Mission bell tower in Loreto
Do you brag to amigos that you hit Cancun or the Riviera Maya before the spring breakers and the all-inclusives ruined them? Then add Loreto to your list. And hurry: The sleepy colonial town, once capital of the Californias—including Baja and the current U.S. state—is squarely in the sights of Fonatur, the tourism arm of the Mexican government that created Cancun and, some 250 miles south, Los Cabos. Already the region hosts a 117-slip marina and a new luxury resort, Villa del Palmar; a second golf course is under construction. But authorities promise a more ecocentric approach in Loreto, which faces the Sea of Cortez and its 510,273-acre Bay of Loreto National Marine Park, protecting the waters around five main islands that are home to more than 800 marine species. Longtime operator Arturo’s Sport Fishing offers several ways to get on the water, including kayak rentals, snorkeling trips, fishing excursions in small motorboats called pangas, and, in winter, whale-watching tours (arturosport.com). Local historic sights include the original 1697 Jesuit mission in town and the more elaborate Mission of San Javier in the Sierra de la Giganta. Avoid the long drive up from Cabo by taking Alaska Airlines’ direct flight from Los Angeles to Loreto, which is about two hours.
WHERE TO STAY
LUXE Rugged mountains are the backdrop for the pampering 181-room Villa del Palmar, which offers multiple pools, a spa, and outdoor adventures such as scuba diving and horseback riding. From $250. 877-845-5247, villadelpalmarloreto.com
BUDGET From the six-room La Damiana Inn, lodged in a 1930s mansion, guests can walk to the Jesuit mission and the beach. From $62. ladamianainn.com
GOOD FOR GROUPS Play casa in this two-bedroom, two-bath villa with a fountain in the center of the courtyard and a second-story roof deck. $175 a night; $995 a week. 619-249-6482, casadeplayita.com
Photograph: Cambria Dotterer