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Surprising pockets of tranquility in Southern Baja.
I’m on the street in downtown Cabo San Lucas and the carnage is jaw dropping. No, I’m not talking about the aftermath of last fall’s Hurricane Odile—the city has bounced back nicely from that, thank you very much. I’m talking about an early-morning scene outside Cabo Wabo—the mega-bar owned by erstwhile Van Halen singer Sammy Hagar. This bricks-and-mortar ode to all things bro is the type of establishment that begins each day with a literal hosing down of the previous night’s festivities, and to be honest, before I arrived I assumed that getting blitzed on cheap tequila and muchas Coronas was standard operating procedure for a trip to the tip of Baja. Cancun has all-inclusives, Acapulco has, well, crime, and Cabo is all about party, party, party.What I didn’t expect was that scattered among the beer-pong pavilions and vendors hawking serapes with Edmonton Eskimos logos, there exist moments of serene beauty: empty beaches and vistas over the Sea of Cortez that you can have all to yourself if you just know where to look. For every pod of frat boys, there’s a pod of migrating humpback whales; for every all-you-can-eat hotel buffet, there’s a small producer crafting handmade food for the pilgrims who are willing to seek it out. #1Secret gardenThere’s no substitute for being first. When the original Palmilla hotel was built in 1956 by the son of Mexico’s president, they had their pick of locales on the then largely untouched coastline. That’s why it has the best swimming beach on the Pacific side and foliage that makes you feel like you’re in the Amazon instead of a coastal desert—all framing a timeless design that keeps most of its patrons on-site for the duration of their stay. The One&Only Palmilla is movie-star pricey (rooms start at $455), and as a result is often filled with movie stars. But if you’re looking for the calmest spot in the Cabo corridor, with an on-site Jean-Georges Vongerichten restaurant and a resort-owned 95-foot Catari yacht (and a 40-foot Azimut yacht for backup) moored offshore, look no further. #2 A Perfect Road TripThe highway between the touristy Cabo San Lucas and the more chill San José del Cabo is packed with cars and lined with resorts, but stray even a bit from the main drag and you enter a desertscape. A quick drive up to the East Cape brings you to the village of Los Zacatitos, where Vancouver architecture firm Campos Leckie has constructed a number of off-the-grid modern masterpieces that will have you plotting early retirement, while the miles-from-anywhere Zac’s Bar and Grill provides serviceable lunch fare to sustain your exploration. There’s a rumour that a slew of new resorts (including a Four Seasons) will be opening in these parts in the near future, so capture some magical desolation before it’s gone. #3Dramatic diningUsually the most memorable thing about a meal at a high-end hotel restaurant is the cardiac arrest-inducing bill at the end of the night. Not at the Resort at Pedregal’s El Farallon, where your journey starts by driving though a thousand-foot tunnel, complete with chandeliers, bored through a mountain, which is the hotel’s sole point of access. You then are seated along a very narrow isthmus, with the mountain on one side and the ocean a few metres below on the other, where you will spend the rest of the night trying to concentrate on your meal (prepared by a chef who trained under Thomas Keller) as the waves dramatically smash just below your table. If the surf is high, a blanket is quickly proffered. Of all the meals you’re likely to have in Baja, this will be the most unforgettable.#4 A Creative RetreatThe eclectic, electric Hotel El Ganzo would not be the first place on a list of where to relax. The boutique lodging, conceived of by one of the scions of the Corona beer fortune, is famous for hosting the likes of Slash and Charlie Sheen while their entourages frolic in the clear-bottomed pool. But beating beneath the slick surface is a site dedicated to the creative classes—there are in-house artists and writers, and beautifully spare public spaces—who don’t mind taking a small tender to the most low-key, private Beach Club in the area, in order to best contemplate future masterpieces. #5Adult TimeAfter partiers, Cabo’s most common patrons are families living the all-inclusive dream, and its perfect weather and glorious beaches are ideal for them. But if you’re without little ones (even temporarily, especially temporarily), what you need is a spot that channels everything that’s great about not having kids, and that’s where Esperanza comes in. Do you need to be an adult to love that almost every room has a stunning ocean view? A sublime oceanfront restaurant that practically terraces right into the sea? Complimentary TRX classes or outdoor yoga? A desert clay purification treatment in the spa? Probably not, but you’ll appreciate them far more, especially as the resort is just reopening from a major (welcome but unnecessary) refresh.#6A Country IdyllThe organic movement has come slowly to Baja, but just add water to the near-perfect growing conditions and you have a retreat like Huerta Los Tamarindos: a multi-acre organic farm, a back-to-basics cooking school and a low-key restaurant showcasing the best of the first two. You’re only a mile from the water, but there’s an authentic vibe that feels far away from the rest of Baja. It’s also, oddly, the best place to source real handicrafts (no sombreros) from the rest of Mexico in its small but well-curated gift store. #7A Grown Up DrinkJust because you’re not down with throwing back tequilas with the shooter girl doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a drink. Flora’s Farm Bar sits in a sheltered valley just outside San José, and the small development/restaurant/working farm seems like the type of planned community Charlie Trotter might have designed. Try a Farmarita, a take on the local fave that uses heirloom carrot juice and Cazadores tequila, and is best taken among the rows of produce.