On my last traipse up and down the peninsula I learned that renting homes while traveling through Baja is not only more affordable, it’s much more relaxing than a hotel stay. On my most recent two-week road trip, I decided to ditch the norm and live like a true local - meaning, score a full-blown house as my home base. The awesome, and easily searchable website VRBO.com makes it super simple to track down a killer rental pad (dog friendly and beach access for me) for an unreal price. I was paying less than $100 a night for 2 bed/2 bath homes on the water. Imagine balconies overlooking the Sea of Cortez, all the amenities of home (wi-fi, cable, DVD libraries, books galore), and best of all, deep intel from the owners on where to eat, drink and play in their backyards. It’s like winning the Baja insider lotto day after day.
After driving from LA all the way to the tip of the peninsula in a marathon run, I finally began my real escape near Los Barriles, a small expat heavy village on the sea that I’d never normally pay any mind to. I had never heard whispers of good food there, so I usually kept on moving. Turns out, my first rental, Troy’s amazing beach house just south of town in Buena Vista, kept me pretty well occupied – and well fed. It’s the type of homestead that water God, Laird Hamilton, would build if he were to plop down in Baja – all tricked out with SUP’s, motorcycles, kayaks, jet-skis, ATV’s, kite surfing equip, ice machines, pick-up trucks, rooftop bars, hammocks, surfboards, and a rough-hewn set of friends, dogs, and neighbors popping by at all times. I felt like I inherited Troy’s life…and maybe I did, seeing as how he was chillaxing with a proper Cuba Libre in the separate guest quarters on ground level when I arrived.
I quickly became a part of his inside circle – meaning he invited me along on his daily jaunts to all the best the town had to offer - hidden bars in closed down hotels way off the main drag, late night RV park BBQ buffets with live rock and roll bands, and multiple rounds of tequila in small hotspots around high noon. And if there was no Troy around, the Baja Pony Express quickly filled in the blanks – it’s a very popular online daily round up of local happenings - live music, food events, volunteer opportunities, etc...
After a week of fresh baked bread debauchery at Roadrunner Café and loads of smoked fish at Smokey’s Grill and Cantina, it was time to roll – I needed some civilization. My beat down truck slowly weaved its way back north to one of my favorite spots in Baja, the ever-charming Loreto. This quaint seaside town is where I first learned to sail and way back then, a small expat outpost was being built on the outskirts of town only to be abandoned by its original Mexican investors. But recently, thanks to new backers and the undying love of it’s hundreds of property owners, it’s gone from desolate ghost town where the funding ran out to an incredibly lush and vibrant neighborhood my pals (and parents) would love to reside in.
Loreto Bay is the epitome of wonderment in Baja. Think colorful Italian villas covered in tropical plants and flanked by wine bars, massage rooms and tequila emporiums. How all this rich foliage is thriving in the rocky desert is beyond me, but with a fantastic hand-slung cappuccino in hand of a morning thanks to the delightful El Corazón Café, I had all the time in the day to sit a spell and ponder. This booming corner café is the epicenter of all the local gossip and hosts a slew of real baristas whipping up addictive coffee concoctions from 8 am onward. Fresh herbs guard the front doors, the giant waffles are a sight to behold, and who knew you could find a delicious Vietnamese bahn mi at an adorable coffee house in Mexico?
The 2nd floor deck of my inviting rental house, owned by Canadians Sally and Stu, looked out over lush rooftop gardens that bled into the sparkly Sea of Cortez and their plush sheets, towels and robes rivaled any hotel I’ve stayed in. But after I awoke each morning, I spent every waking minute working my way through local haunts – a quick trip down the road planted me at the bar at Del Borracho Saloon wolfing down hearty huevos rancheros and the free crockpot bar bite of the day (their pozole is mouthwatering) while a kayak trip around Nopolo Rock dropped me off for steaming bowls of fresh seafood soup and just-shucked chocolate clams at Vista al Mar. My nights were spent strolling the fragrant avenues in the neighborhood, bubbly prosecco in hand (from the popular wine bar, The Wine Cellar), imagining what it would be like to own in Mexican paradise like the smarties I was renting from.
What a blissful way to wind down from the weariness of the road – a literal home away from home. Who needs a double-the-price hotel room and no chance of local exposure when you can be literally living the life of a real Baja spirit for half the price? Always smiling friends with interesting how-I-came-to-live-in-Baja and top-notch secrets included.