Earlier this year, my boyfriend and I bought a rural 6-acre ranch in Northern New Mexico. I never thought the Southwest is where I would finally have my own patch of land, but somehow the call of the wild was too enticing, so we bit the bullet and bought a horse farm. We kept our sailboat in LA and plan on spending the depths of winter there and in Baja (per usual), but since the relocation, we now we have a new go to spot as well - San Carlos, a small hamlet on the mainland side of Mexico. This little town is only a handful of hours south of the border, and a convenient destination from my new digs in the mountains of New Mexico. But, I’d never been! So, one day last month, we packed up the truck with the dogs and hit the road to experience what it’s like to kick it in San Carlos.
We had rented a house online and since it was the dead heat of summer (100+ temps), we got an amazing deal. We scored a dog friendly, 4-bedroom house - with an infinity pool - overlooking the shimmering Sea of Cortez for almost ½ price off the regular rate on VRBO. I was really interested in the possibility of moving my sailboat from LA down to somewhere in Mexico, so the plan was to explore both marinas in town, as well as eat myself silly. Pretty simple agenda for the 10-day trip.
First things first – driving down from the Santa Fe area and crossing over the Mexican border is a gorgeous ride. Passing through the historical mountain town of Silver City, NM and then onto the sunlit valley of Tubac, AZ is what road trips are made of. There are plenty of perfect little restaurants to fuel up on local fare, winding roads that lead to natures best dog runs and zero traffic make the trip painless all the way down to San Carlos, which is about 5 hours from the border crossing of Nogales.
Once we crossed the border, tacos were in immediate order. Imuris is a quick flash of a town, but one reason to put on the brakes is the charcoal fired goodies at Leo’s Asadero. The doggies started drooling the minute the platter of taco fixings and salsas came out and each got a few juicy carne asada tacos while I stayed in the vegetarian lane with gooey cheese quesadillas and charred green onions. Every single customer at the al fresco dining area came up to pet Minka and Pancho – each showing us their own pups on their smart phones. It was the friendliest mutt wonderland I’d encountered in months!
A few short hours later, we were in the bay of San Carlos, checking into our beautiful vacation spot. After an immediate plunge into the bath water warm swimming pool, we got busy plotting where we might eat. Since it was a different area of the Sea of Cortez, we were anxious to try the seafood and I’d heard about a local's joint called Arbolito’s that was said to have the best of the best. Onward we went.
Arbolito’s happened to be jam packed when we rolled in, with a mariachi band in full effect, but we managed to grab a table overlooking the sea within a few minutes. Thankfully, it was a huge 6-top table and we needed all the space because we went nuts. Juicy chocolate clams, marinated baby shrimp tacos, mile-high crab tostadas, grilled octopus tendrils on a cast iron platter, fat shrimp in cream sauce, stacks of warm corn tortillas, bags of tortilla chips, bowls of crema, piles of limes and vats of salsa hit our table one right after another. Perhaps we got a little out of control since the prices were so low. It was an amazing seafood spread making its way from the kitchen to our table. First meal conquered – time to race back to the pool and beach before the sun plopped back into the ocean. Turned out, the beach was even warmer than the pool! I’d actually never been in water that warm and just floated around, swimming with the dogs who were splashing around chasing schools of fish they could see below. The visibility was that good. No wonder San Carlos is a scuba diver and sport fisherman’s paradise.
The next morning brought on a water show like no other from our cliff side spot. We perched on the edge of the pool watching the water skiers, banana boat riders, jet ski hotshots, sailors and salty fishermen cruise around getting on with their daily fun time. Everyone waved at us from their craft and we planned on lounging there all morning to watch the activities. The folks out on the water were really living life to the fullest – nobody connected to anything other than the majesty of the sea. I’ve never seen anything quite like that water show in all my years!
The breakfast witching hour was about to pass when we decided to dry off and hit the road. Time for Rosa’s Cantina, an order-at-the-counter type of restaurant I’d read was the best AM food in town. From the first sip of piping hot coffee, it really managed to outshine the typical Mexican breakfast fare. A different level of freshness, but still on a homemade, working mans level. Perfectly cooked omelets smothered in cheese with shredded hash browns filled my belly, while my guy loaded up on green chile, chicken, and egg topped chiliquiles. He proclaimed them the best he’s ever had, which is no small feat. The popular place was equally peppered with Americans and Mexicans enjoying the energy of the morning and I just sat there sipping my coffee wondering what I would find when I made it over to the marinas. Would my beloved 36’ ketch sailboat end up south of the border finally? What would be the next adventure in this hidden gem of a town so close to the USA? Stay tuned for the next dispatch!
Leo’s – It’s on the west side of Carretera Internacional 189 as you pass through the small town of Imuris, Sonora
Los Arbolitos – It’s on the East side of the road - across from Charley’s Rock on the main drag as you head north into San Carlos.
Visit the Rosa’s Cantina Facebook Page