On September 14th Hurricane Odile made landfall on the Baja California Peninsula with winds and tongued furry reaching 125 miles per hour. It was the most intense tropical cyclone to touch ground in Baja since Olivia in 1967. Landing at the Cabo airport in the shadows of the Sierra de la Lagunas it’s hard to see any signs of devastation, but driving from the airport into town you can see what wind and water will do to land and shapes; it’s enough to make you lose faith in wood and steel forever. More than half of the resorts on the corridor are closed—windows gone, structures flattened, palm trees wilted against the force—and will remain this way well into 2015. But other resorts and business are open already and thriving, providing jobs for the community and rebuilding the tourism that is essential to their economy. Somewhere, next to the ocean, away from the heat of the town, the silhouette of a lone cardon cactus shades an entire population in something like resilience.
It's easy to think a certain way about Cabo San Lucas. Every season throngs of American spring breakers pack their sequined bathing suits, party beads, and tanning lotion that smells of coconut and regret and head for the hotel offering the cheapest rooms and longest happy hour. But to think that this is the sole spirit of Cabo is to miss out on something truly authentic. Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo and the corridor in between the two golden cities are sun-flecked with beaches, poetic desert landscape and many charming, authentic stops along the way. Avoid anything with the words wabo, free shots and please come to our free timeshare senorita and you’ll be in for a great vacation. Visit to experience cultural resilience, to touch the Sea of Cortez with sunburned fingers, and experience the magic of these few out-of-the-way destinations.
Art & Beer
Heading north on Highway 19 from downtown Cabo San Lucas toward Todos Santos just past KM 69 on the west side of the highway is Art & Beer—a living art studio and bar and restaurant run by Lourdes and Alfredo Campos. We nearly passed the place and had to do pull a Mexican U-turn, which I have come to know as dustily moving across the highway at no particular speed right across the median of the highway, sometimes observing oncoming cars. We parked right on the side of the road and entered the thatched roof bar to be greeted by a plethora of tequila, an awe-inspiring margarita menu, and the friendly face of Lourdes. Not too long after we arrived and started studying the menu we heard a car full of seemingly American surfer dudes yell ALFREDO as their truck passed by. Lourdes smiled and casually explained that Alfredo was her husband, like this kind of greeting was an everyday occurrence.
I was promised that they had the best margaritas in Cabo—prepared with fresh juices and whole ingredients and quietly laced with their own brand of tequila—so it was my sacred duty to confirm this information. The bar opens up onto a patio overlooking a sculpture garden with a wooden walkway that leads you through shapes of art and cacti. Lourdes told us to wander around; she would ring the bell when our drinks were ready. How delightful. Pavlovian, we were thirsty when the bell rang and circled back through the garden to the patio where we enjoyed large, citrus margaritas overflowing with fruit, accompanied by chips with pineapple and hot sauce, and freshly caught Dorado ceviche. Neither of which were ordered; both of which were devoured.
Lourdes and her husband Alfredo moved to Cabo from Tijuana to open Art & Beer where they are both artists and Lourdes has crafted their own label of tequila that she makes with women in mind. It’s smooth, round and something you could probably sip on for breakfast (To Lourdes, from women everywhere: thank you). Operating hours are as long as people are there and enjoying themselves. I imagine long, warm nights and the possibility of curious cultural events taking place on what appears to be a stage in the sculpture garden. Driving back from Todos Santos later that day we rolled down the windows and yelled ALFREDO from thirst-quenched lungs as we passed down the highway. It felt like the right thing to do.
Five years ago Cerritos Beach was a little known stretch of sand where you could catch a wave with the locals and enjoy a refreshment at Cerritos Beach Club while ACDC played in the background. It has since become a more popular stop for tourists and surfers alike and I was surprised to find that they now even have a parking attendant and system that requires that you spend at the Beach Club. That and more tourists aside, it’s still a great beach to catch a wave and experience the surf culture that surrounds the area of Todos Santos. Rent a board, tackle the waves, consider a horseback ride, or just relax on the sandy beach with a beach massage or afternoon lunch—it’s a much different experience than the beaches of downtown Cabo with their views of the cruise ships. Cerritos is just north of Art & Beer (turn left at KM 66); it will require a trek down a dirt road that might bottom out your rental car. It’s worth it.
This small town just one hour north of Cabo should be part of every trip to Baja. With a population just over 5,000, Todos Santos seems to retain something of that old Mexico that feels crafted in another era. Still very much a farming and fishing community, the town sits like an oasis upon a fresh water aquifer providing sustenance to the community and a rich history of sugar cane farming. Many artists, travelers and gypsies have made this community their home; and it still offers that artistic, bohemian vibe that’s hard to imitate. It is home to Hotel California, which separate from any Eagles song or validation of this being the Hotel California (it is not), is quite lovely and indeed you can check out anytime you want, but it’s very hard to leave. Grab a drink or lunch on their outdoor patio, which may be accompanied by live music and then wander the town to experience the art galleries and shops. Rest your tired head at The Hotelito, visit Playa Pescadero, and take away treasures from Jill Logan Galería and Nomad Chic.
Flora Farms, San Jose del Cabo
Apparently a little out of touch with my magazine reading of a particular kind, I was unaware before arriving at Flora Farms that it was a celebrity hotspot, which I hope does not denigrate it’s quaint appeal over the next few years. Finding the farm is a similar experience to that of Playa Cerritos where you drive for quite some time down a dirt road with hungry potholes that will either dead end at a charming farm compound, or with scenes from the movie Taken 4. We arrived early for a dinner reservation, which was fortuitous because there is no shortage of things to experience at the farm. In addition to a guided farm tour for dinner guests, there is a well-curated shopping experience with shops housing designer jewelry, vintage artifacts, Mexican art and gifts and handmade soaps, and a walk through the farm to see the culinary cottages and spa.
The Farm Bar has live music and craft cocktails that feature house made bitters and fresh infusions. I enjoyed a Hibiscus Margarita made with mezcal that I still sometimes think about right before I fall asleep at night. The menu is very American farm-to-table, but it’s all fresh, organic, farmed onsite and well prepared. You can only eat so many tacos in a week's time, so it’s a nice break to enjoy wood fired pizza, fresh pasta and roasted chicken for a night. Don’t miss the Flora Grocery where you can take home farm raised eggs and meat, freshly baked bread, a selection of fruit and vegetables, house made bitters, preserves and pickles, and even moonshine. It’s an American-inspired experience in Mexico, but it’s worth a visit and proof that Cabo can play among those lauded, luxury destinations that boast similar resorts and dining experiences. And though it feels familiar, it’s far from home in all the ways that matter.