Nestled within the cacti-lined valleys of Baja California, the coastal town of Todos Santos is comprised of a series of inconspicuous shops and inns, each disguised within fading facades and overgrown palms. Encompassed by the Sierra de la Laguna mountains and the Pacific, the town dates back to the early 18th century, when it was established as a mission. Remnants of the era can still be found today, clustered around the town’s modest plaza.
Today, Todos Santos is facing a touristic resurgence. It was dubbed a Pueblo Mágico, an initiative led by the Mexican tourism board to promote the smaller towns and villages that offer a “magical” experience. Todos Santos is fit for the bill. Artists flock to the oasis valley in search of a creative refresh. As a result, the town has come to be known for its growing art scene, galleries and creative shops popping up at every corner. Among them are the expats, which include a healthy number of American retirees, who’ve fled South for a more low key lifestyle.
The quiet streets of the town come lined with various shops, a mix of the old and authentic, and then the new and kitschy. Our afternoon begins at the main square by the old mission church, Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Pilar, a solid vantage point that provides easy access to the protruding streets that hold the various points of interest.
We make a lap around the inner perimeter of the city. It takes us 20 minutes, tops. We set out for another, retracing our steps, extending our walk to the further blocks, popping into the occasional boutique that catches our eye. We wade through the tourist traps, opting for the quaint, artisanal storefronts instead. Shops come lined with handwoven hammocks that exude a sense of relaxation merely from a look. I consider one for my studio apartment, a little piece of Mexico. Too bad I don’t have the square footage for it.
To the south, sits The Hotel California. Rumor has it, it’s one in the same of the eponymous song. But ask the locals, and they’ll all refute it, even though the establishment does happen to pre-date the song. Founded in 1947 by Chinese immigrant, Mr. Wong, the hotel has since become a mainstay of the town.
There’s no shortage of color in town!
We wander across the square, into the compact side streets, weaving through the empty sidewalks, pausing every few minutes or so to capture a beautiful door or a bigger-than-life cactus set against a vibrantly painted backdrop. The hotels of Todos Santos are sprinkled throughout the town, each with doors wide open, silent, and inviting. A dark, faded sign marks the Todos Santos Inn, with an exposed brick exterior. Inside, a vintage wooden reception desk stands unmanned. I take it as my cue to venture deeper within. Past the hotel bar, I make my way towards the patio, one that extends along the hacienda, framing the inn’s bespoke pool and garden, an oasis in every sense of the word. Only a handful of vacationers idle by, encapsulated in an air of bliss. A sentiment I find to be contagious.
The palm-wrapped pool at the Todos Santos Inn.
We’re in town for the annual film festival, which is tributing Mexican actor Damian Alcazar, with a viewing of his film The Thin Yellow Line. The theater dates back to the ’40s, its seats short and compact, built for a population of a completely different era. A concession stand is nowhere to be found, desperate for a snack to pull us over for the next couple of hours, we set out in search for a quick bite. The convenience stores come lightly stocked with a modest selection of potato chips in vibrantly colorful packaging, placed aside a dated freezer, packed with a handful of wrapped ice cream sandwiches. Finding neither option too appealing, we set out for the theater in defeat. A block away, we spot a corner bakery with its doors jarred open, a welcome sign at the front advertising the day’s treats. The coffeeshop looks no different than one that could be found in the heart of Brooklyn; whitewashed, sleek, and clad with a classic subway tile surround. They’ve been open for two days, the girl working the counter tells us. We walk out, warm cookies in hand.
The magic of Todos Santos sinks in, as we make our way back to the theater. It’s 6 PM and the sun has begun to set, casting a jewel-toned glow that masks the town. Somewhere in the distance a folk song plays from a vintage boombox, and everyone in the square scatters inside the theater. Todos Santos is a dream.
Where To Stay
True to its name, La Bohemia Baja is an oasis of sorts, nestled within the outskirts of town. A lush, tropical garden surrounds a bright blue pool. Book fast though, the hotel only holds eight rooms.
This 15-room, boutique hotel sits in the heart of downtown and boasts a beautifully modern decor scheme that emulates the nearby desert landscape.
Guaycura runs on the more luxurious side, and there’s no denying the opulence of the resort. Its modern meets traditional structure is a welcomed juxtaposition against the terrain.
Spots You Won’t Want To Miss
Pop into one of the city’s many art galleries, clustered alongside the main street, extending from one end of the town to the other. The works displayed throughout encompass a number of famed Mexican artists, whose reach has extended globally.
Galeria de Todos Santos
Huerta Las Palmas | Canada Del Diablo, Todos Santos, Mexico
Head here to view the works of local artist Jill Logan.
For an authentic taste of the local culture, this seafood-centric eatery promises a meal full of fresh flavors and the best ceviche in town.
Between the cacti garden and the traditional flavors of the menu, Los Adobes de Todos Santos is a must for lunch!