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Destination Paradise: A Puerto Vallarta Travel Guide for Families

Make your fall and winter travel plans to this popular destination

Published on: June 19, 2024

A Puerto Vallarta hotel with pools, palm trees and the Bay of Banderas in the background
Allison Sutcliffe

Whether you’re looking ahead to fall and winter travel, or an off-season escape is your aim, Puerto Vallarta has so many things to do for families, it’s definitely worth a look. This charming city on Mexico’s Pacific coast has been a popular tourist destination for decades for good reason — it’s got options. Families can experience eco-adventures such as snorkeling, ziplining or dolphin swims, or they can find a peaceful poolside spot or sandy beach to soak up the sun's rays.

If you’re curious about a Puerto Vallarta vacation, I’ve got tips on hotels, restaurants and things to do with kids.

Puerto vallarta beaches are a great thing to do when traveling with kids
Puerto Vallarta's beaches provide ample opportunity for activity. Photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Get to know Puerto Vallarta

As Pacific Northwesterners, we know how important taking a sun break is. But if you’ve got young kids like I do, you’ve probably realized that many sunny destinations (I’m looking at you, Caribbean and Hawaii) are just out of reach when it comes to pleasant plane rides. Luckily, you can be to Puerto Vallarta in under five hours — far enough away to feel like you're on vacation but not so far your kid is melting down on the plane. 

Set at the foot of the Sierra Madre mountains on Banderas Bay, Puerto Vallarta is where Hawaii meets Mexico. It’s the best of both worlds, marrying Mexico’s dry, desert heat with Hawaii’s lush, cloud-covered mountains.

As the locals say, Puerto Vallarta is “authentic Mexico,” its popularity as a tourist destination notwithstanding. Along the Malecón, you’re just as likely to bump into residents as visitors, and although the town has changed over the years, it feels established, timeless and welcoming. When I visited, I couldn’t help but think that I would be back because there’s just something about Puerto Vallarta’s vibe that draws you in.

Where to stay in Puerto Vallarta

Whenever I travel, finding the right homebase always tops my priority list — a centrally located resort where we can lounge by the pool, build sandcastles at the beach and lay low for the first few days as we transition from busy to lax is key. The Westin Resort & Spa Puerto Vallarta met all of these requirements and more. The resort’s 14 acres are part of a former palm tree plantation. When it was built back in the early ‘90s, steps were taken to preserve the palm trees — 600 in total. They now provide much-needed shade at the pool and act as windbreaks at the open-air Flora Bar, the Westin’s recently renovated lounge featuring botanical cocktails, mocktails and small bites. It’s a great place to catch live music on weekends with the kids, without much effort.

Insider tip: Starting in 2025, The Westin Resort & Spa Puerto Vallarta will become the brand’s first all-inclusive resort in Mexico.

One of Puerto Vallarta's hotels, the Westin Resort has a swimming beach
Westin Resort & Spa is set on Banderas Bay. Photo: courtesy Westin Resort & Spa Puerto Vallarta


Of the resort’s 279 rooms, all have ocean views, so you can wake to the waves and breathe in the ocean air every day during your stay. Each room also includes the usual suspects I’ve come to rely on throughout my many years traveling with kids — The Westin’s Heavenly beds (no joke, they’re trademarked and aptly named), roomy bathrooms, plugs for your many devices, a coffee maker and glass water bottle (part of The Westin’s recently implemented sustainability initiative) — and space to spread out when we finally retire to our room. No one feels cramped by suitcases, Dopp kits and kid-clothing castoffs here.

For families of five or more, adjoining rooms are always an option, as is the family suite that feels more like an apartment than a hotel room with its two bedrooms, living room, long dining table and full kitchen.

Current room rates are around $200 a night (through October).

Two queen beds and a view of the ocean outside a hotel room in West Puerto Vallarta
Ocean views are everywhere. Photo: courtesy Westin Resort & Spa Puerto Vallarta

Pools and the beach

I’m a sucker for a good resort pool, and I found two at The Westin, complete with gorgeous blue mosaic tiles, palm tree islands and swimming iguanas. But if I’m being honest, they had me at the reusable, poolside coconut “cups.” Most families gather around the Periquillos pool, because shade is plentiful and so are shallow ends where even young kids can splash and play in relative safety. If you time it right, it’s the perfect late-afternoon sun-escape. Tlaquepaque is the other pool where the swim-up bar and whirlpool beckon weary parents whose kids are at the Kids Club (who’s with me?).

Pools at the Westin Puerto Vallarta hotel have blue mosaic tile and palm trees on islands
Relax in the shade of the palm trees. Photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Elevated wood-frame cabanas are set up on an artificial beach, overlooking the ocean. They provide a “cleaner” option when your kids want to play in the sand and you want to read a book. Beyond lies the sandy shores of Banderas Bay, where families can swim in the roped-off area, dig in the sand or try any other number of water activities. The bay’s warm, inviting water and gentle tides are a welcome change from Puget Sound’s rocky, dynamic shores.

Wood framed cabanas on the sand with white curtains at the Westin Puerto Vallarta hotel
Kids can dig in the sand while parents relax in the shade of a cabana. Photo: Allison Sutcliffe


I’m all about easy lifts on family vacations and that means having plenty of food options at the resort. I grabbed my requisite morning latte at Mini Latte (hint: they also serve ice cream for warm afternoons), and the variety of healthy food options at El Palmar’s breakfast buffet got every day off to a great start. You can’t beat the views or the cuisine at Arrecifes Seafood & Steakhouse; it’s upscale but not so much that kids can’t find something to eat. Whether you stop in for a bite, oceanside drink or a full meal, don’t pass it by.

Arrefices Restaurant in Puerto Vallarta serves candied ahi tuna with green sauce dallops on a black plate
Don't pass up dinner at Arrecifes Seafood & Steakhouse. Photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Westin Kids Club

Whenever I travel, I also look for a kids club just in case my five-year-old needs an afternoon sun-break or we want to have an hour to ourselves at the pool. At the Westin, kids ages 4–12 can be dropped off between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to enjoy structured programming on the weekdays and free play on the weekends. One hour per day is included with your stay, and additional time can be added for $10 per hour.

Just outside the Kids Club is a playground for anyone to use, as well as games such as chess and ping pong, both of which are kept in shady spots.

Westin Kids Club outside area with a palm tree sprayer
Kids can play outside and inside. Photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Spa services

No family vacation would be complete without a parent-trip to the spa as far as I’m concerned. It’s what kids clubs were made for, right? The Westin’s spa is currently undergoing renovations, but that only means you’re forced to get your massage, facial or mani/pedi in one of the oceanside cabanas (Twist my arm, why don’t you?). Services can also be booked in-room, but if you’re looking for a truly relaxing experience, the ocean’s waves and its gentle breeze make any spa service that much better.

A towel on a massage table near the ocean in Puerto Vallarta
An oceanside massage is a must. Photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Special experiences

I couldn’t help but consider a future multi-gen trip during my stay, and not just because there are so many things to do in Puerto Vallarta that anyone can enjoy. The Westin has a few offerings that amplify family memories — a great reason to get the grandparents in on the fun, too. Sunset picnics are casual and different, with pillows to sit on, and a fully loaded picnic basket that includes wrapped sandwiches and fresh fruit. It’s got family fun written all over it. Celebration tables are another way to make big family events (maybe a reunion or anniversary celebration?) truly special. They're fully customizable for groups of 6 or more and can be set up near the beach or tucked away on a lush lawn for more privacy.

A sunset picnic at the Westin Puerto Vallarta is a special restaurant experience
Create special moments with a sunset picnic. Photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Insider tip: The Westin Resort & Spa Puerto Vallarta will soon be offering cooking classes for groups (another great family activity). I had the opportunity to make enchiladas with executive sous chef, Ivan de Jesús Vallejo Paita, and it put my amateur skills to the test. I learned a lot and even got to bring the detailed recipe home. I'm a big fan of cultural experiences like these that bring families closer together and create lasting memories.

Family-friendly things to do in Puerto Vallarta

Stroll the Malecón

While my family loves nothing more than lounging around a resort, we also love to experience different cultures when we travel. In Puerto Vallarta the best place to start your journey is along the Malecón. The 1-mile, 12-block stretch starts at the oldest hotel in Puerto Vallarta: Hotel Rosita was built in 1948 and is still operating today.

Hit the oceanside walkway in the morning to avoid the afternoon heat, and stop to admire the bronze sculptures by local artists as you duck in and out of local shops. Kids will clamor for a chance to sit down at “Rotunda By the Sea,” and every parent who’s ever shouted “Get down from there!” will feel seen at “In Search of Reason” — and yes, it’s okay for the kids to climb on that one. At night the Papantla Flyers take to the sky, twirling down to the ground to offer gratitude to the Sun God, Rain God and God of Spring and Fertility.

The Stone Eater along Puerto Vallarta's malecon
“The Subtle Stone Eater” is one of many bronze sculptures created by local artists. Photo: Allison Sutcliffe

The brightly colored Puerto Vallarta sign marks the Malecón’s midpoint, and its life-size rocking horses are the perfect excuse to stop and admire the ocean view and the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe’s lacy dome that towers overhead. Sure, you’ve passed at least three Señor Frog’s by now, but kids find the colorful shop displays irresistible and there are good deals to be found.

Insider tip: While I found Puerto Vallarta to be generally gay-friendly, the Zona Romanticà is noticeably so. It’s also where you'll find the eye-catching Los Muertos pier and many of the more popular Puerto Vallarta restaurants such as Tacos Sonorita or Panchos Takos. I recommend both. For a taco trifecta, add Pepes Taco to the list.

sand scultpure along puerto vallartas malecon
A new sand sculpture is created each season. Photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Visit Vallarta Botanical Gardens

South of the city, high up in the Sierra Madres is Vallarta Botanical Gardens. I love getting out of the city whenever I travel, and the 30-minute bus ride to the gardens is a great way to see more of Puerto Vallarta. Along the drive, we spotted movie filming locations, the famous Kliff Restaurant and Steven Spielberg’s recently sold house. All of which add to Puerto Vallarta’s allure.

The botanical gardens are part of Puerto Vallarta’s ongoing conservation efforts; it showcases Mexico’s native plants and has been a sanctuary for protected and endangered species since it opened 20 years ago. Families can tour the property (self and guided tours are available) then head upstairs to enjoy lunch with a jungle view and welcoming breeze. Sunscreen and hats are a must for this visit.

Plants under a protected covering line the walkways of Vallarta Botanical Gardens
So many succulents! Photo: iStock

More family activities

Banderas Bay is a hub of activity year-round; cruise ships dock, parasailers glide overhead and stand-up paddleboarders float by while beachgoers sunbathe and stroll its sandy shores. Popular activities for families include taking a boat trip to Los Arcos, a protected national park, where swimming, scuba diving and snorkeling keep everyone busy all day.

Boats circle Los Arcos in Puerto Vallarta
Los Arcos is one of Puerto Vallarta's most recognizable spots. Photo: iStock

If you have older kids, ziplining through a jungle canopy or getting behind the wheel of a rugged ATV offers atypical thrills. Depending on when you plan your Puerto Vallarta vacation, whale watching tours or turtle release experiences are other exciting possibilities for families. Sure, my kids have seen orcas around the Sound, but watching a huge humpback breach is a whole different story. And the turtle releases (usually between August and December) are a unique way to learn about and support local wildlife conservation efforts.

The other biggie in Puerto Vallarta is dolphin swims. Many tourist outfitters offer this experience, and reputable ones include detailed information on dolphin care, training and health. The most popular sites for booking things to do in Puerto Vallarta are Vallarta Adventures and Viator; both have proven reputations with tourists.

Best time to visit Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta’s high season runs from October through April, when the weather is at its best — warm, dry and not-too breezy. If you travel from mid-December to March, it’s also whale watching season, and you might be able to spot whales breaching in the distance from a local beach or hotel balcony.

According to locals, summers in Puerto Vallarta are pretty manageable, and traveling in the off-season is an easy way to save money on your trip. The rainy season officially starts in June and runs through mid-October, with temps usually hovering around 85–95 degrees throughout the summer months.

I found May to be a great time to travel; it’s on the cusp. The summer heat hadn’t hit yet, the summer rain hadn’t started, and popular tourist activities were less crowded. It was also quieter at the resort — no need to rush down for poolside chairs in the morning. And that’s what vacation is all about.

Sunset on a beach in Puerto Vallarta with an orange sky
Spectacular Puerto Vallarta sunset. Photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Flights to Puerto Vallarta

Both Alaska Airlines and Delta offer daily nonstop flights from SeaTac to Puerto Vallarta’s Licenciado Gustavo Díaz Ordaz International Airport.

Editor’s note: This trip was hosted by The Westin Resort & Spa Puerto Vallarta, but all opinions expressed here belong to the writer.

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