The Local Hangouts
Published Nov 1, 2010 - (Updated Dec 3, 2012)
Well-informed travel websites and books often provide accurate information about “must-see” spots and landmarks but can fall short on providing insight about the places where locals like to hang out. Savvy travelers know that, in order to get a true feel for the places they visit, leaving the guidebook behind in their hotel room and trusting locals for information regarding the spots they frequent is often a better way to experience any destination.
Puerto Vallarta is no exception. Just about every colonia (the Spanish equivalent of “neighborhood”) in Puerto Vallarta and its neighboring towns has its own share of coffee shops, eateries, bars and nightclubs where locals—both native Mexicans and foreigners who live here semi-permanently or year round—congregate. Tapping into these hangouts can be helpful if, for example, you are planning to relocate to Puerto Vallarta and are looking for suggestions on anything from schools for your children to finding a home, or if you are simply looking for tips on the best canopy tour in town or how to get a better deal when booking an activity. Last, but not least, hangouts are great for making new friends.
Many popular hangouts do feature food or drink, but these are not usually what make the hangouts unique. In other words, if blending with the locals is not high on your list of priorities but sampling Puerto Vallarta’s spectacular gastronomy is, rest assured, there are plenty of options in town, many of which are described in the Dining Section of this publication. Hangouts are more elusive. Rather than relying exclusively on outstanding food or drink, hangouts blossom largely thanks to the vibes imbued by those who frequent them. Some local hangouts have come and gone from one year to the next, while others have developed legendary reputations, popping up occasionally in the travel guidebooks as such. Difficult to break down into bite-sized categories and virtually impossible to include in a single reading, some of the places that have caught our attention or have been strongly recommended to us by those who frequent them are listed on the following pages.
When it comes to hangouts, Vallarta comes to life at the crack of dawn every single day, on opposite sides of the bay. The scent of freshly made cinnamon rolls and outstanding coffee draws many to Dee’s Coffee Company on Rodolfo Gomez St. in Colonia Emiliano Zapata. Regulars there include many expats who live here year round, not to mention folks who swing by for a quick cup of coffee before heading to work. Meanwhile, in Sayulita (see our article here) fresh coffee and other delights are available at Choco Banana on the main plaza, where you’ll find surfers and locals getting ready to start their day. The Coffee Cup in Marina Vallarta is also bustling with activity early in the day, offering coffee, pastries and box lunches to those about to set off on a fishing daytrip.
Other eateries, such as Cafe San Angel on Olas Altas St., seem to attract more people in the afternoon and early evening. Boca Deli draws a crowd in El Anclote, as does Benitto’s in Marina Vallarta for both lunch and dinner. As the day progresses, there is a shift in priorities, so to speak, and as happy hour nears, many locals flock to a handful of martini bars, such as Apache’s and Garbo in E. Zapata.
For some reason, Thursdays are gender biased, with many local venues, such as La Leche and Ztai, offering 2x1 and other perks for lady visitors. The aforementioned Benitto’s features live music on Thursdays. So-called “Street Tacos” in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle and El Anclote also become a gathering spot for many people who show up on certain nights of the week to enjoy simple food, along with their friends and their own bottles of wine.
Some hangouts cater to specific crowds. Are you a cruiser or otherwise interested in nautical activities? Try Ana Banana’s in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle. A dog owner? Try Los Muertos beach early in the mornings for canine camaraderie. A jogger? Hit the Malecon for an early morning workout. Into live music? Nacho Daddy is one of the many places in town that features live acts and attracts expats. And while not a hangout per se, there is no better way to acquaint oneself with Puerto Vallarta’s visual art scene than attending any of the weekly art walks that take place in a handful of neighborhoods around town, but primarily in El Centro art galleries, on Wednesday evenings.
Then there’s the age factor. Fortunately, Puerto Vallarta has something for everyone, from the younger crowd congregating at nightclubs such as Mandala or Stereo to the young at heart, many of whom combine their need for social interaction with their need to nurture their soul through the many charities in town. For a jolly evening, simply ask anyone about bingo night, and chances are there is a charity bingo event going on somewhere in the bay on an ongoing basis. And for a more hands-on approach, many local charities offer internship and volunteer programs, ideal for those who choose to spend more time in town and are looking for ways to integrate into the local comings and goings or simply keep busy (see Hanging Out for a Cause).
One of Puerto Vallarta’s greatest allures is the way you can integrate into it for a day, a week, a month or a lifetime and stay within your comfort zone. (Or perhaps by allowing yourself to take small steps beyond it with the caring help of a local!) Without a doubt, however, the more you venture beyond your comfort zone and experience your time here from the perspective of those of us who live in Puerto Vallarta year round, the more you will enrich your travel experience.
Hanging Out for a Cause
An ideal way to get to know Puerto Vallarta from the point of view of someone who lives here year round is to get involved in any of the local charities that offer internship or volunteer programs. Vallartenses are known for their generous nature, and several organizations with scopes ranging from animal rights to children’s education and much more are well established here. The following is just a selection of organizations that offer an opportunity to put your time and talents to good use while making new friends and getting to know some of the locals.