I have been spending my vacations and weekends away in Baja since I was five. In the early 80’s my parents decided to buy a place in Cabo, so my brother and I grew up beaching it on the Sea of Cortez. Back then, Cabo was still a fishing village; there was no marina, no paved roads, no swift highway from the airport, and definitely no Costco or Mercedes dealership. As a family, we fell in love with Baja because of the dry desert heat, the beautiful blue sea, the endless white sand beaches, and the simplicity of our life when we were there. In the morning my dad would get up early and go into town for fresh tortillas from the tortilla factory. For lunch we would mound guacamole onto them and roll them into tortilla cigars. Sometimes in the afternoons we would walk into the town square and get homemade popsicles from the vendor inside the concrete building. My favorite was lime, and I always ended up a hot, sticky mess. After long days of swimming and snorkeling in the Sea of Cortez we would plop ourselves into plastic chairs at the Office and sit out the sunset eating tacos and drinking Pacificos. As teenagers, we experimented with tequila under the watchful eyes of our parents and their friends, and as we got older they never worried when we went out at night - after all, there were only two places we would be.
Cabo has changed a lot in the intervening years. While I am certain many of the locally owned businesses remain, tourism and American investment have transformed this once sleepy village into a mega-resort. My parents finally sold out in 1999; the Cabo of our youth was gone and the charm and authenticity that we loved had vanished. I didn’t visit for a few years, choosing to explore other places. But when I finally did get back to Baja, I found that much of what we had loved about Cabo all those years ago was still very much present in nearby communities. I return, year after year, and have discovered some wonderful spots where the beaches are empty, the surf is strong, the fish tacos are fresh, and the tequila plentiful. These are my favorite spots to check out from the hum of my hectic life.
SAN JOSE DEL CABO
My gold standard for hotels in the Americas is Las Ventanas al Paraiso just outside of San Jose del Cabo. The signature property of Rosewood Hotels, Las Ventanas is that amazing hotel that no other hotel ever seems to measure up to, and makes you long for a return visit. Beautiful white washed buildings trimmed in native woods and covered in fuchsia bougainvillea, house the large and perfected appointed guest rooms. Soaring ceilings, wood burning fireplaces, and large soaking tubs make the rooms at Las Ventanas as memorable as the service, food and pool. Las Ventanas is definitely a luxury resort with a price tag to match, but if you can swing it, the experience of staying there is worth every penny.
When we visit Las Ventanas, we always have grand plans of leaving the property, exploring, and eating out, but there really is no need. The food at Las Ventanas is exceptional. When we go, there is never a fish taco, tortilla chip or guacamole left at the end of the day. Moreover, I dream about their breakfast when I am not there - it is hands down the best breakfast I have eaten - anywhere! Fresh pressed juices and smoothies, house baked breads and pastries, and oh, the juevos! I could eat green chilaquiles with a fried egg for every meal.
If you decide to leave the property for a meal, Cabo and its surroundings have a lot to offer. I have eaten at all the fancy and aptly proclaimed “best restaurants” in the area (celebrity chefs have opened a number of outposts here), and none are really worth leaving your lounge chair early to make that reservation. If you do decide to eat out, the one place you should be sure to visit is Flora Farms, about 30 minutes from the hotel, just north of downtown San Jose del Cabo.
Flora Farms is as lovely and authentic as it gets when it comes to farm to table dining. The restaurant is housed in an expertly designed, open-aired, brick building with large windows for taking in the vistas of the growing fields. The property also includes a number of casual shops selling artisan wares. We arrived for brunch on our way to the airport and were blown away, not only by the food, but by the setting. It is simply spectacular! If you want to take a break from beach bumming it, or don't want to find your way back to your hotel, Flora Farms also rents some of the cottages on the property.
TODOS SANTOS / PESCADERO
Located about an hour up the pacific side of Baja, Todos Santos is a small town that has been populated by artists and expats since the 1950’s (it is the home to the Hotel California, of Eagles music fame). Because of its location, approximately 2 hours from the nearest airport (this drive was recently cut in half by the construction of a new highway), Todos Santos remains relatively low key. In this part of Baja, there are no resorts, no golf courses, and no residential developments. Nearby, Cerritos Surf Colony is a surfer paradise, known for its break and relaxed surfer vibe. If you are in Baja for the waves, get a room here and you will find yourself in the company of friends.
Occupying a wide spot in the road just before you reach Todos Santos is the farming community of Pescadero, which supplies much of the organic produce to the restaurant kitchens in the area. The beach at Pescadero is empty, with the exception of a few private homes and my favorite little hotel, Rancho Pescadero. Built by Americans in 2009, Rancho sits on 15 acres of pristine coastline and offers 28 suites built in clusters of three story buildings. All rooms boast spectacular views over the sand dunes that buffer the Pacific Ocean. The rooms are airy, modern, comfortable, and a great value. Rancho’s best feature is a beautiful pool backed by a friendly bar and an awesome restaurant. You won’t find kids or a $20 margarita here. I could while away many days here, practicing yoga, sitting by the pool, sipping tequila, and eating fish tacos (yes, in that order).
If you decide to venture out to eat, there are a number of good restaurants in Todos Santos, but a great spot is just down the road. Hortaliza Hierbabuena is a wonderful open aired restaurant featuring, among other things, wood fired pizza, roast chicken, and expertly prepared fresh produce. Their menu is Italian influenced, so dinner or lunch here can be a nice break from guacamole and tacos (though who ever needs a break from that?). For a great coffee - cafe - bakery, look no further than Baja Beans. With a relaxed beach atmosphere, this place is the essence of the Baja lifestyle.
You can fly directly from most major U.S. airports to San Jose del Cabo. Upon arrival at the airport, don’t be surprised by the beat down of people trying to sell you time shares and transfers into Cabo. If you head straight outside you will find the taxi stand and all major car rental agencies. Unless you are planning on traveling up to Todos Santos, you don’t really need a car. Taxis are readily available and reliable. If you decide to rent a car, don't be surprised when the agency hits you with the mandatory insurance (supposedly required in Mexico) that doubles the cost of your car.
A word about the water: I have never gotten sick in Baja from anything other than drinking too much alcohol. One of the reasons why my family chose to create a home here was because it was the one place in Mexico where my mother had never gotten sick. That being said, these days all the nice hotels have filtered house water that is a perfectly safe alternative to the $10 bottle of Fiji Water.
Whats to Come:
Weekend Away: Portland, OR ★ 04.16
read. share. travel. repeat.
W A N D E R L U S T