A sizable fraction of Puerto Vallarta ’s best boutiques, galleries, and arts-and-crafts stores lie along the six downtown blocks of Avenida Juárez, beginning at the Río Cuale. The María Bonita boutique (Juárez 136, no phone, 11 a.m.–7:30 p.m. Mon.–Sat.) half a block north of the river heads the parade. The friendly, outgoing owner offers reasonably priced women’s resort wear of her own design. (Also find much of the same next door at Luisa’s, tel. 322/222-5042, 10 a.m.–8 p.m. Mon.–Sat.)
Another block north, cross to the west side of the street to Alberto’s (Juáez 185, tel. 322/222-8317, www.albertos.com.mx , 10 a.m.–8 p.m. Mon.–Sat.), arguably Puerto Vallarta’s top class-act jewelry store. Here, owner-artisan Jaime Ballesteros and his son Emerson carry on the Puerto Vallarta tradition begun by Jaime’s late father, Roberto (“Alberto”) Ballesteros. They offer a treasury of unique pieces, mostly crafted by Jaime and Emerson, taken from designs passed down through three generations. Considering their fine work, their prices are very reasonable.
Continue another block north to Galería Vallarta (Juárez 265, tel./fax 322/222-0290, www.galeriavallarta.com , 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Mon.–Sat. low season, 10 a.m.–8 p.m. Mon.–Sat. high. Sundays by appointment only). Through the years, arts-and-crafts-lovers Barbara Peters and her late husband, Jean, collected so many Mexican handicrafts that they had to find a place to store their finds. Galería Vallarta, a small museum of singular paintings, ceremonial masks, lampshades, art-to-wear, and more, is the result. Don’t miss the upstairs gallery room, where many of the best paintings are on display.
A few doors farther up the street, the store of renowned Guadalajara resident Sergio Bustamante (Juárez 275, tel. 322/223-1405, 10 a.m.–9 p.m. Mon.–Sat.) contains so many unique sculptures it’s hard to understand how a single artist could be so prolific. (The answer: He has a factory-shop full of workers who execute his fanciful, sometimes unnerving, studies in juxtaposition.) Bustamante’s more modest faces on eggs, anthropoid cats, and double-nosed clowns go for as little as $200; the largest, most flamboyant works sell for $10,000 or more.
For something different, continue next door from Bustamante, and take a look inside Orígenes (Juárez 279, tel. 322/223-3952, www.davidluna.com , 10 a.m.–9 p.m. Mon.–Sat.) for a carefully selected out-of-the-ordinary collection, from both Mexico and Asia and Africa. Examples include fine baskets, mystical glass, stone, and hardwood figurines, shiny glassware, rattan furniture, exquisite Oaxaca-loomed wool rugs and hangings (tapetes), and colorful tinware picture frames and holiday decorations.
Back across the street, the government Instituto de Arte Jaliscense store (Juárez 284, tel. 322/222-1301, 9 a.m.–9 p.m. daily) displays examples of nearly every Jalisco folk craft, plus popular items from other parts of Mexico, such as Oaxaca alebrijes (ahl-BREE-hays, fanciful wooden animals). Since it has a little bit of everything at relatively reasonable prices, this is a good spot for comparison shopping.
A few blocks farther on, at the northwest corner of Galeana, an adjacent pair of stores, Querubines (Juárez 501A, tel. 322/223-1727, 9 a.m.–9 p.m. high season, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Mon.–Sat. low season) and La Reja (Juárez 501B, 10 a.m.–2 p.m. and 4–8 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Mon.–Sat. winter season), display their excellent traditional merchandise—riots of papier-mâché fruit, exquisite blue pottery vases, gleaming pewter, clay trees of life, heavenly baroque reproductions, rich Oaxaca and Chiapas textiles, shiny Tlaquepaque hand-painted pottery—so artfully they are simply fun to walk through.
Carefully cross to the east side of Juárez, at the corner of Galeana and Corona, and your reward will be Olé (tel. 322/222-2470, 9 a.m.–2 p.m. and 4–8 p.m. Mon.–Sat.), a hidden “must-see” gem of a store, overflowing with fine woven wool tapetes (rugs) from Oaxaca. Kindly owner Juan Marcos Solórzano’s merchandise ranges from small (but nevertheless fine) coasters for drinks, through long hall carpets, to simply stunning 8-by-10-foot area rugs, all priced to sell.
Re-cross Juáez and follow Corona downhill a few doors to ceramics gallery Majolica (Corona 183, tel. 322/222-5118, 10 a.m.–2 p.m. and 4–9 p.m. Mon.–Sat.), which uses the older name, after the Mediterranean island of Majorca, where the celebrated Talavera pottery style, a blend of Moorish, Chinese, and Mediterranean traditions, originated before migrating to Spain and Mexico. The later name, Talavera, comes from the town in Spain from which the potters, who eventually settled in Puebla, Mexico, emigrated. The personable owner/manager hand-selects the pieces, all of which come from the Puebla family workshops that carry on the Talavera tradition. Her prices reflect the high demand that the Talavera style of colorful classic elegance has commanded for generations.
Downhill a few doors, Arte Mágico Huichol (Corona 179, tel./fax 322/222-3077, 10 a.m.–2 p.m. and 4–8 p.m. Mon.–Sat., also 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Sun. in winter) displays an unusually fine collection of Huichol yarn paintings by renowned artists such as Mariano Valadéz, Hector Ortíz, and María Elena Acosta. Downhill, one door before the corner of Morelos, you’ll find the unusual collection of Casa de Feng Shui, which specializes in the mysteriously quirky but glittering collectibles—onyx pyramids, geodes, blown-glass spheres, glass crystals—of the trendy Chinese practice of feng shui.
Step west, across Morelos, to Galería Uno (Morelos 561, tel. 322/222-0908, www.mexonline.com/galeriauno.htm , 10 a.m.–8 p.m. Mon.–Sat.), one of Puerto Vallarta’s longest- established fine art galleries. The collection—featuring internationally recognized artists with whom the gallery often schedules exhibition openings for the public—tends toward the large, the abstract, and the primitive. Check their website for the exhibition schedule.
For a similarly excellent collection, step one block north and around the uphill corner of Aldama to Galería Pacífico (Aldama 174 upstairs, tel. 322/222-5502 or tel./fax 322/222-1982, 10 a.m.–8 p.m. Mon.–Sat., by appointment only Jun. 15–Sept. 15). Here, in an airy upstairs showroom, personable owner Gary Thompson offers a fine collection of paintings, prints, and sculptures of Mexican artists, both renowned and up-and-coming. The mostly realistic works cover a gamut of styles and feelings, from colorful and sentimental to stark and satirical. Gary often hosts Friday meet-the-artist openings, where visitors are invited to socialize with the local artistic community.
Finally, head a few blocks back south along Morelos to the Fábrica de Joyería Regina, or Regina Jewelry Factory (Morelos 434, on the Malecón, tel. 322/222-2487, 10 a.m.–10 p.m. daily), for just about the broadest selection and best prices in town. Charges for the seeming acres of gold, silver, and jeweled chains, bracelets, pendants, necklaces, and earrings are usually determined simply by weight; from a dollar per gram for silver.