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East to Eden

Exploring the unspoiled gems of San José del Cabo.

By David Comden

Photo by Courtesy of Flora Farms

Fed by natural well water, Flora Farms is both an oasis in the arid hillsides of Baja and a sustainable farming operation, serving up organic farm-to-table cuisine in its casually chic restaurant.

 

or nearly a century, tourists from around the world have visited the fishing village of Cabo San Lucas at the southern tip of Baja California. Cabo, on the western side of the cape, has for some time been the star of the sun-and-surf show. But over the past few years, adventurers seeking a different experience have explored the east coast of San Lucas. The result has been the construction of chain resorts and condo developments dotting the beaches in the area known as “The Corridor,” where tourists stay on premises that differ little from Hawaii or Cancun.

Meanwhile, another destination has emerged, that of San José del Cabo, both as a quaint town, harbor and gateway to somewhat still undeveloped territory to the east.

The Town of San José del Cabo
Originally founded as a mission in 1730, San José del Cabo is the seat of the municipality and has a population similar to that of Ventura. What was not long ago a sleepy town has emerged into a seasonally thriving destination for food and art, with a recently expanded harbor and amenities to supply those who live further east along the coast. Cabo is known as a surfing destination, and the East Cape is known for its warm water, consistent waves and, occasionally, hurricane activity.

Downtown San José is a collection of old commercial buildings and new retail shops and restaurants. Where once there was only typical Mexican cuisine, you can now find more upscale and diverse offerings. Catching onto the craze of locally produced beverages, a few breweries have come to life, notably Baja Brewing, a stone’s throw from the San José del Cabo Church in the civic center.

Originally built along the river bordering the town, the mission and its church suffered through insurrection and weather, and were abandoned in the 18th century. The church was rebuilt in its present location in San José’s historic district in 1840. Like many settings in Latin America, the church grounds are a meeting place for residents to gather, worship and socialize.

Local Tastes
One of the more popular eateries sits next door to the brewery. La Lupita Taco & Mezcal is a restaurant with interesting food and an intimate patio, where musicians perform on an elevated stage above restaurant patrons. With a rough-lux feel of brick walls and black metal-framed windows, this eatery’s atmosphere reminds me of Gjusta or Scopa in Venice Beach. But it’s the food and style of presentation that make this a destination. The menu features exotic tacos made with lamb, pork, duck, steak, fish and octopus. For vegetarians, there are also mushroom, cactus and eggplant tacos. In addition, a wide selection of mescal, tequila’s smoky cousin, is served in traditional tasting cups. I was entertained by the chef who nimbly sliced the pastor pork cooking on a shawarma-styled spit, who then flicked various condiments into each taco he prepared with a long knife.

After dining, take time to walk the city streets, where galleries and handcrafted folk art beckon. Or pop into one of several tequila tasting rooms for s sip. There are hundreds of types of tequilas, a distilled spirit made from the blue agave plant in the western state of Jalisco, Mexico, each having its own unique flavor characteristics. But that’s a story for another time.

A different way to hotel
There are dozens of hotels and resorts between Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo, but further east you’ll find more intriguing options. Not far from San José is Puerto Los Cabos, a growing destination for pleasure boats, with over 220 slips, and where yachts can be seen departing for fishing trips and cruising the coast. Hotel El Ganzo stands at the mouth of the marina. A 70-room upscale resort affectionately referred to as a “hipster hangout” by its founder, El Ganzo offers fine dining, quiet surroundings and a unique artistic flair. (It has an artist in residence and a recording studio.) The rooftop pool and Plexiglas spa are unusual features.

Another option is Hotel Casa Natalia, a boutique hotel decorated in colorful Mexican style with a touch of whimsy. It’s located in San José’s downtown zócalo (main square), and walking distance from many restaurants and shops. If you want a taste of how the locals spend their evenings, peruse the city center on a warm evening and take a little walk after dinner.

Flora Farms: An Emerald Oasis
They say that it takes 10 years to become an overnight success. In Flora Farms’ case, call it 20. But it has definitely arrived. This off-the-beach oasis is the vision of Gloria and Patrick Greene, who in 1996 opened Cabo’s first organic restaurant. Since then, the 200-acre farm is home to Flora’s Field Kitchen restaurant, serving premium organic produce and meats (but no beef, as it is not sustainable in Baja’s arid desert) from its nearby 150-acre ranch.

When you drive over the hill from the marina and first see Flora Farms in its own valley, you’ll be amazed that anything that green can exist. Genius was the idea to take this barren property and tap into the natural well water that lives beneath the surface: The river that travels from the mountains flows mostly underground until it resurfaces in the San José Estuary.

Bird Lovers’ Paradise
Located 16 miles outside San José del Cabo, the Sierra de la Laguna Mountain Range is one of several UNESCO protected biosphere reserves in the Baja California Peninsula.

It is truly beautiful and, with climates that range from semi-arid to temperate sub-humid, home to several different ecosystems and numerous endemic species. Rain water from the range flows mostly underground all the way to the estuary of San José, where thousands of birds can be viewed at certain times of the year.

Cabo and the Corridor built their reputations on a heady mix of sun, surf and tequila-soaked soirees. But something different awaits those who venture northeast on the peninsula. The way to San José is truly a journey full of hidden gems and delightful surprises.

Baja Brewing Company
Morelos 1277 e/Comonfort y Obregon
+52 624.142.5294
www.bajabrewingcompany.com

La Lupito Taco & Mezcal
José Maria Morelos s/n, Gallery District, Centro
+52 624.688.3926
www.lalupitatym.com

Hotel El Ganzo
Blvd. Tiburón s/n, La Playita
+52 624.104.9000
www.elganzo.com

Hotel Casa Natalia
Blvd. Mijares 4, Centro
888.277.3814
www.casanatalia.com

Flora Farms
Carretera Transpeninsular San José del Cabo Km. 30,
Las Ánimas Bajas
+52 624.142.1000
www.flora-farms.com

The Estuary of San José
www.itravel-cabo.com/about-los-cabos/the-estuary.aspx

Flora’s Field Kitchen, which sometimes offers live musical entertainment.
Photo courtesy of Flora Farms

San José del Cabo is an intriguing mix of traditional spirit and modern eclecticism. Hotel El Ganzo, for example, comes by its “hipster hangout” moniker honestly, offering a rooftop pool and Plexiglass spa.
Courtesy of Photomexico/ Francisco Estrada

Hotel El Ganzo has it's own recording studio and artist in residence.
Courtesy of Photomexico/ Francisco Estrada

At La Lupita Taco & Mezcal (left) you’ll find an intimate patio, fantastic tacos with unusual ingredients (such as octopus, lamb and cactus) and a rough-lux vibe.
Photo courtesy of Flora Farms

Libations made from freshly picked ingredients go down easy at Flora Farms.
Photo courtesy of Flora Farms

04-01-2019

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