Need a reboot? There's an oft-overlooked tropical destination that's surprisingly affordable and just a few hours from San Francisco.
Puerto Vallarta is a lush, rustic, and charming oceanside destination. Spring temperatures are perfectly moderate in the 80s and, though hurricane season doesn't roll through till summer, Puerto Vallarta is also one of the most protected cities in Mexico when it comes to storms. Take our 72-hour itinerary filled with jungle adventures, hidden beaches, and plenty of tacos and tequila.
Day 1: Check into paradise.
(Courtesy of Marriot Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa)
Flights from SFO
Both United and Alaska offer nonstop flights (just over three-and-a-half hours) to Puerto Vallarta that will have you in by mid-afternoon or early evening.
Stay: Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa
A five-minute drive from the airport and right on the beach, the Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa checks all the boxes for a rejuvenating Mexico vacation, so much so that you technically don't even need to leave the grounds if you're going for a classic beach-pool-tacos-margarita respite. The rooms are modern and breezy, though you'll likely spend most of your downtime at the massive infinity pool complete with cabanas and floating loungers. It also has a swim-up pool bar and even a coconut stand where you can order up boozy concoctions like the Coco Libre made with Bacardi, watermelon, and coconut water. Just steps from the pool and bar is a private beach where you can lounge on a nest-inspired daybed or borrow kayaks or paddle boards to ride over the waves (best done in the morning when the water is calm). Make time for a visit to the Ohtli Spa, where you can choose between a beachside massage in a tiki cabana or a healing water meditation. // marriott.co
There are half a dozen culinary concepts at the Marriott including an ice cream shop, high-end sushi, and Las Casitas, an elevated beachside tiki restaurant serving sunset views and lobster tacos, mezcal-marinated chicken, and a five chile and chocolate-crusted beef tenderloin. For something lighter, dine on the glass-walled upper deck of Nosh (the pool bar) for stunning views, cocktails, and an assortment of flavorful seafood tostadas.
Got kids? Check in instead at Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit.
About eight miles north of the Marriott is the five-star, all-inclusive Grand Velas—and it's just what the vacation doctor ordered for couples traveling with littles. In addition to large, luxurious suites, the beachfront property offers a slew of family-friendly amenities including very cool club rooms with games and activities for kids and teens; a baby concierge; and a kiddie pool. The clubs are open till 11pm nightly, so mom and dad can enjoy the signature water ceremony in the intimate Se Spa or dinner out at one of Grand Velas' several high-end restaurants. It may sound odd, but the Asian fusion spot Sen Lin was our favorite. // vallarta.grandvelas.com
Day 2: Choose Your Own Adventure
(Courtesy of Vallarta Adventures)
Trek into the rainforest.
Leave the sanctuary of the resort for a day of outdoor adventure in the Sierra Madre mountains, located just outside the south end of Puerto Vallarta. At the end of a long, rural road through the rainforest, Canopy River feels straight out of Jurassic Park and is an all-in-one destination for hiking, zip-lining, horseback riding, and ATV rides. You can even drive an ATV over the Jorullo Bridge, the world's longest suspension bridge that's accessible by vehicles. At 1,550 feet long, it hangs almost 400 feet above the Cuale River. To take the edge off once you've crossed, you can sip a Corona in a hammock at Canopy River's treetop bar.
Take the road to Mismaloya.
A less physical option is to take the scenic route to Mismaloya. Reminiscent of Maui's Road to Hana, the somewhat curvy, eight-mile stretch of coastal road (along Highway 200 South) provides nonstop panoramic views of the sparkling emerald Banderas Bay with luxury cliffside villas and resorts on one side and lush rainforest on the other. The road takes you to the small fishing village of Mismaloya, the location for the 1964 film Night of the Iguana starring Richard Burton, whose torrid romance with Elizabeth Taylor famously blossomed here. You'll want to pull over more than once along the way to snap photos and grab a cerveza from a roadside palapa. There are quiet beaches in each little town you pass, but the most popular is Mismaloya Beach, where you can lounge in the sand, swim, and snorkel.
Discover the Hidden Beach.
The Instagram-famousHidden Beach, a crescent moon of white sand and crystal-clear water set within a lush crater, is worth the hype. The catch: It's only visible when the tide is low. To reach it, you can book a day-long excursion through the resort (or other local tour companies) to the Islas Marietas, a collection of small uninhabited islands located about an hour's boat ride from Puerto Vallarta. Protected by the government from fishing and hunting, this ecological sanctuary is positively buzzing with marine life, making it a top snorkeling and diving spot. Depending on the tour and if the tide allows, you can swim to the hidden beach from a cave-like entrance.
Dinner in Puerto Vallarta
Return to the Marriott for some R&R at the pool, beach, or spa. When it's time for dinner, head out into the city for a meal. For peak romance, make a reservation at The Iguana, a restaurant perched high on the cliffs overlooking the city and Banderas Bay. Dine alfresco—dishes include chile relleno in a puff pastry and hearty steaks—and sample a range of spirits from the boutique tequila bar. You might even catch some live mariachi music.
El Dorado serves gourmet Mexican from an elegant table set right in the sand. Need we say more than lobster and bone marrow tacos? How about stone crab enchiladas? A more casual option is Gaby's, a cozy and lively little taqueria that's been around since 1989. Gaby's also offers traditional cooking classes if that's something you want to add to your itinerary.
Day 3: Explore Puerto Vallarta
(Courtesy of Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board)
Eat all the tacos.
Be honest: You love the sound of chicharron for breakfast. We suggest booking the Signature Taco Tour from Vallarta Eats Food Tour (offered daily at 10am for $55 per person). The three-and-a-half-hour tour in Old Town Puerto Vallarta stops at all the locals' best-kept secrets and includes a visit to a tortilla factory.
The Romantic Zone
The taco tour meets in Old Town, also known as the Zona Romantica. Think of this as Puerto Vallarta's gayborhood, which is is famous for being extremely inclusive. Walk the cobblestone streets lined with traditional pueblo architecture, duck into intimate cafes and international eateries, and visit Lázaro Cárdenas Park where the benches, poles, and walls are covered in tile designs. On Saturday mornings, local artisans gather here to sell handmade goods. Los Muertos beach is a great stop for some people watching. The Romantic Zone also comes alive at night with dancing and legendary gay bars like Mr. Flamingo and Wet Dreams.
Every city has one can't-miss tourist hot spot and Puerto Vallarta's is the Malecón, a 12-block boardwalk along the ocean lined with shops, bars, and restaurants. It's a great place to walk off all those tacos, check out some colorful art, and get your picture taken in front of the iconic "Puerto Vallarta" sign. Just be prepared to be bombarded by local vendors. The Malecón is also one of the best spots in Puerto Vallarta to catch the sunset.
A Michelin-Worthy Meal
Treat yourself to dinner in the enchanting garden at Café des Artistes, a French fine dining establishment for over 30 years. Chef Thierry Blouet infuses Mexican influences into dishes like a suckling pig confit taco or the cream of prawn and pumpkin soup. If you're feeling fancy, the six-course tasting menu is roughly $100 per person; there is also a vegetarian tasting menu and dishes a la carte. Do note there is a dress code, so don't show up in beachwear.
Puerto Vallarta's nightlife is defined by its many clubs (Strana is one of the most popular) where you can dance all those tacos off until the sun comes up. But if you want quality drinks and something more low-key, check out Bar La Playa, an adorable hole-in-the-wall with some of the best bartenders in town.
Day 4: One Last Margarita
(Courtesy of Marriot Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa)
Spend your last few hours in paradise soaking up the sun and all things resort life before heading back to reality. If you have time and need a little hair of the dog before you depart, arrange for a tequila tasting at the Marriott with their resident tequila sommelier. After all, you're in Jalisco, the cradle of tequila.