The "Zona Dorada" of Mazatlan is all well and good with its beaches, shopping, nightlife and what not but it doesn't give much of a feel of actually being in Mexico. For that I recommend staying at the Melville in the historic old town of Mazatlan.
The Melville is a well restored colonial style building with large, clean, comfy rooms, (Ours had a nice kitchenette and balcony as well) a charming courtyard, a hearty breakfast, friendly staff, laid back guests, and a fantastic location for exploring the old town of Mazatlan. If you are looking for a place to have your every whim catered to then this wouldn't be the place for you, but rather if you are looking for a place to call home while in Mazatlan then the Melville is an excellent choice. One idiosyncrasy that we found about the place was that in spite of a never ending parade of taxis taking tourists from the golden zone by the Melville's front door so that they could peek in on the fountain and courtyard, no taxi we took in a week had ever heard of the place. Odd to be sure.
It is two blocks from the Plaza Machado and all its beauty and charm and about an equal distance from the Olas Altas beach. There are unique and interesting restaurants, bars and galleries very close by. A few blocks further away is the cathedral and just beyond that the fun and bustle of the central market.
Looking to get away from it all....jump a 5 peso bus to the Playa Sur embarcadero and catch the 15 peso ferry to Isla de la Piedra(Stone Island). When you arrive, Walk straight up the pier, cross the road, go over the embankment, and you will find a fantastic beach stretching off into the far distance and wonderful beach front palapa restaurants. They all look good. I personally tried El Pili, Letty's, and Victor's and found them all nice with clean bathrooms, cold beer, and great seafood...and they can all set you up with atv or a horse if you wish to explore more of stone island.
All in all I highly recommend the Melville for an easygoing base from which to explore Mazatlan.
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