A Few Days In

Break for Baja: The Ultimate Guide to Todos Santos

by Jessica Cantlin
La La Bohemia. All photos by Jessica Cantlin.

Todos Santos in Baja just gets better and better. For many reasons, including the fact that it's protecting itself from overtourism. (And hooray to that.) Bookmark this guide if you're not planning a trip now: It's the only one you'll need for your perfect, lazy, memorable vacation.

TODOS SANTOS, Mexico – If you think you have been to Baja because you’ve partied in Cabo, think again. While Cabo San Lucas (the fishing village turned mega-resort that occupies the southern tip of Baja) draws visitors from all over the world, Cabo is hardly representative of the state of Baja California Sur. Baja, the finger-shaped peninsula that extends south of California and is separated from mainland Mexico by the Sea of Cortez, is a desert paradise that has been attracting surfers, outdoor enthusiasts, artists, and bohemians for decades. Bisected by the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains, Baja’s distinct environment is populated by Saguaro cactus, desert sage, and the occasional oasis of palms.

One hour north of Cabo, at the foot of the Mountains, city lights give way to dusty river beds, bumpy roads, virgin beaches, and farmland. If you blink or are driving at night, you will miss the hard left down a windy dirt road that leads to the surf colony of Cerritos Beach. Up ahead where the road descends into farmland is the town of Pescadero. (You know those cherry tomatoes you buy from Whole Foods in winter? This is where they are likely grown.)

Beyond Pescadero is Todos Santos, the cultural and commercial hub of the area. Settled in the 1700s, Todos Santos retains a village feel, in large part because of its Pueblo Magical (“magic towns”) designation, which protects a few dozen historical towns in Mexico from being developed. The center of town, which has gradually gentrified alongside the restoration of its colonial buildings, is home to a number of art galleries, restaurants, and small boutique hotels. The community, largely made up of environmentally conscious expats and local families who have been farming this land for generations, is fiercely protective of the area, its heritage, and the natural landscape that makes Baja so special. Community activism, along with limited access to swimmable beaches (the Pacific Ocean in this part of Baja has a wicked undertow), and the lack of a significant water supply, has kept meaningful growth at bay. As a result, the streets are peaceful, the beaches are pristine, the sunsets are magical, and the stargazing is spectacular. Come for the relaxation and long walks on the beach, and stay for the dry desert heat, reliable sunshine (355 days per year), and salty ocean breeze.

Leave the heels at home and lace up your sneakers to explore Baja. You’ll wonder what took you so long. Just be glad you’re here.

Special Covid-19 Notes

Since Mexico is one of the few places Americans are allowed to travel, it is definitely seeing an uptick in tourism. Hotels, merchants, and restaurants in Baja continue to practice social distancing, mask wearing, and frequent sanitization — and guests should respect these rules, or stay home. Having traveled to Baja three times since the pandemic began, I can confidently say that I feel very safe in this part of Mexico, and that everyone was doing their part to travel responsibly. Since the New Year, the United States requires citizens to have a negative Covid-19 test before boarding their return flight. Most hotels offer testing in house (for a small fee) by St. Jude’s Hospital in Todos Santos. For independent travelers, testing is available at the airport in San Jose del Cabo. Just be sure to allow ample time before your departure.

Paradero Todos Santos.
The pool at Paradero Todos Santos.

Where to Stay

Paradero Todos Santos
Paradero Todos Santos is a stunning, new 35-suite property set across five acres of land surrounded by the unspoiled farming community of Pescadero. (It’s one of Fathom’s Best New Hotels for 2021.) An usual design plan, Paradero is built facing the desert with its back to the beach the first indicator to guests that Paradero is not your typical beach hotel. In fact, Paradero is Mexico’s first luxury, experienced-based hotel. The new hotel company’s mission is to offer its guests extraordinary outdoor experiences that promote sustainability, community development, and conservation. Led by local experts, guests are introduced to the culture and landscape of Baja through surfing, guided hiking and mountain biking, farming tutorials, taco tours, and gallery visits. And yes, a stay at Paradero allows plenty of time for rest and relaxation on property.

The architects of the project were tasked with blurring the lines between indoor and outdoor living, encouraging guests to mingle, relax by the fire, enjoy a meal at the community table, or work remotely from the bar. Through the use of neutral colors and minimalist form, the contemporary concrete design of the guest suites allows the structures to blend into the landscape. The guest suites at Paradero are positioned on the edge of the property for maximum views of the desert. Garden suites on the ground floor of the two-story concrete structures have desert patios, hammocks, and outdoor soaking tubs. Upstairs, rooftop suites feature an outdoor lounge area for taking in the panoramic views as well as built-in suspended “star nets” for gazing at the kabillion stars that come out at night.

The interior design of the rooms incorporates warm, neutral tones, with furnishings and textiles custom-crafted or locally sourced from Mexican artisans. The communal areas, built from warmer materials such as timber, metal, and gray concrete, feature an outdoor living room, restaurant, bar, and a stunning half-moon pool deck facing the desert. The outdoor spa (the only hotel spa in the area at the moment) focuses on Mexican healing traditions through the use of hot and cold pools and a Temazcal hut for wellness ceremonies.

At hotel restaurant Open Kitchen, chef Eduard Rios (previously of award-winning Pujol in Mexico City) combines his expertise in refined Mexican cuisine with ingredients native to Baja. The owners of Paradero insisted that their chef make tortillas in house from scratch, and as part of the kitchen build-out incorporated a clay oven to make it happen. Chef Rios eventually hopes to grow corn on the property so that his tortillas can be 100 percent farm to table. Having just opened in February, Paradero is just getting its legs, but is sure to be a welcome addition to the hotel community in this part of Baja.

Read more on Fathom: Experience the Best of Baja at Paradero Todos Santos.

A strong tile game at Hotel San Cristóbal Baja.
In the room where it happens at Hotel San Cristóbal Baja.

Hotel San Cristóbal Baja
The first international outpost by Texas hotelier Bunkhouse Group, the high-design boutique hotel brings relaxed sophistication to the otherwise undeveloped Punta Lobos Beach. The white, minimalist buildings are accented by bursts of vibrant color in tiles and textiles (the emerald green pool is one of my all-time favorites). While none of the 32 guestrooms are exactly alike, many boast spacious outdoor patios and shaded lounges, and all feature high floor-to-ceiling windows with sweeping ocean or mountain views. Guatemalan fabrics and unique Mexican ceramic light fixtures adorn the interiors, along with custom-designed furniture by Guadalajara designers and premium Cocomat mattresses. Several bathrooms have outdoor showers and soaking tubs, hand-painted traditional Mexican porcelain accessories, bath products from Malin + Goetz, and the hotel’s signature colorful concrete tiles.

The staff at San Cristóbal is perfectly warm and friendly; most are loyal locals who have worked at the Hotel since it opened. The food at San Cristóbal is delicious and as fresh as can be, with seafood sourced from the fishermen who launch every morning from the beach in front of the hotel. (Note: If you need a break from Mexican fare, the bar serves an excellent burger). Repeat guests will be glad to hear that chef Dahli de La Peña, who was at the helm of Benno (San Cristóbal’s restaurant) before leaving last year, is back. Originally from Baja, de la Peña was born and raised on a large mountain ranch where, after his initial culinary training, he opened a restaurant using only regional products and an entirely wood-burning kitchen. His incredible work in Benno’s kitchen earned the hotel a spot on Food & Wine Magazine’s list of 21 Gastrohotels in Mexico. San Cristóbal is very happy to announce his return. Note to Parents: The hotel welcomes children over the age of 12, but this isn't exactly the kind of place you want to bring the kids.

The streets are peaceful, the beaches are pristine, the sunsets are magical, and the stargazing is spectacular.

Rancho Pescadero
Opened in 2009, Rancho Pescadero occupies a beautiful stretch of land just behind the dunes on San Pedrito Beach, south of Todos Santos. Rancho (as it is known locally) is closed for renovations and expected to re-open in spring 2022, and we’re including it here for those who bookmark this article for future use. Previously just 28 rooms spread over a series of two-story thatched roof buildings, the redevelopment is expected to include a series of private villas with individual pools and a state-of-the-art spa. Note to parents: Rancho is an adults-only hotel with a relaxed vibe and the very best Mexican hospitality.

Guestroom at La Bohemia.

La Bohemia Hotel Pequeño
La Bohemia is an eight-room boutique hideaway with all the creature comforts of a great bed and breakfast. Austin natives Erin and Andrew Wheelwright had been looking for property to open a small hotel when they stumbled on this haven in the center of Todos Santos. After a year of renovations, they opened in 2015 and have been welcoming guests ever since. The rooms at La Bohemia are bright, spacious, and comfortable. Beds are outfitted with beautiful headboards upholstered in bright Otomi fabrics and accented by wool blankets personally sourced by the owners. Bathrooms feature hand-painted tiles, ceramic Mexican sinks, and locally made bath products. The lush tropical garden is a great place to unwind. Nap in a hammock, cool off in the small but lovely swimming pool, and be sure to have a few of the house margaritas. Erin and Andrew are not your typical hotel operators: They are your hosts, your friends, and your inside connection to everything that Todos Santos has to offer. Whether you need directions to the surf beach, want to swim with whale sharks, or just need to know where to go for the best fish tacos in town, they have you covered. This type of genuine hospitality is why La Bohemia feels like home when you walk through the gate at the end of the day.

Beach tip: Guests of La Bohemia have complimentary access to El Faro Beach Club five minutes out of town at the north end of Punta Lobos Beach. El Faro has a beautiful pool, cabanas, and an outstanding restaurant.

Looking for rustic solitude? La Bohemia’s sister property, Gypsy Canyon Baja, offers luxury tents, campfires, and an opportunity to connect with nature in the desert. Just ten minutes from Todos Santos, Gypsy Canyon is within walking distance of the beach and is a great place to host a retreat, wedding, or large family gathering.

Dining al fresco at The Green Room.
Chile Relleno at Hierbabuena.


Where to Eat

Hierbabuena
Set within a lush vegetable garden in the farmlands of Pescadero, Hierbabuena is a lovely spot for a delicious farm-to-table dinner. The menu features excellent salads based on the garden's daily bounty, wood-fired pizzas, and fresh fish. My favorite meal is chile relleno (roasted poblano stuffed with quinoa, cheese, and tomato sauce) washed down with a Mezcal Dusty Dog. Go before the sun sets, when the landscape really shines. No reservations.

The Green Room
Follow the dirt road north from Todos Santos a few miles and you will eventually come to Villa Santa Cruz and the Green Room, the best place in the area to eat ceviche and tostadas with your feet in the sand. Don’t bother with the tacos here, as the stars of the show are tostadas piled sky high with fresh and inventive combinations of local seafood and farm fresh vegetables, herbs, and spices. Make sure to arrive before sunset, as it’s the best place to watch the sun go down with a margarita in hand (make a reservation on Open Table).

Barracuda Cantina
This little place by the side of the road leading into Cerritos Beach serves some of the best tacos around (which is why it was recently features on Netflix’ Taco Chronicles). The menu is simple: typically two types of seafood tacos, along with fried avocado tacos for the vegetarians. Food is assembled in a truck/kitchen; cocktails are mixed under a thatched roof bar. Check Instagram for daily specials and announcements about live music.

Dum Todos Santos
French-influenced farm to table restaurant located in a lush garden on the edge of Todos Santos. Just opened!

Noah Sushi
Located on a quiet residential corner of Pescadero, this little restaurant is a local favorite. If you like sushi, make time during your stay to eat at Noah. The fish is fresh, the rolls are inventive, and the bill is cheap. Cash only.

Chef Dahli La Peña. Photo courtesy of Hotel San Cristóbal Baja.
Chilequiles at Hotel San Cristóbal.
Tacos at Hotel San Cristóbal.

Benno
Hotel San Cristóbal’s oceanfront restaurant run by Mexican chef Dahli La Peña continues to offer a union of classic Mexican and Mediterranean cuisine built on the diverse culinary abundance of Baja. From the catch of the day to the beautiful, locally sourced produce, the menu highlights the freshest ingredients from the region and season. Benno recently received a light renovation, now featuring woodwork from Rene Nieto, a Mexican artist based in Puebla, along with black and white Equipale furniture, Oaxacan textiles, and new lighting.

Poke Loco
On the same road to the Green Room, in the Las Tunas neighborhood, Poke Loko has transformed from a food truck into a stand-alone restaurant (opening imminently). Serving poke bowls and fish and chips fresh from the Pacific, this is a great spot for lunch when out exploring the northern reaches of Todos Santos.

Palmar Pescadero
A little slice of heaven in the fields of Pescadero, Palmar serves a delicious Mexican breakfast until 1 p.m. Rooms are also available through Airbnb.

Ceviche at Bahia.

Restaurant Bar Bahia
A super casual family-operated corner spot in Todos Santos with awesome fish tacos and ceviche. Open for lunch. Cash only.

Pacifica Fish Market
Baja style fish tacos on the north side of Todos Santos. Just ridiculously delicious, high quality, simple food.

The Coffee Fix

Baja Beans just off the highway in Pescadero and Taller 17 in the center of Todos Santos both serve excellent brew.

Docecuarento, a new coffee shop and café on the road leading out of Todos Santos toward La Paz, roasts its own beans in an open, warehouse style space, and offers a light menu of salads, smoothies, and sandwiches.

Punta Lobos Beach.


What to Do

Surf
There is great surfing in Baja. At Playa Cerritos, the waves are diverse enough for surfers of all abilities. Rent a board or arrange a lesson from a href="http://mariosurfschool.com/" target="_blank" title="mario surf school">Mario Surf School.

Go to the Beach
Playa Cerritos is also the best beach for swimming and snorkeling. For solitude, sunning, strolling, and shell collecting, pitch an umbrella into the sand at San Pedrito or Punta Lobos, but be careful swimming at these beaches, as the undertow is strong. Between Pescadero and Punta Lobos, Playa Las Palmas (a.k.a. Playa San Pedro) is a small, crescent-shaped beach protected by rocks and backed by a freshwater oasis with palm trees. Swimming and body surfing is sweet here. Keep an eye out for wild horses at Playa Las Palmas.

Where to Shop

Étnica
A tiny boutique in downtown Todos Santos with a wonderful selection of embroidered Mexican caftans and blouses. I buy one every time I visit.

Shop at Hotel San Cristóbal
The retail store inside the hotel offers an excellently curated mix of artisan goods for travelers, with a focus on Mexican-made wares along with a collection of apparel, beachwear, home items, jewelry, gifts, and custom pieces.

Heartsense
Load up on organic lotions, potions, and soaps made from locally sourced ingredients.

La Popular Grocer’s Shop
The little boutique grocery in the Las Tunas neighborhood sells gourmet pantry items, bread, charcuterie, cheese, and a selection of organic produce.

If I Had One More Day

I would drive an hour and a half north to La Paz and visit Playa Balandra on the Sea of Cortez. This incredibly stunning cove with water reminiscent of the Carribbean is shallow, calm, and perfect for paddle boarding, swimming, and snorkeling. I would then spend the night at the brand new Baja Club, the latest opening from Grupo Habita, the coolest hoteliers in Mexico.

Plan Your Trip

How to Get Here
Most major airlines fly directly into San Jose del Cabo (SJD). Todos Santos is an hour's drive from the airport. You'll need to arrange private transportation or rent a car. All major rental car agencies have offices at the airport. The new toll highway makes the drive from the airport to Todos Santos very straightforward.

Money Matters
While the peso is the currency of Mexico, dollars are accepted by most businesses. Just be prepared to receive change in pesos. Service is included in most hotel bills, so an additional tip at dinner is only expected if the service is exceptional. Small local restaurants and tourists shops usually operate on a cash basis. While there are banks in Todos Santos, plan accordingly.

Important Immigration Note
Hold onto the bottom portion of your immigration card after you go through customs: The Mexican government won't let you leave the country without it and will require you to pay a cash fine at the time of departure if you lose it.