Todos Santos: Cabo’s Arty, Surf-Friendly Little Sister

Destinations Magazine
http://destinationstravelmagazine.com/July2016/#/86

Just north of Cabo San Lucas and the “corridor” of beaches leading to San Jose del Cabo is a tiny little art and surf town called Todos Santos.   In Spanish, the town’s name means “All Saints,” a once-tiny outpost on the chaparral plain just a stone’s throw away from amazing beaches.

Surfers discovered this tiny Mexican village years ago, and the waves and hippie surf scenes still live up to their once-newly-found reputations.  But now, with an influx of American expats, the town is flourishing with international cuisine, music, arts, crafts, and an entire creative vibe of lovely, small-town artistry.   Beautifully designed homes are being built all around the edges of town, and certainly near beaches, and real estate is booming.

The town is easy to get to.  A simple flight into Los Cabos Mexico International Airport drops you only an hour and a half away by car along the coastal road to Todos Santos, and the new tollway (about $4) shaves a good half hour off that trip.

At first glance, the town’s four or five paved streets and the funky exteriors can make you think the place is a nothing more than a three-day town: hotel-in, hotel out.  But have faith.  Like finding the best haunts in L.A., Todos Santos hides its charm.  You have to dig into its streets, block by block, before you find it, and venture off into some beachside neighborhoods before its exquisite grace reveals itself to you.

It’s worth mentioning right up front—since you’re going to need to know this going in—that scams abound in this area of Mexico on rental cars.  You’ll find $3 daily rates on most travel sites, but once you get there, you’ll get gouged for mandatory daily insurance rates of $70-90 or more per day.  Your best bet is to get a driver (about $120-150 one way (try Marc at todossantos3@yahoo.com) or take the Eco Baja Tours shuttle ($26) which drops you off right downtown, and is easy walking distance from most hotels (800-026-8331, local in Mexico 52-624-144-3066.)   Then, once you’re in town, rent a car from a local.  (Even the Budget Rental car on the main drag charges around $400 for five days for a tiny economy car—“robbery,” as one of the locals said.)

We found the best rates and most honest service from Ruben Sigula (612-178-0039 office; 612-153-6475 cell.)  He’s located at the convenience store right across the street from Café La Esquina, a hip little coffee, juice bar and restaurant on the north edge of town.  Ruben charged us a more than fair rate of $26 a day for an economy sedan with complete insurance.   (Note also that you can book a rental car in Mexico, with insurance, through AAA’s travel agency as well.)  Transportation is important if you want to see the truly grand beaches of the town, so plan accordingly.

There are tons of hotels in Todos Santos, and since they’ve already been discovered by Americans, they’re definitely not old-school Mexican bargains.  Most are still fairly reasonable, but expect to pay higher prices when you’re in town over the winter holidays.

Guaycura Hotel, Todos Santos Inn, Hacienda Cerritos, and Hacienda Todos Los Santos are all on the higher end, and are in town or a few blocks walk to it, and each are lovely in their own right.  Hotelito hotel (about $160) is a hip, quiet boutique hotel a ten minute walk from town by day, but you’ll want a vehicle since it’s a pitch black walk back at night.  Beyond hotels, there are tons of deals to be had on www.vrbo.com and www.airbnb.com—vacation rentals starting as low as $75 a night for a terrific little casita.

So what ‘s to do in Todos Santos?  You’ll notice that most Americans flock to the Hotel California—the anchor of the lower avenue.  All of the touristy shops are near it, so venture farther and find the side street vendors.  Many have family artistry businesses of pounded copper objects, jewelry and fabrics, glassware and fine art.  Some of the best street-art jewelry is sold by Joseph, who has a little shop just across the street from the Indigo Café.  Kitty corner from the mission, on the main street, you’ll find a copper-art and jewelry store owned by Francisco, whose family has crafted copper bowls, sinks, tubs and more for more than three generations.

For a truly tiny place, it’s amazing how much terrific international cuisine exists here.  Chez Laura, an exquisite and reasonable French restaurant set in a rock garden, serves up wonderful French food with Latin inspirations added.  (Try the rockfish in parchment paper or the lamb stew.)  The Hotel Todos Santos main restaurant is also terrific—any fresh fish any night of the week will amaze—and set on a grotto-like stone patio that’s nothing short of wonderfully romantic.  Some of the best food in town can be found just up from the Hotel California, at Chef Dany Lamote’s charming and tantalizing restaurant SantoVino.  Don’t miss the Tamarind margaritas and the sashimi plate with red onions, capers, and habanero chilies.  The pork tenderloin will melt in your mouth, and the squash blossoms with sugar-glazed pecans are an exercise in ecstasy.  Everything is done to perfection here with incredible sauces, and no matter what you order, you’ll absolutely be in food-heaven.

If you’re looking for terrific Mexican food, go to Los Adobes.  Most of the restaurants are small, which add to their charm, but Los Adobes is a grander, open-air feel, set overlooking a desert garden.  The food is gourmet Mexican with Yucatan influences of ground pumpkin seeds and darkly-spiced sauces.  The best local vibe is at Bahia—a bright blue building with plastic white chairs surrounding its sidewalks and the best fresh seafood dishes around.  There are plenty of variants of delicious seafood cocktails and much more, and the portions are ample.

Art abounds in all its forms in Todos Santos, but if you’re looking for contemporary art, don’t miss the studios of Gabo.  Short for Gabriel Rodrigues, Gabo’s work is all over town, and it’s full of color and boldness and vivid forms.  (Find some of his huge paintings in the terrific coffee-and-pastry café Tre Galline, among others.)

Note that many of the beaches around the town are not swimmable—the rip tides are too strong—a detail that not many hoteliers or house owners will tell you when you’re booking.  But a short drive out of town, you’ll find some of the most breath-taking beaches you’ve ever seen.  Las Palmas (The Palms) is literally an oasis beach at the end of a dirt and pitted road, just off the highway on the south end of town.  Ask a local for directions—which will include a steep dive off the edge of the highway, across from a blue-and-white utility building, then a ten minute pitted-dirt-road drive to a natural palm grove.  You’ll walk to an almost uninhabited stretch of pristine sand and water that will wring every bit of city stress out of you, and will ease you down onto the sands of its sweetly-sun-filled expanses.

Todos Santos is the best of easy-on-the-soul Mexico:  great food, exquisite beaches, terrific art, friendly locals, and a laid-back vibe.  It’s everything you’ve always wanted in a beach-discovery vacation, and it’s all there, just waiting for you.