Spirits Live On at the Historic Hotel California in Todos Santos
Nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Sierra de la Laguna mountain range, Todos Santos is one of Baja Sur’s most charming and picturesque towns. Long popular as a haven for artists and expatriates, the legally designated Pueblo Magico also consistently draws visitors eager to visit its many fine arts galleries, attend its well-received art, music, and film festivals, explore its cobblestone streets and colonial-style architecture, and bask in the year-round warmth offered by its tropical climate.
Given this litany of enchantments, it may seem somewhat strange that the town’s most popular landmark isn’t a gallery, a cinema, or a golden sand beach. Instead, it’s a lodging: the legendary Hotel California.
The Hotel California has been welcoming guests for over sixty-five years. The town’s top accommodations option was originally founded in 1947 by a Chinese immigrant named Mr. Wong, whose ill-fated attempts to acclimate to Mexican culture included changing his name to the somewhat florid Don Antonio Tabasco, conjuring images of a respected hot sauce hacendado. The locals called him El Chino (the Chinese man) anyway, but his family’s 16-room hotel proved popular with visitors and locals alike. The former were drawn to the comfortable lodgings, the latter because the Hotel California served the only cold beer in town.
Eagles legend Don Henley has disputed claims that the landmark Todos Santos lodging helped inspire the group’s 1977 hit song Hotel California. Nonetheless, the legend persists. Perhaps it is hotel’s bohemian boutique chic atmosphere, or the eerie similarities between the Baja Hotel California experience and so many of the song’s lyrics. Guests arrive after traveling down a long “desert highway,” will frequently hear the “mission bells” from the nearby church, and, at least during the 1970s, the warm smell of colitas (marijuana joints) was often “rising up through the air.”
The Hotel California’s renaissance began a dozen years ago, when the property was purchased by Canadians John and Debbie Stewart. The couple oversaw an award-winning renovation of the historic hostelry, fusing traditional colonial-style appointments with vibrant colors and an aesthetic sensibility that reflects Todos Santos’ artistic heritage. The new look lodging features distinctive eye-catching decor, the superb La Coronela Restaurant & Bar, and an art gallery/curio shop on the site where Don Antonio Tabasco had formerly installed the town’s first gas station.
The Hotel California isn’t terribly expensive, but it is exclusive. There are only eleven rooms and suites, each individually decorated with original art and colorful furnishings from around the world. Relax on a private terrace amidst lush foliage and fragrant tropical flowers, or soak up the warm Baja sun poolside. The hotel’s eccentric charm and luxuriant setting make it a popular choice for weddings, receptions, and renewal of vows ceremonies, and Todos Santos’ fine arts galleries and historic monuments are within easy walking distance.
La Coronela is one of Baja Sur’s best restaurants, with eclectic cuisine courtesy of Belgian chef Dany Lamote. Lamote’s reliance on organic and locally grown ingredients reflects the environmentally-friendly ethos prevalent throughout Baja Sur, and his creative menu and attention-getting presentation mark him as one of Todos Santos’ most talented artists. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and live music is a staple on weekends. Belly up to the bar for tropical cocktails anchored by generous helpings of the house tequila, or dance the night away to romantic Mexican ballads around the festively lit, colonial-style fountain.
Todos Santos is home to a thriving artists’ colony, and the local creativity is on full display, not only in the hotel’s individually decorated rooms and suites, but at the onsite Emporio Gallery & Store. From funky trinkets and charms to hand-crafted jewelry and original paintings by the town’s top artists, the Emporio bazaar is the perfect place to commemorate a visit to the historic hotel. You can even pick up a bottle of Hotel California Tequila. The signature house spirit packs a bit more punch than pink champagne on ice, but you’ll be reminded of your visit to this unique lodging every time you pour a Heavenly Hotel (2 oz. Hotel California Blanco Tequila, 2 oz. of fresh-squeezed orange juice, and a slice of lime).
For more information about Todos Santos and the Hotel California, visit Baja.com.
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All photos courtesy of Hotel California.
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