By SHERRY SPITSNAUGLE
Motorcycles gunned their engines on a busy street of Todos Santos, in Mexico’s coastal state of Baja California Sur, as I bit into a juicy pork taco smothered in tomatillo, followed by a healthy swig of icy Pacifico beer.
A friend and I sat at a cardboard table on the small patio of Tacos Isaac, just yards from the street, as carne asada smoldered on the grill. This was my kind of place: the holy grail of street tacos.
Todos Santos had always been on my list of places to visit, but I didn’t make it a priority until my friend Lisa moved here in 2020 in the middle of the pandemic. She has been exploring, eating, shopping, building a home and living like a local since she arrived.
An hour’s drive north of Cabo San Lucas, this quirky town had been called the Wild West of Baja. Rules and regs seem to be optional. (We saw a five-year-old riding a motorcycle down a busy street.) It was only my first night in the town of “All Saints,” and I was already smitten by this laidback community of surfer dudes, artists, spiritualists and expats.
After living there a couple of years, Lisa knew where to get the best fish tacos, beach massage, caffeine and lodging. Todos Santos has much to love.
One: Serendipity Lodge a Three-minute Walk from Secluded Beach
Staying at Serendipity, a lodge on the edge of town, was my favorite thing about visiting Todos Santos. As we drove along a dusty, rutted path to get to Serendipity, a dog chased Lisa’s truck, kids played on the side of the road, and a gardener raked palm fronds in front of a swanky, vacant-looking, two-story house. At first, the area felt remote and almost too quiet. But, then, we passed through a security gate to access the property and entered a tropical oasis. Bougainvillea and poinsettias bloomed, moisture from the ocean and floral fragrance hung in the air, and a tail-wagging pup came to say hello. Owner Sharon Morris emerged from her private quarters and greeted us both like old pals, which she and Lisa are.
Morris and her husband built the lodge 26 years ago when they moved to Todos Santos from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Her husband has since passed away, but Sharon has continued to operate the business, even after Hurricane Odile destroyed much of the landscaping and structures in 2016.
My private casita had a kitchen, living room, two tiled bathrooms and three resident geckos. The screen door stuck and I never could close it tight, but I wasn’t looking for perfection. Several family members in a wedding party, staying at the lodge, introduced themselves and welcomed us like relatives.
Later, we compared notes on restaurants within walking distance: Poke Loko has a great patio and serves sashimi and pizza, they told me, and Shakti Bowl specializes in quinoa bowls.
The next morning, I awoke at 6 a.m. and followed the easy path to the beach. Other than one person carrying a fishing rod and a guy tossing a stick to his dog, I had the beach to myself.
When I returned to the lodge, I sipped coffee and chatted with Sharon while the aroma of bacon floated from the kitchen.
I asked Sharon how she and her husband ended up in Todos Santos. “We came here on vacation with another couple and just decided to stay,” she said, adding with a smile, “It was serendipitous.”
Two: Baja Midnight
Surfers rise early to catch the best waves, and they consider somewhere between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. as their midnight. Todos Santos adheres to the timeline and rolls up the streets, too. The phrase Baja Midnight appears on packages of coffee, beer labels and menus around town.
The phrase also describes the vibe. Baja Midnight sounds cooler than “hitting the hay early.” People still flash the peace sign or hang loose gesture.
Surf culture here is prevalent; a popular place to take lessons is near the town of El Pescadero. One couple told me they had come here on their honeymoon. The groom’s gift to the bride was a week at surf camp.
Three: Cerritos Beach
At Cerritos Beach, the scene was buckets of Corona, surfboards lining the shore, the aroma of coconut sunscreen, kids covered in sand and a divine ocean breeze.
We came for massages.
“We have to find Jorge,” Lisa said. “He’s the best for deep-tissue massages.”
We walked along the beach amid massage tables, umbrellas, hammocks and vendors selling shell jewelry. But no Jorge. Lisa asked a couple of guys if they knew Jorge, and one of them whistled to summon his friend. Jorge emerged from a nearby shop, smiling and waving.
Jorge explained that I should remain dressed, and then politely covered me with a towel, making sure an umbrella provided shade. He used peppermint and lemongrass for aromatherapy.
For $40, he worked out knots on top of knots, as I drifted off to sounds of the Pacific.
Four: Shops, Boutiques, Galleries
Wander the colonial streets of downtown Todos Santos, and you’ll see everything from fine to funky art. Artists, sculptors and photographers seem to flock here and have opened galleries and studios to display their work. Some charge Aspen prices.
Art collectors will find unique paintings, stained glass, photography and jewelry.
My favorite shop was Mar Art, owned by Alfonso Sánchez, whose nickname is Michigan. (He used to live there). Along with his sons, he creates jewelry with the most unique designs.
Full disclosure, Michigan is a close friend of Lisa’s. But his work speaks for itself.
Their friendship began when Lisa said she was killing time and stopped in his store to look, because as Michigan says to passersby, “Looking is free.” They became instant pals.
I liked him too, after he showed me the stunning, marble-sized opal on his finger when I told him that was my birthstone. Even if you aren’t in the market for jewelry, stop in and say hi. Tell Michigan I sent you.
Bonus: his shop is across the street from the iconic Hotel California (see thing to love Number Five).
Five: Culture — “Welcome to the Hotel California, Such a Lovely Place, Such a Lovely Face”
Written and composed by The Eagles in the 1970s, the song “Hotel California” was booming from the Todos Santos’ Hotel California, near the town center, the day we were there. Motorcyclists gathered in the front of the hotel for selfies and to wave at people driving by.
Since the Todos Santos location was built in 1948, it couldn’t have been the inspiration for the song, but stories vary about the meaning of the lyrics.
Still, the hotel in Todos Santos attracts tourists and visitors, and yes, you can rent a room. Just don’t try to post anything with the song audible in the background. I tried to post a video on Instagram of motorcyclists waving as “Hotel California,” blasted, but a message appeared that read, “Portions of video blocked due to copyright laws.”
Six: The Saints of Todos Santos
Originally founded as a Catholic mission in 1724, the village eventually became a major producer of sugar.
Today, you can look for statues of saints in the upper corner of colonial buildings throughout town.
I missed the approximately foot-tall statues until Lisa pointed them out..
She would point up to the corner of a building and say, “There’s Saint Francis of Assisi,” or “Look, that’s Saint Raphael.”
I suggested she could lead tours and call her expeditions, “The Saints of Todos Santos.
Seven: Best-ever Coffee, Fish Tacos, Friendly Vibe
I had the best Americano of my life — and I’m fussy when it comes to coffee — at a roadside café called Petit Leon, in El Pescadero, the town just down the road from Todos Santos. This small French bakery got everything perfect.
Don’t let the lack of curbside appeal fool you. Inside, is fresh bread, fluffy quiche, banana bread, and perfect croissants. We sat on the three-table patio in dappled shade and savored each sip of coffee and bite of pastry.
La Esquina is Todos Santos’ version of Starbucks. People buy a latte and stay all day on their laptops. I especially liked the spacious patio and could see myself hanging out there. La Esquina serves avocado toast, huevos rancheros, coconut oat pancakes and more.
There’s something perfect about sitting on a patio and eating fish tacos — in Baja. rather than Denver. where I live — with homemade tortillas, a slushy margarita, a heap of freshly made guacamole and live music. Santa Chilote is known for its fish tacos and lively atmosphere. The restaurant is not far from Hacienda Inn, which is a good option for lodging if you want to be in town rather than on the outskirts.
Two brothers opened Chill N Grill back in the day when Todos Santos was a sleepy village. Today, this is the place where expats gather for Taco Tuesday — or any day — and a cold one.
We sat at a high-top on the patio for tacos and margaritas at Chill N Grill the last night of my visit. I loved chatting with the expatriates who had moved here in the 1980s. They table-hopped, stopping to catch up with Lisa and introducing themselves to me.
Every person I met in this town was welcoming, just one more thing to love about Todos Santos.