Explore the newly pedestrianized malecón, the downtown seaside promenade recently made car-free by a $3.8 million renovation. Rent tandem bikes and sea kayaks for free from the tourism office's table (daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) near the sculpture-studded boardwalk’s north end. Stick around in the evening, when buskers, clowns, dancers, and food vendors hawking tres leches cake, skewered shrimp, and spicy corn draw locals and visitors alike.
Gallery-hop at the Romantic Zone’s South Side Shuffle, held every other Friday along Basilio Badillo Street. Check out the huge Galleria Dante, packed to the rafters with expressionist and surrealist canvases by locals like Guillermo Brockman, and the new Pulpo Rojo, a sociopolitical-focused workshop and gallery popular with Vallarta’s hipster cognoscenti. Across the river, visit a cluster of seventeen downtown art spaces at the Wednesday-night Art Walk, where notable spots like Galeria Corsica and Galeria Pacifico stay open until 10 p.m, plying would-be collectors with wine, cheese, and contemporary Mexican art.
Escape the cheesy oceanfront tourist bars and venture inland a few blocks to El Patio de Mi Casa, a laid-back outdoor lounge and wood-fired pizza place that feels like a friend’s backyard garden. Sip a Danzantes mezcal from Oaxaca ($6) or a blended tea from Mexico City’s Caravanserai ($2) to a soundtrack of live jazz on Friday nights and D.J.'s on Saturdays.