todos santos baja california sur mexico
Todos Santos - Another World Only an Hour Away
Article from Los Cabos Magazine - Issue #4 - October 1996.

Only 73 kilometers (about 43 miles) north of Cabo San Lucas, yet as different as east from west, Todos Santos sits below the towering Sierra de la Laguna mountains at the end of a beautiful and scenic drive on the Pacific Ocean coast. On a mesa overlooking a valley of orchards and gardens, a mile or so from the Pacific, Todos Santos is verdant with groves of Washingtonian palms, mangos, papayas, avocados and other crops. As recently as 1990, it was a sleepier place. The chic Café Santa Fé Restaurant, in part responsible for the town's 20th century renaissance, was still under construction. Galeria Todos Santos, and the Todos Santos Inn, were distant gringo dreams. Those days saw only a smattering of artists' studios, a few seafood restaurants, and the champagne brunch at the El Molino Trailer Park was something special.

A scant six years later, we're here on a mission to discover the new Todos Santos of the travel pages. A popular diversion from Los Cabos, curious folks are pouring in by the hundreds for what the Los Angeles Times calls "Bohemian Baja." Some think the town will become as trendy as Carmel, California. Upscale travel magazines print mood pieces, and real estate prices skyrocket. The sleepy town now bustles, but only until about eight in the evening. The town's latest heyday is happening. Yet the history of the area shows that booms aren't often sure things.

The continuous water supply from nearby peaks, which fed underground springs and resulting lush vegetation, made the area popular with primitive tribes. The latter day Muséo de la Casa de Cultura, near the main plaza, has a permanent exhibit of artifacts including the 3,000 year old Mantancita man. He was found in a secondary burial site, de-fleshed and with his bones painted red ochre. The museum also houses 20 Pericue Indian skulls painted in the same manner, plus other examples of indigenous history.

Like San José del Cabo, Todos Santos was a calling point for the Mission of Our Lady Pilar of La Paz. Colonized by Jesuit missionaries in 1723, crops were introduced by Padre Jaime Bravo. His successor, Padre Taraval, narrowly escaped death during the Pericue uprising of 1734. By the end of the century, the mission was almost abandoned, and by the early 1800's it had withered away; most of the natives dead from epidemics. By the Governor's decree, mission lands were distributed during the 1840's; and the town all but went to sleep.

Todos Santos languished until its rebirth as a mid-nineteenth century sugar cane center. At its peak, there were a half-dozen sugar mills, and a thriving agricultural economy. By the turn of the century, the prosperous town had developed a refined, vibrant culture that included two theaters. Todos Santos became the home of artists and sculptors and others involved in the arts. Sadly, drought and falling sugar prices left the place for dead in 1950. It became a ghost town for the next thirty years and was rarely visited.

In 1981, the water supply mysteriously returned, but sugar cane cultivation was not revived. Fruit and vegetable farming replaced the cane fields; sustained by government water management. Since 1984, when Highway 19 was paved to La Paz and Cabo San Lucas, the town's population has steadily increased to approximately 8,000 today.

For the visitor, Todos Santos is easily explored in a day or less, offers a pleasant day of good shopping and gastronomic pleasures; plus a bit of beachcombing if you're so inclined. The weather is temperate until mid-summer, when the town barely moves until the annual bash for the Virgin of Pilar of La Paz, on October 12th. A fitting beginning, Highway 19 intersects town a block from a red brick abandoned sugar mill stack on Calle Juarez, the main street. Sugar mill ruins can also be found at El Molino Trailer Park, behind the town's only Pemex gas station. Calle Juarez is only seven or eight blocks long; shops of interest pop up here and there. Fenix features gorgeous hand-painted clothing from the mainland, and Casa Franco specializes in local mountain pottery, crafts and furniture. Worth a stop is Mano a Mano (Hand to Hand), Paul Van Vleck's eclectic venture. Featuring crafts, furniture and art from the region, photographer Van Vleck, an American sprite in his mid-thirties, also shows his work. He teaches yoga, rents mountain bikes, and leads expeditions into the neighboring sierras. He has been a force in the recent bohemian path of Todos Santos.

Not far up the street is the 1928 Hotel California, rumored to be the same of the famous Eagle's song. There doesn't seem to be much fact behind this wishful thinking, but the hotel sells lots of souvenir T-shirts. Constructed in part from planks salvaged from a shipwrecked Norwegian vessel, the hotel is intimate and comfortable. With 15 rooms, a pool, and a good restaurant, the Hotel California is the most upscale of old Todos Santos.

Further up Juarez at Hidalgo, is Tecolote Books. Jane Perkin's bookstore is a local mecca for books on Baja subjects and fiction by Latin authors. She also has a good selection of used books and a well stocked magazine rack. Very knowledgeable about the area and its arts and crafts heritage, Perkins is a vibrant fixture on the local scene. Behind Tecolote Books is the Todos Santos Message Center. Just about everyone new in town without a FAX or phone gets their messages through Jennifer Deaville. In the same complex is a beauty salon; the al fresco El Patio for snacks; the Galeria Todos Santos Annex; and Bellos Caprichos which houses Pat Cope's collection of quality silver jewelry and accessories from Todos Santos and the mainland.

Michael and Pat Cope opened the Todos Santos Gallery at Calle Legaspi and Topete several years ago. In the corner section of the recently opened Todos Santos Inn, the gallery shows works of artists such as abstract expressionist Gabo from La Paz; Charles Stewart, Gloria Marie V. and Nanette Hayles-Coffman from Todos Santos; Dennis Wentworth Porter and Antonio Viveros from San José del Cabo, and transplanted L. A. artist Michael Cope's modern art.

The Todos Santos Inn, a three room bed and breakfast, is the brainchild of Robert Whiting, from Boston. Built in the 1880's, the inn has a colorful history. A strong reminder to the affluence that once possessed Todos Santos, the murals on the main entrance walls were painted by Mexican artist Carlos Zamora in the 1930's. Whiting has plans to open two more rooms and a small pool by the end of this year. The Inn is tastefully furnished, allowing the high ceilings and 19th century architecture to dominate. With a spacious covered terraza overlooking an enchanting garden area, one envies guests their peace and solitude.

On the high corner of Centenario and Topete, is the Caffé Todos Santos, a local hangout with great baked goods, an espresso machine, full breakfasts and deli style menu. Owner Mark Spahl makes a mean fresh fruit liquado, or smoothie, from products grown on his nearby farm. With umbrellas and tables on the sidewalk outside, overlooking part of the historic town center, the cafe is a people-watcher's delight.

Across the street from Caffé Todos Santos, in another restored building, is Perico Azul, an elegant clothing store favoring the ladies. Dresses are fresh and cool in a gorgeous selection of prints and fabrics.

The studio home of artist Charles Stewart is on the corner of Centenario and A. Obregon. Stewart came to Todos Santos from Taos, New Mexico in 1986. His wife Mary Lou recalls how the Mexican government touted the town as an artist's colony in 1987 and '88, back in the days when Charles, now 73, was the only internationally known artist around. On most days the studio is open from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., when guests are invited to browse through his watercolors and admire sculptures and cast bronzes. If they are not in, Stewart's work is on display at the Galeria Todos Santos.

Much has been written about the Café Santa Fé, owned by Paula and Ezio Colombo, housed in an 1850's hacienda-style building. Situated across from the plaza and Teatro Marquez de Leon, the restaurant has been a culinary oasis to those as far away as La Paz. Internationally known for their star quality as well as first rate cuisine, the Colombos are a charismatic team; he Italian, she Afro-American. While they can't take all of the credit for the town's revival, it is a rather strange fact that there are fewer day-trippers from Los Cabos on Tuesdays, when the Café Santa Fé is closed.

Paula Colombo's Galeria Santa Fé, a few steps up the street from the restaurant, is a original mix of local mountain crafts, hand-painted plates, figurines and original art. She sells exquisite, hand-shaped pottery from the local mountains, and possibly the best examples of local palo de arco wood furniture and crafts available. Local crafts and techniques using the palo de arco bush, so named for its flexibility, are enjoying a revival in the area. American architect Patrick Coffman has built four homes over the last five years, using the centuries old technique of palo de arco and adobe. Combined with innovative, modern design and palapa (palm) roofs, Coffman's homes are easily recognizable for their charming, yet stylish appearance. He also designs and produces custom furniture from local products. Most of his clients live on "the other side", west of town, overlooking the Pacific, in an area popular with foreigners.

Along with new boutiques and galerias come new restaurants and Todos Santos now boasts some of the best cuisine around. Margaritas, off Degollado on Olachea (look for the sign on the corner), is serving the champagne brunch she made famous at the El Molino Trailer Park in days gone by. In the same area on Degollado, is the Pacific Grill, serving tasty grilled seafood, chicken and steaks at affordable prices. Their Corona beer, served bien frio, is the perfect accompaniment to a hot day.

La Caravella, at Degollado and Juarez, is a newish Italian restaurant. Featuring al fresco dining in a terraced garden setting, the location alone is enough to draw you in. Lunching there recently, we enjoyed a delicious meal of fresh grilled fish and homemade pasta. Over on Colegio Militar, next door to Mission de Pilar, is Carlos Amador's El Pariente. Amador moved here from Ensenada in 1994. His restaurant, featuring fresh fish and simple cuisine from local products, is a bargain. Most dishes are in the $5 range, and Sr. Amador is a delight to talk to. Not far away is Las Casitas, a colorfully painted bed and breakfast nestled in a garden setting on Calle Rangel, one block from the northeast side of Colegio Militar. Canadian artist Wendy Faith serves a very relaxed, homestyle breakfast and lunch on her slumped glass dinnerware...also for sale. Working out of her studio next to the restaurant, Faith keeps busy running her four bungalow B&B. From British Columbia, she's interesting to chat with as she prepares your meal.

Significantly cooler than Los Cabos most of the year due to Pacific breezes, Todos Santos is an ideal getaway during the spring and early summer months. Just over an hour away from Cabo San Lucas, the difference in mood and climate is extraordinary. Though the town may be experiencing a renaissance, it's still a quiet respite from the bustle of Los Cabos. In spite of rumors of more tourist development, for Todos Santos, a small jewel near the Pacific, fishing and agriculture still remain the primary way of life.

Article from Los Cabos Magazine - Issue #4 - October 1996.

Todos Santos, Baja California Sur, Mexico - Last Revision - 30 April 2007 - jat