Meet Mazatlán, Mexico’s Most Underrated Beach Getaway
Tasty street eats meet endless surf and sun.
When looking for a beach getaway in Mexico, most Americans choose either Cabo or Cancún. They’re great destinations to be sure, but if you’re looking to immerse yourself in the local culture—including the Mayan ruins, cenotes, welcoming villages, and dense jungles—you have to get past the mega-resorts and spring breakers. If your Mexican beach vacation dreams extend beyond a swim-up bar, head just across the Gulf of California and get to know Mazatlán.
Sure, the Sinaloa city has its fair share of resorts. Yet unlike Cancún, which was developed specifically by the hospitality industry, the so-called “Pacific Pearl” is rich with heritage dating back to the 1500s. In this sprawling beachfront city of 500,000, you'll find plenty of 19th-century architecture clad in electric colors, a buzzy seaside promenade full of street performers, traditions that include cliff jumping into the ocean, Parisian-style cobblestone plazas with cafe tables lining the street, and fresh ceviche served out of residents’ windows.
Most crucially, you’ll be able to experience its 20-mile stretch of sandy shores without feeling like you’re surrounded by tourists. Here’s the rundown on Mexico’s lesser-known paradise for food lovers and beachgoers.
Best places for first timers to visit in Mazatlán
It's almost impossible not to be on a beach as soon as you arrive in Mazatlán. But, you'll still probably want to know which ones are the best. Start with Playa Sabalo, a relaxing beach at the northern end of the Zona Dorada (more on that below). You'll also find Playa Gaviotas and Playa Camaron nearby, both of which have a uniquely Mexican beach party vibe. Think beach bars, live music, and energy that keeps going after sunset.
A staple of oceanside escapes, the beachfront esplanade—known as a malecón throughout Mexico and Latin America—is always popular with morning joggers, afternoon bikers, and evening gallivanters. But the malecón in Mazatlán goes beyond all that. At six miles, it’s not only among the longest in the world (and should take about 13,000 steps, if you’re someone who tracks those), but its wide pavement is exceptionally clean and packed with art, monuments, and the occasional entertainer.
Time your trek to pass by El Clavadista at Paseo Claussen in the late afternoon, when you’re most likely to catch the decades-long tradition of cliff divers plummeting 50 feet into the swelling surf below. A miscalculation in timing would limit the depth to only six feet of water. Miraculously, no injuries have occurred since the unofficial daily feats began in the mid-1900s.
Mazatlán neighborhoods you can’t miss
Mazatlán is a fairly large city full of unique pockets, chaotic urban spaces, and serene places to catch your breath. Here are just a few of the areas to visit while you’re here.
Translated as the Golden Zone, Zona Dorada is the main tourist area of Mazatlán. Here you’ll find a wealth of fancy beachfront hotels, boutiques, bars, high-end restaurants, and other tourist-friendly offerings along the malecón. Its beaches are sandy, the bars are open late, and the vendors hocking their seashell-emblazoned wares are everywhere. Just north of Zona Dorada, Sábalo is a quieter place to experience refined cuisine and luxury lodging along pristine beaches.
As the name implies, Centro Histórico is the oldest part of Mazatlán. Also known as Old Town, the influences of the city’s 500-year legacy are most apparent in the “classical tropical” architecture, which intermixes traditional Mexican aesthetics with European influences, especially around Plazuela Machado. It’s also home to historic houses, exquisite street food, sidewalk cafes, unique galleries, and the historic Angela Peralta Theatre. Meanwhile, on the southern end of the Centro, the Olas Altas neighborhood is all hippie vibes, vibrant cafes, and art galleries.
Visitors go to Centro Historico for a taste of the past, but the aptly named Nuevo Mazatlán is the destination for those looking for a modern twist on the historic city. Located on the north end of the city, this is your place for all-inclusives and higher-end seafood spots, golf courses, and a chance to gawk at yachts at the Marina Mazatlán. It’s also home to strip malls and big box stores, so be prepared for that sort of modernity, too.
Mazatlán’s more Bohemian neighborhood is where the surfers come to convene with the ocean, and everyone else comes to kick back and escape the bustle far from the tourist thronged Zona Dorada. Located in the northern part of the city, the distance from downtown tends to keep the tourists at bay, giving the area a much more local vibe despite the hotels.
This residential area south of the Centro Historico offers a more low-key experience that doesn’t skimp on the charm. It’s home to busy seafood markets and mom and pop restaurants that offer an escape from the chaos of the more touristy areas. Grab a drink and let Mazatlán’s daily life unfold around you.
Where to eat and drink like a local in Mazatlán
You won’t have trouble finding street food in Mazatlán: From food trucks to sidewalk carts and even plates served out of house windows, options are plentiful (lines outside are good signs you’ve come to the right spot). Look for charcoal-grilled chicken rubbed in spices, chili lime corn on the cob, and ceviche fresh from the day’s catch. Thanks to the fact that Sinaloa provides a full third of the entire nation’s produce, you’ll find dishes full of local flavors from family owned farms. Expect pure, fresh everything—vibes included—wherever you turn.
If you want to try as much as you can, you could opt for a food tour—Tomatl is a fantastic one, and was created by a local Mazatleca. They offer tours devoted to street food or one specifically centered around the three most important food groups (tacos, mezcal, and beer) in addition to shopping excursions.
You could fill yourself from dawn till dusk toddling between street vendors, but step it up for dinner and visit some of Mazatlán’s top restaurants for a gussied-up meal. Casa 46 dishes updated regional fare like confit duck enchiladas and pescado zarandeado (grilled red snapper with a chile-citrus sauce), along with plenty of international plates. The meal is crowned by a sweeping view overlooking Plazuela Machado and across the street from Teatro Angela Peralta.
The prime choice in town for al fresco dining, meanwhile, is El Presidio (reservations are highly recommended), where you can indulge in upscale Mexican cuisine in a lush, 19th-century courtyard littered with stately stone and creeping vines.
Nature and outdoor experiences in Mazatlán
In Mazatlán, beaches are life, whether you’re a surfer, sailor, or sit-and-drink-cocktails-while-bronzing-er. That said, venturing away from the heavily touristed beach outposts has its rewards.
One of the best-kept secrets of Mazatlán is Stone Island. First, it's not really an island, but you do need to take a boat to get there. It's a beach area to the south of the Port of Mazatlán—and it feels like it's another world away. The wide, sprawling sands extend for miles and are bordered by hilly jungle, meaning you’ll have sweeping views unencumbered by development. There are a few small hotels here and many outdoor restaurants perfect for a cold beer, a fish taco, or a shrimp cocktail.
Day trips to take from Mazatlán
If you’ve got the time, you definitely won’t regret spending a day checking out El Quelite, a historic charmer about 40 minutes north of Mazatlán.
There are several ways to reach the enchanting village, and all that matters is that you choose one—this will be a highlight of your journey. If you’ve rented a car, the drive is straightforward and should take just under an hour. Otherwise, there are abundant options for booking a guided day trip, but you can also take a public bus for far less, and it only adds about 20 minutes to the commute, while giving you the full day to explore at your leisure.
Once in El Quelite, stroll the streets to shop for souvenirs, climb to the chapel overlooking the region, and appreciate the enchanting local cemetery at your whim. Just be sure to enjoy lunch at the charmingly chaotic El Mesón de los Laureanos in the center of town. Let the cacophony of color and wild animal sounds entice you—you’ll have all manner of exotic birds strutting around your table, iguanas scuttling about on overhangs, and likely a cat or two will cross your path. But understand that this single restaurant and its owner, former doctor Marcos Gabriel Osuna, revitalized the village of 1,500 by preserving the region’s family farming and stimulating a steady outlet for its production.
The massive menu is powered by the organic output of countless local families who farm produce, raise livestock, and hand make cheeses with the support of Osuna and his restaurant, both devoted to healthy production and healthy consumption. You won’t find fresher flavors or a better story of local renewal and success elsewhere.
Mazatlán hotels and other great places to stay
You’ll want to spend most of your time combing the city, but it doesn’t hurt to allow yourself some creature comforts during your downtime. Bank on a solid stay somewhere like all-suite Pueblo Bonito Mazatlán, which recently underwent a massive facelift while still remaining a recognizable beachfront favorite in the Zona Dorada. You can also pop over to sister property Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay, which sports a private beach and a swanky spa.
Another locally owned option is El Cid Hotels & Resorts. There are four El Cid resorts to choose from in Mazatlán: one in the marina and three in the Golden Zone. While their designs are humble and retro (unironically), you'll have the beach right out front with the best views of Mazatlán’s iconic islands just off the coast.
For the best stay near Centro Historico, book a room at boutique hotel Casa Lucila. This colonial-chic spot is packed with history and charm—in fact, it was once a restaurant frequented by John Wayne and Ernest Hemingway. All eight rooms overlook Olas Altas and are within walking distance of the Centro Historico. Plus, there’s a small rooftop infinity plunge pool, which is perfect for sipping a Pacifico (birthplace: Mazatlán) and taking in the views.
What to know before you go to Mazatlán
Best times of the year to visit
Most visitors will tell you that October and November are the ideal months for beachgoers, but visiting any time between October and May means temps are likely in the mid-80s and there’s only the slightest chance of getting rained out.
It’s worth noting that every November, Mazatlán is home to one of Mexico’s greatest Dia de los Muertos celebrations, with Paseo Olas Altas’s two-day waterfront procession a particular highlight of the city-wide celebration of lost loved ones. And come February, the city hosts its own raucous Carnival.
Also of note: On April 8, 2024, Mazatlán will hit the geographic lottery. The beach city will be in the path of the 2024 total solar eclipse, and will have four minutes and 15 seconds of celestial wonder. But book fast—stargazers are poised to pair science with sand when the big event hits.
Mazatlán time zone
Mazatlán falls under Mexican Pacific Standard Time, the same time zone as Denver, Colorado's Mountain Standard Time. This translates to two hours behind New York’s Eastern Standard Time and one hour ahead of California's Pacific Standard Time.
The weather and climate
A tropical savanna climate means that Mazatlán is pretty damn lovely all year long, although the humidity tends to spike during the summer months, which are also prone to downpours. October to May, however, hits a very ideal sweet spot with low humidity and temperatures hovering around 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Spanish is Mazatlán’s official language, although English is quite prevalent, especially in the more heavily touristed areas.
How to get around
While each of Mazatlán’s neighborhoods is navigable by foot, getting between them can be a trek. Luckily, you have options. Cabs are plentiful throughout the city, Uber is up and running, rental cars are available, and a ride on the city bus will run you about 30¢ USD.
Still, there’s no better way than cruising around with the wind in your hair, so spring for a pulmonia. These golf cart-like cruisers are Mazatlán’s version of tuk-tuks,, and offer a fantastic way to see the city from street level. (And yes, “pulmonia” translates to “pneumonia.” Just go with it.)
Puerto Escondido uses the Mexican peso (MXN) and each peso is worth 100 centavos. As of January 2024, $1 USD exchanges for $17.18 MXN.