Over three visits in two years, I have fallen in love with Mexico—as I sort of guessed I would. Now I’m just annoyed that it took me until well into my 30s to finally get there, after having traveled much of the rest of the world before that. What do I love about Mexico? The very real undercurrent sense of thousands of years of history; the colors; the people I have met and the millions I haven’t yet; the sense of community almost everywhere you go; the FOOD!!!; and of course the beaches.
All of the above came together on my visit to San Pancho, (AKA San Francisco), located on the Riviera Nayarit, just an hour from the Puerto Vallarta Airport. Situated on Mexico’s Pacific Coast just up the road from Sayulita. San Pancho is the perfect small Mexican beach town, with cozy, unique lodgings, great food, and a quiet, perfect beach. Here’s why I’ll be back for more of this lovely place as soon as I can manage it!
Where to Stay: Hotel Cielo Rojo
The Hotel Cielo Rojo, on a side street off the main square, is an arty little hotel of just a few rooms with a killer organic cafe downstairs.
As you can see, it has a fabulous minimalist Mexican vibe, with lots of whitewashed walls and lovely wood detail. Let’s head upstairs and check out the rooms!
The rooms are all a bit different from one another—one has an adjoining bedroom for larger groups or family, while another looks out over the rooftops of the town.
There are driftwood sculptures, indigenous Mexican art, and beautiful textiles (along with midcentury modern furniture) around every corner.
But all the spaces have their own style and lovely decor. Each has its own bathroom with lots of Mexican tile.
Let’s head back downstairs to check out the cafe…. (can you tell I’m obsessed with this gorgeous, undulating staircase?)
Where to Eat: Bistro Organico
Bistro Organico is located on the main level of the Hotel Cielo Rojo, but you don’t need to be staying there to enjoy its healthy, filling meals.
Seriously, the meals here are divine. Choose from dishes like a healthy granola parfait, or pancakes, as well as veggie-packed sandwiches and organic huevos rancheros. The Buddha bowl, above, is a fresh mix of organic spinach, quinoa, black beans, farmer’s cheese, fresh herbs and salsa.
And there’s also a fresh juice bar!
The hotel also has a boho-chic shop with all sorts of local and Mexican-made goodies.
What to See in San Pancho
This is a small town even though it has two names (as you can see in the mural above, the town’s other name, San Francisco, honors the Saint), but there’s still plenty to do. Head down the street from the main square, and pass over the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge!
Must-Visit: Entre Amigos
The Entre Amigos community center is a great place for kids (visitors and locals alike) to read books, take a class (they offer an eclectic variety of classes for adults and kids, taught by visiting teachers, some of whom return to the area again and again.)
Entre Amigos, in addition to being an arts education and community space, runs a very robust recycling program in San Pancho. Plastics, glass and other materials are regularly picked up and either conventionally recycled or used as materials for local art projects.
Even if you don’t want to take a class or check out any of the over 5000 books at Entre Amigos, stop by their store, which is full of creative toys, accessories, and useful household items all made by hand in at the center from stuff that would have otherwise ended up in the landfill.
The town square is right in front of the beach entrance. Probably someone there will be selling food and fun souvenirs. You could watch the surfers get ready to go catch some waves, or you could have a drink or snack at the Las Palmas restaurant that’s right on the beach.
Whatever you do in San Pancho (even if that’s a whole lot of not much), the town’s color, community, and connection to the local environment can’t help but make you want to return—or maybe I’m just talking about myself!