Road Trip: Have a Baja Moment! Traveling the Highways and Byways of Baja Sur, From La Paz to Los Cabos
What is everyone’s favorite two-word phrase? Road Trip!
Who doesn’t want to slide on the sunglasses, and hit the open road? Particularly when all roads lead to gorgeous golden sand beaches, luxurious seaside hideaways, and world-class restaurants, and your trusty four-wheeled steed is exactly that: honest, reliable, and showroom fresh. Here’s a five day itinerary that will take you from La Paz to Los Cabos and back again, with scenic stops at the artists’ colony of Todos Santos, the Land’s End paradise known as Cabo San Lucas, and the charming colonial-style city of San Jose del Cabo.
Day 1 – La Paz
You’ll fly into Baja Sur’s capital city of La Paz, and pick up your Baja chariot before you leave the international airport. National Car Rental boasts a full line of cars, utility vehicles, and jeeps, and in addition to the convenient airport location, is currently offering a deal for anyone who reserves through Baja.com — they will receive a free car upgrade (only when reservation is for any of the following categories: economy, compact, intermediate, standard and full size). There are also 20% discounts on all prepaid online rentals out of La Paz. So book a reservation before you leave home, and your vehicle of choice will be ready to go as soon as you pick up your luggage.
After a sunshine-soaked jaunt along the Malecon – the broad seaside promenade lined with bronze statues and wrought-iron benches – sample the downtown dining scene at Caffe Milano Ristorante. This superb eatery features authentic Italian cuisine in the heart of Baja, and the open kitchen allows patrons to watch the chef prepare hearty handmade pastas. If you fly in Friday for an extended weekend trip, make sure and try out the code word “Amore Mio.” Your waitress will immediately fall in love with you, and bring you a free cayenne infused chocolate cake.
Ready to hit the road again? It’s time to discover the evening’s lodging, Captain Kirk’s in La Ventana, a 45-minute drive south of La Paz. This secluded beach resort boasts spacious accommodations in boutique casas and casitas, beautiful botanical gardens, and gorgeous views overlooking the dazzling blue waters of the Sea of Cortez It’s also one of the best places in the world for windsports like kiteboarding and windsurfing. But the first evening, you’ll settle in with tropical cocktails – let’s say blended margaritas – on the Captain’s Deck , with perhaps a little local color later at area hangouts like Las Palmas or Bandito’s Sushi and Sports Bar.
Day 2 – Todos Santos
After morning yoga and a healthy breakfast courtesy of Captain Kirk’s wife Kitty, it’s time to get wet and wild. If the kiteboarding and windsurfing are world-class in Ventana Bay, the sportfishing and diving are merely spectacular. Personally, I recommend the fishing. The waters are teeming with big fish, and the resort’s panga guides take guests out for dorado, yellowfish tuna, striped marlin, roosterfish, wahoo, sierra, and other delicious denizens of the deep. Pack your catch on ice, by the way, you’ll be sampling it later.
On the road again. After backtracking to La Paz, take Highway 1 -the Transpeninsular Highway south until you merge onto Highway 19, then ride that all the way to the Pueblo Magico – literally, magical village – of Todos Santos. Once the domain of sugar barons and hacendados, this charming town on Baja’s Pacific Coast is brimming with beautiful red brick buildings and a flourishing art scene. Sightseeing should definitely include tours of the historic Hotel California and Todos Santos Inn, plus visits to local galleries and perhaps a wine purchase at La Bodega de Todos Santos, a shop that exclusively features wines from Baja’s renowned Guadalupe Valley (located outside of Ensenada in Baja California Norte).
Your waiter at Guaycura Restaurant will be happy to uncork your wine, and deliver your fish to the chef. Located at yet another historic Todos Santos hotel, the boutique Guaycura, the onsite restaurant features a mix of Mexican ingredients like huitlacoche, corn, and epazote paired with the freshest fish caught daily in the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez. In this case, your own! Or, if you prefer something a bit meatier, try the chef’s superb pork tenderloin. Afterward, relax with a digestif and refreshing coastal breezes at the Sky Lounge. Yes, life is pretty good right now.
And it gets better. Tonight you’re staying at CalyCanto Casitas’ premier property, Casita del Pescado. Located 2 1/2 miles outside of Todos Santos, on a bluff 700 yards above the Pacific Ocean, the property has all the modern conveniences, as well as traditional Mexican comforts and antique artisanal mesquite furnishings. Did I mention the views? Before bedtime, go out and thank your National Car Rental for bringing you here.
Day 3 – Cabo San Lucas
Okay, let’s roll. We’re going to my own hometown, that beautiful Land’s End resort destination and nightclub haven known as Cabo San Lucas. Arrive and check in at the chic Bahia Hotel near Medano Beach. Yes, it’s half a block from the town’s best beach, a two mile stretch of glorious golden sand. The hotel also boasts one of the best onsite restaurants in town, Bar Esquina – you’ll be having tonight’s dinner and tomorrow’s breakfast there – plus a little coffee shop where you can grab a cappuccino to go on the way to the beach.
But no trip to Cabo is complete without a sightseeing trip to Land’s End, Pelican and Scooby Doo rocks, and the signature granite monument, El Arco. The Arch looks out on two bodies of water, the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean. The best way to get out there? I recommend a tandem kayak trip courtesy of High Tide Sea Expeditions. On the way back to Playa Coral Negro, near the old Cannery, you’ll stop for snorkeling and photo ops at Lover’s and Divorce Beaches. Lover’s Beach is one of the most famous in all of Baja. Accessible only by water, this pristine stretch is surrounded by hulking granite, and features spectacular views of Cabo San Lucas and her bay.
Later, go to Cabo Wabo, the nightclub founded by former Van Halen frontman Sammy Hagar. All I’m going to say is try the Waborita. Oh, and leave the car at the hotel.
Day 4 – San Jose del Cabo
Did you end up in the hot tub last night? Okay, good. I’m starting to trust your judgement. Today we drive to San Jose del Cabo. It’s 20 miles along the Tourist Corridor – you’ll remember it as Highway 1, which will eventually get you back to La Paz – and you’ll get gorgeous glimpses of secluded beaches and glittering blue water as you roll into your second Cape city in as many days.
San Jose del Cabo lacks the boisterous nightlife of Cabo San Lucas, but the big sister has plenty of colonial charm, a thriving Art District, and some truly world-class restaurants. I’ll mention two: Don Sanchez Cantina and Deckman’s at Havana. Sandwich them around your sightseeing schedule (don’t forget a visit to the historic church, and check out the murals in the City Hall courtyard). Don Sanchez is perfect for lunch. Visit the indoor wine cave, then relax in the tapas lounge, or walk upstairs to Retro for a gourmet cheeseburger. The restaurant is right down the street from City Hall, so you don’t have to worry about losing your parking spot.
Deckman’s at Havana is your dinner destination. Chef Drew Deckman has been mentored by some of the world’s best chefs, was a private chef for one of the world’s most famous movie stars, and earned a coveted Michelin star while helming Restaurant Vitus in Germany. In other words, he can cook. Deckman’s features only locally grown, sourced, or caught foods, and the menu turns over nightly to take advantage of the freshest seasonal ingredients. Like Don Sanchez, the wine selections are superb, and focus on Mexico’s Guadalupe Valley.
Your final hotel is also the newest. El Ganzo Hotel is located at the luxurious Puerto Los Cabos property, a high-end development that includes residences, a yacht-worthy marina, a fabulous selection of bronze statues from famed Mexican surrealist Leonora Carrington, as well as a golf course collaboration between major champions Jack “the Golden Bear” Nicklaus and Greg “the Great White Shark” Norman. More on that later. For now, concentrate on the trendy sushi bar and the pampering spa, and remember there is an onsite recording studio, in case you want to cut a Top 40 smash before checkout time.
Day 5 – La Paz
Get up, play golf. That was easy. Puerto Los Cabos showcases 9-hole layouts from Norman and Nicklaus, and eventually both will become separate 18-hole courses. For now, this is one of the most incredible collaborative efforts you’ll find anywhere in the world, with everything from desert terrain – think huge sand trap – to spectacular seaside views. Elevated tee boxes are common, so you’ll feel like you’re killing the ball.
After the round, drive up Highway 1 to Santiago, and have lunch at the Palomar Restaurant and Hotel. The Palomar has been around forever, and John Wayne and Bing Crosby used to hang out there when they flew down to go white-winged dove hunting. The chile rellenos are delicious and the beer is cold. Take a detour to inspect the lovely church, and the nearby waterfalls.
Tired? You should be. It’s been a whirlwind 5-day weekend (what can I say, that’s how we do it in Baja). Proceed back to La Paz. Tell your waitress at Caffe Milano Ristorante that you still love her. Have more pasta. Turn in your car to National. Stagger onto the plane. Sleep all the way home. Wake up in Oregon. Make plans to come back next week.
What’s your favorite road trip? Let us know at Baja.com.
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