With our ArtWalk map in hand, we stroll the cobblestone streets of Puerto Vallarta at dusk, popping into different eclectic art galleries. At one open-air gallery in an old hacienda-style villa, whimsical bronze statues of a chubby little man called “Timoteo” catch our eye.
He would look good in our home! But, gulp, the price tag quickly nixes that idea. Besides, we’re getting hungry, and we now have the pleasant task of deciding where to eat dinner. A Mexican cocina? Fragrant, Thai-inspired curry? An Austrian sidewalk bistro for rabbit or schnitzel?
Puerto Vallarta art and dining
You may initially come to Puerto Vallarta for a beach escape.
But PV’s arts and dining scene will draw you back.
Unlike some other Mexican resort destinations, Puerto Vallarta is a living, breathing city (population about 250,000) with a cultural Old Town. Some 35,000 Canadian and American ex-pats live here.
This has helped turn PV (as it’s affectionately called) into a mecca for art and fine dining in recent years.
Vibrant arts scene in Puerto Vallarta
Since the first recorded art exhibition was held in PV in 1952, artists have painted their creations and galleries have sprung up in this tropical city that delights with its red tile roofs and charmingly unkempt Mediterranean ambience.
Today, PV boasts more art galleries than any other coastal destination in Mexico.
Many galleries focus on local art.
Galeria Corsica, the gallery with the Timoteo sculptures, showcases renowned contemporary Mexican artists, who exhibit at Mexico City’s Museum of Modern Art. You might spot a bronze flying horse statue or drawing of a lonely man by Jose Luis Cuevas, one of Mexico’s most influential living artists. The Genius of Paco, which opened in 2009, promotes PV’s colorful naïf art – traditional paintings of village and beach scenes done in a child-like style.
At other galleries, you’ll find handmade clay vases and plates from the Mexican town of Mata Ortiz (famous for its sophisticated pottery) and intricately beaded tapestries, masks and sashes from the local Huichol Indian people.
A great way to take in the art galleries is the free, self-guided ArtWalk.
It’s held each Wednesday evening from late October to the end of May. A dozen or more galleries open late so you can wander in and admire the art, meet the artists and gallery owners, and enjoy complimentary wine and appetizers.
Outside the galleries, you’re surrounded by public art. Take the iconic sculptures on the newly-rebuilt Malecon.
One of PV’s favorite attractions, this 12-block, seafront, pedestrian-only promenade was recently widened and spruced up with the planting of shady palm trees.
Walking along the Malecon, we enjoy street performers, watch sand sculptors create amazing sand castles – and marvel at the many large and thought-provoking bronze sculptures.
One of the most popular is “In Search of Reason,” which depicts two balloon-headed figures climbing a 30-foot ladder to the sky. Try to resist climbing this to get your picture taken!
If you visit PV in the winter season, you can join a free Malecon sculpture tour led by Gary Thompson, owner of Galeria Pacifico, on Tuesday mornings. With 30 years of experience in the Vallarta art scene, he knows many of the sculptors personally and explains each of their works and their inspirations.
He even tells stories of their love affairs, like the one artist Ramiz Barquet had with his wife Nelly, a painter. Barquet’s “La Nostalgia” sculpture of a couple sitting side-by-side facing the city is his tribute to her, whom he long loved, lost and later married (he recently died at 90, still loving her).
And then there’s PV’s excellent and constantly evolving cuisine, the most sophisticated in Mexico, second only to Mexico City.
There are literally hundreds of restaurants to choose from (some estimates peg the number at 500).
Along the Malecon and tucked away up hidden side-streets, we dine at many top-notch restaurants.
Of course, locally-caught fish and freshly grilled shrimp is a specialty at many, including Vista Grill (which has snagged an AAA Four-Diamond award) and the beachfront, toes-in-the-sand La Palapa.
And you can’t miss Kaiser Maximilian, with its lovely Old World ambience spilling out onto the sidewalk (complete with formally dressed waiters) and Austrian-tweaked dishes like roasted rabbit with polenta and duo of duck breast and duck confit with spaetzle.
You should also try the chili relleno (roasted pepper stuffed with cheese and diced pork) at El Arrayan, considered by many the best Mexican restaurant in PV.
And have we mentioned the seaside bistro of Vitea? European chefs whip up an ever-changing menu, from eggplant ravioli with grilled portobello to Angus beef tips sauteed with Marsala wine.
Visit in mid-November (when the ocean is warmest for swimming) and you’ll catch the annual International Gourmet Festival. Chefs from around the world fly in to work with local restaurants to create deliciously inventive menus.
Nor should you forget to sample freshly-made tostadas at a local taco stand (safe to eat). You’ll see dough formed by a small wooden press into a flat tortilla, which is then cooked, along with raw beef strips that are freshly grilled for your order. Cheap and filling too – about $3!
No, your only real difficulty is the one we face after ArtWalk – which of PV’s great restaurants to dine that evening?
Our travel article on Puerto Vallarta art and dining
A version of this article was first published in AAA Carolinas GO magazine.