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Trip Report Rosarito Beach - Baja Beach Town

Rosarito Beach is around 18 miles south of the border. Driving time from San Diego is 35 to 45 minutes. The actual time will depend on long it takes you to cross over the border. Ensenada is about 62 miles south of the border and 44 miles south of Rosarito Beach. Driving time from San Diego to Ensenada is 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours

It's one of those beautiful summer days that we get in the spring here in Southern California. So, on the spur of the moment, to drive down to Rosarito Beach just south of Tijuana.

If you're going to drive into Baja Mexico you need Mexican auto insurance. Your U.S. policy won't cover your car if you have an automobile accident in Mexico. The insurance isn't very expensive and you could be in deep trouble if you get into a wreck in Mexico with out Mexican auto insurance. So, how do you purchase it? The easiest way is to get it on the Internet. Click on Mexican Auto Insurance and you can purchase your insurance online and print out the policy before you leave home. The cost? It depends on the value of your car and how many days you'll be in Baja. One day is going run you around $15 to $20. Three days is around $35. Now if you're just driving around in the San Diego area and you decide you want to go across the border, you can get insurance from several places just before you enter Mexico. You'll see signs along the freeway telling you where you can get Mexican Auto Insurance. Don't go into Mexico without it.

Is driving the only way to go to Rosarito Beach? The official web site for Rosarito Beach states the following:

"Several San Diego tour companies specialize in day trips to Baja that can include or combine shopping, dining, sightseeing, golf, wine-tasting and the Puerto Nuevo lobster village, along with a variety of longer excursions. Round trips run daily from San Diego to Rosarito, Puerto Nuevo and Ensenada and are open to individuals or groups. Contact Baja California Tours at (619) 454-7166; e-mail BajaTours@aol.com, or contact Travel Care Free Mexico at (619) 475-1234."

"Baja Express offers transportation from San Diego to Rosarito and Puerto Nuevo with one-day advance scheduling. Pickups can be arranged in downtown San Diego, Mission Valley, Coronado or Chula Vista.

But we're driving and here's how you get there. The 805 and the 5 bring you down to the Tijuana border crossing which is called San Ysidro. You pull up to the border crossing and you'll see a signal light. When it's okay for you to drive through the crossing the light will turn green with the words "PASE." Going into Mexico is much less of a hassle than coming back into the United States. On a weekday it may only take you a few minutes to get across. On a Friday night and on weekends, expect to take longer.

There are a number of lanes of traffic going into Mexico. You want to be in the number three lane from the left. Quickly you will see a sign that says Rosarito-Ensenada Scenic Road. That's what you want. As you pass the lanes that go off to Tijuana you want to move into the left lane. Again watch for signs for the Rosarito-Ensenda Scenic Road. You're going to follow the left lane in a big loop that takes you towards the west. Pretty soon you will see the International Border to your right. There's no missing it with it's fence, cleared zone, and U.S. Border Patrol cars spotted throughout the area. In about 3 miles the road forks and you keep to the right. Soon you'll see a sign that says Ensenada to the left. Take that. You're almost to the toll road (Cuota).

Yes, there is another road to Rosarito that is free but the Scenic Road is just that. It's scenic and worth the toll.

Now, we're on the Toll Road to Rosartio Beach and Ensenada. Off to our right there is lots of new development and we can see the Coronado Islands just off the coast. At about mile 10 the road is on a bluff running parallel to the ocean. There is condominium development on the ocean side and agriculture on the left. We spot one hotel on the ocean side that advertises rooms for $39 a night and the price includes dinner for two people. Before coming to the turn off for Rosartio Beach the road goes inland for a ways passing through more farmland.

Here's the turnoff for Rosartio. We're about 18 miles from the border. The beach isn't apparent yet. This is a business area. Lining the road are shops, pharmacies, and food stands. Every few blocks there is a stop sign. Be careful. They're not that easy to see. We've gone about a mile now and here's the main beach road. This part of the town is only several blocks long. We spot several more nice looking motels that advertise rooms for $30. They're not on the beach, though.

Parking is easy to find on this weekday but I'll bet that on a weekend you'll have to drive around a bit to find a place to park. We park right in front of one of the entrances to the area with several hundred merchant stalls. If you like to browse, this is a fun place. There is clothing, jewelry, pottery, knives, glass, cigars, and tons of souvenir stuff.

There isn't much that catches our eye though and we walk down to the beach, about two blocks. Here are several bars right on the beach. They're very elaborate bars that look out on the beach. It's quiet this time of day but they look like real party places. One has a tropical look and is open to the sky. I can see drinking a margarita in this beachy place. They even have places for little beach bonfires within the confines of the bar. A sign says, "The party starts here." I'm sure this appeals to the young crowd that comes down from the states because you can drink here when you're 18.

Out on the beach there are horses for rent for around $10 an hour and quads, 4-wheel ATV's, that rent for around $30 an hour. The beach is wide, long, and clean. You can rent kayaks here.

Walking just a few blocks south we come to a hotel on the beach and a pier. They charge you 50 cents to walk out on the pier. The pier was built to accommodate gambling ships but the venture never worked out.

Back on the main street we come to another entertainment/bar complex that looks like another place to party. The colors are all bright pastels and there's even a small pool that looks like it invites people to jump into it after a few margaritas.

Rosartio Beach is the starting point for one of the biggest bicycle events in North America. The Rosartio - Ensenada bike ride attracts people from all over the world. The event is held twice a year and thousands of people ride every kind of bicycle imaginable the fifty miles or so to Ensenada. At the end of the ride participants are treated to a Mexican fiesta and then a bus ride back to Rosarito Beach. People who have participated tell me that it is one big party. The event is held in April and September. Click on Rosartio-Ensenada Bike Ride to get to the official web site.

But with more coast to see, we hop in the car to head down to Puerto Nuevo, or as Americans would call it, Newport. A number of years ago this little village became famous for it's lobster. Now it's outgrown it's little village character but is still quite charming. We've come about 12 miles from Rosartio Beach and pass the new tourist attraction built by Fox Studios. This is where parts of Titantic and Pearl Harbor were filmed. Along the highway we saw shops that specialize in huge metal sculptures of animals. I mean really big. You'd have to have a truck to transport one of these metal things that resemble rhinos, elephants, and what have you.

Before reaching Puerto Nuevo we stopped for a moment at Calafia. Now a restaurant and hotel, this is the site of a mission founded in 1773. The view of the coast from here is breathtaking. On the highway again we pass more condo developments. Some are for as little as $100,000. Then there are camping and surfing spots along the highway. We're staying off the Toll Road and driving on the old highway.

But back to Puerto Nuevo. The town is about three blocks by two blocks. It seems that every building is a restaurant serving a lobster special. At the ocean bluff end of the town there are a few outdoor shops selling food, jewelery, and souvenir stuff.

What is neat for us is that the mariachi bands who will be playing this evening in the restaurants are now gathering in town. They're clustered in small groups on the street visiting and tuning up their instruments. I like this town because it's cute and condensed and you have a view of the ocean from the street and many of the restaurants. Pat sees a security guard and asks him to take our picture. He speaks good English and tells us that if we mention his name in a particular bar that we will get a discount on a drink. We tell him we'll do that later today.

After circling the town we look up the bar and take an outside seat overlooking a parking lot, some shops, and then the ocean. Several tables away a Mexican couple is being entertained by a mariachi band. It's free entertainment for us. The waiter comes to take our drink order and we tell him that Julio sent us. He seems to know Julio and brings us our margaritas. Not bad. They are cheap. A few bucks. The musicians come over to our table and offer to play a song for us. "How much?" Five bucks for a song or $20 for five songs. They don't want to bargain and we don't want to pay so they go off to another table where those people pay them to play.

We decide to walk around the town one more time before we leave. Maybe we'll spot a really good deal on a lobster dinner. Here's a place with an ocean view. Lets try it. The waiter takes us to a table with a great view. We order the lobster special which is 2 1/2 lobster tails for $10. The tails are small but as good as the best Maine lobster I've ever had. With bread, rice, and beans the meal is plenty filling.

As we're finishing our small margaritas, which were 99 cents, a guy and gal come into the restaurant and I see them asking the waiter if the food is any good. The waiter motions to us and tells him to ask us. Which he does and we tell him the food is outstanding. So, Joe and Christy take up a table next to us and strike up a conversation. They're in their mid 30's and apparently this is their first date with each other. Within minutes of getting acquainted Joe wants to buy us margaritas. We try to politely decline but when he asks a 2nd time we cave in and accept.

They're a fun couple and we're enjoying their company. Joe then wants me to try a shot of 1800 Anejo Tequila. I acquiesce again and find this tequila to be great sipping stuff. I'll look for it when I get home. But it's time to head out. Pat and I each have a nice margarita buzz so we walk around the town a few more times listening to the music coming from the strolling musicians.

Back on the the coast road again we're treated to more ocean vistas, residential development, here's a place selling condos for $89,000, and lots for rent. That's right. For rent. In general foreigners do not buy ocean property, they rent or lease it. The sign we're looking at says that you can rent a lot for $320 a month. This is okay if you want to put a trailer on the lot or a cheap building.

Now the highway is way above the ocean. It's dramatic scenery. A little bit like Big Sur but here everything is brown where Big Sur country is lush with trees and green vegetation. I suppose later in the spring the hills may get some green grass. Nevertheless it's a spectacular view.

At KM 58, which is about 35 miles, we reach the La Fonda restraint and hotel. The sun is setting into the ocean and this is a great place to watch it. We're on a cliff about 100 feet above the beach and the ocean. The sunset isn't super but then all sunsets are special. When the last rays have played out on the sky above us we get back onto the Toll Road and head back to San Diego.

Ensenada

We didn't get to Ensenada but we'd been there last year. The shopping area is very nice. It was built to accommodate the needs of the cruise ships that now dock there regularly. If shopping is what you want and variety and quality are important to you, you'll find this more to your liking than Rosarito Beach.

We returned to the states that time via the inland highway that goes through Tecate. The area is dedicated to agriculture with lots of grapes under cultivation. We stopped at a winery to compare it to wineries we visit in the Napa Valley of Northern California. The tour we took was very informal and we liked it in contrast to the more tourist oriented wineries of the Napa Valley.

A trip to Rosarito Beach and Ensenada is a quick and easy way to experience another country, another culture. We're looking forward to lobster and margaritas again in Puerto Nuevo.

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