Mexico's Pacific coast is a beach bopper's playground, dotted with one sleepy beach town after the next. And while surely you're familiar with the uber-luxe Punta Mita and boho chic Sayulita, there are several other beach towns -- minus all the crowds -- worthy of your time.
Affectionately known to locals as San Pancho, this beach community is just a bit farther up the coast from Sayulita as you travel away from Puerto Vallarta. Picture Sayulita 15 years ago and what you get is San Pancho, a laid-back surf town that retains the soul of local Mexico.
The palm-fringed coastal community is 33 miles north of Puerto Vallarta, with a beach that stretches for about a half a mile, ringed in jungle. A small boardwalk runs along the shore with locals selling handicrafts. Beach bars line the shorefront, where sleepy surfers relax lazily under the hot sun. It's a similar vibe to Sayulita just down the coast, only without the hordes of tourists.
That said, many of the services that are available in Sayulita are lacking in San Pancho, namely higher-quality hotels and upscale shopping. But San Pancho offers a lively and local atmosphere, with local musicians, a performing arts center, a golf course, an annual music festival, local shopping and authentic Mexican cuisine.
Still farther north, about four hours from Puerto Vallarta, is San Blas, a tiny port city with a population of about 10,000. A haven for surfers, this coastal hideaway is perfect for nature lovers and those seeking a casual shrimp taco on the sand.
A trip to San Blas is like a trip back in time, where the lifestyle is guided by simplicity and nature. Canals are surrounded by mangroves and tiny islands dot the coast. Each year more than 300 migratory birds call this place home. Other natural wonders are the tropical marsh that includes the El Pozo estuary and the San Cristobal River and the La Tovara National Park.
The main beach in San Blas is Bahia de Matanchen, which is often packed with surfers, water skiers, sailers and divers. But if you're looking for tranquility, then you ought to head to Las Islitas Beach. Nearby attractions are the ruins of the San Basilio Fortress, which was founded in 1530, as well as the ruins of the Nuestra Senora del Rosario Temple, built in 1769. A visit to the Isla de Mexcaltitlan is a must, as well, to see the floating mangroves that are supposedly where the Aztec civilization was born.
La Cruz de Huanacaxtle
This small beach town is a mix of both old and new. For generations La Cruz has been a fishing village, but because of the development of the Riviera Nayarit Marina, a luxe community has grown around the grassroots.
The vibe here swings more Mexican and less mainstream, with cobblestone streets, small boutique gallery scene, local art, and restaurants. The main beach here is La Manzanilla and is a wonderful spot to swim or enjoy a meal in a palapa-style restaurant. Tip: Try the tuna, marlin or mahi-mahi.
Still, because of the marina, which can accommodate 400 ships, a sophistication has breezed its way into the seaside village. The marina has a yacht club, business center, sky bar, restaurant and seafood market.
Bucerias is one of the most charming towns along the Pacific coast -- with cobblestone streets, brightly colored homes, and a laid-back vibe -- and it is one of the best places to take in an iconic Banderas Bay sunset.
Visitors who come to Bucerias are in search of its calm surf, sailing and kayaking opportunities, or shopping the handicrafts at the communal market. On the corners of the main streets are restaurants and bars that serve up delicious ceviche and shrimp cocktails.