Discover this beachside oasis with colonial charm
Los Cabos has a reputation. The sister cities at the southernmost tip of the Baja Peninsula are famous for sun, sand, surf, and tequila as well as the preternaturally good-looking coeds who descend on their beaches each spring. Can we go ahead and declare Los Cabos party central? Yes. And no. Sure, you can explore your wild side in Cabo San Lucas. But you can also retreat to San José del Cabo, a beachside oasis with decidedly colonial charm. See what else it has to offer in our quick guide.
A Land Before Time
Our guide may be short, but San José del Cabo—known as simply San José among locals—has a long, rich history. Forty thousand years ago, the San José region was known as Añuiti (“place full of reeds”) and populated by the Pericue Indians, who were very tall and strong and in possession of advanced maritime technology. The Pericues lived on the land, feasted from the oceans, and left later generations tales of their lives through mysterious paintings on cave walls. Through the years, the land now known as San José del Cabo was fought over and lost, rebuilt and destroyed, cherished or sold by many peoples: the English, the Spanish, the Pericues, and even pirates.
Spanish galleons made their way to San José del Cabo in the 17th and 18th centuries. They would stop, it’s said, to replenish their water supplies in the Río San José during their long voyages to Asia. The town’s mission was founded in 1730.
Now San José is the municipal seat for Los Cabos and home to amazing restaurants, magnificent hotels, quaint shops, beautiful architecture, warm people, and safe streets.
The Great Outdoors
It’s but a short walk from historic downtown to a protected estuary, where freshwater from the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains mingles with saltwater from the Sea of Cortés. Walk or bike the paved path that runs along a portion of this lush, green safe haven and enjoy the many exotic plants and animals. This estuary is home to more than 100 species of birds, fish, turtles, and other marine animals.
Kick up your tour a notch by taking to horseback. Camino Aventura Activities (624-105-8413, www.caminoaventura.mx), located at the end of Hotel Beach, has about 26 horses, which are kept in corrals under the shade of trees that grow thick in this oasis. This spring, I enjoyed a romantic, late afternoon beach ride mounted on a steed named Tequila. The beach ride takes about an hour, and it is a shorter tour than the estero tour. Whether you choose the estero or the beach, there’s nothing quite like the view of San José from horseback.
After all the outdoor fun, good food is a must. San José has a variety of exceptional dining establishments; there’s one to satisfy everyone’s palate. There are many quaint restaurants and taco stands that offer the traditional flavors of México and will make your taste buds sing. They’re perfect for a quick lunch or late-night snack.
For a refreshing no-guilt snack, try Yogurlicious (it’s located across from Burger King on your way to the international airport, www.yogurliciousmx.com). As the name would suggest, the brand-new shop offers delicious frozen yogurt. There are 40 flavors and 46 toppings at the self-serve spot. The only limitation is your imagination.
San José del Cabo restaurants range from the übercasual to worthy of a king. Should you be in need of the royal treatment, make a beeline to Jazmin’s Restaurant (624-142-1760, www.loscabosguide.com/jazminsrestaurant). Walking through its doors is like taking a step back in history. The decor offers a colorful celebration of Pancho Villa and the heroes of the Mexican Revolution. The canvas-covered patio provides shade, and you can head inside for air-conditioning on hot days. Inside, the rustic red brick walls are a veritable museum of México’s history, and the tables and chairs are painted in eye-catching enamel colors. The food is remarkable, and the fresh-squeezed limeade with mineral water (“limonada con agua mineral” in Spanish) is a refreshing and zesty, sweet and sassy pick-me-up. Quaff your lemonade during a late-afternoon lunch or return come evening for a meal that starts with a scallop appetizer and is followed by a hearty chile relleno.
The culinary team at Mi Casa Restaurant (624-146-9263, www.micasarestaurant.com.mx) consistently prepares out-of-this-world Mexican classics in a paradisiacal setting. The courtyard is downright lovely, and guests at Mi Casa can expect a feast for their tastebuds as well as their eyes. The artwork that adorns Mi Casa’s walls—like the cuisine—has been handpicked from every region of México to represent the diversity and beauty of this land and its people. Here, the chile en nogada is teeming not only with flavor but also with tradition. The ribs are marinated in tamarind sauce and fire roasted so that they melt in the mouth. Top off the perfect meal with homemade mango ice cream infused with tequila; now that’s México!
If romance is what you’re after, ask your concierge to make a reservation at Cata Wine Restaurant (624-142-0868, www.catawinecabo.com). The name suggests a focus on vinos—and yes, the wine list is extensive and expertly curated—but on my night here I was blown away by the menu, ambience, and service. The eclectic decor, intimate seating, and soft lighting set a romantic mood, while the attentive service allows you to get pleasantly lost in the experience. Begin with the casino clam appetizers and spinach rotolis, home dough that is rolled with spinach, ham, and three cheeses then brushed with garlic, and baked to perfection. The entrées are equally impressive. The penne de salmon is exquisite: The salmon is tender and sweet in a smoked tomato whiskey sauce. The Don Cata entrée of seafood-stuffed peppers is rich with traditional Mexican flavors. Finish off your evening on a high note with the famous Mexican flaming coffee. The veritable tableside dinner show is delightful, and, best of all, at the end of the show, guests get to enjoy the delicious coffee drink. Cata Wine offers such an amazing evening that it alone may inspire return visits to Los Cabos.
Many San José del Cabo hotels and resorts offer all you could ever want or need to properly pamper yourself. Lounge by the pool, tan, and catch up on that novel you’ve been meaning to read. Watch and feel the crash of the powerful waves, perfect for surfers, reverberate through the ground from the comfort of a padded lounge chair on the poolside patio. Refresh yourself with those cute little fruity drinks servers keep delivering along with a friendly smile. Dine poolside on succulent shrimp cocktails and fresh local fruits. Rest, relax, and leave the worrying to when you get back home. To see a list of area resorts, go to www.loscabosgui de.com/hotels/sanjose.htm.
Massage enthusiasts: No trip to Los Cabos is complete without a visit to Spa Cielo (www.spa-cielo.com), which offers a wide range of services, with everything from a simple oxygen and vitamin C facial to advanced technology ultrasound liposuction. You may return home not only feeling like a new person, but looking like one, too. But we must add that our favorite service here is a no-fuss massage that leaves you feeling invigorated.
San José To-Go
The historic town square in San José del Cabo boasts colonial-style buildings and several amazing galleries. It should also be noted, though, that this is a wonderful spot to stock up on mementos. Shops of every sort abound. Here venders tout their wares from a variety of sources and are geared toward a variety of tastes. For a girl who loves semi-precious gems and silver; I was in heaven. Don’t miss boutiques selling Mexican fire opals. The gemstones by this name come mainly from the state of Querétaro in mainland México. These famous opals generally occur in warm tones such as red, orange and yellow hews and sometimes have bright green flashes of color when they are held to the light just right. Making a choice such as fine jewelry for a souvenir allows for a timeless memento of a lovely and peaceful trip to San José del Cabo that can be cherished and admired for many years to come.