Gypset Mexican beach town Sayulita has been attracting surfers and barefoot dreamers for decades. Nestled on Mexico’s rainforested Pacific Coast, the town boasts a just lively enough beach scene dotted with cute boutique hotels, shops and cafes. It comes as no surprise that many of Sayulita’s visitors return again and again, with some even brainstorming ways to make the charming bohemian town home. Vancouver photographer Christie Graham has managed to do just that—Christie splits her time between her hometown and sunny Sayulita, living and working in both. We connected with the wedding and lifestyle photographer to get the local perspective on where to eat, drink, stay and surf, and how living in Mexico inspires her work and a more conscious lifestyle.
Describe Sayulita in three words or less.
Paraíso. Chill. Community.
What prompted your decision to live between Vancouver and Sayulita?
The seed was planted back in 2014 when I was in Sayulita shooting a wedding. Early morning surfs, late mornings spent in cafes editing and working remotely, followed by a sunset surf, it was pretty easy to get used to! Did I mention the food?! The town felt homey right away so I started booking small remote work trips whenever I had a break in between shoots.
Fast forward a few years, I was surfing the local break and met my (now) partner in the water. Later that night on our first date, he threw small pebbles up at my third story window to let me know he had arrived to pick me up. No text, no “let’s meet there.” It’s safe to say I was intrigued after date one! After that, he would hide surprise mangoes and notes under my towel while I was out for a surf. A few road trips down the coast later, and we were talking about how to split our lives between Canada and Mexico.
Truthfully, I always dreamed of splitting my time between two places. Working the long hours that I do in Vancouver’s summer, coupled with the fact that I work for myself, felt like the perfect foundation to have two home bases, or at least spend a portion of the year travelling. It is not overly conventional, but I love the lifestyle.
What makes living in Sayulita so special?
So many things. The people, that’s the first thing that comes to mind. Sayulita has a strong sense of community, I felt that right away! Coming from a big city like Vancouver made the idea of small town life pretty special. I think that’s the reason so many people visit once, and are back within a month (like me!) and soon enough call it home, or at least their favourite vacation spot. Sayulita also has an insane food scene. $1 tacos, cozy cocktail lounges, late night food stands, fresh seafood, beach bars and hip cafes.
Splitting your life between two countries is magic, but I think sometimes people assume my life is perfect because I live on the beach. If you have ever tried to buy and take a car to the mechanic in Mexico, you’ll know it’s not fun in the slightest. Let me tell you, I’ve shed a lot of tears at the mechanic! There are challenges in moving countries, but I believe the positives outshine the hard things.
“Living here has reminded me that my measure of success isn’t how much I get done in a day. It’s connecting with the people I love and spending time in nature.”
How does living in Sayulita help you to embrace slower living?
Things just happen slower here so you have no choice but to roll with it. Living in Mexico has helped embrace slower living by shopping at the local tiendas and eating what is in season, buying clothing and homegoods from local makers that are made to last, and to breathe and be patient when things such as uploading my photos for a client take two days instead of ten minutes like it would in Vancouver.
Sayulita has invited me back into my body, gifted me the daily ritual of being in the ocean (and for a pisces like me, that is super important). Living here has reminded me that my measure of success isn’t how much I get done in a day. It’s connecting with the people I love and spending time in nature.
As a photographer, how has spending so much time in Mexico inspired you creatively?
The slow paced lifestyle you get in Mexico was something completely foreign to me. My whole life, I had a pretty heavy hustle mentality, like so many entrepreneurs living in big cities. That mindset helped me a great deal in building my photography businesses, but slowing down is the best gift Sayulita has given me. Having time to get in the ocean daily, to move my body, to go inward… those are a few of the things that give me the space to create freely and stay inspired.
YOUR SAYULITA ESSENTIALS:
Coffee (and brunch):
A quick bite:
Groceries + snacks:
Shopping at the small markets and tiendas is the best way! The fresh fruit and vegetables in town are so fresh and inexpensive. There is a no waste store called Punto Granel; an essential for conscious travellers. For organic foods and brands you find in Canada/ the US, Terrenal is great.
Dinner with friends:
El Itacate is a Sayulita favourite. It often has a long wait but it’s worth it because the food is so delicious. There is a range of seafood, meat and vegetarian options and their famous dish is the Itacate; picture a burrito, but instead of a tortilla shell it’s wrapped in a melted cheese shell. Another favourite dish for me is the taco de camaron (shrimp taco). It’s really spicy and so flavourful. All of the dishes are accompanied by a spread of homemade salsas that are to die for. Don’t forget to order an agua fresca, the pineapple basil or hibiscus are my favourites.
Le Zouave—try the passionfruit margarita!
Corner store cervezas and a jungle walk to Playa Carricitos. I used to live right by this beach and it’s THE best sunset spot.
It’s always changing! Last season, there was a cumbia band who played at a little bar just off the beach called Lucid on Friday nights around 10pm. Sayulita has amazing street performers, so if you wander around in the evenings, you will surely find something worth stopping for.
Hotels and AirBnbs:
A short walk to the beach, Don Bonito is located on the quieter side of town, The North Side, but is still close enough to the town centre to make it a convenient place to stay. It’s minimalist, modern tropical aesthetic is a dream space for creatives and photographers. This boutique hotel has a stunning pool, an amazing cafe and a small selection of clean and thoughtfully designed rooms. I love to book in for a staycation and recommend it to anyone visiting!
Favorite shops—what should we take home with us?
Ref for gorgeous handmade linen clothing (you can find them online and in local boutiques on a pop-up basis). Miscelanea Sayulita for artwork and ceramics. Evoke the Spirit is a cult favourite for home goods, Nakawe for Mexican made clothing and home goods, The Hippie Market for handmade gifts and jewelry and Palu Gallery for art.
Favorite place to take in the local scenery:
Playa Malpaso or Playa Carricitos.
My favorite surf break in the area is Punto Burros.
Sayulita’s best kept secret:
My partner runs a surf and adventure company called Sea Sayulita and his entire philosophy is the non-touristy approach to discovering Sayulita’s best kept secrets. Send him a DM and he’ll sort you out!
“Slowing down is the best gift Sayulita has given me. Having time to get in the ocean daily, to move my body, to go inward… Those are a few of the things that give me the space to create freely and stay inspired.”
Surfing, getting in the ocean, making smoothies and long showers.
What is your go-to (Sayulita) uniform?
St Agni slides, denim shorts and a bikini top or a loose linen dress made by my mom and bare feet.
Describe your perfect Sunday.
Sleep in, homemade acai bowls, head to my favourite surf beach with a cooler of snacks, surf until sunset, dinner at my favourite taco stand that’s only open on Sundays, followed by a stop at the churro stand by the river. Is it Sunday yet?!
Living in both Vancouver and Mexico is amazing but where are you dreaming of traveling when the world opens up again?
A surf trip to Indonesia is high on my list. Australia to visit a close girlfriend. Ireland to see my sister.
How do you / will you make an effort to travel a little lighter and more consciously?
I really needed to hear this right now as I have been making packing lists this week in preparation for our move and they are looking way too long. We move back and forth every six months, so keeping things light is always the goal. But between photography gear, surfboards and the things I think I need, it’s tricky! I always pack too many clothes and live in the same three things. Let’s just say it’s a work in progress.
In terms of more conscious travel, I always pack my insulated water bottle—a must for living at the beach—as well as Stasher bags, a light MEC aluminum bowl and a smoothie tumbler. Those are essential for me to minimize waste while on planes, road trips and for my everyday life in town. Can you tell snacks are a big priority for me? Reef-safe sunscreen is another must.
Philosophy to live by.
“Everything has a way of working out in the end. Just keep your chin up, and that smile on your face.” My high school boyfriend wrote that on the back of a painting he created for me and it’s stuck with me ever since. To me, it is about trusting the process and being in the moment.
Photography by Christie Graham + Jessica Rose (photo #9). P.s. Shop Christie’s beautiful work here.
SHOP CHRISTIE'S PICKS
You might also like:
We connected with Cisco Tschurtschenthaler, founder of The Slow, for our inaugural edition of “The Local” series, to hear the local perspective on life in Bali including her go-to recommendations.
Known for an insatiable appetite for adventure, travel writer and recent Malibu import Amanda Blakley shares her dreamy west coast lifestyle, favorite local beaches, go-to restaurants and more.
We chat with stylist, event producer and entrepreneur Julia Khan Anselmo on her daily rituals, exploring Amsterdam like a local and how living in Europe has inspired her creatively.