How to Take a Vacation to Mexico City with Your Kid (and a Grandparent!)
Traveling with a grandparent and young kid is an unlikely combo, but like all things parenting, it’s hard but worth the effort. A few weeks ago I traveled with my 5 1/2-year-old son (the “half” is very important) and my 75-year-old father to Mexico City for a five-day mother-son-grandpa getaway. Raised by my adventurous father, I’ve always loved traveling. But this trip seemed like it would never happen, as we waited out the pandemic years in my small California town with my small children. But I longed to see something different than my cute beach town, and it nagged at me with every (minivan) turn into my driveway.
Fast forward to summer 2023, vaccines for all of us, and my two young kids — both of whom are spectacular and complete handfuls — love to see, feel, and do. A trip to Mexico City was planned, but when my husband decided to sit the trip out and stay home with our youngest, it became the perfect opportunity for an “intergenerational squish” trip with my son and father.
Here’s how to make the most of this intergenerational travel.
Head to a vibrant place that electrifies your soul.
Traveling is my adrenaline of choice. I don’t like heights or scary rides, drinking, or staying out late, but going into interesting, somewhat intense travel situations — that is where I feel alive! It’s an insatiable itch I need to scratch, but yes, now I do it with more caution when accompanied by my 5-year-old.
When it came time to choose a city, I wanted a big city I’d already been to. Because the major tourist attractions have already been seen (in my case, pre-children and pre-pandemic), lower expectations will let me actually enjoy myself.
We chose Mexico City because flights are direct from LAX, lodging is fairly inexpensive, and the weather is pretty temperate most of the year. The city assaults the senses with its traffic jams, honking horns, savory smells of tacos being carved on a spit street-side, blaring early 2000s soundtrack in cafes, packed metros, and sidewalks with gaping holes perfect for suburban kids to trip on a few times. There is also a convivial family reverence where everyone we encounter is friendly and helpful to this odd little trio I am leading.
Enjoy the time together — and by yourself.
My dad is the one who taught me “It’s not weird, it’s different,” as we traveled all over the world when I was growing up. He was a photojournalist and artist in the pre-internet era, and my brother and I were his “assistants.” We racked up more stamps in our passports before age 14 than most adults in their lifetimes. Having grandpa on this Mexico City trip meant he could play with his grandson while I stepped out to a historic bar — La Opera, in this case — and a neighborhood walk. That hour alone was just enough to refill the cup and step back into the never-ending barrage of parenting.
When the day was done and my son was finally asleep, dad and I had real conversations —the kind that end in tears, laughs, and hugs. We were time zones away from our daily routine and grind of finding shoes, hustling to preschool and swim lessons, making hot dog dinners, and it meant we could really connect without all those distractions.
Feel the intergenerational squish — it’s a gift.
I’m slowly taking in the feeling of being in the middle, laughing with my young son as he nose dives naked but for a Mexican wrestling mask into our hotel bed with unbridled enthusiasm, beaming from every cell in his smooth, perfect child body, and the wrinkled ear-to-ear grins of my dad after a visit to the toy museum, a place bursting with personality and fun.
My dad is different at 75 than the hearty 45-year-old I have locked into my mind from all of our childhood trips. He’s more subdued. Our roles have switched to my being in charge (very weird), but he is still intensely joyous to be here in this busy city on this Earth (he’s a New Yorker, after all) and the three of us breathe the same air together for a moment in time, realizing how lucky we both are to share this with each other and the little guy, delightfully oblivious to some teary exchanges.
I’m lapping my dad up, as thirsty for his attention and guidance as I am for the millionth cup of coffee at breakfast (try sleeping with a wild pony kid five nights in a row). I’m doing loops, I’m sure of it — taking my son and father all over again to different places, only now I’m the adult, but I’m still the kid, caretaker, and mother. Time travel is not possible, but maybe if you are lucky it sort of is?
What to Do in Mexico City with Kids (and a Grandparent!)
- Museo Juguete Antiguo Mexico, or Toy Museum: Four floors of toys from every era. This museum is vibrant with wall-to-wall displays jam-packed by theme and time period. The shelving is all made from recycled materials, the artistry of the design and layout is breathtakingly chaotic; it’s a ruckus of fun. Established by a father-and-son team, it’s a must for a couple of hours in the Doctores neighborhood, easily accessible by taxi or walking distance from Roma Norte/Condesa neighborhoods.
- Luche Libre: Mexican wrestling is an art form, sport, and theater all wrapped into one exciting evening. Arena Mexico hosts “family nights,” where the wrestling is a tiny bit more tame and the dancers have a bit more clothing on. The 5 p.m. start time made it perfect for a night out, and my young son has inspired to be “buff man” for the last month since we got home. Buy tickets via Ticketmaster in advance.
- Papalote Museo del Niño, or Museum of Play: This is truly a special, interactive, science/play museum that kids from 2 to 12 go gaga for. Great interactive exhibits, friendly staff, a movie theater (we took a break to watch Super Pets in Spanish — my son doesn’t speak Spanish, but it didn’t matter to him) and within a huge park. The subway line wasn’t operating near us, so make your own transportation arrangements. Ubers or taxis are plentiful!
- Pushkin gardens flea market: A charming vintage market full of art, trinkets, toys, junk — fun stuff to look at/bargain for at a manageable size — not sprawling, very charming. A playground next door makes it a great weekend morning activity. Only happens on weekends.
- Mexico City Cathedral and Templo Mayor de México-Tenochtitlan: The historic cathedral and neighboring temple ruins are captivating. My LEGO-obsessed son was counting the blocks remaining at the temple site and figuring out how he might build a pyramid later, inspired by the incredible archaeological site. The cathedral offered some interesting chills, examining saints’ remains in glass boxes, admiring the height and drama of the church. It all led to interesting conversations about life, death, religion, and different perspectives. Note: The Templo Mayor is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, but you can still walk around it any day (just not inside).