A San Franciscan's Guide to Tulum, Mexico

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Couched on the Yucatan Peninsula sits Tulum, home to one of Mexico's most stunning Mayan ruins, a biosphere reserve, and a steadily growing tourism industry that captures the beauty of the Caribbean coastline (without the spring break-soaked madness of nearby Cancun). With archeological wonders to explore, water sports and yoga galore, obsession-worthy eats, and some seriously stylish digs, Tulum is nicely set up to make a visiting San Franciscan feel right at home... well, perhaps a paradise-like home-away-from-home. 


Where To Stay: Beachfront Bliss (Plus Cocktails and Fish Tacos)

You'll find all manners of accommodation options in Tulum, but our top picks include three musts for a true beach getaway: gorgeous views, tasty food, and serious cocktails for your nightly happy hour (and nightcap) purposes. 

We're obsessed with stylish Hotel ZAMAS (the founder is a Bay Area native!), whose rooms feature brightly-colored tile mosaics, plus mosquito nets and fans (who needs A/C when you've got the ocean breeze?). Plus, they're grilling up some of the best fish tacos in town, to boot. Even more exciting is this year's Taste of Tulum Series, featuring a roster of top-notch San Francisco chefs and bartenders. From June 1-5, Brian MacGregor of Wingtip will be tending bar and shaking up a selection of tropically inspired classic cocktails. Upcoming guests include Kevin Diedrich of BDK, Evan and Sarah Rich of Rich Table, Arcelia Gallardo of Dandelion Chocolate, and Kris Esqueda and Sara Hauman of Huxley, should you want to plan a few more return trips.

Photo Credit: ZAMAS

Other worthy accommodations include Ahau Tulum, which boasts Bali-style huts on the beach, a top-notch yoga studio, and delicious cocktails laced with fresh tropical fruits. Cabanas Tulum features thoughtful, modern design details; their Loft Vanilla has three bedrooms, making it an excellent option for families and friend group vacays. Or, get a taste of old school Tulum at Coco Tulum, an off-the-grid haven with wind-and-solar-powered cabanas, shared showers, hammocks galore, and a romantic, Rapunzel-style tower with 360-degree views of the ocean and the neighboring jungle (you can rent the whole tower for a group of six, too). 

Where To Eat: Between the Beachfront and the Pueblo

It can be dangerously easy to never leave Tulum's gorgeous beach—and it wouldn't be the worst thing if that's exactly what you do. But we'd hate for you to miss out on the charm and deliciousness of Tulum's town, Tulum Pueblo, tucked behind the Parque National up the 109. Splitting your time between eateries in town and on the beach will allow you to get a nice idea of modern, stylish Tulum (with locally-sourced Bay Area touches and all), and the no-frills, beyond good taco trucks and ceviche joints of the Pueblo. 

Photo Credit: La Barracuda 

Start in town with fantastic homestyle Mexican food at El Tacoqueto; tacos, sopes, and tostadas at Antojitos La Chiapaneca (great for a daytime or late night bite); fresh-caught fish tacos at El Camello Jr.; and magical pork tacos at Taqueria Honario. Mix up your taqueria-style crawl with piles of fresh ceviche at La Barracuda, and Barcelona-style tapas at La Gloria del Tio Pepe.

Chef Eric Werner in front of the fire at Hartwood. Photo credit: Alejandro de la Cruz.

Back on the beach, class it up with grilled fish and meat at Casa Banana or Simple, and indulge in perfectly executed, somewhat modernized Mexican fare at El Tabano. If you're willing to tear yourself away from Mexican food, Posada Margherita is the place for freshly made pastas and equally good wine. It goes without saying that Hartwood, a straight-outta-Brooklyn (so, basically San Francisco) restaurant centered around open-fire cooking is a must—chef Eric Werner is dedicated to using and understanding local ingredients, all of which are blessed with a kiss of smoke from the fire. Wherever you eat, be sure to start or end your meal with a killer cocktail at Gitano, a mezcal-soaked bar on the jungle side of the beach. 

What to Do: Exploration, Relaxation, and More

Tulum is known for its eponymous Mayan ruins, crumbling remnants of a majestic civilization perched on oceanfront cliffs. These are worth visiting, as are the ruins of Coba, still emerging from the jungle as if newly discovered (ultra-famous Chicen Itza isn't too far for a trek, if you're so inclined, but it is guaranteed to be swamped by tourists). Also worth exploring is Sian Ka'an, a biological reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site. The reserve is home to a number of archeological ruins, preservation projects, and can be toured via boat or Jeep. 

Tulum ruins. Photo credit: Cecila Schubert 

But you didn't come to a drop-dead gorgeous beach for nothing. Plan a snorkeling expedition, perhaps amongst the caves of Cenote Escondido, or go scuba diving around a sunken ship. Looking for an adrenaline rush? Take advantage of the steady coastal winds and try your hand at kite surfing, a skill you can bust out back home with the other thrill-seekers flying under the Golden Gate Bridge (with a very warm wetsuit, of course). Stand-up paddleboarding is a great way to spend a sunny day in the water, too.

Photo Credit: ZAMAS

Don't forget to plan on some serious relaxation, and in Tulum, that means you're getting your om on—it's long been known as a destination for yogis of all skill levels. Try a morning session at ocean-facing Sanara Studio, or an ass-kicking, strength-focused class at Yoga Dicha Studio. We're told local enthusiasts swear by Itzel's Ashtanga-inspired flow on Thursday evenings. Or, work off those tacos with a leisurely stroll around the Pueblo, home to a stunning collection of murals and street art (sure to evoke wanderings around the Mission). Revitalize with a soak in the healing waters at Yaan Wellness, or an in-room massage courtesy of the magical hands of Ariane Roettele (+52 984-108-5744). Of course, a beach chair, a book, and a tropical-hued cocktails is a fine way to unwind, too. 

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