For most boomers, the mention of Puerto Vallarta conjures up images of Captain Steubing and Julie, the Cruise Director, on "The Love Boat."
The classic TV show, of which we all have fond memories, ran from 1977 to 1987, and made the destination a household name. But the resort town, on the Western coast of Mexico, is so much more than the beautiful beaches for which it's best known.
I recently visited Puerto Vallarta and was amazed by all it had to offer. Sure there was glorious sun and sand and water but there were also so many surprises that I recommend you take the tourism board's advice and "Live It to Believe It."
Puerto Vallarta is a foodie's paradise, from the iconic Tacos el Cunado taco stand (order your tacos by threes, like the locals do) to the authentic tortilla soup and addictive mole at Gaby's Restaurant to Chef Thierry Blouet's French cuisine at the breathtaking Café des Artistes – one of the most stunning settings in which I've ever eaten. Watch the sun set over drinks at Vista Grill, join the "in" crowd at trendy La Leche and sample a little bit of everything on a Vallarta Food Tour. Be sure to taste Tuba, a refreshing and fruity drink made with apples, pecans and coconut, from one of the dozen official vendors.
Bring along an extra suitcase because you'll want to fill it with one-of-a-kind reminders of your trip. A vibrant center for the arts, Puerto Vallarta is home to numerous galleries filled with the works of both national and international artists. The city also features an array of public art. Take a walk along the Malecon – the Boardwalk – where the Pacific provides a natural backdrop to the works of more than a dozen sculptures.
At Velas Vallarta, the views of the lush gardens and the turquoise water of Banderas Bay from your private terrace are a vacation in themselves! Eat breakfast outside with the resident peacocks and enjoy a massage on the pristine beach. Want more pampering? Head over to Secrets Spa by Pevonia, where you can spend the day indulging in the latest hydrotherapy and indigenous treatments. FYI, "ah" is the same in Spanish.
Although it's tempting to park yourself on a chaise lounge, it would be a shame to miss the scenery from a zip line, ATV or raft at Canopy River or a hike through the Botanical Gardens, which features the most-visited public collection of orchids in Mexico. If you're an animal lover, you must take a river ride with one of the horses at Hacienda Dona Engracia or – one of my all-time favorite experiences – a swim with the dolphins at Dolphin Discovery. Don't leave Puerto Vallarta without a kiss from Pepe!
The people of Puerto Vallarta are warm and welcoming, and they go out of their way to make you feel at home. Get to know their rich culture by taking in a free concert or dance performance at "Los Arcos" on the Malecon, and visiting the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, one of the city's most iconic buildings and prettiest churches. No trip to Mexico would be complete without a little tequila or its distant cousin, raicilla, and it's well worth the drive through the mountains to tour the lovely Hacienda El Divisadero, where they make this ancient drink of the Gods. While you're there, you can marvel at the 1200 year old petroglyphs. Set aside one night to take a Vallarta Adventures sunset cruise out to the secluded cove of Las Caletas for the magical "Rhythms of the Night." This mystical and spiritual performance, accompanied by a delicious dinner buffet under the stars, is something you'll remember long after you've returned home.
Lois Alter Mark blogs at Midlife at the Oasis and is a regular contributor to Huffington Post. She is the reigning champion of Blogger Idol and was recently named Humor Writer of the Month by Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop. Lois won BlogHer Voices of the Year Awards in 2012 and 2013, and writes regularly on pop culture and travel. Because of her blog, Oprah Winfrey selected her as an Ultimate Viewer and took her to Australia on the trip of a lifetime. A member of the San Diego Film Critics Society, she was the Flicks for Kids editor at NickJr.com and a contributing writer for Entertainment Weekly for more than a decade. Transplanted New Yorkers, Lois and her husband of 32 years now live in San Diego, where they have turned into weather wimps and complain about the pizza. Their grown kids are, of course, both on the East Coast. You can follow Lois on Facebook or Twitter.