Mexico City is of course the largest city in Mexico and one of the largest in the world, and it has many attractions for tourists, but we will leave that city to another reviewer. Links below go to Virtual Mexico.
The next largest city of Mexico is also the most "Mexican" in the opinion of many, is Guadalajara. It features many lovely colonial buildings and modern skyscrapers too. Traffic is bad, like any large city, but taxis and buses are good alternatives. Opera houses, lovely plazas with entertainment, great shopping, and world famous restaurants, complete the package. The weather here is near perfect, with moderate winters and summers.
Near Guadalajara is Lake Chapala with three main towns, Chapala and Ajijic, and Jocotepec. Chapala and Ajijic have thousands of permanent Americans and Canadians living in retirement. Developers there have created many gated communities with modern homes featuring many of the amenities found in the USA. An active and managed MLS service is established to help find a home. Homes can be bought in this area with full deeds of land, not bank trust like coastal areas.
The central highlands of Mexico feature many lovely colonial cities besides Guadalajara. Many tourists go there to see the wonderful architecture. Some of these cities are San Miguel de Allende, Guanajato, Morelos, and Puebla. The climate in these high altitude cities is spring-like most of the time, but some are more than 6000 feet high, so some people with health concerns may need to use caution.
A few hours west of Guadalajara is the tourist city of Puerto Vallarta. This popular city has several zones and nearby cities that share in hosting tourists. Starting south of the main town is the China Basin, then old town Puerto Vallarta, then the main city featuring a seaside malecon walk, then the hotel zone for a few miles, then Marina Vallarta, that has a marina and many hotels and resorts. Next comes the airport and than a short drive gets you to Nuevo Vallarta that is changing to Riviera Nayarit, to reflect the fact that it is actually in an different Mexican state (Nayarit where Puerto Vallarta is in Jalisco). A few more minutes north is the town of Bucerias with a few more hotels. More developments and towns are north of here, where many Americans and Canadians visit for the winter or live permanently.
South of Puerto Vallarta youwill find Manzanillo, Barre de Navidad, Ixtapa and Zuatenejo, Acapulco, Huatulco and Oaxaca They all feature many hotels and resorts. Great fishing can be had at Manzanillo and tourist shopping can be found in the other towns. Lovely beaches can be found in this area. Acapulco is the oldest Mexican resort city, and it is also the most dangerous for tourists. Staying at resorts, and only going to the city on tours, is safe.
North of Puerto Vallarta is Mazatlan. This state of Sinaloa is getting a bad reputation because some of the large drug cartels are based here, but Mazatlan itself is quite safe, escaping most of the violence, but use caution.
Further north is the twin areas of Guaymas and San Carlos. Guaymas is a city featuring a large fishing fleet, and a bustling downtown shopping district, and San Carlos is a retirement town for Americans and Canadians. It is only 4 hours from the border at Arizona. The scenery here is fantastic with coastal mountains falling right to the sea. San carlos has lots of amenities for residents and some tourist accommodations too, and more is coming. San Carlos has two large modern marinas offering moorage, fishing and diving facilities.
We don't recommend border towns as tourist destinations, only day shopping. But coming down from San Diego to Baja California, you will find Rosarito Beach and the city of Ensenada. Ensenada features wine production, cruise ship stops, and retirement homes. Many US tourist come here every day to participate in the Mexican experience and cheaper prices. Some live here and commute back the US for work.
A few hundred miles down the Baja Peninsula can be found small towns that feature diving and fishing facilities. The town of Loreto, a little more than half way down the peninsula does offer retirement homes, golf, and a nice small town atmosphere. A couple of more hours gets you to La Paz (the peace), the most Mexican city on the baja peninsula. It has a great seaside malecon and marinas, and good shopping. Next come Loscabos, the twin towns of San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas. Cabo San Lucas is strictly a tourist town with great beaches and resorts. Jan Jose del Cabo is a little more laid back but mainly still a tourist town. In between these towns is a collection of world class beach resorts.
Moving to eastern Mexico, popular tourist cities are found on the Caribbean coast, such as Cancun, Cozumel and Playa del Carmen. Fabulous beaches and great weather attract millions of tourist every year. There is not a lot of Mexican culture found in Cancun, mainly because it was created only a relatively short time ago by the Mexican government to attract tourists. There is a little more culture on Cozumel island. Many Americans live there. The Riviera Maya or Mayan Riviera includes Playa del Carmen and has many other tourist facilities including Mayan ruins, such as the only Mayan coastal city of Tulum. Inland you will find Merida, the capital of the Yucatan and considered Mexico's cleanest city. The weather in this area can get very hot in the summer. Further up the coast is Veracruz and other eastern coastal cities.
For more information on Mexican culture, art, safety, transportation, etc., check out Tour Mexico