The top of the year is around the time cabin fever hits and an on-the-fly trip to the glorious white sand beaches of Baja is in order. Over the course of a few weeks, a very slow, methodical seduction inches its way through my frozen veins all the way up to my weary-from-the-holidays-brain and out of nowhere, I plan an escape to warmer climes. The only thing on my mind is a good solid tan, a leash-free beach for the doggies and a slew of mid-day gorge fests. Here are a handful of spots primed to experience a blissful mid-winter break (and some delicious grub) without dropping too much dinero. The holidays took care of that part!
Beach Combing at Cabo Pulmo
In all my years of coming to Baja, never once have I made it to the reefs of Cabo Pulmo until this last trip. I cannot even begin to describe what I’ve been missing; and, trust me, I will not make that mistake again. Getting there is a bit of a haul down a lonely 10-mile-long dirt road, but once you enter the very quaint little village, it’s as if you have hit the edge of the earth, Baja-style. Of course, friendly mutts roam in and out of the smattering of simple beach houses as you drive through this tiny town, but once you hit the oceanfront, people and dogs disappear and it’s all yours. You can wander for miles collecting the most beautiful offerings from the sea all while letting your beyond happy dogs experience the time of their lives chasing birds, warm waves and in our case, rocks. Yes, they love to chase treasures (as Minka and Panchito refer to them) that we hurl down the beach, skimming the surface of the water.
This is the one spot in all of Baja that I feel is turned way, way back in time – even the reefs are said to be 20,000 years old. The entire area actually reminds me of South Africa – and that was not a vibe I ever thought I would find in Mexico. The waves are glittering beasts that seem to happen with greater velocity and tremor closer to the cape. This patch of government protected water, declared a Natural Protected Area, is crystal clear and full of so much sea life, it’s down-right trippy. You forget this is what the ocean is supposed to look like below sea level. Which is exactly why folks come from all over the world to scuba dive this World Unesco Heritage Site and witness up close all the Sea of Cortez has to offer.
After wearing yourself out on the beach, time to hit the best restaurant in town, El Caballero. This tucked-down-a-dirt-road spot is truly a find, especially in such a remote location. The made-to-order food takes a good long while to come out of the kitchen, but once it does, well, you’d be hard pressed to find fresher seafood in all of Baja, especially the shrimp. We ordered it all – grilled shrimp tacos, sautéed shrimp nested in a bowl of butter and cheese, phenomenal char-grilled tuna steak, gooey shrimp enchiladas. Each dish was prepared very simply with little in the way of sides offered, but the flavor was so clean and pristine, you didn’t need all the usual accoutrements smothering out the flavor of the ocean.
Friendly dogs roamed around, flopping into the sand alongside our pups and every person at each table could be heard rambling on and on about how they couldn’t believe they stumbled upon this joint. And, it was soon discovered after strolling around the few roads in town that be it in a local beach rental, cute little hotel, or beach camping, this hideaway is where folks go to disappear. But even then, you still need good food to complement the series of spy thrillers that should be populating your backpack.
Big Wave Watching at Hotel San Cristobal
All of the above said about the unsung joys of wave dancing at Cabo Pulmo, never in my life have I seen waves as big as the ones that were slamming onto the beach over on the Pacific side of Baja.
Hotel San Cristobal has only been open a few years, but the gal who opened it surely did things up right. The exquisite simplicity of this rather refined hotel/restaurant/bar is breathtaking, especially when you are sitting at Benno, their waterside restaurant, with a tasting of mezcal and a platter of local ceviche in front of you. Witnessing tsunami-like waves rock the sandy beach could be one of life’s greatest pleasures. Even more exhilarating is joining the other patrons, most with eyes clenched half shut, watch the small panga’s that line the beach challenge these waves. All of these wee little boats are trying to get past the massive wall of water to go fishing for the daily catch that fills up the restaurants of nearby artist village, Todos Santos as well as most restaurants on the Sea of Cortez side. In my eyes, this death defying task has the be the measure of a man - no mere human would ever dare to tackle a trick like that daily. You have to have grown up on the water or just be stone cold loony to be that brave. Yet they make it, time and time again, heading back in hours later with boatloads of seafood…perfect to observe all over again during the happy hour.
Drifting back down the dirt road toward Cerritos beach where the waves are much smaller and perfect for surfing, we are always excited to go back to the funky restaurant and bar right on the beach there, the Cerritos Beach Club. Over the past year, it has gotten a ton of ribbing online for becoming a “membership only beach club” which enraged regulars who had been going there for years to surf and chillax with their families (and dogs) and now can’t because it is said to have become a private club. I am not sure what folks are talking about online because we were welcomed (with our dogs) with open arms, no membership required. The margaritas still flowed nicely, and the food was still the best thing on the beach, with the best vibe for watching surfers do their thing. We asked our waiter about all the rumors online and they shared that they were still open 100% to the public, but you just had to pay for parking now. Hmmmmm….maybe we hit them on a good day?
Either way, we were delighted to sit a spell in the sun, eating fish tacos and guacamole, while letting our dogs be entertained by the waves. This is one spot on the Pacific side of the peninsula, where kids, dogs, surfers, paddle boarders and swimmers can all co-mingle
together with the ease only a Baja getaway can provide.
A rubberneckers paradise, if you will.