Is there a particular place that is special to your family and sends you into a state of permanent nostalgia until you leave it? It doesn’t have to be an exotic location, or famous, or even that remarkable at all.

I’m just talking about a place where you may have made some memories. They may not have even been remarkable memories, but suddenly, when you step foot in just that one place, you’d give anything for a whirl in a Dr. Who-style time machine for a second or two.

For us, that place is a little town just north of Puerto Vallarta named Sayulita. If you don’t know Sayulita, you really should. It’s a small town with a surf break and a vibe that has drawn a distinct, counter-culture kinda crowd. The locals are friendly, the food is delicious, and there’s a laid-back atmosphere that you probably wouldn’t appreciate if you were waiting for your turn at the bank, but which lends itself quite nicely to vacation mode.

We started spending time in Sayulita when our children were very young. We were lying around our house during a particularly sweaty Vallarta summer and realized that if we didn’t go somewhere else, we would probably not survive.

The challenge was that our children were toddlers, and in a stage where they were quite sure that their car seats were trying to kill them. So we didn’t want to go far, because after about an hour of listening to panicked young children wrestling vigorously with their seatbelts, we would reach the conclusion that a restful vacation was not within our grasp at this time in our lives.

Sayulita is close to Vallarta, but it is not Vallarta, and that was good enough for us. So I did some research on and booked five days at Casa Higuera, a beachfront suite hotel with full kitchens, A/C, a terrace, and A/C. Also, A/C. The owner, an American with a long family history of loving Sayulita in particular and Mexico in general, was one of the loveliest people we’ve ever met through email.

I will tell you that if you are in Sayulita in the off-season, renting a beautiful place is very economical and very much worth a bit of legwork online.

We did the following things on this trip:

  • Ate a lot of ice cream
  • Helped our daughter learn to walk
  • Realized that our son could throw a spectacular temper tantrum if motivated
  • Played dinosaurs on the beach
  • Kept a strict, full-family siesta regimen
  • Picked flowers
  • Allowed the children to run on the beach without the encumbrance of clothing
  • Drank a glass or two of wine on the terrace when the babies fell asleep, wiped out from the running and the dinosaurs

After that trip we went back, year after year, usually to a new place, sometimes with grandparents, where we did some other things with our kids like:

  • Taught them to swim
  • Learned to boogie board
  • Found a place that makes the best cinnamon rolls
  • Bought jewelry from our favorite artists
  • Swam in the ocean
  • Saved the lives of several butterflies
  • Adopted a dog
  • Ate pasta, tacos, falafel, quesadillas, pizza, etc.
  • Slept like Robinson Crusoe
  • Made friends with people’s dogs
  • Watched the sunset
  • Watched the stars
  • Watched our babies sleep

Gilberto and I just celebrated our ninth anniversary. We decided to spend two nights in Sayulita, at a brand new little hotel called Villa Los Corales, on the hill overlooking the town. It was a marvelous place, with (once again) genuinely lovely people for hosts. We sat out every night star-gazing and spent time on the rooftop in the refreshing pool during the day.

But everywhere we went, we’d remember something else, like the time I shared a dripping chocolate cone with our boy, and how a certain miniature tyrant demanded to be carried everywhere we went (and how her daddy secretly enjoyed every second). We reminisced about trying to keep two babies from eating their weight in sand, and how we stuck to the nap schedule so strictly even on vacation (and what a supremely brilliant move that was).

Simple memories, for sure, in a simple town along a stretch of jungly coast. But they are the ones that have nestled deep within the fabric of our family, and ones that have become the most precious of all.