DescriptionNote: For current information about safety/security issues in Rosarito, refer to the U.S. State Department website (travel.state.gov).
A Prohibition-era hideaway for Hollywood's Golden Age elite, the beach town of Rosarito (roh-sah-REE-toh) was traditionally an easy sell for local tourism boosters. Only a 29-kilometer (18-mile) drive south of the U.S./Mexico border? Check. Sunny, Southern California-type weather? Check. Fantastic fish tacos and cheap cerveza? Si, señor. It's not Tijuana? Perfect.
Up until 2008, weekends and spring break months saw bumper-to-bumper traffic along Mex. 1/Boulevard Benito Juárez, Rosarito's main drag, as sun and fun seekers from San Diego and L.A. converged for tequila shooters at the massive Papas & Beer beach club, or went on a romantic horseback ride along the shore. While you can still do both, negative news headlines generated by Mexico's warring drug cartels have kept Americans away in recent years, and local merchants jokingly refer to Rosarito (also called Rosarito Beach and Playas de Rosarito) as “un pueblo fantasma” (a ghost town).
Rosarito is located at the junction of Mex. 1 (free) and Mex. 1-D (toll), both four lanes divided from Tijuana. The toll charge is around 31 pesos; it must be paid in cash, but dollars are accepted. Driving the free road is not recommended due to often-heavy local traffic.
Approaching from the north on the toll road, the outstanding Pacific views are periodically obstructed by high-rise condo and hotel complexes, many of them half-completed construction projects that have been abandoned due to lack of funding. Faded real estate “For Sale” banners flap in the breeze outside gated beachfront communities favored by American expats.
The picture brightens once you hit town. Waves tumble ashore. Local fishermen cast off from the pier. In the distant ocean haze are the jagged silhouettes of the Coronado Islands. A few gringos buzz down the beach on rented ATVs. Beach bar hucksters reel in afternoon imbibers with 2-for-1 drink specials. The scene is tranquilo (calm), quite the opposite of the drug war mayhem depicted in the international media.
The municipo of Rosarito stretches more than 25 miles south to the village of La Misión, but the main tourist strip is little more than a mile long and manageable on foot. Walking the downtown area and beach is safe during the day, and the special Tourist Police (Policía Turística) force maintains a highly visible presence. A late night stroll downtown is not advised; the dramatic downturn in tourism has forced many restaurants and nightlife spots out of business, and the streets can be dark and eerily deserted, particularly during the week.
Driving from the U.S. can be a hassle due to potentially long waits at the border. A taxi from Tijuana to Rosarito will cost about $35 (U.S.) one way; it's safest to use one of the designated yellow-and-white tourist taxis. Taxis are not metered; always determine the fare before you get in. In town, taxis are easily flagged down along Boulevard Benito Juárez; the main cab stand is in the center of town, across the street from the Rosarito Beach Hotel.
Located at Blvd. Juárez #31, this historic beachfront accommodation opened in 1925 and is well worth a look even if you don't spend the night. The ornate lobby is vintage Baja California, replete with arched entryways, lovely tile work, beautiful hand-painted ceilings and wall murals depicting everything from Spanish missions to mythic Zapotec gods of death.
Out the hotel's rear exit is the Rosarito Beach Hotel Pier, a 500-yard-long wooden pier supported by towering metal pylons. At pier's end, local fishermen haul up their catch. Pelicans dive-bomb for lunch around the offshore rocks. A lone surfer tucks into a nice hollow wave. Pier access is free to hotel guests; non-guests are charged 12 pesos. Just south of the pier are operators offering guided horseback rides along the beach (about $15 U.S. per half hour) and ATV rentals ($20 per half hour).
Plaza de los Artístas, next to the hotel's security gate, houses a few art galleries and a small wine tasting shop. You'll also find quality jewelry, handmade furniture and handicrafts from the state of Michoacán. For those running low on cash, banks with secure, glass booth-enclosed ATMs line the east side of Boulevard Juárez; withdrawals are in pesos.
If you're hunting for tacky souvenirs, curio shops line the west side of Juárez. Most shops don't take plastic, and those that do will usually add on a hefty fee, but U.S. dollars are universally accepted. The Handicrafts Market (Mercado de Artesanías), on the west side of Juárez between calles Acacias and Roble, is a maze-like shopping arcade with more than 100 vendor stalls. Merchandise ranges from cheap “Made in China” gifts to surprisingly exquisite handcrafted items.
Just north of the pier are Rosarito's three main beach bar clubs. Papas & Beer, an offshoot of the Ensenada original, is on the beach where Calle Nogal meets the sand. This mega club claims to be the biggest bar in Baja. On weekdays the place is quiet, but plenty of locals and some dedicated Southern Californians still come on weekends to boogie in the faux tropical setting. Nearby are Club Corona and Club Iggy's; the latter sometimes has live music.
Carne asada fans will want to sniff out Tacos El Yaqui, a simple stand one block east of Boulevard Juárez at the corner of Calle de la Palma and Avenida Mar del Norte. Two fresh flour tortillas loaded with meat, pinto beans, guacamole, onions, cilantro and (if you dare) grilled jalapeños will set you back $6 (U.S.).
On Memorial Day weekend, the Rosarito Art Fest features more than 100 arts and crafts booths, plus food stands and live music. Traditional Mexican eats, along with music concerts, go-karts and animal rides for the kids, add up to family fun during the Rosarito City Fair. It takes place the second half of July at Plaza San Fernando, north of the Rosarito Beach Hotel between Boulevard Juárez and the ocean.
Visitor InfoRosarito Tourist Office: Address not available ROSARITO, BA . Phone:(661)612-0200
Things to SeePuerto Nuevo