¡Viva Puerto Vallarta!
Take a two-and-a-half-hour direct flight on Alaska Airlines to mainland Mexico, where you can golf, snorkel, and explore a major food scene all in one day.
Hilton Puerto Vallarta pool
Just opened this past October, the world’s second all-inclusive Hilton is a mere seven-minute cab ride from the PV airport. The open-air lobby and modern design immediately puts you in relax mode—and the hot tub on your balcony doesn’t hurt, either. While there’s an indoor/outdoor play area for kids, the small set favors the central pool, so head to peaceful O’West, a rooftop, adults-only infinity pool where the drinks are flowing. Next door is the older, quieter hotel Krystal, where a group of friends or a family can rent a three-bedroom casita with its own private pool in an enclosed backyard (krystal-hotels.com). If you want sky-high views of Banderas Bay, the posh Residencial Conchas Chinas neighborhood is a few minutes from town and populated with dream houses for rent. Check out digs like Villa Azul, which comes with a chef, bartender, and housekeeper (vallartashores.com). For the professional spring breakers, Mexico’s first Hard Rock Hotel opened last August, 20 minutes north of PV in Riviera Nayarit. The 348-room beachfront property boasts an “all day, all night, all-inclusive” party vibe. You’ve been warned. hrhvallarta.com
Filmmaker John Huston’s former home, Las Caletas, has been converted to an all-inclusive grown-up day camp of sorts. For $93 ($70 for kids), it’s a great deal if you want to kayak, snorkel, stand-up paddleboard, and take a paella cooking lesson, all while enjoying an open bar. It’s about an hour away from Puerto Vallarta, but the catamaran ride (included) is super entertaining, as the crew members dance and joke with vacationers (vallartas-adventures.com). Back in downtown PV, walk the Malecon, a concrete boardwalk recently cleaned up for the 2011 Pan-Am Games. In the main plaza, you’ll find spirited locals dancing to live music every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday (younger crowd on Sundays), from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. For souvenirs, shop at the Mercado Municipal, or flea market. Up on nearby Calle Zaragoza, visit the house Richard Burton bought for Elizabeth Taylor and connected with a bridge to his house. P-Vallartans still talk about how the actors’ extramarital affair, conducted while filming Night of the Iguana, brought in the paparazzi and “made” their town. The dilapidated Casa Kimberly is supposedly being turned into a chic B&B—but we’ve heard that rumor before. Finally, get out of town and swing some clubs: Between Puerto Vallarta and neighboring Riviera Nayarit, there are nine major golf courses on the bay. Tee up!
It’s not just tacos and tequila. Prepare for more sophisticated dining than in your typical seaside Mexican town. The international influence comes via the Gourmet Festival, an annual 10-day event in the fall. A good foodie neighborhood is Los Muertos (named for some dead bodies found a few hundred years ago, not the to-die-for food). The district is now known as the “Romantic Zone,” because of its gay bars, but there are also a lot of native-owned Mexican food joints and restos serving global cuisine. Kaiser Maximilian has boatloads of old European charm and serves Austrian food made with local ingredients. Across town at Café des Artistes, chef Thierry Blouet presents outstanding cuisine in a stunning 100-year-old home. For informal dining and ridiculous tacos, go north to El Barracuda in Playa Camarones. And back in the Hotel Zone, at the Marriott’s CasaMagna, schedule a tequila tasting and finally learn the difference between reposada (rested) and anejo (aged). Audrey, a sommelier turned tequilier, is as passionate and certified as they come in the state of Jalisco. She’ll tell you why some shots cost $42 and why sometimes the national drink tastes closer to cognac.