Best for an Authentic Experience
Nestled between the ocean and the mountains halfway down the Pacific Coast, this historic town is both quaint and lively.
Family Fun: Stroll along the vibrant Malecon waterfront, where bands play traditional Mexican folk music and vendors hawk balloons, fruit, and souvenirs in a carnival-like atmosphere. Stop by the Isla Rio Cuale outdoor market to buy authentic crafts and toys. Make sure to find time to take in the old-world Mexican architecture and to sample the local food.
Kids will love the wide variety of vacation activities that are available, including the beaches and the unique dolphin interaction program for children ages 4 to 8 at Vallarta Adventures (vallarta-adventures.com). Kids who are at least four feet, five inches tall can "swim" with sea lions, and children ages 8 and up can ride zip lines through the tropical rain-forest treetops for a thrilling "canopy tour." And don't miss out on a cruise to the Marietas Islands, a marine reserve made famous by oceanographer Jacques Cousteau. Your family can also try snorkeling or kayaking -- and perhaps even spot the humpback whales that arrive here annually to breed between December and April.
Hotel Highlights: CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa (800-228-2290, marriott.com) lets kids take part in the seasonal (from around the beginning of August through December) release of newly hatched sea turtles and offers pottery-painting classes with local artisans. Farther north, 30 minutes from town, the Villa del Palmar Flamingos (877-845-5247, villagroupresorts.com) has a kitchen in each spacious unit. The Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita (800-332-3442, fourseasons.com) offers sea-lion snorkeling encounters from its beach and Mexican craft-making.