Each of these itineraries fills one day. Together they touch on some of PV's quintessential experiences, from shopping to getting outdoors to just relaxing at the best beaches and spas.
Romancing the Zone
Head south of downtown to the Zona Romántica for a day of excellent shopping and dining. Stop at Isla del Río Cuale for trinkets and T-shirts; have an island breakfast overlooking the stream at the River Cafe or an excellent lunch at Le Bistro, where the romantic, neo-Continental decor and monumental architecture produce a flood of endorphins.
Most of the stores in the neighborhood will either ship your oversize prizes for you or expertly pack them and recommend reputable shipping companies.
Crossing the pedestrian bridge nearest the bay, drop nonshoppers at Los Muertos Beach. They can watch the fishermen on the small pier, lie in the sun, sit in the shade with a good book, or walk south to the rocky coves of Conchas Chinas Beach, which is good for snorkeling when the water is calm. Meanwhile, the shoppers head to Calle Basilio Badillo and surrounding streets for folk art, housewares, antiques, clothing, and accessories. End the day back at Los Muertos with dinner, drinks, and live music.
Some of the musicians at beachfront restaurants work for the restaurant; others are freelancers. If a roving musician (or six) asks what you'd like to hear, find out the price of a song. Fifty pesos (a little more than $1) is typical.
Puerto Vallarta hasn't much at all in the way of museums, but with a little legwork, you can get a bit of culture. Learn about the area's first inhabitants at the tiny but tidy Museo Arqueológico (closed Sunday), with info in English. From the museum, head downtown along the newest section of the malecón, which crosses the river. About four blocks north, check out the action in the main plaza and Los Arcos amphitheater. At the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, you can pay your respects to the patron saint of the city (and the country).
Strolling farther north along the malecón is like walking through a sculpture garden: Look for the statue of a boy riding a sea horse (it's become PV's trademark), and La Nostalgia, a statue of a seated couple, by noted PV artist Ramiz Barquet. Three figures climb a ladder extending into the air in Sergio Bustamante's In Search of Reason. One of the most elaborate sculptures is by Alejandro Colunga: Rotunda del Mar has more than a dozen fantastic figures—some with strange, alien appendages—seated on chairs and pedestals of varying heights.
A Day of Golf and Steam
Puerto Vallarta is one of Mexico's best golfing destinations. And what better way to top off a day of play than with a steam, soak, and massage? At the southern end of the Costalegre, Tamarindo has a great course (18 great holes) and a very good spa. The closest spas to the greens of Marina Vallarta and the Vista Vallarta are those at the Westin Regina and the CasaMagna Marriott, which has gorgeous new facilities. The El Tigre course is associated with the Paradise Village resort, whose reasonably priced spa is open also to those who golf at Mayan Palace, just up the road, and at Flamingos, at the far northern edge of Nuevo Vallarta.
Ask your concierge (or look online) to find out how far ahead you can reserve, and then try for the earliest possible tee time to beat the heat. If the course you choose doesn't have a club pool, you can have lunch and hang at the pool at the resorts suggested above or get a massage, facial, or other treatment (always reserve ahead).
A Different Resort Scene
If you've got wheels, explore a different sort of beach resort. After breakfast, grab beach togs, sunscreen, and other essentials for a day at a beach to the north of town. Before heading out, those with a sweet tooth should make a pit stop at PV's Pie in the Sky, which has excellent pie, chocolate, and other sugar fixes. (There's another Pie in the Sky in Bucerías, as well as a Los Chatos cake and ice cream shop.)
About an hour north of PV, join Mexican families on the beach at Rincón de Guayabitos, on attractive Jaltemba Bay. Play in the mild surf; walk the pretty, long beach; or take a ride in a glass-bottom boat to El Islote, an islet with a small restaurant and snorkeling opportunities. Vendors on Guayabitos beach sell grilled fish, sweet breads, and chilled coconuts and watermelon from their brightly colored stands.
On the way back south, stop in the small town of San Francisco (aka San Pancho) for dinner. You can't go wrong at La Ola Rica or the more sophisticated Cafe del Mar (brush the sand off your feet for that one). In high season and especially on weekend evenings, one of the two will probably have live music.
Take a water taxi out for a look at El Islote, where with luck you might spot a whale between December and March.