San José del Cabo is about an hour south of Cabo San Lucas in Baja Mexico. The town has a thriving beach hotel zone as well as a more traditional town center. It’s the town center that is a must-do for art lovers and shoppers. Not only are there galleries and shops to explore, you’ll find lovely boutique hotels and excellent restaurants. Here are a few travel tips to help you explore the galleries and shops of San José del Cabo.
Visit the Art Walk
San José del Cabo’s Gallery District is open to visitors most days of the week. But on Thursday nights, the galleries have the streets closed and the area takes on a festive atmosphere. Two square blocks are filled with eclectic shops and fine art galleries, some of which are known around the world.
The evening I went out for the Art Walk, I started at the boutique hotel Casa Natalia with my guide for the night, co-owner Nathalie Tenoux. San José is a small town and business people like Nathalie know everyone. Within a block of walking down cobblestone streets past open-air restaurants we were visiting gallery owners and friends. I learned that their fine art and sculpture pieces were often purchased by collectors from cosmopolitan places like Mexico City.
Gallery owners offered wine and appetizers and took time to talk with visitors and explain the art and artists they represented. Gallery owner, Patricia Mendoza showed us contemporary pieces by Mexican artists and suggested we take our glass of wine with us as we explored the district.
Doors were open and the light of the galleries and shops flooded the streets. As we walked, Nathalie urged me to go into all the galleries. I discovered fanciful dog wall sculptures, fine jewelry and had fun with the interactive art in Ivan Guaderrama’s gallery.
Guaderrama has created paintings, sculptures and benches that will sing, light and come to life only with the interaction of the observer, be it through the touch of a hand or a change in light… even a change in weather. We played awhile with a musical piece and I purchased a small tile as a gift… a very special gift that would interact with the recipient via an iPhone app.
As the magical evening ended, we were serenaded by a group of musicians as we walked the short distance back to Casa Natalia and dinner at their outdoor restaurant, Mi Cocina.
Shopping for Souvenirs
Exploring the small shops of San José del Cabo is fun. You may enter what looks like a small narrow shop and find that the building expands as you walk back through shelves of merchandise. In general, I found shopkeepers to be welcoming and they did not pressure me.
So what can you find as a home décor item, gift or souvenir? There are Mexican handcrafts and interesting imported items.
Whether it’s providing a pop of color in your boutique hotel or hanging in windows of shops, colorful Mexican animal embroidery designs will catch your eye. Many shops carry linens with Otomi embroidery depicting fanciful animals and birds. This embroidery technique comes from the Otomi people in the central Mexican Plateau. The craft was revived in the 1960s after a drought devastated their agricultural economy. It is said that the animals on the pillows, runners and clothing are designs taken from local cave art. Artisans do the embroidery on cotton cloth using a satin stitch over design outlines they sketch onto the fabric. The more detail in the pieces, the higher the price. You may also find machine-stitched work at a lower price.
You’ll probably be drawn to the mosaic glass lamps and candle holders found in many shops along the narrow streets of San José del Cabo. The colorful hand-made lamps are especially intriguing at night. They are made in Turkey.
Talavera pottery is distinguished by a white glaze base coat. Typical detail colors are dark cobalt blue, yellow, orange and green. You can find pots, dinnerware and even house numbers. The quality varies. The pottery is hand-made.
Mexican glass, known for its color and imperfections like bubbles, is seen in many shops. I found it fun to visit the Baja Blown Glass Factory on Calle Manuel Doblado and watch the artisans.
You can pick up those blue-rimmed Margarita glasses you have been enjoying at the local cantinas or take home a hand blown heart for your loved one.
As I walked the streets of San José del Cabo I discovered an organic food and cosmetic store, tequila and mezcal shops and the usual beachwear offerings. I’ll be writing more about shopping in San José del Cabo and environs in an article featuring the area markets.
When You Go
In addition to checking out the official visitor's website at Visiting Los Cabos, you might also check TripAdvisor ratings for shops in San José. I found honest feedback that should be taken into consideration in choosing where you might want to shop. Bargaining, especially in the smaller shops, is part of shopping and is often expected in Mexico.
The Thursday Art Walk and Tuesday Music Nights are seasonal due to the heat in the summer. These are just a few travel tips to help you enjoy the galleries and shops of San José del Cabo.
Note: As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with accommodations and meals for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.