Divine Daytripper Freelance Travel Writer


Rosarito Beach, Baja California, Mexico

Dancer at Cinco de Mayo Festival

Buxom and alluring, the traditional Mexican señorita invites you in.  Bienvenidos.  Welcome.  She is a stained-glass image gracing the Mexican-colonial archway of the historic Rosarito Beach Hotel.  Written below this Jane Russell look-alike is a Spanish phrase, “through this door walk the most beautiful women on earth.”  At this 80-year-old hotel, all women are beautiful.

I am in Rosarito Beach with my friend Kim on a three-day weekend.  I’ve just finished a large, stressful project and am ready for a relaxing adventure filled with food and drink, a spa treatment, and some exploration.  “Are you ready for a margarita?” Kim asked me, heading straight for the Azteca Bar, “because I am more than ready.”

Rosarito Beach is located along the Pacific Ocean, a scant 30-minute drive from San Diego.  It is becoming a world class tourist destination with luxury oceanfront hotels, European-style spas and fine dining.  Yet it still retains its old-world Mexican charm complete with a fledgling artist colony and a strong devotion to religion.  In short, Rosarito Beach offers the many aspects of Mexico, new and old.

Walking through the hotel lobby I gain a sense of history that permeates this charming seaside resort.  The original owners, Manuel Barbachano and his wife Maria Luisa Chabert traveled throughout Mexico and Europe for artisan treasures to embellish their elegant hotel.  There are hand-painted floor tiles in brick red with green and yellow geometric squares, ceilings painted in festive colors, murals in the lobby showing old-world villas, Mayan artwork, and wrought iron railings and banisters.  It feels like stepping back to an elegant time in Mexico’s history when life was a slow serenade delivered by a strolling Mariachi band.

It’s easy for me to imagine Hollywood’s golden age alive and thriving at the Rosarito Beach Hotel.  In the 40’s and 50’s I might have heard the Glenn Miller Orchestra playing “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” in the El Mexicano Room; Ali Khan, the Shah of Iran’s son, courting actress Rita Hayworth by the Olympic sized swimming pool; John Wayne and Frank Sinatra ordering an Old Fashion martini at the Beachcomber’s Bar; or Marilyn Monroe skinny-dipping in the Pacific Ocean.
“Movie actors and wealthy people from Southern California used to come here and stay,” said Hugo “Señor Torres” Chabert, the hotel’s owner since 1975 and a former Mayor of Rosarito.  “It all changed with the jet age.  Now we cater to middle class Americans.”

Playboy magazine named Rosarito Beach one of the “Super Hot Spots” for spring break—the new right of passage for 18 to 24 year-old college students.  The Festival Plaza, a block-wide party zone catering to youthful revelers, features a hotel with a permanent Ferris wheel.  In 2004 and 2005 Baja Traveler Magazine voted the Festival Plaza the number one hotel for spring-breakers in Baja.  Even though Kim and I aren’t 18 to 24 year-olds and college is a hazy memory, we still wanted to experience spring break, if just for one night.

Walking around the plaza, I saw young women wearing napkin-sized bathing suits and eager young men gyrating to ear-bleeding music blasting from the D.J. booth.

We strolled along Boulevard Benito Juarez, the city’s main street.   Resting at the Pancho Villa Cantina to my endless delight, I saw remnants of a liquor-soaked rattlesnake at the bottom of a big barrel jar of tequila, a recipe handed down from the viejos

“More than a million tourists visit Rosarito Beach each year,” said Felix Avalos, public relations manager at Festival Plaza. “March and April are the traditional spring break months that bring 130,000 people to Rosarito Beach and generate over $66 million dollars in revenue.”

After a night of dancing and drinking at the Rock and Roll Taco, Kim and I were ready for a spa experience.  We traveled south along the Tijuana-Ensenada toll road, and saw a 75-foot statue of Jesus Christ, arms outstretched blessing everyone who passed by.  Perched below the statue was the Las Rocas resort and spa, a 74-room oceanfront resort meant to uplift the body, mind and spirit.  I imagined myself experiencing one of their signature spa treatments, a Mexican chocolate wrap or lavender infused hot stone facial, while gazing out over the calming waves of the Pacific Ocean, sipping cucumber lemon water.  Visiting luminaries to this resort include singer Julio Inglesias, Sr., actor Christopher Chacon, and United States Treasurer Rosario Marin, the woman who signs our dollar bills. 

“Most of the treatments that our visitors experience at Las Rocas are unique to this Woman weaving cloth.spa,” said Antonio Salceda, Spa Director at Las Rocas. “We’ve also created a line of spa products that are made in Baja using local resources.  We provide employment opportunities for people.”   The fact that I was helping to support the local economy made my blissful, yet practical Swedish massage even more enjoyable.

On our drive back to the hotel, we stopped at the artist colony of Popotla.  It is located across the highway from the movie set at Foxploration, where self-proclaimed “King of the World” director James Cameron’s Titanic was built.  Popotla is a living visual expression of the Bohemian Mexican lifestyle that transcends place and time through soul-stirring, thought provoking, hard-core creativity. 

At first glance I thought Popotla was a long row of wooden clapboard houses hosting a gigantic yard sale.  On display were large statues, rustic furniture, earthen pottery and knick-knacks of every variety.  Upon closer inspection, I saw Popotla as a conglomeration of professional, high-quality galleries with local and national artisans working in mediums such as painting, sculpting, textile weaving and jewelry making.  Many of these eclectic galleries feature artists-in-residence who create their art on site in studios lofts.

Popotla artist.Rocio Hoffman is the curator for Polo’s Fine Arts Gallery.  Rocio means “little morning drops of dew”, and the curator is a piece of art herself, dressed in a burgundy and gold paisley patterned vest, with a red scarf tucked into a lime green sleeveless blouse.  “There are over 40 artists in these galleries that come from all over the world,” said Rocio.  “We can make a living here.  We can sell original artwork for the same price Americans pay at home for reproductions.” 

Kim bought some earthenware pottery with a sunflower design, and I contemplated an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on a small gold mirror.  In Rosarito Beach religion is a part of the social and economic mainstay of the region.  It seems to ground the kind-hearted Mexican people and soften a sometimes gritty third-world reality that is also a facet of Rosarito Beach.

As our trip came to an end, Kim and I took a walk on the pier.  I saw horseback riders, couples walking hand-in-hand, and children playing on the beach.  The image of the traditional Mexican señorita welcoming me to Rosarito Beach came to mind.  This time she whispered a different greeting. 

Hasta pronto.  See you soon.