PV beaches are varied. Downtown's main beach, Los Muertos, is a fun scene, with shoulder-to-shoulder establishments for drinking and eating under the shade. There's year-round action, although water-sports equipment rentals may be available on weekends only during the rainy season. The itinerant vendors are present year-round, however, and can be annoying.
Olas Altas Beach, which runs north from Los Muertos, has the same grainy brown sand but fewer vendors and services and sometimes waves big enough to surf or boogie. During vacation periods it's just as lively as Los Muertos Beach. North of the malecón and Hotel Rosita, more stretches of sand front minor hotels.
Hotel Zone beaches offer adults opportunities to play with aquatic toys, especially in high season. The sand here is often pocked with rocks, depending on the season and tides, and narrow in places. The beach at Marina Vallarta, between PV and Nuevo Vallarta, is swimmable but mainly uninspired except for the beach toys and hotels that offer refreshments. Again, sand here is lacking in front of some hotels, especially at high tide.
South of Vallarta proper are Conchas Chinas, a few smaller beaches, and Mismaloya. The wild beaches farther south (on the north side of Cabo Corrientes, from Las Animas to Yelapa) didn't have electricity until the 1970s or later. They tend to fill up with day-trippers between December and April but are well worth a visit.
At Los Muertos as well as beaches in the Hotel Zone and Marina Vallarta, you can find Jet Skis, parasailing, and banana-boat rides in high season (December-April) and on weekends year-round.
At the northern end of Bahía de Banderas and farther into Nayarit State, to the north, are long, beautiful beaches fringed with tall trees or scrubby tropical forest. Only the most popular beaches like those of Nuevo Vallarta and Rincón de Guayabitos have much in the way of water-sports equipment rentals, but even the more-secluded ones have stands or small restaurants serving cold coconut water, soft drinks, beer, and grilled fish with tortillas.
While coastal Nayarit is jumping on the development bandwagon, the isolated beaches of Cabo Corriente and those of southern Jalisco—some surrounded by ecological reserves—continue to languish in peaceful abandon. Things here are still less formal, and aside from the super-posh resorts like El Careyes, El Tamarindo, and Las Alamandas, whose beaches are off-limits to nonguests, words like "laid-back" and "run-down" or "very basic" still apply, much to the delight of adventurous types.