Set your sights on Mexico’s Pacific Coast for luxury hotels, gorgeous villas, and sweet little Mexican beach and surf towns

By Tracey Minkin
Courtesy of Punta Mita Resort

Yes, there’s Tulum and yes, there’s Cabo, but the Riviera Nayarit on the Pacific Coast is Mexico’s destination of the moment, and Punta Mita—a luxury enclave on a lush peninsula at the heart of the area that sits on the same latitude of bliss as Hawaii and enjoys 340 days of sun a year—is the perfect spot from which to base a surf-and-sun warm weather getaway this year.

The Rising Star of the Riviera Nayarit

It’s all about this lush, 200-mile stretch of Mexico’s Pacific coast just north of Puerto Vallarta right now, which already enjoys the riches of small towns and pueblos like Sayulita (the surf-chic darling of West Coasters and savvy Europeans), San Blas, artsy San Pancho, Bucerias, Nueva Vallarta, and Punta de Mita: a tiny town with a string of irresistible beach hangouts balancing just right with a handful of elevated restaurants, cafes, and yoga-forward commerce.

Early morning surfing on the beach at Sayulita

Photo: Lisa Seaman/Getty

But word is getting out among luxury developers, and a cadre of heavy hitters—Rosewood, One&Only, Auberge Resorts Collection, and Ritz-Carlton—are developing new properties in the area. They’ll join the gated luxury community Punta Mita, which occupies 1,500 acres of a stunning, spear-shaped peninsula and is home to Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita, St. Regis Punta Mita Resort, two Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses, and a stunning collection of residences and beach clubs that overlook (and sometimes sit right on) Punta Mita’s own 9.5 miles of coastline.

Related: The Best Beaches in Mexico

Punta Mita's peninsula along the Riviera Nayarit
Courtesy Punta Mita Resort

Inside Punta Mita

With charming Punta de Mita just to its south and irresistible Sayulita to its north, the gated community of Punta Mita has a vibe that feels open to its neighbors (and that true sense of Mexican beach life), while still conferring the myriad pleasures of a luxury oasis. Sixteen collections of high-end homes, villas, and condominiums nestle among the acres (the ultimate build-out for the property is capped at 1,000), and the styles range from Mexico’s terracotta-tile classic aesthetic to serenely contemporary and minimalist. (If you’re in the market to buy, prices begin at about $750,000 and top out at $26 million.)

Villa terrace at Punta Mita Resort
Courtesy Punta Mita Resort

For lovers of villa-style vacationing (a favorite option for multigenerational vacations), a variety of properties are available for rent and include access (depending on the property) to Punta Mita’s trio of beautiful beach clubs. The original palapa-anchored Resident’s Beach Club has just emerged from a refresh and reopened in late 2018. The Kupuri Beach Club is home to a top-shelf restaurant and bar, as well as a charming small beach facing Litibu Bay and the Punta Mita Ocean Sports Program (ask about the 10-person-paddleboard snorkeling trip). On the other side of the peninsula, the Sufi Ocean Club overlooks Banderas Bay, and is also home to a pair of standout restaurants—the elegant Sufi and its beachy sibling, Sufito Ceviche Bar and Grille.

Design-forward lobby of Kupuri Beach Club
Courtesy Punta Mita Resort

The Resorts: Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita and St. Regis Punta Mita Resort

It’s an embarrassment of resort riches at Punta Mita, and a savvy guest may want to consider a few days at each of these storied properties that perch at the peninsula’s dramatic tip, just to enjoy the bounty of each.

The beach at Four Seasons Resort
Courtesy Punta Mita Resort

With its 177 ocean-view suites, casitas, and private residences, the Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita is a village of delights unto itself, anchored by a lively network of pools (attention parents: there’s a lazy river feature here; attention non-parents: there’s a dreamy adults-only pool just for you), public art, restaurants (including deft Asian-Latin work and breathtaking cocktails at Aramara), beaches and beach bars, and at the heart, a cultural center helmed by Cultural Concierge Enrique Alejo.

Thanks to Alejo, guests can participate in seasonal baby sea turtle releases at sunset (get out your handkerchiefs), spend two fascinating hours learning how to properly taste tequila and then create one’s own signature blending, or get to know Mexico’s other beguiling spirit, mezcal. The programs are serious and fun in perfect proportion, engaging, and unforgettable. On the sybaritic side, the resort’s Apuane Spa takes advantage of the therapeutic benefits of tequila (for the skin this time) in a number of signature treatments, including the “Punta Mita,” a massage that features sage oil and tequila in starring roles.

Related: What's the Difference Between Tequila and Mezcal?

Beach dining at St. Regis Punta Mita Resort
Courtesy Punta Mita Resort

With its winding paths amid dense tropical foliage and its low-rise profile, the St. Regis Punta Mita Resort whispers hideaway. The resort’s 89 spacious rooms and 31 luxury suites (some garden-facing, some ocean-facing) are serenely appointed in quiet Mediterranean-meets-Mexico style, are tucked into small, pastel stucco buildings, and feature outdoor showers and the attentions of a butler—a St. Regis hallmark. Beach, pool, margarita, and fresh guacamole blend seamlessly here, particularly at Las Marietas Family Pool and adjacent restaurant of the same name. Just a stone’s throw away, the delightful (and Instagram-forward) Mita Mary Bistro Boat pairs food-truck-style pop-up dining with the colorful promise of Mexico’s small fishing boats (looks for oyster and vegan pop-ups this winter). And even spa veterans will scramble to write postcards home about Remède Spa’s two-hour, ritual-inspired treatment that exfoliates the entire body with pure cacao, is followed by a warm chocolate immersion and healing wrap, and concludes with a table-based rain shower and a cacao massage.

Punta Mita’s Ocean-Loving Golf Scene

Coastal resorts can favor their beachfront pursuits, and golf courses that surround that prime real estate are sometimes relegated to grabbing the prime views here and there. Not so in Punta Mita, where two courses provide a remarkable number of holes with ocean views (the Pacifico course has eight ocean holes and Bahía course adds another five; more views are being opened up in 2019). Punta Mita’s also known for a bit of golf-meets-castaway magic: Pacifico’s “The Tale of the Whale” hole, which involves a tee on the mainland and the green on a natural island reachable only at low tide.

Oceanfront golf at Punta Mita Resort
Courtesy Punta Mita Resort

With the recent arrival of Top 100 teaching pro Tom Stickney at the Punta Mita Golf Club, the instructional side of the sport has already jumped a significant notch: Punta Mita has just opened a new Golf Academy under Stickney's leadership. This makes a lesson or round—available to resort guests who may not have come to golf originally—an enticing counterpoint to a day on the beach. (Further, the best views of sunrise at Punta Mita are from the Pacifico Course.)

With ocean excursions including deep sea fishing and whale watching (in season), and horseback riding on offer, not to mention easy access to that string of sweet towns in each direction, it’s no wonder all eyes are on Punta Mita and Riviera Nayarit. They are Mexico’s shining star in ascendancy.