By Martha Branson
Travel to Cabo San Lucas from southern California is easy and inexpensive and the area remains one of the safer places to visit in Mexico. It has a reputation for being a tourist trap and a spring break mecca, but if you seek out lesser-known businesses and attractions and places where the locals congregate, you can create an “off the beaten path” vacation that is fun, relaxing, and original to Cabo. Radiate out just one block from the busy commercial area around the marina and there are unique bars and delicious restaurants with fewer tourists, obnoxious barkers, and peddlers.
One such place, Restaurante Salvatore’s, is a hole-in-the-wall, open-air Italian restaurant. A little hard to find, the intriguing entrance — an arched iron gate almost hidden by potted palms — is shared by a pink family-owned motel. You wonder if this could possibly be the place, but when the maître d’ directs you to the patio the character and ambiance pull you in. The decoration, a mixture of Italian and Mexican, is more informal and colorful downstairs, with paper lanterns, bright tiles around a central fountain, and walls painted terra cotta and teal. For a more formal vibe ask to sit on the balcony where it’s quieter and more intimate. The tablecloths are black, and the impeccably dressed waiters are unobtrusive and attentive. The restaurant is known for its artistically plated 4-inch-high classic sausage lasagna, large enough to share, and its equally generous portions of feather-light tiramisu. Make reservations; it fills quickly. (Emiliano Zapata S/N)
For a lively bar, Cabo Wabo Cantina is world famous, but wander out the back door for a more unique experience. Here, under strings of colorful triangles, is a plaza with a lively open-air tiki sports bar, a hangout for locals and expats. Offering live rock music in the evenings, The Jungle Bar sells ice-cold $2 Pacificos, and jumbo bacon-wrapped shrimp or fresh fish tacos can be walked over to you from the little eatery next door. The regulars are smiling and chatty and everyone knows the name of the bar mistress; make her your friend because she makes delicious mojitos and is the keeper of the key for the clean bathroom, which is located down a little alleyway around the corner. (Plaza Los Mariachis, Boulevard Paseo de la Marina, Centro)
If a quieter atmosphere is your thing, hone your sleuthing skills and find Marty and Kathy’s Two for the Road Cabo Jazz Spot. Its unassuming entrance is tucked away in an alley just behind the shops on the marina front. This little jewel of a joint doesn’t waste a square inch of real estate! It only seats about a dozen people, and a sign over the bar says, “If you’re going to sit you have to drink!” Marty, quite an accomplished pianist, and Kathy, with her perfect jazz voice, traveled and performed jazz music around the southwestern U.S. until they got tired of the vagabond life and decided to become permanent residents of the town on the tip of the Baja Peninsula. They perform nightly along with visiting guest performers. Between sets they chat with patrons and tell their story about how they came to live and work in Cabo. Though the music doesn’t start until 11 p.m., get there early to find a seat and plan to stay a few hours. (Hotel Tesoro Boulevard, Local A-15, Centro Marina)
Among the myriad outdoor experiences in Cabo, there are many raucous sunset cruises from which to choose, but the romantic Luxury Sunset Sail cruise is different. It is quiet and elegant, carrying 20 persons max. Take off your shoes and leave them on the dock as you climb barefoot onto the deck of the yacht. A glass of champagne is put in your hand and you toast to a beautiful sunset. Sailing out past El Arco and Lover’s Beach around the corner to the western side of the peninsula you are served a delicious dinner of fruits, homemade breads, deli meats and cheeses, olives, and sweet little pastries, and there is an unlimited open bar. You smell the salt water, hear the ring of the rigging against the mast and the water lapping at the hull, and just when the wind on your arms starts to chill, a crew member wraps a blanket soft as a whisper around your shoulders. Looking out across the Pacific as the sun sinks into the inky blue ocean, shooting purples, oranges, yellows, and reds into the darkening sky, you realize you have fallen in love… with Cabo. (Cabo Adventure Tours, www.cabo-adventures.com)
While Cabo San Lucas might not be authentic Mexico, you can create your original experience if you look off the beaten path. Consult the internet, ask other vacationers, and don’t be afraid to explore!
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