Like a mariachi musician, Puerto Vallarta, on Mexico's Pacific Coast, gives families una fiesta excellente. To the east: hiking adventures in the foothills of the Sierra Madres. To the west: the Malecon promenade and 26 miles of beaches along the deep-blue Banderas Bay. Nestled in the middle: cobblestone streets that open onto leafy plazas, and casual cafes and shops selling local finds like turquoise jewelry and colorful sandals.
Alfresco family fun: Spread out your beach blanket on Playa de Los Muertos, a popular stretch of sand on the south side of town. Dotted with restaurants and roving performers, it attracts a merry crowd, especially on Sundays. For a more serene scene, book a boat tour to nearby Yelapa Beach or quiet Quimixto Beach, where you can hike to a pristine waterfall (puertovallartatours.net). Snorkel too, at Los Arcos, a spectacular rock formation that attracts neon fish. Wannabe swashbucklers can kick up their heels on the Marigalante, which sails to a beachside barbecue and treasure hunt (marigalante.com.mx). For more fun in the sun, swing through the treetops on a rainforest canopy tour (www.vallarta-adventures.com).
Kid-friendly culture: Head to the Old Town, south of Rio Cuale, to stroll amid the red-roofed houses, flower carts, and local dancers (including swirling schoolchildren in Mexican skirts). Pause at the Baroque-style Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, topped with a golden crown.
Unpack your bags: The seaside Velas Vallarta offers scuba diving lessons as well as Mexican, Italian, and French fare. Nightly rates for a one-bedroom suite in June start at $352, plus $98 for kids ages 4 to 12; includes all food and beverages (velasvallarta.com; 866-847-4609). Or share a three-bedroom condo with great views and a full kitchen from $250 a night (baysidepropertiespv.com).
More trip tips: visitpuertovallarta.com