Todos Santos is located up the coast some 50 miles from Cabo San Lucas give or take a mile or two. It’s a tiny one stoplight town sitting at the foot of the Sierra de la Laguna granite mountains on the Pacific coast of Baja California Sur. Despite its size, Todos Santos is reluctantly becoming an exciting tourist destination for artists, surfers, and those seeking something other than you're traditional mega-resort experience.
The explosion in tourism in this Todos Santos is ironically attributed to seemingly unrelated attractions sought after by seemingly different groups of people - surfers and artists.
Todos Santos is 2 miles from the shores of the Pacific Ocean, and surfers come here for the great year-round tidal activity. However, it’s amazing that they’ve been able to find a beach for it at all. Local surfers do not easily give up information about their perfect surfing spots, in hopes that no one else will find it. But find it they have, and Todos Santos has several great beaches for surfing and swimming. Many surfers come to this quiet town to escape the crowds in Cabos San Lucas.
A little history about Todos Santos explains how it became known for its art, thus drawing in the artistic community. The village was initially founded in 1724 as a Mission. Later, it became a major sugar-cane producer, and in the 19th century, Todos Santos was the sugar capital of Baja. A century later, the sugar-cane industry had waned, but the little village got the attention of Charles C. Stewart, an American painter. According to Todos Santos folklore, in the early 1980s a census taker knocked on Mr. Stewart’s door and, seeing his artwork, noted that Todos Santos was an artists’ colony. Never mind that Todos Santos had just the one artist in residence. Still, the moniker stuck and a few decades later the town has become a refuge for artists.
Surfers and artists share the area with Leatherback turtles, shoved out of Cabo San Lucas by big resorts. The conditions have not been ideal for the sea turtles, but The Leatherback Turtle Restoration Project has stepped in to help them. Sadly, the Los Cerritos beach, a turtle egg-laying refuge, is slated for the commercial development of hotels, condos, and bars, concerning environmentalists.
Tourists come to Todos Santos to walk the traditional Mexican streets, taking in the architect from centuries past of colonial buildings, the mission, and restored private homes. Of course, the artists will browse the art galleries and the surfers will take their surfboards to the beach to surf the breaks. Perhaps their paths will cross somewhere in the middle of Todos Santos.
Attractions & Things to Do in Todos Santos
Beaches – enjoy the main beaches of Playa Cerritos, Playa San Pedritos and Playa La Pastora. The beaches are known best for their great surfing waves and breaks.
Tour the Reserve of the Biosphere of Sierra de la Laguna – guided ecological tours are available.
Galería de Todos Santos – this gallery is considered to exhibit the town’s best collection of Mexican art.
Galería Logan – this gallery features the artwork of expatriate artist Jill Logan.
Gabo Galería – this “occasional” gallery is open a few hours a week and displays the work of Gabo, the area’s most renowned artist.
The Leatherback Turtle Restoration Project – visitors can take in guided nightly turtle patrols.
Estadio Jesús Rosas Izquierdo – a venue for live sports, includes local amateur baseball teams, which play several nights each week; they also play daytime games on the weekends.
Teatro Cine General Manuel Márquez de León - a restored theater, which hosts occasional live concerts and other performances.
Centro Cultural - housed in an old schoolhouse, exhibits include nationalist and revolutionary murals dating from 1933. Also on display is a rough collection of historical artifacts, old photographs, and ranch house replica.
Todos Santos is said to be the home of the Hotel California of Eagles fame. The song's first stanza certainly makes it sound as if the Hotel California of Todos Santos, established in 1950, could be the terrestrial inspiration for the song's metaphor.
On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair
Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air
Up ahead in the distance I saw shimmering light
My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim
I had to stop for the night
There she stood in the doorway
I heard the mission bell
And I was thinking to myself
This could be heaven or this could be hell
Then she lit up a candle and she showed me the way
There were voices down the corridor
I thought I heard them say...
(1) A dark desert highway, (2) "colitas" (literally "little tails" which is said to be Spanish slang for marijuana), (3) the mission bell (there is a large church adjacent to the hotel with a "mission bell").
Others say that the rumor was started in the early 1980s by a local businessman who dreamed it all up and thought it would be great for tourism (which it clearly was).
Over time, the rumor became legend and the legend grew and grew - not only had the hotel been the inspiration for the song, the entire band had stayed there... and even wrote the song on the premises!
A long, dark shadow was cast over the legend in 1997 when a travel writer decided to do a bit of fact checking about the hotel and to his surprise received a fax from Don Henley the very next day denying that he or the band had ever been there.
So it's either a just great urban legend, the fax is a fake, or as friend who knows and loves the place put it: "Don Henley was so stoned it is possible that he didn't know where he was... it's the place that most fits the mood."
There's a nearby bar called "Tequila Sunrise" in honor of the Eagles.
How to Get to Todos Santos
The easiest way to get to Todos Santos is by flying into the Cabo San Lucas airport. From there rent a car and drove north about 1 ½ hours to Todos Santos.