Located at the tip of the Baja California Sur peninsula, that long and narrow stretch of land that extends south across the border from the state of California, Los Cabos seems a natural choice for racing luxury sailboats. Here, you’ll find all the trappings of paradise: the white sand beaches, the swaying palm trees, the aquamarine waves. Of course, with these trappings come the tourists—millions of them every year. And they’ve left their mark, on both the landscape and the once-sleepy fishing community’s international reputation. While I’d never been to Cabo before this trip, the word alone conjures disturbing mental images of a sunburned Sammy Hagar screaming “SPRING BREEAAAAAKK!” and puking over the side of a boat. Which, to be fair, is probably something that has happened here at least once.
But although hotel employees still shudder visibly at the mere mention of March, there’s a lot more to Los Cabos than the stereotypes suggest. First off, the name refers to two separate cities: San Jose del Cabo is the quiet sister, with a charming city square and weekly art walks through the gallery district; Cabo San Lucas is where most tourists go, all rowdy bars and white sand beaches lined with resorts.
My own expectations start to shift the moment I pull up to the Bahia Hotel & Beach House in San Lucas, where two other journalists and I will stay for the long weekend. Once the home of Oscar Montaño Herrera, a local fishing legend better known as Don Yoka, the hotel now belongs to a couple from New York. A sleek lobby opens out to the stylish Bar Esquina, where a mix of tourists and locals sip mezcal cocktails and munch ceviche on an open-air dining terrace hung with pendant lights.
We spend the first day of the Sailing Series at Breathless Cabo San Lucas, the last resort on Medano Beach, sipping tequila and watching the boats cruise around the bay. That night it’s over to another resort, Pueblo Bonito, for a swanky party to kick off the Series. There are Greco-Roman statues in the lobby and black swans swimming in a fountain out front. “Sailing is a metaphor for business,” says a blonde guy with glasses who looks very rich. “The boat is the shop floor, and the sailors are managers.”
“Indeed,” I say, heading over to the buffet table to load my plate with free sushi.
The next day begins as I wish every day could—with breakfast on the beach. SUR Beach House serves fresh takes on Mexican cuisine: sweet baked conchas dipped in dulce de leche, chilaquiles doused in cheese and three types of salsa, eggs scrambled with machaca, a traditional sun-dried and rehydrated beef originating in the north of Mexico.
After breakfast, we drive out along the coast. The landscape grows arid and giant cardon cacti spring up beside the roads like witch fingers. Our guide tells us they can grow over 40 feet tall and live up to 500 years, even on bare rock, with psychoactive properties to boot. I’m sure there’s a metaphor here, but I’m lulled into a stupor as I gaze out at the passing coastline. The beaches here are stunning but unswimmable, which keeps them pristine—no resorts, no tourists, just stretches of sand and the great blue beyond. Eventually, we pull up to a white tower with a long curly slide, stark against the desert backdrop like something out of Mad Max. Beside it sits the outpost for Cabo Adventures, a hut stacked with helmets and gear, which serves as the starting post for off-roading trips through the southernmost reaches of the Sonoran Desert.
I’m a little nervous. The last time I went ATVing, I almost flew off a cliff. But the Polaris UTVs Cabo Adventures provides are far more agile than the lawnmower-like clunker that nearly killed me last February. I quickly grow comfortable behind the wheel, and before long, I’m Cruella De Viling my way through dry brush, bouncing over sandy wheel tracks and trying not to whack my passenger in the face with passing branches. The desert is a soothing place, wild and unfamiliar enough to hollow out your soul, at least for a few moments. It gives you a break from yourself.
We drive past a waterfall, then out to a vacant stretch of beach. Well, not entirely vacant. Locals have marked sea turtle nests with sticks; come hatching time, tourists will pay to help the baby turtles journey from their nests to the water.
After our ride, we head back to camp caked in desert dust for a hard-earned lunch of sopes, circles of fried masa topped with beans, chorizo, stewed chicken, and veggies served out of steaming clay pots. We’re feasting under a thatched palapa on the beach when suddenly: “Look! Out there in the ocean!” A pair of whales are spouting on the horizon—some early arrivals down from the Bering Sea, ready to spend the winter months breeding and feeding in the warm waters around the peninsula. It’s impossible not to fall in love, even from such a distance.
After a shower and a quick rest, we head to El Merkado, a trendy, modern food hall packed with upscale bars and restaurants. At La Carreta, we snack on tlayudas, a kind of crunchy Mexican flatbread made from toasted tortilla, refried bean spread, and Oaxaca cheese, washing it down with flights of locally brewed beer from La Querida and cocktails from The Office made with damiana, my new favorite ingredient. Made from an herb that grows wild in the Baja, it has a sweet, floral flavor and is said to treat depression, bedwetting, headaches, and constipation, while also acting as a serious aphrodisiac. The bartender mixes it with tequila, Cointreau, OJ, and lemon juice and calls the drink La Nalguita Feliz, which translates to something along the lines of “happy butt cheeks.” Seems apt.
Dinner takes place at CarbónCabrón, the shared brainchild of brothers Alfonso and Ignacio Cadena. A dark sister to their two all-white concepts, La Leche (which means "milk") in Puerto Vallarta and Hueso (which means "bone") in Guadalajara, CarbónCabrón (which means something along the lines of “charred bastard”), brings a similar symbiosis of flavor and design. Architect Ignacio has painted the walls black, with floor-to-ceiling stacks of smoked wood logs—more than 6,000 in all—sectioning off shared dining tables. Chef Alfonso mans an enormous grill spitting flames and stacked with caveman-sized bones of sizzling marrow he’ll sprinkle with parmesan to form a brulee-like crust. “When people think grills, they think meat,” says the chef, who resembles an aging rock star (which, in fact, he is) with his shaggy gray hair and goatee. “But you should see what I can do with vegetables.”
He’s not lying. The elote is to die for, corn cobs charred smoky, their creaminess defying the light mustard and garlic vinaigrette that dresses them. There’s grilled melon and asparagus and a carrot that tastes like it was grown on a superior planet. Margaritas are blackened with activated charcoal. I leave smelling like a campfire, and I don’t even mind.