When you think of Baja California, you probably think of celebrities jetting off on holiday to Los Cabos or the surf lovers that have made this sunny stretch of Western Mexico a second home for decades. But with a slew of new luxury and eco-friendly resorts and destinations crisscrossing the Baja California Peninsula, there's never been a better time for adventurous, and luxury-minded, travelers to book a trip to this sunny paradise.
The Baja Peninsula, a staggering 775 miles jutting off into the Pacific Ocean, is separated from mainland Mexico by the Colorado River. Longer than California, it boasts 1,900 miles of coastline, plus 65 islands, each with its own unique ecosystem contained by an endless stretch of palm-shaded beach, framed by aquamarine saltwater. The peninsula itself is a hybrid of the best of Californian and Mexican ecology and topography: boasting mountain ranges, pine-oak forests, marine biosphere reserves, and desert, all in the same region.
One of the major natural draws of the area is its legendary whale sharks, gentle giants that are neither whale nor shark, but wholly impressive (and who make excellent diving partners). The other main attraction is the area's waves, with surfers often embarking on epic road trips the length of the peninsula, paddling out wherever the swell looks promising. Meanwhile, in-the-know oenophiles will often head down to Valle de Guadalupe to drink their fill of under-the-radar reds and whites from wineries just starting to emerge on the global market.
The East Cape, less than an hour from the Cabo airport, is opening up a whole new playground for those who feel drawn by the presence of forthcoming Aman and Four Seasons properties; the members-only Beach Club (founding dues are $100,000, and membership is only for owners of Four Seasons Private Villas or Residences, at $1.6 to $21 million) is already open, surely encouraging more sales, while the Four Seasons is looking at a spring or summer debut. Other notable launches include a Ritz-Carlton Reserve called Zadun, opening on the Gulf of California/Sea of Cortéz side in early 2019, and Costa Palmas, a 1,000-acre private resort and real estate development boasting two miles of postcard-perfect swimmable beach.
Debuting last summer in the same spot that was once Cabo’s very first—celebrity-attracting—luxury hotel, Montage Los Cabos features 122 rooms, suites, and casts, plus 52 Montage Residences on Santa Maria Bay, and all the essential culinary and wellness amenities expected of the five-star brand. Furthermore, there’s the new Grand Solmar at Rancho San Lucas Resort Golf & Spa, perfect for golf lovers, and, which became the brand’s 15th property when it bowed in late May after rebranding, renovations, and enhancements to a cinematic existing 194-room architectural masterpiece. Its beachfront pool and bar speak to those on true holiday, while the state-of-the-art fitness center curated by celebrity trainer Harley Pasternak is for those who can’t really relax.
Chileno Bay Resort & Residences, an Auberge collection property, unveils its phase two this fall with 28 beachfront residential villas and a dozen fresh hotel rooms and suites, plus an inventive Young Adult’s Club with a recording studio, gaming center, and cocktail bar.
If you'd like to stay at one of the peninsula's more established (and beloved) favorites, try the adults-only Marquis Los Cabos on the tip, where the desert meets the sea; Vidanta Los Cabos with its favorite Hakkasan restaurants and Herringbone, plus OMNIA Day Club and SHOREbar for a scene; The Resort at Pedregal’s lunar-inspired spa that integrates Mexican culture in uniquely holistic experiences; or acclaimed Las Ventanas al Paraiso, A Rosewood Resort , which just revealed a pan-Asian restaurant and new pool, complete with lazy river, underwater speakers and pool butlers, this year.
Dining-wise, things are hotter than ever thanks in part to Enrique Olvera’s memorable Manta restaurant in front of an iconic surf break at The Cape, A Thompson Hotel (their pop-up raw bar is also worth checking out), and Acre Baja, the design-forward, farm-to-table restaurant and farmland development where al fresco dining is done under magical lights and travelers sleep in chic treehouses.
Hacienda Beach Club & Residences has launched Cabo Culinary Road Trips, while One&Only Palmilla’s interactive Catch Cook Cocktail program allows guests to get involved. Favored five-star Esperanza opens a new event space alongside a total redesign of their signature Cocina del Mar restaurant in November.
Working up the peninsula, Todos Santos is dubbed a “pueblo mágico” (magical town) by the government for its enchanting look. There, the super-private and Edenic Rancho Pescadero, known for wonderfully local cuisine and ingredients, sits as the perfect foil to newer millennial-loved design-forward boutique bolthole Hotel San Cristobal (and whose great restaurants including Jazamango, by Valle de Guadalupe chef Javier Plascencia).
Adorable La Paz, on the Sea of Cortéz (which Jacques Cousteau called “the last natural living aquarium in the world”), is known as the most authentically Mexican city in Baja, due in part to its charming colonial architecture and tradition as a fishing village. CostaBaja Resort & Spa is its first and only luxury resort, offering access to some of the best marine life in the world and unbelievable whale watching. Playa de la Paz, a private collection of luxury residences, offers rentals along with personal concierge on the idyllic beach of El Caimancito.
Up the road is the beachy enclave of Ensenada, where adrenaline-seekers can zip line under the full moon at the new Desert Nest Nature Park and, on the other side of the peninsula in San Felipe, hike through giant cactus in the Valle de los Gigantes. It’s home to the Ensenada Beer Festival in March, and even a Shellfish and New Wine Festival in April. Even Tijuana, formerly a city with the worst reputation, is carving out its place in the culinary landscape of Mexico via creative restaurants such as Los Compas, Georgina, Roost & Co, and República Malta.
Two hours south of Los Angeles is Valle de Guadalupe, what some are calling "the next Napa," where the Guadalupe Valley Wine, Food & Music Festival takes place on Mexico’s Independence Day, September 15, at Decantos Vinícola winery. Nearby, Agua de Vid, a new experiential boutique hotel, features 20 simple, comfortable rooms, a wine bar, restaurant, art gallery, and workshop. El Cielo Winery & Resort is another newcomer, giving fans of its longstanding winery the option to overnight in expansive suites and presidential villas complete with butler service until 2 a.m. The hottest ticket on the culinary scene is the seasonal restaurant Animalòn, under a 100-year-old oak tree on the grounds of acclaimed Finca Altozano restaurant, also by chef Javier Plascencia.