A weekend getaway delivers relaxation — and scratches the surface of all this region has to offer.
It’s not often you have the same conversation in two different locations in one night. When I recently started my evening at a dinner party in Pacific Heights and ended it at a birthday party deep in the Mission, I was surprised by two rave reviews about a small Mexican resort town about one hour north of Puerto Vallarta: Punta Mita.
A private peninsula on Mexico’s Riviera Nayarit, Punta Mita has become one of the country’s most renowned gated communities. With its established Four Seasons and St. Regis properties, you can see why San Franciscans are drawn to a destination with familiar luxury hotels. However, one hotel is a shiny new jewel in the region’s crown. Opened in 2020, the Conrad Punta de Mita is spread over 5 acres, bordered by a long stretch of white sandy beaches, turquoise waters and coastal marshes that a few friendly alligators (monitored by security guards and biologists) are known to call home. With three swimming pools, a much-lauded spa, a golf course and a 10,000-square-foot ballroom, the hotel appeals to groups of all sizes. Add a flight time of just under three hours from San Francisco to Puerto Vallarta, and it doesn’t take much convincing to book a long weekend.
So with our Rimowa suitcases packed and new books in hand — The Company, by Adrian Wooldridge, for my boyfriend and Orwell’s Roses, by Rebecca Solnit, for me — we set off on what would ultimately be a frictionless five-hour door-to-destination journey.
Day One: Tequila Tasting and Aztec Rituals
Arriving in Puerto Vallarta, an air-conditioned SUV booked through the Conrad awaited to whisk us across the river that separates Jalisco from Riviera Nayarit. Speeding through the rain-forested Pacific Coast and past bright pink, yellow and orange casitas, we arrived in under 45 minutes at the gated entrance of the complex that houses the Conrad Punta de Mita. Vast columns of warm wood welcome you through a walkway that frames the crystal blue sea on the horizon and offers a sense of freedom and release — one that is amplified by the sweet hibiscus welcome cocktail. The hotel has guest rooms in the main building, while more private apartment-style accommodations are dotted around the property (and perfect for wedding parties).
With cocktails in hand, we strolled toward the ocean to find our room and scout out the lively scene. Just as predators and prey coexist in the animal kingdom, so do vacationing adults relax in harmony around a resort together. From recognizable Silicon Valley power couples lounging on one side of the pool and the cast of a reality TV show filming on the other to a group of bridesmaids posing for pictures on the terrace and the faint squeals of delight from the kids’ pool, the resort’s sprawling architecture — designed by San Francisco–based SB Architects — is a triumph of meandering for the peoplewatcher’s eye.
Arriving at our plush one-bedroom suite, we opened the doors to reveal unobstructed views of the Pacific. When we saw the private plunge pool, separate sitting room and rather wonderful bathtub, we were tempted to just shut the door and not come out, but the Agave Studio experience beckoned. It was about time we had some tequila.
Keen to deliver for the millennial experience economy, the Conrad Punta de Mita has established a tasting room with floor-to-ceiling barrels of fermenting mezcal on one side and rows of ornate tequila bottles on the other. Welcomed by Stefan, the hotel’s resident mixologist, we took our seats to sample five different spirits all made from the agave plant and each paired with dainty hors d’oeuvres. If you’re a fan of wine country tasting rooms, you’ll enjoy exploring this. Particularly memorable is the rattlesnake venom mezcal, consumed after eating dark chocolate.
Fuelled with Mexican spirits, we dashed back to the room to get ready for the main event: a three-course immersive culinary experience at the hotel’s flagship restaurant, Codex. We arrived at an Aztec ritual, where we were blessed with sage smoke and cleansed by conch shell blares before we sheepishly encountered the slightly awkward but welcoming stares of other post-ritualized diners. The setting was nothing if not romantic. Seated among sunken mangrove trees twinkling with lights, we made our way through a series of delightful dishes inspired by ancient recipes. From smoked octopus with crunchy corn and zucchini blossoms to the local Ixtlan lamb barbecue, each dish was thoughtfully presented with an element of visual theater that had us reaching for our iPhones.
Day Two: Dancing in the Moonlight
Up bright and early, we took our positions at the adult watering hole and let the hours melt by, between turning the pages of our books and taking sips of exotic-looking cocktails. The main event of the day was the spa, nestled to the side of the property with all the water-based relaxation activities one could possibly desire. We eagerly whiled away the afternoon, languorously drifting from hot tub to plunge pool to sauna and back again. Then it was time for my facial with Jessica, which was, quite simply, the best facial I’ve ever had. The spa prides itself on using ancient techniques to relieve stress and fatigue with these facials, which are part sculpting face workout, part healing ritual featuring warm stones and cleansing herbs.
For dinner we ventured to Mezquite, the resort’s beach restaurant complete with live music that hovers at the perfect volume to both celebrate and have a conversation. We’d made friends with the group of San Francisco newlyweds at the table next to us, and after we devoured the catch of the day and a bottle of Sancerre, the songs of the Buena Vista Social Club compelled us to create a dance floor between the palm trees.
Day Three: Under the Sea
Thanks to the concierge’s recommendation, we chartered a yacht for the day. Departing from the nearby La Cruz marina, in less than 20 minutes we sailed out on a sparkly new catamaran. Riviera Nayarit is known for its snorkeling, and if the visibility is good enough, you can expect to see everything from stingrays to dolphins. Keenly, we got on our flippers and jumped into the warm water to explore, and sure enough the wonders of the big blue came out to greet us. Schools of tropical fish swam by, and time, as it so often does on vacation, gently nudged us toward the late afternoon. Back on board with a beverage in hand, we sailed around the bay and back toward land for our final night at the hotel.
Day Four: Hasta la Vista
And then our day of departure dawned. After a quick gym session and an attempt at gracefully ransacking the abundant breakfast buffet, we realized it was too late to make it to the nearby town of Sayulita for the famed Sunday market. Once a sleepy fishing town, Sayulita has emerged with a hip bohemian beach scene, complete with small boutique hotels and a true surf charm. “Well, we’ll just have to come back,” I said to my boyfriend as we piled into the SUV to the airport.
Rejuvenated by that sense of self you gain after wandering in other worlds, I opened my laptop on the plane to email thank-yous to my Pacific Heights hostess and the Mission’s birthday boy for the recommendation, and to invite them both to a dinner party so that we can repeat the exact same conversation — with even more excitement than before.
Getting There …
United Airlines flights depart twice a day from SFO, and rooms at Conrad Punta de Mita start at $735 a night. Mexico does not require U.S. citizens to provide documentation of negative COVID results, but you will need to complete a declaration of health. Air passengers traveling back to the U.S. are required to present a negative COVID-19 test result within 24 hours, made easier by COVID testing facilities available onsite at the resort.