Mazatlán, the first major resort town on the Pacific coastline, has a split personality. At the northern end of town is the Zona Dorada (Golden Zone), where the hotels (and the prices) rise high and the pace is frenetic. The streets are jammed with tour buses shuttling cruise-ship passengers to dozens of jewelry shops. At the southern end of the malecón (the seaside promenade) is Viejo Mazatlán (Old Mazatlán), the city's historic center, a gorgeous and low-key area of colorful postcolonial buildings—some restored, some still idyllic piles of chipped stucco—where you'll find a few hip restaurants, art galleries, and shops, and a totally different scene from the touristy Golden Zone.
Mazatlán's beaches are golden and wide, though they're not nearly as handsome as those south of Puerto Vallarta. There are, however, tons of beach activities here—this is the place for parasailing—and several nearby islands provide alternatives to the crowded sands in town. Overall, the town is a good choice for a quick getaway: it's cheaper than Puerto Vallarta, the party scene is there for those who want to partake, and unlike in many resort towns, the city has some sights to explore beyond the surf and sand.