A Magic Town and So Much More – Cabo Living

Just up the road from the hustle and bustle of Cabo San Lucas is one of the most interesting and charming areas in all of Baja. In a stretch that includes Cerritos Beach, El Pescadero and Todos Santos, a formerly sleepy section of coastline now is clearly in development on many levels. For many visitors to Baja, there is nothing like a trip to Todos Santos, with its slower pace, lack of congestion, surfable beaches and some good restaurants. The area has been a getaway for years, a quick drive up the coast to enjoy deserted views of the Pacific coast, spend an afternoon at Cerritos Beach, visit some art galleries and have dinner at one of the highly regarded restaurants in Todos Santos.

New developments are now well underway on part of the coastline as resorts, boutique hotels and farm-to-table restaurants take advantage of the unspoiled region, invigorating the local hospitality landscape and attracting more visitors to the area.

Todos Santos has been a cultural retreat for decades, a designated Pueblo Mágico (Magic Town) since 2006, and with an efficient new highway in place, the lodgings and tourist amenities in the area are getting trendier by the day.

Photos by Francisco Estrada

Todos Santos is little more than an hour’s drive on Highway 19 from Los Cabos, but it can feel like you’ve been transported back to a slower, simpler time as you put Cabo in your rearview mirror. There are some well-known signposts in place and on the way north along the drive you’ll pass Art and Beer at Km 69, a funky enclave that is decorated with many forms of folk art and a sculpture garden and has a nice selection of refreshing drinks.

Playa Los Cerritos, just a little north of Art and Beer, is a favorite for families and surfing enthusiasts, a safe swimmable beach where day trippers come to enjoy the surfing, paddleboarding and food at places like the Barracuda Cantina. It’s one of the best surf spots on this part of the coast, and a convenient day trip location for families from around the area. Recent development at Cerritos Beach include Vista Cerritos and The Cove, both residential communities that sold out quickly. Others are also in the planning stages.

Rancho Pescadero villa exterior patio and room interiors.
Photos by Albert Lewis

It’s when you begin to get into El Pescadero that things begin to get interesting. Baja Beans, on the highway at Km 63, is a place where a lot of people like to get their day started, and with good reason. It’s become a convenient meeting place and the menu includes some of the best locally roasted coffee, baked goods, and breakfast dishes in the area. If you’re nearby on a Sunday, stop in for their farmer’s market, a very popular gathering point for locals and tourists that also features live music.

We had lunch with friend Tony Berkowitz, a longtime resident of Pescadero, who also worked with one of Cabo’s pioneers, Bud Parr. Tony in his association with Parr, had a front row seat to the rise of Cabo’s growth trajectory some twenty years ago. He began looking around for an area that might be a hedge against a rapid rise in development. “I began surveying the area, looking at properties on the East Cape and in the El Pescadero/Todos Santos area,” he says. “I was looking for a piece of property that would increase in value and was a buffer against encroaching development, a quiet place to live and raise a family if Cabo began to get overdeveloped for me. And this place seemed like a good fit, and, with the influence of the Pacific Ocean, and the weather is generally about ten degrees cooler than in Cabo or on the East Cape. And the area north around El Pescadero looked pretty good even though there was no power, no roads, no civilization in Pescadero when I bought my property. But there was tranquility, a lot of palm trees and mangoes and an amazing number of species of birds.”

Rancho Pescadero villa exterior, and villa shower. Rancho Pescadero room interior with seating.
Photos by Albert Lewis

That low density sense of place accounts for recent developments like Pueblo Pescadero, an eco-friendly, low-impact and sustainably planned housing enclave in El Pescadero. It was co-developed by Mark Catania and Peter Arbuckle, two Canadian Baja enthusiasts who discovered they had co-joining properties totaling 1.5 hectares of land located just a short drive from the main highway and a five-minute walk to several kilometers of virgin beach along the Pescadero coastline. What drew them to the area was the near-perfect climate, the adjacency of the Pacific Ocean and the laid- back atmosphere of the farming community.

On our recent visit to the El Pescadero/ Todos Santos area we also met with long time Baja real estate agent and Todos Santos local Deborah Wallendorf of The Wallendorf Collection. Deborah provided insight into what was trending locally and was an invaluable guide through the area for the better part of a day. She told us that there were several boutique hotels in early planning stages north of Todos Santos and Hotel Santa Cruz outside of town. She also made us aware of the Modern Elder Academy, a very active community retreat started by Chip Conley as a way of helping create a fourth stage of life for highly successful professionals and executives from around the world. It’s located in an area called El Gavilan, with 19 accommodations and a program that encourages refugees from the corporate world to get back to the fundamentals of living. For a tidy sum, attendees can enjoy a barefoot lifestyle where they can explore tide pools, do some intensive stargazing, learn to bake bread, and other life-affirming practices. Self- described as the world’s first “midlife wisdom school,” MEA is dedicated to long-life learning with programs to help develop a sense of purpose, wellness, and community. The program is so popular that a few of what has been described as McMansions have been built in the surrounding area, as more and more visitors fell in love with the raw beauty of Baja and decided they wanted to be a part of it.

Hotel Paradero exterior and room interiors.
Photos by Paul Papanek

One of the big stories at the moment is the reopening of Rancho Pescadero. The former version of the boutique hotel had earned an international reputation, an ideally located and serene property since it opened in 2009, upping the ante for the luxury lifestyle in the area. The new Rancho Pescadero exceeds that property’s amenities many times over. As it reopens it will be a model of sustainable development that is intimately tied to the environment. The high concept property puts the guest experience front and center, encouraging self-development and personal enrichment as they engage with the property and the environmental richness of the area.

Hotel San Cristóbal property exterior and Ocean King room interior.
Photos by Nick Simonite

Rancho Pescadero has reopened with 103 suites and oceanfront villas set among nine gardens, spanning 30 acres fronted by over 2 miles of unspoiled beach. Owner Lisa Harper has designed the property to offer a transformative experience, where guests are invited to symbolically “cross over” onto an idealized version of what a luxury resort can be. The property combines an elevated form of luxury with an appreciation for the natural beauty of the area, from the Sierra de la Laguna mountains to the Pacific Ocean. The accommodations includes amenities like rooftop decks, private plunge pools and ocean views for 98% of the rooms.

On the road to Rancho Pescadero is one of the pioneering farm-to-table restaurants in the area. Hierbabuena is a little hard to find, with little signage to guide you in, but the place has a well-established reputation for its creative menu and the ingredients that are pulled from the surrounding farm. The outdoor seating takes advantage of the cooling coastal breezes, and the menu offers the freshest salsas, guacamole, pizzas, soups, pastas, local seafood, salads, and desserts like their signature mango-banana cheesecake.

Benno restaurant at Hotel San Cristóbal. Hotel San Cristóbal Pool.
Photos by Nick Simonite

There are other properties that are well on their way to staking a claim for being integral to the local landscape. Paradero Todos Santos, near Playa las Palmas, is a boutique property designed to blur the lines between structural accommodations and the natural landscape, where much of the striking design is carved out of the desert and surrounded by local agriculture and cactus fields. The resort uses earth-colored concrete and eliminates walls where possible, with natural open spaces and footpaths winding through the resort. It’s a place that encourages a sense of community, where guests can eat together and enjoy yoga classes or stargazing in common areas, and the restaurant offers a Michelin-level dining experience with refined Mexican accents.

Exterior of Benno restaurant at Hotel San Cristóbal.
Photos by Nick Simonite

Outside of Todos Santos, Hotel San Cristóbal, at Km 54, can probably be credited as the first hipster property to break ground in the area and has become a destination location for the young affluent set. Situated off the beach at Punta Lobos, the resort has become popular in travel magazines for its stylish, trendy décor and friendly laid back vibe. The property offers 32 rooms and suites situated around a central pool and lounge and is home to a restaurant and bar, as well as a cozy library, music listening area with requisite turntable and vinyl LPs, and a small retail shop. The hotel has several spaces for celebrations and weddings from La Capilla, the hotel’s chapel and event hall, to the ruins of an antiquated abalone cannery at the east end of the property. Its resident restaurant, Benno, benefits from the excellent service provided at the hotel and has a menu that features Mediterranean and Mexican influences and fresh local seafood, some of which was caught a short walk away at the fisherman’s beach at Punta Lobos.

Agricole Cooperativa.
Photos by Nick Simonite

Foodie types and others will want to pay a visit to the newly expanded Agricole Cooperativa, a complex on the road at Km. 59.7 that began as a roadside strawberry stand and is now a focal point for locals and visitors who enjoy organic local foods and produce. The store itself offers a wide selection of locally grown products, breads, homemade salsas, fresh cheeses, fresh baked breads, delicious pastries and organic juices, honey, fruits, and containers of fresh strawberries packed in cream, much of the produce grown in the gardens just outside. The place became so popular that they added an outdoor dining spot so that people could enjoy a bottle of Mexican wine with their fresh picnic items, and recently have opened their own restaurant that takes the garden to table distance down to a few dozen feet. The restaurant has opened to great reviews and become popular with locals and visitors and is the kind of place that offers a great selection of vegan and organic options and includes a half shank with bone marrow when you order the rib eye tacos.

Coyote Canyon Fuego + Mezcal, a stylish new addition to the dining scene in El Pescadero, is the house restaurant at boutique hotel El Perdido. It’s a charming outdoor space set next to a vintage Airstream trailer, where Chef Victor Tafoya has earned accolades from both visitors and locals. The wood burning stove here creates perfectly roasted chicken, seafood, and pizzas, and they also bake their own breads and deliver the warm loaves right to your table. El Perdido has garnered its own following, with its stated intention of helping guests “get lost,” and has won some design awards for its look and layout. The resort provides all the elements a Baja enthusiast could want: seven private villas with stylish living quarters, outdoor soaking tubs, and a refreshing pool lined with comfortable lounges, all on an isolated parcel found down a dirt road. El Perdido may have won some prestigious design awards but more importantly it provides guests with a more intimate experience involving the surrounding environment, the desertscape, and all- encompassing night sky.

Oystera restaurant at the Santa Terra complex.
Photos courtesy of Oystera

In and around Todos Santos, some things have changed, and some things have remained the same. For years it’s been a draw for visitors coming to walk the area, visit art galleries and have some authentic Mexican food at a place like Los Adobes de Todos Santos. Much of that charm is still in place and the town has enhanced its reputation, adding Guaycura Boutique Hotel and Beach Club, which upped the ante for luxury accommodations in town. Now a new surge in development is underway, with an especially significant addition in Todos Santos, a small retail development and restaurant on the west end of town. The complex, called Santa Terra, includes a restaurant called Oystera, the self-proclaimed “The Oyster Capital of Baja.” Oystera has earned rave reviews for the food and atmosphere, as you might expect with anything created by Ernesto Coppel. In Santa Terra he has repurposed an existing building into something that is both inspiring and serene. Oystera is a place where local chefs show up to see what the kitchen comes up with, and they aren’t disappointed.

Much of the menu originates from the raw bar, and orders of oysters – servers are very helpful in describing the differences in the oysters on hand – aguachiles, tuna tostadas, calamari, and clam chowder all dazzling with artful presentations. It’s the perfect stop for a cocktail and some fresh seafood plates, a place that feels special and you’ll leave with the glowing feeling that you’ve treated yourself to one of the better dining experiences in Baja.

Chef Javier Plascencia of Jazamango.
Photos courtesy of Jazamango

Jazamango (which translates as “arugula”) is another of the newer gems on the edge of town in Todos Santos that includes a bakery, room for events and a kitchen garden. It’s a showcase for Chef Javier Plascencia’s culinary skills. Garden fresh is the operative term here, with a creative menu that utilizes produce from its onsite garden to create a healthy, colorful menu, a robust array of creative cocktails, and dishes like braised short ribs for two with cauliflower pureë, asparagus, purslane and a nopal chutney, and a rabbit stew with fennel and thyme finished with a local olive oil.

DŪM exterior and beef fillet.
Photos courtesy of DŪM

DŪM is another dining spot attracting attention on the outskirts of town, a restaurant that optimizes the lushness of the environment, set in a grove of palms with fire pits and live music on a small farm that reminds of a Tulum-style eatery. It’s a nice addition to the area that appreciated by foodie types anxious to sample the range of creative fare on the menu, including dishes like a burrata salad, pizzas made with shrimp, smoked fish and pulpo, asparagus risotto, and grilled quail.

Ravioli, cocktail and lobster at DŪM.
Photos courtesy of DŪM

As we drive through town and then north out of Todos Santos, Deborah pointed out several communities that are primarily owned by Norte Americanos, communities with names like La Poza, Las Tunas, and La Cachora, where many of the new high end homes are being built. Just beyond those developments Villa Santa Cruz, which has been a boutique getaway for several years, is now in full development mode, adding kitchen gardens, glamping facilities overlooking the coast and other additions that will make it a fully fledged luxury resort as it matures. It’s a perfect place for a wedding or other celebration, and its restaurant, The Green Room, has become a popular meeting spot, a place where you can sit with your toes in the sand while enjoying cold margaritas and fresh seafood.

Patio at Villa Santa Cruz.
Photos courtesy of Villa Santa Cruz

Matt and Jessica Canepa, California- based co-founders of Villa Santa Cruz, bought the property in 2001 and have continued to evolve the property over time. Matt finished the villa in 2006, and the couple moved down in 2009 to convert it into a hotel. In 2011, Villa Santa Cruz officially opened as a hotel, with four rooms and a wedding venue, while also providing vacation rental buyouts for larger groups/ families. In 2018, the property added four outside bungalows and completed a huge remodel on the pool. A neighboring home on the property was then converted to three Ocean View Suites and four new luxury glamping beachfront Tented Ocean Suites were added on the bluffs overlooking the ocean. The property now offers fifteen rooms, and work on the surrounding grounds continues, with a major remodel of the pool, the addition of a lounge and full bar, an extensive farm with organic produce and flowers, an agave field and olive grove and in the next few years the plan is to add a spa, adult pool area, and a fine dining restaurant.

Aerial view at Villa Santa Cruz. Exterior, lounge, farming.
Photos courtesy of Villa Santa Cruz

No doubt about it, change is coming to the Pacific Coast area north of Cabo. In and around Todos Santos, new additions are being made to the local landscape. What was once was a sleepy agricultural area is clearly evolving, but what will remain the same is the tranquil, peaceful environment which will hopefully retain the eclectic, artistic atmosphere that the area has long been known for.

Tented Ocean Suites at Villa Santa Cruz.
Photos courtesy of Villa Santa Cruz