nonprofit
Cosa Buena, a nonprofit, connects travelers with local artisans.

To get a glimpse of this creative history, Claire suggests a visit to Museo Textil de Oaxaca (the textile museum) as well as perusing the markets for your own mementos to take home. “I always recommend people shop in artisan collectives such as Huizache or La Casa de las Artesanías,” Claire says. “These are cooperatives organized by artisans in Oaxaca, and everything is 100 percent authentic.”

black clay pottery
Black-clay pottery is famous here.

If there’s anything that rivals the folk art for biggest attraction in town, it’s the culinary scene. Oaxaca is considered by many to be Mexico’s top food destination. Come for the mole negro and lime-flavored fried chapulines (grasshoppers!); stay for the city’s signature dining with a view. “Oaxaca is warm year-round,” says Claire, “so it’s definitely a city of terrazas [rooftops].” Noteworthy rooftop eateries include Casa Oaxaca El Restaurante and La Olla.

Grana B&B mansion
A renovated 18th-century mansion houses Grana B&B.

Likewise, local hotels embrace an indoor/outdoor aesthetic. Grana B&B, Escondido Oaxaca, and Hotel Sin Nombre all have showstopping courtyard spaces. They’re also treasure troves of art hidden behind unassuming facades (at least in the case of the latter two).

“You never know what you’ll find when you wander into a courtyard or small passageway in the city,” says Claire. “So if you see something that looks inviting, go check it out!”

Bring the Oaxaca Look Home

lumbar pillow by Zapotec tribes

This statement lumbar pillow ($195) is handmade in Mexico and inspired by patterns used by the Zapotec tribes.

Traditional Mexican Hot Chocolate Set

Try a Traditional Mexican Hot Chocolate Set (starting at $20) for a taste of Oaxaca and a step up from your run-of-the-mill cocoa!

colorful braided wastebasket

Use this bright beauty (starting at $45) to corral odds and ends, or as an upgraded wastebasket.

dusty rose ivory rug

Dusky rosy pink and ivory make a perfectly happy palette for this Zapotec rug ($450).

sunrise-inspired plates Oaxaca

These sunrise-inspired plates ($107 for a set of two) are handmade in Oaxaca and fired in underground pits.

By Amelia Mularz | Feature photograph by Undine Pröhl, courtesy of Grupo Habita | Nonprofit photograph by Salvador Cueva, courtesy of Cosa Buena | Restaurant photographs courtesy of Casa Oaxaca El Restaurante | Pottery photograph by Cameron Karsten, courtesy of Cosa Buena | Courtyard photograph by Camila Cossio | All other product images courtesy of the brands

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2022 issue of Drew + Jonathan Reveal, Drew & Jonathan’s home and lifestyle magazine.

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