My wife and I are planning a trip to Spain for a total of 7-8 days, up to 5 days of which we can stay with a friend in El Puerto de Santa Maria. We'll be flying into Madrid arriving early to late morning (flight from east coast of US), likely on a Friday or Saturday. A rough itinerary so far is 2 nights in Madrid, train to Toledo and stay 1 night, train to Jerez or somewhere near to El Puerto de Santa Maria (perhaps with a stopover for a few hours in Cordoba). From our base in El Puerto de Santa Maria, we'll spend 1-2 days checking out the local area and the pueblos blancos, and 1 day in Seville. We'd like to get to Granada but it seems a bit out of the way considering our timeframe. Should we rearrange or omit anything I've listed to try to make it to Grenada? Any other recommendations or suggestions?
I think you have a pretty good idea for your time frame. I don't think you have time for the two plus days you need to see Granada. Definitely visit Toledo, spend a few hours in Cordoba (see the Mesquita and surrounding quarter), then head toward Santa Maria. You will certainly want some time to see the Cathedral and Alcazar in Seville. My wife liked the Alcazar in Seville even more than the Alhambra in Granada. El Puerto de Santa Maria isn't a particularly nice town, it's pretty much a basic port city. We were also disappointed with Cadiz, across the water from Santa Maria. Although it's arguably the oldest city in Europe, it's not as nice as I was hoping for. Jerez is a great stop; it's one of the few places, if not the only place, in Spain where you can visit a Bodega without advance reservations. There are California like beaches at Chiclana, just down the coast, or more remote beaches area further south around Conil. There is a mostly deserted wildlife preserve north (believe you can catch a boat from Sanlucar for a small fee). I think this may be too far for this trip but Tarifa and Gibraltar are worth visiting, when you have a chance.
Madrid - You will certainly enjoy. I would suggest a hostel or hotel toward the Atocha train station as that is where you will be leaving the city from. You will find many good hostels in the Gran Via area. Two I recommend are Hostal Montecarlo and Hostal Phillip V, both in the same building with good access to the tourist sites. I would take the Aero City Vans from the airport. Check their web site. From the hostal you can take the subway to the Atocha tain station with no difficulty. Toledo = Check out Posada de Manolo, hostal near the Cathederal. Excellent and has a great breakfast overlooking the Cathedral. Also, check out www.madridman.com I can give more information if you wish.
If you want to focus on Moorish Spain, you could skip Madrid (go straight to Toledo) and add Granada. Otherwise, I'd say (sadly) to skip Granada or find a couple more days to add to your stay in Spain.
I agree with Chani - if you consider deleting Madrid and Toledo (and don't already have your airline tickets), look at flying into Malaga. You could use the extra days for Granada and even an overnight stay in Cordoba.
I agree with Brad. I think your plan looks fine, and you should save Granada for another time. Like Brad's wife, I enjoyed the Real Alcazar in Seville much more than the Nasrid Palaces at Alhambra (much less crowded, and you don't need a reserved time to get in). And you really should see Madrid, too (and it's cheaper and easier to fly into than Malaga).
The train from Sevilla stops in Puerto after Jerez. We had a similar plan as yours, staying with someone in nearby Rota. If possible give Cordoba more than a few hours. See the Mezquita of course, and wander the Jewish Quarterthere is a Jewish Museum, Casa de Sefarad that was very interesting and well worth the time. We also saw Sevilla as a day trip which was okay, but a long day. We took the local bus to Sevilla, took about an hour each way and very economical and the bus station is centrally located. Unless your friend is driving you to Sevilla I recommend the bus. If possible spend the night at Sevilla to give yourself more time. The locals recommended that we visit Huelva to see the replicas of Columbus' ships but we didn't make it there, nor to Sanlucar where the local white wine "Barbadillo" is made. Do try some if you like white wine.