The tip of the Baja peninsula is best known for its resort-lined beaches and the packed nightclubs of Cabo San Lucas. But there’s another side of the area, as well: rocky hills and forests of pine and oak trees, marshy inlets home to thousands of birds and marine life, boutiques lining a quaint town square. Tucked at the foot of the Sierra de la Laguna mountain range and just east of its rowdy sibling, San José del Cabo is the serene, scenic destination for visitors craving an off-the-grid vacation vibe.
Start your stay at the new JW Marriott Los Cabos Beach Resort & Spa. The hotel’s design, by architect Jim Olson, blends modern architecture with the spirit of the desert, featuring wood textures and warm tones throughout the 299 rooms and seven bars and restaurants. Dinner at executive chef Thierry Blouet’s Café des Artistes is a must.
Come morning, head to 7 Seas Seafood Grille on Acapulquito Beach. While surveying the day’s first surfers, dig into traditional Mexican machaca with scrambled eggs and corn tamales, or try the chilaquiles, a fried tortilla dish with chicken or eggs, beans and red or green sauce. Then throw on your swimsuit and get in the water; Acapulquito happens to be one of the best beaches for beginner surfers, and 7 Seas is owned by the Mike Doyle Surf School (a one-hour lesson includes board rental and rash guard).
One of Cabo’s most popular water adventures is snorkeling, and there’s arguably no place better than among the 900 varieties of colorful fish inhabiting the turquoise waters of the Sea of Cortez, once called “the world’s aquarium” by explorer Jacques Cousteau. Book a snorkel and sea adventure tour with Cabo Adventures, which includes power snorkeling (using handheld underwater propellers), stand-up paddle boarding and kayaking.
In the afternoon, cool down with a shaded walk through the Reserva Ecológica Estatal Estero de San José del Cabo, a protected wildlife sanctuary at the mouth of the San José River. Along with the rest of Cabo, the estuary is still recovering from 2014’s Hurricane Odile. Nonetheless, it is a tranquil place to observe the more than 200 bird species or enjoy a peaceful kayak ride.
A five-minute drive from the estuary will land you in downtown San José, a charming area filled with art galleries, cantinas and shops housed in colorful Spanish colonial buildings. Be sure to stroll past the gazebo and 18th century Misión de San José del Cabo Anuiti church to the cobblestoned streets just behind the main square on Thursday nights for the Gallery District’s popular Art Walk, featuring paintings, sculptures, jewelry and other works by local artists. Sip on wine as you peruse the pieces or head to La Lupita Taco & Mezcal to sample a selection of more than 30 mezcales. Beer fans will want to head next door to Baja Brewing Co. Founded in 2007 by Colorado native Jordan Gardenhire, the microbrewery—Cabo’s first—serves up craft draughts with a Mexican twist. Pick your brew (don’t miss the ultra-refreshing Baja Razz or hoppy Peyote Pale Ale) and enjoy nightly live music.
End your day in the middle of the desert (actually just a 15-minute drive from downtown) at the 25-acre Flora Farm and Flora’s Field Kitchen. In 2010, the property’s owners opened Flora’s Field Kitchen, a farm-to-table eatery offering only what they harvest and raise themselves. The kitchen turns out seasonal dishes including pork belly confit with mango marmalade and garden vegetables, and a separate wood-fired oven yields tasty pizzas: potato and rosemary with mozzarella and farm eggs or house-cured piloncillo bacon with cherry tomatoes.
WHERE TO STAY: Immerse yourself in luxury at the new beachfront JW Marriott Los Cabos Beach Resort & Spa with its expansive 21,000-square-feet Jasha Spa, where guests can book ancient pre-Columbian treatments such as the traditional temazcal, a Mexican sweat lodge used by ancient Aztecs to promote healing and health. Or opt for one of San José’s boutique properties, from the hip, modern Hotel El Ganzo, where guests can enjoy film screenings and live music, to the 19-room European-style Casa Natalia.
WHERE TO EAT: Just down the road from Flora Farm is the new and uber-hip Acre, a sustainable restaurant and bar that dishes up global cuisine inspired by local ingredients. Mixologist Dani Tatarin pours traditional Mexican cocktails with inventive twists—try the Espilego Fizz Mezcal with lavender syrup, fresh citrus, egg white and house bitters topped with soda.