More than a leading beach resort with friendly people, a climate that's as good as it gets and scenery that speaks for itself, Puerto Vallarta is also increasingly recognized as an intriguing art destination, with more important galleries than anywhere else in Mexico with the exception of the capital. Manuel Lepe's playfully joyous depictions of this town and Galeria Uno, the town's first professional gallery, started the ball rolling. And in the 30-plus years since, dozens of galleries have followed suit, artists from around the world gravitating to beauty that embraces them and is mirrored in their work, including the Huichol Indians who draw attention to their rich culture through their art.

In all its manifestations - fashion, jewelry, sculpture, ceramics, painting, poetry, writing, the list is endless - art is now firmly integrated into the fabric of this place, playing a leading role in our social and cultural lives. A plethora of related activities include regularly scheduled art walks in the high season that get bigger and better every year. Self-guided and self-paced, with drinks and often food and entertainment, they're a party, one celebrating the vital role art plays in our lives and sponsored by more than a dozen world-class galleries. We've got studio tours, as well as art classes, competitions, education programs and workshops of all kinds, some privately run and others offered very inexpensively through the municipal government.

And we're privileged with more public art - art that invites touch - than any other Mexican city of this size. One of the town's most recognized symbols is "The Seahorse" on the downtown Malecon, its twin on Los Muertos Beach. Naturally, marine themes predominate, with dolphins, whales and mermaids reminding us how wondrous the ocean's bounty and our imaginations. Bronze works like "In Search of Reason" are worn to a gentle patina from all the attention, its whimsical creatures reaching heavenward and inviting interaction and speculation, which is, after all, the primary function of art.

Original art is everywhere, outside and inside, in public and private spaces. Vallarta very much a dining out place with award-winning chefs whose art is food preparation, you'll find one-of-a-kind works shaping the ambiance of quite a few restaurants. And what a special evening it is to marry a cocktail art exhibition to a wonderful dinner out, all the senses simultaneously nurtured and stimulated.