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Puerto Vallarta Won Our Family’s Hearts

Puerto Vallarta Won Our Family’s Hearts

*This post was sponsored by Visit Puerto Vallarta and the opinions expressed here are our own, as always.

The last time Triton and I were in Puerto Vallarta was before the kids were born. Part of a large group of 14 people, we rambled around the city en masse as we tanned, swam, feasted, caroused and slept. Largely in that order. Recently back for our first time to visit Puerto Vallarta with kids, we experienced a fun and more family-oriented vacation. It could not have been much more perfect.

Westin Puerto Vallarta pool at sunset

Sunset lounging by the pool at the Westin Puerto Vallarta – both beautiful and relaxing.

From the ideal weather to the fun activities and delicious food, our family fell in love with this sweet Mexican town. Truly, Puerto Vallarta won our family’s hearts. Our decision to visit Puerto Vallarta with kids was an ideal way to spend our Thanksgiving holiday.

Puerto Vallarta Won Our Family’s Hearts

As a family, we’ve visited quite a few destinations in Mexico, and there is something special about Puerto Vallarta. Maybe it’s the warm, swimmable ocean and fantastic undersea views. Or maybe we love the array of activities for families both in downtown and out on the water. Maybe it was the plentiful wildlife and colorful tropical birds. There are so many reasons to visit Puerto Vallarta with kids, we’re already planning to go back!

Here’s a few things that made our visit really special.

Boat Trip to Las Caletas

We really didn’t research our trip to Las Caletas very much. Hosted by Vallarta Adventures, the tours to this remote private beach are only reachable by boat. As we boarded the boat with about 200 other visitors, we got worried this was going to be “one of those” tours. Visions came to mind of men in Bermuda shorts and black socks alongside women in giant sunhats and zinc-covered noses. (Well ok, maybe there were one or two of those couples.)

Vallarta Adventures boat to Las Caletas Puerto Vallarta

Vallarta Adventures’ boat to Las Caletas was cozy but really fun. The entertainment was pretty hilarious (in a good way).

But my gosh, were we surprised when we skirted the coastline south of Puerto Vallarta and passed the famous Los Arcos National Marine Park. What came into view was a tropical paradise, and a huge one at that. We didn’t realize this private beach and playground was dedicated solely to our boat full of people. Suddenly, 200 guests seemed like a tiny number.

There is so much to do at Las Caletas. After settling into comfy lounge chairs on the beach, Triton and the girls swam out to a floating pier complete with hammock and umbrella. I stayed on the beach and nursed a gigantic piña colada, watching a flock of green parrots settled onto a nearby post. Kayaks, paddle boards, boogie boards, snorkel sets and even scuba equipment were all available for our use. Later, Ava and I walked up the stone stairways along the water until we reached another beach. Strewn with hammocks, this beach is restful and away from the laughter and happy squeals.

Las Caletas private beach Puerto Vallarta

The view looking North along the beach at Las Caletas, with the swimming beach on the right.

Around the bend further are the kids and teens areas, each with their own set of activities. Kids can play all sorts of fun games both in and out of the water. In the teen area, guests can zipline, ride the waterslide, jump onto a giant water pillow and more.

Even the food is great here, all included in the ticket price of $49 per person. Really, this place is a must if you visit Puerto Vallarta with kids.

man swinging hammock on floating platform Las Caletas Puerto Vallarta

Guests can swim out to several floating platforms off the beach at Las Caletas.


  • Bring your own towels – they don’t supply them for you.
  • Sit on the main floor of the boat near the front left – there are surprises and you’ll be happy you did. Plus good views from the left side.
  • Tip the staff – they work hard to please.
Dinner at Casa Kimberly’s Iguana Restaurant

For a truly nice dinner in downtown Puerto Vallarta, make advance reservations at the Iguana Restaurant at Casa Kimberly. This place ranks among the best meals and restaurant experiences our family has ever had.

family dinner at Iguana Restaurant Casa Kimberly Puerto Vallarta

Everything about our dinner at Iguana Restaurant was fabulous. Look at that view!

I guess we should have expected something special when we learned Casa Kimberly is located in movie star Elizabeth Taylor’s former home. While filming The Night of the Iguana in Puerto Vallarta with her future husband Richard Burton, they fell in love with each other and this town. She bought this home high on the hills overlooking downtown and the ocean. To be discreet since they were still married to other people, Burton bought the house across the cobblestone street. They built a bridge between the two houses over the street to enable their midnight trysts – how Old-Hollywood of them!

Elizabeth Taylor painting at Casa Kimberly Puerto Vallarta

The Lady Elizabeth herself presiding over our dinner at Casa Kimberly, famous violet eyes and all.

The 5-star Iguana Restaurant is all white linens and china, with impeccable service and the highest quality of food and drink. Open air and with gorgeous views, the main dining room is elegant and casual at the same time. Serving delicious dishes with a hint of Mexican influence, the chef has created a broad menu even this kids were happy with.

But then came the mariachis – my family and friends know I am not a fan. However, these mariachis are another level. With at least a dozen quality musicians, this band put on a spectacular show that stunned us all. Even the vocals were exemplary, backed by a group of six violinists and the rest. Go. Go for the view, the food, the history of this building. And go for the mariachis. (I never thought I would actually type that sentence).

mariachi violinist Casa Kimberly Iguana Restaurant

The mariachis serenaded our table at Casa Kimberly’s Iguana Restaurant.


  • Take an uber because it is very hard to find and some taxis even get lost.
  • The front entrance is unassuming. Pull the rope to ring the large bell and someone will come to open the gate for you.
  • Walk around the courtyard and gander at the old Hollywood photos and posters from Taylor’s own collection.
The Original Downtown Tour

Our family loves a good taco, and this food tasting and cultural walking tour of downtown Puerto Vallarta did not disappoint. We met our guide Shawnie of Vallarta Food Tours in the gazebo of Lázaro Cárdenas Park, and she handed us a map of the eateries we would visit. There were nine of them! From there, we were off to our first stop and our tummies were happy all day.

Taco stop at Bierreria Robles in Puerto Vallarta

Taco stop on our food tour – catch the tshirt on our guide in the back: I wonder if tacos think about me too!

I’ll go into more detail on another post dedicated to this tour, but suffice to say it was a fantastic collection of deliciousness. From street tacos to fresh seafood and everything in between, our taste buds were singing from start to finish.

A quick overview of our tour (the routes and stops can vary):

  • street tacos
  • aguas frescas
  • seafood tacos
  • local chocolates
  • ceviche tostadas
  • mole enchiladas
  • and much more
walking food tour downtown Puerto Vallarta

Our last stop on the food tour in Puerto Vallarta was a house-made candy shop.


  • Eat a light breakfast that morning. The tour starts at 10:30 and supplies plenty of food.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. I wore flip flops which was a mistake.
  • Bring your swim suits. The tour ends back at the beach and you can take a nice dip.
Swimming with Dolphins in the Wild

At another location in Mexico, we had an unfortunate experience with captive dolphins. The girls were super upset at that place because the dolphins were kept in a swimming pool-like tank. In the case of Dolphin Tour by Wildlife Connection in Puerto Vallarta, the experience is completely opposite. These bottlenose dolphins are observed in the wild, part of a large pod numbering at least 60 members. Our guide and boat captain took us out to the bay where this pod lives, so we could observe them in their natural habitat.

They were majestic, and as we approached it seemed almost that they were welcoming us! Some dolphins jumped completely out of the water and dove back in, while others swim gently in the waves. We saw dozens of them, and at some points they were everywhere around us.

swimming with dolphins Puerto Vallarta

Dolphins swim off the coast Puerto Vallarta, and if you are lucky you can swim with them!

After the dolphins got used to our boat, we slipped into the water quietly so as not to disturb them. Armed with scuba gear and flippers, we swam out into the group. Playful as ever, they surrounded us and swam circles around our family – they were curious about these humans in their midst. We could even hear their calls to each other, that unmistakable high squeal. Some dove beneath us, encouraging us to come along. Others jumped in the air near us, daring us to do the same. Our favorites were the friendly ones that circled us, very close but never touching.

Of all the things our family experienced in Puerto Vallarta, this was a true highlight. Rarely do we see both our teen girls smile so broadly at the same time. Winning!


  • Small boat. If you get a little seasick, prepare in advance with Dramamine or wrist bands.
  • The marina where the boat picks you up is random without good signage. It is directly across the street from the Westin Puerto Vallarta if you get lost.
  • Be respectful. Do not touch or try to feed the dolphins – they are wild animals and will not benefit from too much human interference.
If You Go

There are so many great places to stay and things to do when you visit Puerto Vallarta with kids. We wished we had more time to do them all!

Westin Puerto Vallarta from water view

From the water, the view of the Westin Puerto Vallarta architecture and grounds is impressive.

Our home base at the Westin Puerto Vallarta was an ideal location. Near enough to the airport that we could get there in 10 minutes, it was easy to arrive and exit. Downtown was a short uber or taxi ride, and the dolphin encounter is directly across the street. If your family plans a lot of activities in Puerto Vallarta proper, we suggest not staying farther north than Nuevo Vallarta. The drive times are long and you will have to leave your hotel very early to reach the excursions on time.

Westin Puerto Vallarta rates start at $108 USD.

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Pistachio Pudding Cake Recipe

Pistachio Pudding Cake Recipe

From my mom’s kitchen comes this incredibly delicious and easy to make Pistachio Pudding Cake recipe. If you like pistachios, this one is for you. I updated it a bit since the recipe is from when I was a kid ( a looooooonnng time ago) but all the goodness is kept intact.

The best thing about this Pistachio Pudding Cake is how moist it is without getting too dense. Trust me, once you make this cake it will be one of your family favorites. I made it when the kids were little, and now they beg for it all the time. It’s officially been elevated to Special Occasion Status!

Ingredients for Pistachio Pudding Cake.

Sometimes I feel a little sheepish taking shortcuts, and then I remember how much time it saves thanks to my friend Betty.

Pistachio Pudding Cake

Ok first of all, do NOT give me a bad time for all the shortcuts in this recipe. Seriously, can’t we all use a little more time in our lives for things other than making cake batter from scratch? Besides, my good old friend Betty Crocker has been looking for a comeback.

Quick Pistachio Pudding Cake recipe

This Pistachio Pudding Cake is so easy and fast to make, you can have it on the table in a couple of hours.


Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Grease and flour a tube pan and set aside.

Pistachio Pudding Cake recipe ingredients

I updated Mom’s recipe by adding a roasted/salted pistachio nuts for a little savory and sweet combo.

Mix together:

  • 1 box of yellow cake mix
  • 2 boxes of pistachio instant pudding mix
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1/4 cup poppy seeds

Combine all ingredients in a bowl for about 2 minutes. Do not overmix or the cake will get turn out tough and dense! (I learned this the hard way, and the first bite practically bent my fork).

Making Pistachio Pudding Cake

Sometimes the kids get into the act, like Ava helping me mix the Pistachio Pudding Cake batter.

Bake for 45 minutes until top is cracking in several places. Remove and cool.

Pistachio Pudding Cake freshly baked

Fresh from the oven, the Pistachio Pudding Cake is cracked on top and delicious inside.


  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 box pistachio instant pudding mix

Beat ingredients together in a bowl until thick and spreadable. Frost cooled cake and serve with a sprinkle of roasted and salted pistachios for the sweet/salty combination. Or not. We like it both ways.

Pistachio Pudding Cake

My Mom’s recipe for Pistachio Pudding Cake is one for the books.

Honestly, there is not a person I have served this to that isn’t surprised when they taste this delicious cake. See for yourself!

Dean and Anne Bailey 1974

My Mom and Pop on their wedding anniversary in 1974, about the time this cake recipe was brought on to the scene. Get a load of that pantsuit, but man was Anne Bailey a great cook!




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Making Christmas Dinner for Homeless People

Making Christmas Dinner for Homeless People

On Christmas Eve this year, we volunteered to help make Christmas dinner for several homeless service providers with a fantastic group in San Diego called Just Call Us Volunteers. It was a rewarding experience, and one we won’t soon forget.

Prepping meals for the homeless and a little nervous about playing with knives Prepping meals for the homeless and a little nervous about playing with knives

Whenever we can, Triton and I try to make sure our girls have a proper perspective on our fortunate lives. We have a roof over our heads, beds to sleep in and plenty of food to eat whenever we want it. So many people in the world cannot count on these things that we sometimes take for granted.

When my friend Julie Darling asked if we would like to help, we said YES right away! Little did we know we would be assisting in the kitchen with some of our area’s greatest chefs, including Hanis Cavin who is famous for his wildly successful Carnitas Snack Shack restaurants around town. All in all, there were seven professional chefs in the kitchen on Christmas Eve, so we just shut up and followed their lead. Who knows? Maybe we learned a few kitchen tricks in the process!

We seasoned turkey and popped it into the oven. (It was hilarious to see the girls handle raw poultry – their grimaces told a thousand stories).

Chef Hannis gives instruction on the proper seasoning of turkey Chef Hannis gives instruction on the proper seasoning of turkey

We peeled and cut sweet potatoes that would soon be layered with brown sugar and marshmellows. (We dads looked on nervously as the girls handled the sharpest kitchen knives).

We even prepped the marshmellows.

Every wonder how many marshmellows are needed to feed 300 people? Yeah, a lot. Every wonder how many marshmellows are needed to feed 300 people? A lot.

But the best part was knowing we helped make some delicious meals for people currently at organizations like San Diego Center for Children, Rachel’s Womens Center and Alpha Square.

It felt good, and we’re already planning to go back and help again soon.

The kitchen ran a smooth and professional operation The kitchen ran a smooth and professional operation

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Mexican Paletas Are So Darn Good

Mexican Paletas Are So Darn Good

There is something about the flavors of Mexican paletas (popsicles) that makes them both exotic and delicious. In fact, the flavor options have American varieties beat hands down. On a recent visit to Mexico, we felt it our obligation to sample several of these delicious icy fruit pops on a stick.

Paletas in Mexico

A plethora of Mexican paletas ready for sampling (photo courtesy of


I mean, who wants a boring old Missile when you can slurp on one of these favorites:

  • mango with chile
  • cucumber with chile
  • creamy pistachio
  • chunky pineapple
  • coconut milk
  • dulce de leche
  • Mexican chocolate
  • watermelon
  • tamarind
  • lime
  • Jamaica (hibiscus flower)

Paletería in Huatulco, Mexico

Making tough choices in the Mexican paletería

There are literally dozens of other flavors we have yet to try. Back home in San Diego, a local paletería called Viva Pops caught our eyes at the Little Italy Farmer’s Market one Saturday morning. They do make a very delicious salted caramel paleta, yet still, our family likes the traditional Mexican ones better.

Guess we’ll just have to travel back to Mexico to keep sampling all the favorites! Oh darn.

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The Dance of the Summer Camps

The Dance of the Summer Camps

During summers, we try to keep the girls entertained, out of trouble and away from staring at their various screens by booking them into summer camps. Over the years, we’ve tried Campfire Girls’ Camp Cahito to explore nature and the great outdoors, science camp at the Natural History Museum, the call of the wild at San Diego Zoo camp, and water sports at Mission Bay Aquatic Center to learn how to sail, kayak and water ski. For those of you parents out there, you know this is as The Dance of the Summer Camps.

The Dance of the Summer Camps starts around March, the angst of choosing camps you predict they might enjoy – months from now. Hurry to sign up, the websites scold, or there might not be a place for your child during the week you really want. We’ve done sewing camp, art camp, theater camp, museum camp, yoga camp, camping camp – you name it, and we’ve tried it.

I even know parents who build complicated excel spreadsheets to manage camp schedules for their kids, tracking calendars against camp bookings, times for drop-off and pick-up, even best friends whose schedules have been consulted to coincide with yours in an effort to keep kids in camps together. The carpooling and ride-sharing are enough to make your head spin.

So when we found sleep-away camp options at the YMCA, we jumped at the chance to book both our girls for the same week. Plus, the added bonus of Triton and I having a quiet, kidless week was something else to look forward to. While booking camp in one browser window, I was already clicking through another to OpenTable, arranging dinners at trendy new restaurants each night.

Ava learns the fine equestrian arts at Camp Raintree in Julian, CA

Ava learns the fine equestrian arts at Camp Raintree in Julian, CA

Horseback riding camp for a week was fun for a couple of summers, and then it got a little old. But Camp Surf at the beach for a week? Ava and Sophia couldn’t wait to go each year!

Sophia learns to ply the waves at YMCA Surf Camp in Imperial Beach, CA Sophia learns to ply the waves at YMCA Surf Camp in Imperial Beach, CA

At least Ava couldn’t wait. Evidently, Sophia could and did. After much consternation and negotiation, Sophia canceled her plans for surfing camp this year. Ava was still excited to go, along with her BFF. But what to do with Sophia?

And like a call from the heavens, one of Sophia’s besties called to ask if she would like to go with her and her dad to Hawaii for a week. WOW – Hawaiian vacation with her friend for a week!?! Just like that – both girls gone the same week, as originally planned.

I scrambled to get those dinner reservations uncancelled. Brian Malarkey, here we come!

Our fav new foodie hang, Herb & Wood

Our fav new foodie hang, Herb & Wood by Top Chef-famed Brian Malarkey and partner Chris Puffer