Punta de Mita & Sayulita & San Francisco aka Riviera Nayarit, Mexico
Okay, so this is not exactly one place, but rather three little villages located along the coast of Mexico’s Bahia de Banderas, and we can’t recommend strongly enough visiting the entire, gorgeous region. Each of these townships has its own distinctive feel, though all of them are low-key and friendly in the manner of most surfing spots. Which, surfing is what most travelers come to the area for; the waves vary depending on the time of year (we were just there in January, and they were... intimidating, but that only adds to the fun!), but there’s real continuity in the laid-back, super-friendly atmosphere. Whether or not you’re into surfing, the beaches are expansive and offer plenty of opportunities for long strolls and the most spectacular sunsets you’ve ever seen. (Just look at the above sunset! No filter needed.) Also, each of these towns has a unique, vibrant town center, with San Francisco (San Pancho, to the locals) being notable for bearing a distinctly artistic vibe. Why go now? Beyond the obvious “why not,” we would still encourage you to check out these little towns before they become the kind of “everyone you know is going there this year” spots that other travel destinations have become.
Where to Stay: Spoil yourself with a stay at the W Punta de Mita, which is the kind of place where you could happily spend every single day of your vacation and not even think about leaving the property—or even your room, thanks to the spectacular ocean views you can take in while sitting in a huge soaking tub. But, you know, you probably will want to leave your room eventually, and check out the huge pool, hot tubs, and incredible spa (get a “local” body wrap and be prepared for your skin to feel meltingly soft). The food is delicious, and there’s plenty of options, including a ceviche bar right on the beach (it’s been fashioned out of an old Chevrolet truck, so it’s called the “Chevycheria”), where you can enjoy the freshest fish of your life; or check out Spice Market, the Asian fusion fine dining restaurant (don’t miss the black pepper shrimp and the coconut cake).
Where to Eat: Offsite, don’t miss Las Palmas Restaurant & Bar, right on the beach in San Pancho. Grab a table set in the sand and watch the waves crash down, while you sip an icy cold Paloma. I strongly recommend the savory, umami bomb of a tuna tostada and an aguachile dish; my favorite was the maracudja (passionfruit). In Sayulita, don’t miss the Sayulita Wine Shop, where you’ll find an incredibly comprehensive collection of mezcals, tequilas, and more—including biodynamic wine from a Mexican vineyard that’s over 400 years old! Then, swing by Naty’s Cocina for exceptional tacos (we like the marlin!) and delicious agua frescas.
What to Do: SURF. If you’re staying at the W, you can take surfing lessons with their in-house team, the wonderful Sergio and Abdul. We’ll be frank, we had no experience surfing before and were, honestly, terrified. (Which is sensible! The ocean is scary. It doesn’t care about you.) The waves were really rough when we were out there, and the beach even had a red flag, meaning not safe for swimming. But we were in really good hands with Sergio and Abdul, who totally allowed us to do what we were comfortable with and take things at our own pace. Sure, this meant that most of the time we were diving into the waves to avoid wiping out, rather than hanging ten. But that’s okay! We still had an amazing time and never felt overwhelmed. Plus, we got to appreciate the beauty of watching other people catch some wild waves—and we did that from the safety of our boogie board, which we had gotten once we realized that maybe this wasn’t going to be the trip on which we learned how to become a surf goddess.