Todos Santos

Yes, I do want to move to Todos Santos. I went Baja on assignment and found Mexico’s version of Laguna Beach, California, circa 1950. So of course I never wanted to leave. Go for the food, the surf, the artwork, the emptiness, and most of all for the people. Here’s a taste of the sorts of characters I ran into during my visit…

Around 10:30 am on my first morning at Rancho Pescadero I asked the hotel manager if the art galleries in Todos Santos would be open at this time of day.

“It’s capricious,” the tanned, sunglasses-wearing, 30-something yoga instructor answered brightly.

“Is the Internet working?” was my next question. I was trying to check email on my laptop during breakfast.

“No, it cut out because we made a phone call.”

“Will it be back up in a few minutes?”

“It’s capricious.”

I finished eating, shut down my computer, and headed for the pool bar to order a mango margarita. Then I moved on to the pool, swam around, and ordered another drink.

The 27-room Rancho Pescadero, a laid-back, but buttoned-up beach resort opened in 2009 and added 15 new suites, another pool, and a second restaurant and bar in 2011. Drive 10 minutes up the road to find the small Mexican town of Todos Santos, located in a natural oasis of green trees and fertile farmland about 50 miles north of Cabo San Lucas. Cabo and Todos Santos could not be more different.

The largest downtown hotel in Todos Santos is Guaycura, which opened last September with 14 rooms and the town’s first elevator. “They have a five-star French restaurant and a trendy bar and pool on the roof,” Matt Canepa, co-owner of the four-room Villa Santa Cruz, tells me from the roof deck of his oceanfront boutique hotel. “Every time I go, it’s empty. They may be before their time.” 

The city does not look as polished or as old as more many of the Mexican towns you’ve already heard about, but it is safe—sequestered far from drug routes running through mainland Mexico. Opposed to Cabo, which never had a master plan for development, Todos Santos has been watched over closely for the last 30 years by a conscientious community. Part of the plan for Todos was winning a Pueblo Magico designation from the National Tourist Board in 2006. The government has since rebuilt water and sewer lines and installed beautiful pavers in the historic district, where popular tourist attractions the 11-room Hotel California, the fine-dining Italian restaurant Café Santa Fe, and 18th-century missions are located. “The pavers were finished only a few days ago,” Canepa told me in December 2010. “It’s always a scramble before tourist season.”

Cafe Santa Fe

Early American expats arrived to Todos Santos in the mid-80s, around the time the paved highway came in. Lacking a big airport and a marina, the town’s foreign population of mostly West Coast–minded folk has spawned a slow-growing artist’s community not unlike Laguna Beach, Calif., or Taos, N.M. The town is still small enough (around 15,000 people) that residents know each other’s names.

“Barbara, a gringo from Oregon, runs La Cañada del Diablo furniture store and has been here since the 1980s,” says Canepa, who came for good in 1997, when the Mexican Government changed its laws to allow foreigners to buy land through Mexican trust funds held at Mexican Banks. He and his business partner walked away from flipping houses in San Diego and for three years lived in an RV on their beachfront property, until they figured out how to get Villa Santa Cruz built. Lisa Harper, proprietor of Rancho Pescadero, purchased her land around the same time.

After retiring in 2006 from her position as chairman and CEO of Gymboree, Harper moved to Mexico to build a beach resort on her land without any idea of wanting to run it. But she quickly realized her strong opinions about hospitality would be one of her property’s most valuable assets. Thus, she has based Rancho Pescadero on her own tastes, which are quite good. “I loved Amandari after a rugged four-month trip to Indonesia,” she says. “And I’m a big fan of the George V in Paris, as much as I like to be drinking pina coladas in front of an $85/week resort in Ko Samui.” And you should know that Harper has an aversion to obsequious service: “We think about what you would need, but we’re not going to have the secretary of romance or a sunglass concierge like they have at Las Ventanas.”

Rancho Pescadero and the surrounding area offer plenty of impromptu adventure, and Harper’s resort caters to off-the-menu requests more so than set itineraries. Guests might schedule yoga at 9 am, swimming with whale sharks at 2 pm, and having dinner at Michael’s in Todos Santos at 7 pm. “Some guests do that kind of thing every day,” Harper says, “and those people are from Colorado.” Other guests opt for the margarita tour, and a reading day by the pool.

“Anytime someone drives down the road they’re like, ‘What the heck are we doing?’” Harper says of the arrival experience at her resort. “So we want to be welcoming.”

Unpaved roads are a signature of Todos Santos, as much as canals are of Venice, Italy. Though it does not mean you are used to them when you arrive. Guests driving themselves to Rancho Pescadero are instructed to turn off the highway at the Pemex station in the blip of a town called Pescadero. The road is dirt, and just long enough to make you feel absolutely lost and slightly in danger. When you are about to turn back, you see the words Rancho Pescadero written above a wooden fence and the neat rows of sunflowers just beyond.

When I return to Rancho Pescadero after spending the day at Villa Santa Cruz and speaking with gallery owners in town, Jack Johnson albums play over the speaker system and I pass zebra-print pillows and stylish potted agave plants on the way back to my room. When I try to pay for a margarita the bartender Danny shakes his head. He is tan, in his twenties, and tells me he grew up in Yerba Linda, California. “We know who you are,” he says, adding the drink to my bill without me having to sign or formally tell anyone to do so. A German couple who came for one day last year is also sitting at the bar. This year, they tell me, they made their reservation for six weeks. I may do the same.

To read my article about Todos Santos in Robb Report, click here.

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