It’s nice to return. There are places that we may not visit often but we hold dear. Mazatlan is where I drove my truck off the ferry from Baja and first experienced a Mainland Mexico surf trip. Mazatlan to me is surf, seafood and banda music. The Historic Core is like a time capsule with an evolution of architectural styles dating back to the 19th century with glimmers of 20th-century art deco. This is where Hollywood used to party in the 1940’s and even though the hotels are a little run down the soul still shines through. Mazatlan is a seafood Mecca with the best food on the Pacific Coast. Plus, there are waves. There are waves right off the boardwalk downtown, there is world class point breaks north of town and super fun beach breaks just south of the marina. This town absolutely loves the beach.
Mazatlan is classic beach town and the locals absolutely adore their 21-kilometer long boardwalk. Around sunset, the malecón is packed with locals and tourists alike taking it all in, usually with a Pacífico in hand. There are dozens of beach parks, monuments, attractions and surf spots that need to be experienced. These are just a few of my favorite spots.
ALBERCA DEL MAR
Mazatlan has a fairly rugged coastline. Lots of reefs and consistent swell energy are a dangerous combination for the novice swimmer. What better way to enjoy the warm ocean water than a pool built into the rocks. At high tide on a big swell, the waves hit the breakwater but the pool is still safe for novice swimmers and families. The kids will love the concrete slide that empties into the pool. Just remember that no glass of any type is allowed near the pool.
Is he going to make it? Is he not going to make it??!! Much like the Quebrada in Acapulco, the local cliff divers know how to put on a show, and make a few pesos in the meantime. The Sanchez Taboada Esplanade is perched on the cliffs where the tourists like to take in the sunset and grind on you overpriced corn, fried bananas and tostilocos. The real show is put on by the cliff divers who have to time the incoming sets and plunge 40 feet to the rough sea below. Make sure to hook up the assistant with a few pesos, the show it worth it.
MONUMENTO A PEDRO INFANTE
Pedro Infante is probably the most famous movie star of the golden age of Mexican cinema, and he just happens to be from Mazatlan. Make sure to get a photo with the Pedro Infante monument and chat it up with the other Pedro Infante fans about what your favorite movie is. My favorite is Escuela de Vagabundos (1955) with Los Tres Garcia (1947) a close second.
PLAYA LOS PINOS
In the morning it is one of the best waves in the region and in the afternoon it is the favorite local beach in the Historic Core (the wave still works in the afternoon but good luck finding parking or even a cab for that matter). Playa Los Pinos is an awesome left point break that runs from the Casa de la Marina all the way to the Ocean Sciences campus of the Autonomous University of Sinaloa. You can expect rides as long as 100 to 150 meters. The wave is soft, rolling and best suited for a longboard/funboard but watch out for sea urchins on the inside where the wave stands up again. It is a picturesque surf spot with a 19th-century canon perched on the cliff just above the take off spot. In my experience the locals were awesome and everyone was taking turns.
PLAYA CERRITOS AND PLAYA BRUJITAS
On the far north end of Mazatlan is Playa Cerritos and Playa Brujitas. This was the first time that I has driven through the Zona Dorada to see the north end of town. Honestly, not really impressed. The Zona Dorada reminds me of Tijuana’s Avenida Revolución on the beach. The waves are inconsequential beach break without much form and the instant there is a hint of westerly wind it all goes to hell. Swimmers beware because the currents are strong and push right into the rocks. After spending the day at Brujitas ae didn’t see much reason to leave the Historic Core again. Maybe one day we will go stay at the El Cid Resort because that is where my wife used to stay with her family when she was little, but the Zona Dorada pales in comparison to the Historic Core.
WHERE TO EAT IN MAZATLÁN
To put it mildly, I love the culinary scene in Mazatlan. A lot has changed since the last time I was there. I now live in Guadalajara and work in the hospitality industry once again. I get a lot of insider recommendations about where to eat, travel and surf. One of my close friends is from Torreon, Coahuila and spent the first 18 years of his life vacationing in Mazatlan. He understands the types of street food stalls and taco stands that I thrive on and made me a comprehensive list of must-see experiences. I want to share some of my favorites with you.
Located in the neighboring community of Villa Union, El Cuchupetas is one of the best restaurants in Sinaloa. It is a mandatory stop as you are coming into town, and you will want to repeat on your way back out. It’s a couple blocks off the highway in a discreet neighborhood and has taken over buildings on three of the four adjacent corners.
El Cuchupetas is a home-style Sinaloa kitchen that has access to some of the best seafood known to man. I have never tasted a better oyster than the dozen I was served on a busy Friday afternoon. The shrimp a la diabla is made with real chiles and uses NO ketchup. The sauce is rich and smokey with notes of bacon fat. Which leads me to the bacon wrapped shrimp, stuffed with cheese. The order only comes with four pieces and I could easily put back 20.
It’s crazy when you try food that you are familiar with but something is different. I eat shrimp all the time but never like this. The shrimp ceviche doesn’t smell like shrimp, it smells like lime. The shrimp are all perfect. There are no bits but all complete pieces of shrimp. In a number of dishes, I ate the head, tail, shell in all.
I also bought a t-shirt. I love that so many people recognize the logo. The restaurant is full of pictures of the owner with famous people. Where we sat I saw pictures of Andres Manuel López Obrador, Diego Luna, and Carlos Slim. I can only imagine the other celebrities that have passed through those doors.
Stop number one set the bar really, really high.
EL TORO PESADO
El Toro Pesado is a street cart serving scallops that I found on YouTube. I had to ask around to find him because he is a little ways off the tourist track, just chilling in the shade under a tree. The owner is an older man whose nickname is El Toro Pesado and he has been preparing scallops, octopus, and shrimp for decades. I felt like I was sitting at a sushi bar watching a master chef at work.
I ordered a plate of all scallops. A few chiltepin chiles go into the molcajete and are ground up with lime juice. The plate has red onion, chile, lime and scallops, nothing more. Eating scallops and telling stories with this old man was one of the best experiences of a weekend filled with awesome experiences. It felt authentically Mazatleco.
CAHUAMANTA LA MEXICANA
I love soups. In San Diego I eat a ton of pho, in Guadalajara, I can’t get enough birria. I was super stoked to try a new soup with a protein that I wasn’t familiar with: manta ray. Nothing like a big bowl of soup after a long surf session. Cahuamanta La Mexicana is right around the corner from Los Pinos Beach, and it’s packed to the gills. In fact, it is kind of hard to order. Not much of an organized line but more like a bunch of people pushing their way up to the soup Nazi. Just as I make it up front some kid behind me calls out his order and I get skipped again.
While the guy slanging soup says the protein is mantaray I hear Mexicans call all classes rays manta rays; stingrays, bat rays, eagle rays all get turned into manta rays. It is up for debate what particular class of ray I was actually eating.
I ordered a combination bowl: tuna fin and manta ray soup. I was surprised at how rich the broth was and asked if they used beef broth as a base, which they categorically denied. The rich flavor comes from the manta ray they said. The texture of the manta ray was a little softer than the texture of the tuna fin, almost like it had been served rare and not boiled.
This was a specialty dish that I was always associated with Mazatlán.
EL MUCHACHO ALEGRE
Mariscos, Cerveza y Banda. Banda music may not be uniquely Sinaloan, but it is something that they do very, very well. It is a genre of music that has taken me a while to warm up to. In these parts it is culturally significant due to the waves of German immigrants that made their way here in the 19th century. Dive in, learn a song or two and see if they will let you karaoke it out in front of the band. It is part of the local culture.
El Muchacho Alegre has some decent seafood but most people are here for the music and the beachfront location. One dish that I particularly enjoyed was the octopus chorreada. It is like a big sope, or small corn masa pizza, with sliced octopus and chile. I know some Sinaloan ladies in Guadalajara that sell chorreadas but they don’t sell seafood, just beef. Food always tastes better at the beach and especially in Mazatlán.
This was the nicest restaurant that we visited while in Mazatlán. The atmosphere is stunning. An abandoned mansion from the era of Porfirio Díaz is taken back by the jungle. There is no roof and the trees grow through closets and old sitting rooms. There are a couple of enclosed dining rooms but the best tables are in the patio underneath the dimly lit trees.
The menu is ambitiously Mexican with recipes from much of the country. While the presentation and the meats were very well done I felt like the sauces fell short of the versions I had tried elsewhere. The pancetta de cerdo confitado was very well cooked but the chile pasilla sauce that accompanies it was insipid. The panuchos de chorizo de camaron were enjoyable but left me feeling like it was a high-end imitation of a classic street food. My favorite dish was the Cienaga Salad. Roasted red beets, goat cheese, avocado and roasted cherry tomatoes with a delicate mustard vinaigrette. Everything was balanced perfectly and I may try to make this one at home.
I will recommend El Presidio to my family and friends because it is a beautiful restaurant. They have a very clear vision of what makes the Historic Core great. Just make sure to check the weather forecast before you make reservations. A tropical shower caught the management off guard just as we were leaving.
This is another local favorite that my wife and her family would always visit while on vacation. There are a number of locations, some just selling desserts and others with a full service restaurant attached to the bakery. The location behind the downtown cathedral is very convenient for going after mass. Be prepared to wait for a table because this is downtown and it will be full on the weekends.
The service and the food are solid. Since this is a bakery I would recommend the thick cut french toast. The menu is ridiculously large and the portions are big enough to share. The coffee could be better but I am picky when it comes to coffee. Make sure to pick up some pastries on your way out. We bought a couple loaves of white bread for the family back in Guadalajara because everyone loves Panamá.
What I love about Mazatlán is the fact that there is a Historic Core right on the beach. With a few exceptions, most of the historic architecture in Mexico is inland. In contrast with the Historic Core in Mexico City or Guadalajara, I couldn’t find any buildings that date to the Spanish Colonial era. The cathedral is post-independence and most of the interesting buildings look to be from the late 19th and early 20th century. What’s cool about this timeframe is that these buildings were commissioned by Mexicans and not the Spanish.
While it is an absolute must to stroll around the Plazuela Machado and take in the architecture in the neighboring streets, I recommend walking around the periphery a little more. I particularly enjoyed the buildings along Belisario Domínguez as you walk north of the Plaza Republica towards Los Pinos Beach. The area has not been restored as well as the southern part of the Historic Core but these buildings still have stories to tell.
There is no debate as to whether I would rather stay in a smaller hotel room in Historic Core or in a big resort in the Zona Dorada. The Historic Core wins hands down. My wife was a little disappointed with the hotel’s amenities when we first arrived but after a weekend of walking the malecón and the streets of the Historic Downtown, she was happy with our romantic weekend in Mazatlán.