1,078km (668 miles) NW of Mexico City; 502km (311 miles) NW of Guadalajara; 1,561km (968 miles) SE of Mexicali

In recent years, Mazatlán has shed its image as a spring-break party haven and today attracts mostly families, retirees, and package tourists with an eye for value. Visitors don't step off the plane in Vuitton slacks or Prada heels -- you'll be out of place wearing much beyond a bathing suit and sandals. More than any other beach resort in the country, Mazatlán represents the expansive golden beaches, affordable accommodations, and beckoning bars and restaurants that typified Mexico's early appeal to travelers.

The world-class golf scene, luxury-yacht harbor, and myriad watersports activities are largely accessible to even those with a tight budget. Take a short boat ride to Deer Island, where you can spend the day swimming, snorkeling, and kayaking. Check out the cliff divers near the old lighthouse, and watch the sunset over the long golden beaches. Grab a surfboard and paddle out to the small, consistent waves. Deep-sea fishing for marlin and sailfish is among the best in Mexico. Hiking, bird-watching, and quiet beach walks here will lift your soul.

A trip to Mazatlán forces you to slow down. Get lost among the cobbled streets of the old town, where you can absorb the colonial splendor of the 19th-century Italian-style Teatro Peralta; meander past restored neoclassical homes resplendent in warm tropical colors; and pause in a traditional cafe for a robust Mexican coffee. Sit in the tree-lined Plaza Mechado amid a creative crowd of artists, musicians, and writers.

Mazatlán claims to be the shrimp capital of the world, and whether or not it's true, shrimp of all shapes and sizes comes dressed up in just about every way imaginable on the menu. Don't expect haute cuisine, but foodies will love the fresh, spicy ingredients that accompany grilled fish and succulent seafood. Do expect casual open-air settings with ocean breezes and friendly service.

Mazatlán has its share of clubs and discos -- it always seems to be happy hour at Señor Frog's, and Joe's Oyster Bar attracts an all-day party crowd. But my favorite nightlife is in the old town, where old-school cantinas bring as much warm energy to the night air as the hip modern bars. Enjoy an icy cold cerveza at Café Pacifico amid the sounds of jazz and vibrant Mexican rhythms swelling from the central plaza. The spring-break party spirit comes back in force for 2 weeks in March for Carnaval celebrations, which in Mazatlán are among the biggest in Mexico.