The Baja Peninsula is that jagged arm that juts south into the Pacific from the crowded borders of California. At its southernmost tip are the rockin’ town of Cabo San Lucas and its art town neighbor of San Jose del Cabo.
Together they comprise what is widely known as Los Cabos and in many ways, the two destinations could not be more diverse. But the twin towns are held together by a steady stream of visitor traffic flowing from one town to the other in a 20-mile coastal byway of hotels and resorts fondly tagged “The Corridor.”
For Hollywood glitterati and West Coast boardroom titans, the sun-drenched breakers of the Baja are a mere two-hour private jet tootle from Santa Monica. But the luxury of Los Cabos is also readily accessible to those of us in the rank-and-file as well, thanks to easy commercial jet hops from a variety of US destinations.
Currently, eight US-flagged airlines and assorted Mexican and Canadian carriers link the US and Canada with Los Cabos International Airport (SJD). Southwest is the latest entrant to come on line with a popular non-stop from and Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Delta and United are also busy expanding their service to Los Cabos, possibly as a response to all the luxury hotel and resort expansion busily percolating along this strand.
The lively line-up of luxury lodging along the Pacific and Sea of Cortez beachfronts of Los Cabos runs the gamut of mid- to luxury-class budgets. Think adult all-inclusive, such as Secrets and Marquis, or such five-star citadels as the One&Only Palmilla, the Resort at Pedregal, Rosewood’s Las Ventanas al Paraiso, and Auberge Resorts’ La Esperanza.
All in the Family
Tucked into this cast of luminaries are some family-owned hotel complexes that whisper luxury rather than shout it and put it in reach of a wide range of pockets.
The Hacienda Encantada in Cabo San Lucas is one of those – an easy 20-minute drive from the international airport and a convenient spot about equal distance from the harbor hamlet of Cabo San Lucas and tony San Jose del Cabo. However, as an all-inclusive retreat with five dining venues, endless pools, a spa and plenty of loungers looking over the breaking waves, there is not a lot of reason to leave.
The property has 150 rooms with precious kitchenettes, couple-sized Jacuzzi tubs with windows into the room and views, amble closet space, granite and Spanish tile bathrooms, walk-in shower, private commode and pretty much anything else you can ask for. Yes, there is coffee, thanks to handy Hamilton Beach Brew Stations and daily packets of sustenance. But there is breakfast too, probably a highlight of the day in the Las Marias buffet overlooking the surf.
There, wait staff know your name and get your favorite eggs as you pore over the plethora of fresh fruit and hot meal entrees. The restaurant leads down to some lower levels where gourmet dining lights up the evenings while a harpist strums, waves break and a delicious breeze blows in from the east. Guacamole lovers can learn to make a mean concoction of their own in cuisine classes offered onsite – chips included.
You can see touches of the family influence in the décor, in the paintings and the furniture choices where flourishes seem to have the personal eye of mothers, aunts and actively involved sons. According to Gabriel Ibarra, director of sales and marketing for Mexico Grand Hotels, the hotel’s parent branding, his uncles made their start with opening Carlos ‘n Charlies and Señor Frog’s.
The property recently added El Encanto de la Hacienda on a stunning spread of oceanfront just steps away from the Hacienda’s established accommodations. These are 52 owned studios and multi-bedroom units that will have their own amenities – de regueur infinity pool, a variety of restaurants, a swim-up bar and a designated event space for weddings, as well as total access to all of the amenities at the main resort.
For guests of any sister property location, an option to book room-only is always on the table. But guests who choose the all-inclusive plan can dine at all of the resort’s restaurants including those restaurants and eateries located in the party-focused marina of Cabo San Lucas.
Another such family-owned option is Grand Solmar at Land’s End, a particularly enchanting spot at the bottom of the peninsula practically within throwing distance of the famous arch of Cabo San Lucas. All rooms are spacious oceanfront suites, starting with the 737-square-foot Grand Studio.
The resort features eight restaurants and bars, a private beach, infinity edge pools, a spa and some breathtaking spots to have a meeting – specifically a magnificent 4,600-square-foot outdoor terrace for special events, receptions, parties and business gatherings.
More to Come
By the end of 2017, in fact, Visit Los Cabos officials are expecting an additional 3,900 hotel rooms to come on line, bringing the total count to 18,000. Popular brands include The JW Marriott Los Cabos Beach Resort & Spa, which opened this fall. Other new or soon to open include VieVage Los Cabos, An Auberge Resort; the Hard Rock Los Cabos; Ritz-Carlton Reserve; Solaz, a Starwood Luxury Collection property; Montage Los Cabos; and Grand Solmar Rancho San Lucas.
In 2018, Los Cabos will have its first Four Seasons Resort, 145-room boutique property with a Robert Trent Jones II-designed 18-hole golf course, a 250-slip deep-water marina, and beach and yacht club, all spread across multiple buildings on a two-mile stretch of white-sand beach in the warm, swimmable waters of the Sea of Cortez.
Currently, Los Cabos counts nine golf courses, all pretty spectacular and all pretty pricey (if you find a $150 tee time, take it!). Luxurious ocean-facing accommodations during the high season months (October to May) run the range, from $400 for a family-focused resort to more than $1000 a night for a stay in a romance lair at such properties as One&Only Palmilla.
Beyond Los Arcos
Once the dining and the sun dosing pass their prime, and that itch to explore beyond the pool bar takes hold, Los Cabos has a wealth of options for easy day trips that move well past the iconic Los Arcos imprint of the destination.
At the bountiful selection of four- and five-star properties, there is usually a dedicated concierge or two available to create a packaged outing for most interests. And of course, you’ll find no shortage of tour mongers peddling trips to nearby beaches, whale watching cruises, dolphin petting programs, horseback riding, dirt-biking, fishing, sailing, snorkeling and the latest darling of must-do activities: flyboarding. Costs run from $30 to $300 per person, depending on choices and time allotments. What is clear, however, is that Los Cabos is much bigger than beach, desert and margaritas. A modicum of curiosity can bring plenty of unexpected action.
Adventurists, especially those with skateboarding proclivities, will want to press their feet to the flyboard for a good 30 minutes of running loops and jumps over the waves. With special boots connected to a skateboard-sized flyboard, an attached hose lets seawater power the rider well above the waves – up to 45 feet in the air. Rates run around $200 for 30 minutes of flight: helmet, lifejacket and boot-rigged flyboard included.
Boat trips into the Sea of Cortez to see the famous arc-shaped rock formations, as well as the beaches they hide (calm and casual Lover’s Beach and the wave pounded Divorce Beach, adjacent) are usually managed on small, motorized skiffs with little shade against the sun.
Whale watching is a must for those who want to witness the world’s mammoth cetaceans. Of the world’s 11 species of whales, several venture to the waters off Los Cabos, (iminke, bryde, fin, sei, humpback, gray and blue among them) during their winter breeding season in warm waters.
Jacques Cousteau called the Sea of Cortez the World’s Aquarium and it lives up to its name with sea lions, whale sharks, manta and mobula rays, dolphins, all manner of microfish and some fascinating bird life.
Art & Culture in the Baja
But not everything Cabos depends on the sea. Two art colonies remind wanderers that Los Cabos has culture, too.
San Jose Del Cabo, at the upper eastern end of the resort corridor, remains a charming and walkable town that is anchored by a church, numerous art galleries, creative notion stores, comely boutiques, a smattering of hip restaurants and cobbled streets to keep it all tied to its enchanting colonial roots.
The Mission San José del Cabo was founded in 1730 and it was a notable supply stop for galleons traveling to and from the Philippines. The expansive town square is the site of festivals and art walks. On Thursday evenings from November to June, art works fill the campus and most stores stay open late. Getting there can be expensive if you are staying at one of the resorts and do not rent a car. A one-way cab ride from the Hacienda Encantada will run at least $25.
The other jewel of the area is Todos Santos, a colonial art town in the nearby mountains, about an hour’s drive away and best done through a half- or full-day tour package if a car is not an option.
The calm there is a nice segue from the frenetic youth and party scene in Los Cabos and the setting evokes a strong element of a different time and place. The central museum of this eight-block town is free for the wandering and offers a casual slice of life, what the town was like a hundred years ago in photos and even earlier in artifacts.
Handmade jewelry, artful notions and colorful cotton wraps and dresses mix in with the drawings and paintings of local artists in the shops inhabiting the old adobes lining the main street. You can tour the mission here, Misión Santa Rosa de las Palmas founded in 1723 and renamed the next year as Nuestra Señora del Pilar de La Paz.
Stay at a cool and undiscovered bed and breakfast at the end of the road and have a delicious meal at the Hotel California – the town’s centerpiece. The hotel does not confirm or deny any involvement as the focus of the Eagles’ song but does offer plenty of odd artworks and preserved ambience for anyone seeking spirits in Cabos.
Los Cabos Cuisine Scene
As for dining, the resorts themselves as well as a wealth of options around the marina provide fine fare for crowds seeking the usual staples in a vacation in Mexico: tacos, tortillas, grilled meats, great guac and cervice and inventive forms of nopal.
However, surprises await those who want to wander away from the madding crowd. Within the cobbled streets of “Old Town” San Jose del Cabo find Don Sanchez Restaurant. Half fine wine-and-dine hideaway, half gourmet cantina, the signature among the 15 mojito options on the menu is the watermelon and basil potion.
Chef Todd Chapman puts Iron Chef creativity into his entrees with such choices as cumin-seared yellowtail with strawberry, tomatillo, habanero and cilantro. His Quinoa Crab Duo uses special local seasonings with the hearty Peruvian grain and soft-shelled crab. His favorite local fruit is the pitaya, with which he makes some flavorful desserts and gelatos. Entrees average in the mid $20s.
A must for unusual food experience seekers in Los Cabos is a trip to Flora Farm. It’s a hilly ten-acre spread on an elevation not far from the north end of The Corridor and a fave with foodies seeking to sample organic and creative dishes in a very cool setting.
Flora Farm is a holistic concept in living and not just a great place to eat fabulous handmade fresh, GMO-free farm food. The farm features several wholly owned (and also fractionally-owned) homes that are all models of what can be done by hand using only locally grown and recycled materials – from kitchen appliances, to bathrooms, to furniture and textiles.
The ample gardens are tended by those who live there and for visitors there are park-like grounds, some local dogs and a farm-themed restaurant with picnic tables, a bar that serves cocktails in mason jars. Meals are served family-style in dishes with and without meat. Expect a long wait even with reservations.
The one must-have if you are enjoying the wait or just stopping by: the Farmtini – a wild hibiscus infused cocktail with ice cold Grey Goose shaken and served up. Non-imbibers: make it a fresh basil and mint lemonade.
Visit LosCabos.com and Visit Mexico.com.
By Lark Gould