The fishing town of Zihuatanejo spreads out around the Bay of Zihuatanejo and inland toward the Sierra Madre del Sur mountains. The town is the seat of government for the municipality and the principal community in the region. Since the 1970s, it has been developed in conjunction with nearby Ixtapa, but conserving its traditional Mexican feel. The downtown is called "El Centro" and is located on the north end of the bay. The centro still has its narrow streets paved with stones or bricks.
The heart of Zihuatanejo is the waterfront walkway Paseo del Pescador (Fisherman's Path), also called the malecón. This tree-lined pedestrian walkway goes along the municipal beach between the archeological museum and the fishing pier. It is lined with restaurants offering seafood and many other dishes, as well as a variety of stores selling rugs, arts and crafts and souvenirs, and a small shell market. In the evening, this area fills with people socializing. Instead of a traditional plaza, the center is a basketball court which is in front of the beach and serves as a point of reference. It is surrounded by benches and shade trees. Next to this are the gazebo and the Casa de la Cultura. These venues host music, concerts, cultural presentations, art shows.
The town of Zihuatanejo's main attraction is its bay, which is well-protected from open ocean. It is mostly surrounded by beaches, most of which have gentle waves.
The ring of beaches of Zihuatanejo Bay begins with the Municipal Beach which is in front of the town center and next to the port. From there, there is a walkway that leads to Playa La Madera. It is a 2-kilometer (1.2 mi) stretch of light-colored sand between the municipal beach and Playa La Ropa. This beach contains several bay-view restaurants, condominiums and hotels, as well as a walkway that extends the length of the beach.
Moving away from the town center along the bay, the next beach is called Playa La Ropa. The name Playa La Ropa refers to the sinking of a merchant ship near the bay during colonial times. Its cargo of fine silks, belts, cloaks and fabrics from Bombay washed up in this beach. This beach is about 1.2 km (0.75 mi) long and considered the best for swimming as there is little wave action. During the winter months, many sailboats moor here. Just behind the beach, the land rises suddenly into cliffs, which are dotted with hotels, large residences, and guest houses.
Playa Las Gatas is on the opposite side of the bay from town, is accessible only by boat as there are no paved roads that lead to here and a small, poorly defined, rocky footpath leading from Playa La Ropa. Las Gatas was originally named for a small cat shark that used to inhabit these waters. It is located at the entrance to the bay at a place called Punta del Rey (King's Point). This leaves the area open to ocean breezes. Las Gatas is the most popular snorkeling beach in Zihuatanejo. Colorful tropical fish can be seen along the man-made breakwater, as well as the abundant coral and sea urchins. At the far end of the beach surfing is possible, and a path leads to the lighthouse on the point of the bay.