ONE OF ZIHUATANEJO'S main beaches is Playa la Ropa, a mile-long, crescent-shaped stretch named for the clothes that drifted ashore from a centuries-ago shipwreck (or so the legend goes). As you walk its golden strand, you see local kids kicking around a soccer ball, mom-and-pop massage tents, casual lunch shacks serving grilled fish and rice platters, and beach vendors quietly selling beaded jewelry and woodcarvings.

The town itself is also quite relaxed. Laid out in a simple grid, it can be easily covered in an afternoon (for those who loathe to give up precious beach time). A stroll along the waterfront path called Paseo del Pescador borders the municipal beach where fishermen unload their daily catches. Souvenir hunters should make a beeline to the Tourist Market on Calle Cinco de Mayo, with its more than 250 stalls selling all manner of Mexican handicrafts: Guerrero wooden masks, handcrafted huaraches, colorful Mexican blankets, and silver jewelry. Haggling is expected, and most merchants settle for half of what they initially asked. It's also worth stopping into the municipal market on Calle Benito Juárez to see where the locals shop. There's an impressive array of tropical fruits, spices, honey, tamales, and fresh seafood (squid, shrimp, red snapper, etc.). And while there are a few small inns in town, the majority of the more luxurious hotels are located along Playa la Ropa.