If the name Cabo conjures of image of consuming cerveza during college spring break at joints with names like El Squid Roe, it’s time to re-boot. Cabo is cool. Or more accurately, it’s hot, as temperatures this time of year average around 80 degrees during the day. The climate is ideal for taking full advantage of the splendid beaches, water sports and the many resorts that offer stunning views of the Baja coastline.
Just a part of Cabo’s natural appeal is its unusual and striking geology – it’s officially a tropical desert climate – formed by the juxtaposition of the desert with the Sea of Cortes. True, it has become a tourist mecca, but if you know how to navigate you will doubtless find diversions and delicacies to delight you.
Here are eight ways to enjoy a Cabo vacation.
1. Flora’s Field Kitchen in San José del Cabo is not particularly easy to get to. You might even find the driving directions somewhat intimidating (“fourth traffic circle…cement plant…dirt road up the hill…). It can also be challenging to get a reservation in peak season. However, the easy solution is to book early and hire a taxi, because Flora’s is so worth the trip.
The restaurant is situated on the very farm from which it sources its ripe ingredients. The chefs cook what they harvest, so everything changes by season. It doesn’t get any more “eat local” than this. Not only is the freshest food perfectly prepared, it is served professionally in a magical outdoor setting that has a relaxed but lively vibe. Yes, that’s Ray Romano and crew at the next table, and George Clooney was here the night before with Jennifer Aniston — but you don’t go to Flora because it has been discovered by the Hollywood elite. You go for glorious homemade food in a charming, outdoor locale.
You might begin with an inventive seasonal cocktail, perhaps a martini infused with house-made lavender bitters, or a beet-ginger margarita that sounds odd but works well. Crostini — one with chicken liver pâté and pickles, one with caponata and ricotta — were sublime starters. The arugula salad with red onion, candied pecan, and goat cheese was dressed with a sprightly vinaigrette, a savory composition of taste and textures — and do not miss the wood-fired pizzas. Our version was made with mozzarella topped by a mound of the freshest arugula dressed lightly with a lemony vinaigrette and Parmesan. Main courses include daily specials (spaghetti and spicy meatballs with homemade marinara, perhaps, and an ever-changing the fish of the day), as well as an oven-roasted pork chop or half organic chicken (bred on the farm), both tender and succulent. Dinners come family-style, with a fabulous array of vegetables. Creamed greens, old-fashioned mashed potatoes, and oven-roasted root vegetables all satisfy deeply. Save room for dessert, too. You won’t be disappointed by the coconut cream pie, the chocolate cake, or any of the others. All in all, I can’t say enough about Flora’s. This is beautiful eating.
2. Mi Casa, in San José del Cabo’s art district, serves authentic regional Mexican cuisine in a casual open-air courtyard, heated by gas lamps, if necessary. Don’t be put off the strolling Mexican trio playing “Guantanamera.” Your meal will be mighty tasty. It might begin with the queso fundido, a small vat of melted Monterrey cheese mixed with pico de gallo and perked up by a splash of tequila. Of course there are all manner of ceviches, tacos, tostadas, enchiladas, and the like, as well as the classic soups of Mexico, like the sopa de tortilla or frijoles negros, otherwise known as black beans.
The grilled foods are well-seasoned and skillfully prepared. La sabana de pollo al carbón, pounded and grilled chicken breast, was flavorful for such a simple piece of protein, and my grilled rabbit, on the evening’s list of specials, was as good as any I can recall. The classic cochinita pibil of shredded pork was exemplary and you can’t get hurt by camarones jumbos — jumbo shrimp — however they’re prepared. The pastel de tres leches (“three-milk cake”) is a sweet ending.
3. Located well off the tourist routes in Cabo San Lucas, La Fonda also cooks up the Mexican classics. But this is not your typical local establishment. Starting with a strong margarita, you’ll recognize many of the usual standards of the Mexican kitchen, such as enchiladas and tacos, but executed at a high level. This is a real opportunity, though, for the more daring eaters to sample chapulines and gusanos, i.e., grasshoppers and worms, respectively. Or huitlacoche, known to us gringos as corn fungus. If that’s not to your taste, there’s no need to worry; the chef is dishing out genuine gastronomy. The 48-ingredient mole was a textbook example of the genre, enriched by ground nuts and cocoa, served with your choice of either chicken or pork. The lobster in soft tacos did not disappoint. From savory soups and sandwiches to serious sauces, this is the kind of excellent Mexican restaurant you wish you had in your own town.
Miguel Hidalgo Matamoros 23410
Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur, Mexico
+52 624 143 6926
4. Swim with the dolphins. If you’ve ever dreamt of cavorting with Flipper, there are two operations around Cabo where they’l take you for a ride. Literally. Get your wetsuit on and get in the water with these absolutely remarkable mammals. You spend an hour playing with them and they’ll take you for a spin around the water. The constant smiles on the kids’ faces made it worth the price. You have two options: one is Cabo Dolphins in downtown Cabo and the other is Ocean Riders in San Jose del Cabo. Cabo Dolphins felt a bit more “packaged”, and takes place in a huge pool, whereas Ocean Riders runs a more intimate experience from an enclosed area in the sea.
5. If you prefer to stay dry, you might appreciate a few hours whale watching, also offered by the aforementioned Ocean Riders in San Jose del Cabo. There is something uniquely spectacular about jetting around on a zippy, rubberized boat (that seats about 15) while chasing 50-foot long, 20-ton whales on a beautiful day at sea. Of course the payoff is when you behold these immense sea creatures doing their thing. For the less motion-inclined, there are also lovely sailboats and larger motorized vessels that offer similar sightings.
6. Speaking of motorized, get me on an ATV scooting and pouncing around the desert and I’m a happy camper. There are undoubtedly closer-by options, but we opted for the 45-minute ride to Motosol. In a word, wow. Be ready for a bumpy, yet beautiful 2-hour guided ride through the Baja that culminates with a glorious spin on the shoreline. Yes, there is a small element of potential danger involved, and a modicum of skill required, but if you’re feeling adventurous, this is the real deal.
7. You can find every major hotel chain in this part of the world, but if you’re among the fortunate who are feeling flush, you might consider lodging in luxury at one of the full-service resorts. The Esperanza offers sweeping views that overlook the dramatic coastline. Comfortable and spacious rooms include all the usual high-end amenities. Some even come with their own pools, but most guests congregate at one of the three large ones on the property, one of which is reserved for adults only. A stunning vista is the featured highlight throughout, from a bountiful breakfast buffet to outdoor cocktails and dinner at sunset…even making s’mores on the shore by night. Of course, with fine restaurants, a very well-equipped gym and spa, and helpful service, you can find any number of ways to revel in the splendor.
8. The One & Only Palmilla is special. Recognized by Conde Nast Traveler as the top resort in the region, some accommodations come with your own infinity pool…as well as your own butler. Think of it as a personal concierge. With a ratio of two employees for every guest, it’s clear they take their hospitality seriously. To say that the surroundings are lush and magnificent is an understatement. Whether you choose to fall asleep on a hammock implanted on the beach, enjoy a round of golf on their Jack Nicklaus designed 27-hole layout or just grab an ice cold cocktail at your seat in the pool, The One & Only is every bit about your leisurely pleasure. Three restaurants serve fine cuisine and libations; the gym and well-appointed spa can be used to compensate. Or better yet, lounge on the pristine sand under the Mexican sun as the pelicans fly above and contemplate the good fortune of your existence.
Photo Credit: The Los Cabos Convention and Visitors BureauPin It