This Mexican Paradise Is a Four-Hour Nonstop Flight from PDX

With farm dinners, chic rooftop bars, and an art-studded bike path, Los Cabos mellows out.

By Hannah Wallace October 10, 2016 Published in the November 2016 issue of Portland Monthly

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Enjoy pools within pools at El Ganzo in San José del Cabo.

Give it a few months. Come the height of winter, when Portland’s unrelenting rain has got you down, you may find yourself fantasizing about sunnier climes—maybe a place where happy hour means margaritas served poolside while whales frolic in the sea just beyond. Such a paradise exists, and thanks to Alaska’s nonstop flight from PDX, it’s a mere four hours away, on the southernmost tip of Mexico’s Baja peninsula.

Los Cabos—which includes Cabo San Lucas, its more charming sister, San José del Cabo, and everything along the 20 miles of Transpeninsular Highway in between—has a reputation for upscale resorts and overhyped bars (not to mention time-share hustlers on every corner). While that rep may still hold, recent years have also seen the region develop a quirkier, more holistic side. Now, in addition to parasailing, snorkeling, and whale watching, you can dine at an organic farm, check out alt-pop bands at a chic rooftop bar, and load up on local produce at a lively farmers market. There’s even a new bike path on the marina in San José del Cabo, studded with sculpture from famed Mexican surrealist Leonora Carrington. Feel that? It’s your cultural metabolism kicking in.


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Modernist hotel El Ganzo welcomes with art and hip amenities

Maybe it’s the free bike rentals or the (literally) underground recording studio, but El Ganzo feels more like Portland than most Cabo pads. Located at the San José del Cabo marina across from the fish market, this hotel was hit hard by 2014’s category 4 Hurricane Odile, but reopened last November with more style than ever. Don’t miss the rooftop bar with its sexy infinity pool, glass-sided hot tub, and concerts by indie bands like Mexico City’s Hello Seahorse. (Rooms are $300 and up.) For others, paradise feels closer to Esperanza, the manicured 57-casita property on Punta Ballena. Take your pick of two private beaches and four pools—three of which boast swim-up bars. (Another has in-water lounge chairs facing the Sea of Cortez.) The resort, which also sustained hurricane damage, reopened in June 2015 with a farmhouse-chic aesthetic: think earth tones and weathered wooden cabinets. Luxury comes at a price: entry-level rooms start at $650, with amenities like in-room binoculars, iPads, yoga classes, and a dedicated concierge. For the more budget-conscious traveler, the Bahia Hotel’s 86 rooms offer down pillows, firm mattresses, and a prime location next to Médano Beach starting at $132 a night—making this choice popular with partying college students on spring break. (Book accordingly.)


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A cocktail topped with a veritable garden at Flora’s Field Kitchen

You may have to dodge cows and dust en route to Huerta Los Tamarindos, the latest restaurant from peripatetic chef-farmer Enrique Silva. But once at this 17-acre organic farm outside of San José del Cabo, you’ll find a plant-forward bounty supplied by Silva’s own kitchen garden: he macerates just-plucked herbs and mesquite-roasts heirloom tomatoes, crowns arugula salad with curls of octopus, and chars peppers, eggplant, and zucchini to pair with crispy oven-roasted chicken. This farm-to-table ethos also crops up at Flora’s Field Kitchen, located on a 10-acre organic farm, where the open-air dining—beet carpaccio with goat cheese, rabbit agnolotti in sage brown butter, grilled tuna with harissa and grilled farm vegetables—feels like a communal dinner party. (Reservations suggested.) Not ready to call it a night? Consider the Bahia’s Bar Esquina. By day, this family-friendly restaurant serves huevos rancheros for breakfast and club sandwiches for lunch. But come dinnertime, the alfresco space morphs into a swanky lounge with live music, wood-fired pizza, and wines sourced from Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico’s answer to the Willamette Valley.

Traditionalists gravitate to Los Tres Gallos for cochinita pibil (slow-roasted shredded pork marinated in citrus and achiote) and cecina de Yecapixtla
(grilled beef served with grilled cactus, scallions, and black beans)—well-paired with a hibiscus or tamarind margarita. Eating on the cheap? Fill up on salsa-fied fish tacos, shrimp quesadillas, and Negro Modelos at Gardenias, a modest, family-run taqueria near Médano Beach.


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Esperanza’s terraced plein air dining stretches to the sea

Snorkelers head to crystal-clear Chileno Bay, a public beach 12 miles west of San José del Cabo. Go early, before the water gets rough, for unfettered access to angelfish, Moorish idols, yellowtail surgeonfish, and, if you’re lucky, the juvenile yellowtail damselfish, with its neon blue speckles. And come Saturday, make for the Mercado Organico in San José Del Cabo: a festive riot of live music, crafts, face painting, yoga, coffee, and street eats from tamales to fresh bread and juices. Try the tlacoyo—a grilled masa cake stuffed with fava beans or cheese, topped with grilled nopales, queso fresco, and salsa—and stock up on organic produce and local textiles. Or just find a patch of grass and soak up the very un-Portland sun.

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