Like a magical mix of Joshua Tree and the Hawaiian islands, Los Cabos is where a sunny, cactus- and palm tree-filled paradise meets the turquoise Sea of Cortez.
If the town's party image has given you pause, you'll be pleased to know that the overly tanned spring breakers are fading into the background. Replacing the neon-colored drinks and generic mega resorts are fashionable boutique hotels, inventive craft cocktails, and a modern Baja cuisine that's forcing travelers to sit up and take notice.
Just a three-hour flight from SFO, Los Cabos refers to the two southernmost capes and adjoining towns of the Baja California peninsula, the most recognized being Cabo San Lucas. Yet, much of the recent action—spurred by reconstruction following the devastating Hurricane Odile in 2014—is happening outside the famed party zone.
On the town's outskirts and in the quieter town of San José del Cabo, you'll find a happening, creative scene that's well out of earshot of any Jimmy Buffett tunes. Plus, a cadre of inventive new chefs are yielding cutting-edge dishes that transcend the ubiquitous battered fish tacos. In Los Cabos, you can sample rare mezcals, sip regional craft cocktails, and enjoy local brews with no beer pong in sight. The destination is clearly having a moment with a Viceroy, Nobu, and Four Seasons scheduled to open this year. Here are our recommendations for the right way to do Cabo, right now.
A NEW BATCH OF WATERFRONT ROOMS
You'll feel like a fish—a very glamorous fish—in the infinity pool at Hotel El Ganzo.(Courtesy of Hotel El Ganzo)
Cabo is all about the glimmering ocean vistas. The region has no shortage of waterfront mega-resorts, yet many exude all the intimacy and charm of a cruise liner. Instead, check in to a stylish new boutique property such as The Cape (Cabo San Lucas), a Thompson Hotel that nails the quintessential modern Baja resort, with contemporary design, food, and drink that capture a strong sense of place. The resort fronts the golden sand of Playa Monumentos and the iconic El Arco rock formation beyond (it's the only hotel with a complete view of the famed arch). Just as visually stunning is the design from Mexico City starchitect Javier Sanchez and Guadalajara interior designer Marisabel Gómez Vázquez, who lent the resort a chic, SoCal-meets-Baja vibe. The property is awash in vivid tiles, native cacti, and natural materials, while 161 guest rooms and villas feature custom furnishings and outdoor terraces—most with hanging daybeds—that overlook surfers slicing through translucent waves. Days are spent lounging around a see-and-be-seen infinity pool with swim-up bar. Few things lend immediate vacation gratification like squeezing lime over fresh ceviche tostadas, sipping an herb and citrus-infused mezcal cocktail, and gazing out over the azure Sea of Cortez. But don't miss a meal at Manta, the property's signature restaurant from Mexico City's famed chef Enrique Olvera who melds Mexican, Japanese, and Peruvian flavors in exceptional dishes such as black miso tacos and octopus anticuchos. (Getting married? This is a drop-dead stunning wedding destination.)
// The goose-print flag waving over Hotel El Ganzo (San Jose del Cabo) hints at the playful, graphic delights awaiting inside. With an enviable locale at the edge of the Puerto Los Cabos marina, the hip, adults-only hotel is a de facto creative hub with a professional recording studio, monthly resident artists, and walls adorned with street-art-inspired works left by visiting artists. But if you check Instagram, the first image you're likely to see is of the stunning rooftop infinity pool, overlooking the sea and topped by an aquarium-like glass jacuzzi. If you crave sand between your toes, take the hotel's ferry to their private beach club that fronts one of the few swimmable beaches in Los Cabos. After a mojito and red snapper sashimi lunch, hop on a loaner bike and cruise the marina. Come evening, sample as much tequila as you want at the breezy, open-air lobby bar: There is a plate of crispy, spicy chilaquiles awaiting you in the morning.
STYLISH FARM DINING & STAYS
Flora Farms is a Sonoma-esque culinary nirvana spread over 25 acres of organic gardens.(Courtesy of Flora Farms)
Pushed aside from the tourist areas and reached via a winding dirt road (easily accessed via taxi), you'll discover modern farms where you can dine al fresco amidst palm-shaded gardens. Flora Farms out-Sonomas Sonoma with a farm-to-table restaurant, bar, and spa engulfed by 25 acres of blooming gardens, palm trees, and mango groves. It feels like the idyllic afterlife that is likely awaiting Alice Waters. The sprawling, open-air restaurant—whose kitchen is helmed by Guillermo Tellez Cruz, a Charlie Trotter's alumni—serves achingly fresh, organic Cal-Ital dishes with every ingredient raised or harvested on their property. Meals begin with a basket of fresh breads and continue with roasted veggies, charred Neapolitan pizzas, and smoked meats. No matter how jaded you are about burrata, get it. Vibrant cocktails also draw from the garden as in the signature Farmrita—a bright, orange-hued margarita made with a surprisingly delicious carrot juice—and the instantly Instagrammable Pelo del Perro, a refreshingly light bloody mary-inspired sipper adorned with a virtual salad of pickled veggies, chiles, kale, and crunchy chicharrón. // Carretera Transpeninsular San José del Cabo Km. 30, Las Ánimas Bajas, flora-farms.com
Nearby, Acre offers a taste of Tulum with a lush tropical setting and striking open-air restaurant and bar. The menu highlights ingredients grown onsite—charred broccoli stems with oyster sauce and fried oysters; whole roasted hen with roast vegetables and za'taar flatbread. The 25-acre farm recently added 12 rustic-chic tree houses perched amidst the palms and outfitted with queen beds, private bathrooms, terraces, and outdoor showers. Lounge by the pool, toss some bocce, and wander the peacock-filled grounds. When you're ready to hit the beach, a shuttle can zip you to the Hotel El Ganzo beach club just a few minutes away. // Rincon de las Animas, Calle Camino Real S/N, Animas Bajas, acrebaja.com
A REINVIGORATED OLD TOWN
A trip to Mexico always promises a bounty of handcrafted regional goods, but a shopping trip at Caravane yield surprisingly modern finds.(Courtesy of Caravane)
San José del Cabo's historic old town has long charmed with courtyard restaurants and cobblestone streets, but its reinvigorated Arts District is drawing attention with new eateries, galleries, and boutiques. The colorful Shima Shima brims with contemporary, handmade Mexican goods such as multi-colored pom-poms and Otomi fabrics, while home shop Caravane assembles sleek furnishings and decor from independent Mexican designers. // Housed in a 144-year-old brick-and-adobe home, La Revolución pairs culinary inspired cocktails with contemporary Mexican dishes sourced from Baja. It's the latest restaurant from renowned chef Benito Molina who serves up local oysters topped with pigs trotters and spicy Kung Fu tacos on homemade tortillas. To see how far Los Cabos has strayed from the margarita, try the namesake La Revolución cocktail with mezcal, Ancho Reyes, sesame oil, and a crunchy pepita rim, or the gin and coconut water-fueled Perro Callejero that's served in a Campbell's soup can. // Across the way, the 10-room Drift San José has the serene beauty of a modern Moroccan riad with a cloistered palm-filled courtyard set with fire pit, Acapulco chairs, and an 8-seat bar stocked with rare, small-batch mezcals and Mexican craft beer. On Thursday eves, a small food cart serves up grilled steak sandwiches and smoked brisket burritos for the town's popular Art Walk when shops stay open late, galleries pour wine, and crowds fill the car-free streets.
BEYOND THE DEEP-FRIED TACOS
The Professor Watermilan cocktail at La Revolución in historic San Jose del Cabo.(Courtesy La Revolucion)
Los Cabos has always been noted for its fish tacos and ceviche tostadas, but in recent years, the region has become a bona fide foodie destination with its own distinct cuisine. Thanks to a new generation of creative young chefs as well as notable chefs brought in by high-end resorts, the region is awash in culinary talent. Local kitchens have access to a bounty of not only fresh seafood, but organic produce sourced from a surprising number of local, spring-fed farms. Another pleasant surprise is how local chefs have adapted Asian flavors into traditional Mexican flavors—and how easily they meld. You'll witness this at Panazia (Cabo San Lucas), a Mexican-Asian eatery whose stylish, tropical interior wouldn't be out of place in Miami. Owner and chef Paul Zamudio plates sashimi-like kampachi aguachile, foie gras nigiri with salsa brava, and a tuna tartare with crisped rice and wasabi-laced avocado (all on ceramic dinnerware crafted by Zamudio himself). Take the chef's recommendation and pair it with a delicious, artisanal Mexican sake. // Inside trendy new food hall El Merkado (Rancho Cerro Colorado), you'll find the cleverly named Carbón Cabrón (Rancho Cerro Colorado), an homage to wood-fire grill cooking from rockstar chef Poncho Cadena. Fork into a smoky rib-eye and sip mezcal drinks with activated charcoal at a communal table flanked by stacks of wood. // Be sure to seek out Metate (Cabo San Lucas), where regional Mexican dishes such as shellfish aguachile and pork tlayuda get a contemporary farm-to-table treatment in a enchanting outdoor setting with light-strung trees and old, black-and-white Mexican films flickering in the background.