Debauchery & Composure in Rosarito, Baja California

I pressed the brakes to settle amongst the hundreds of cars waiting to cross into Tijuana, Mexico for Memorial Day weekend. Cars swerved in ...

I pressed the brakes to settle amongst the hundreds of cars waiting to cross into Tijuana, Mexico for Memorial Day weekend. Cars swerved in order to narrowly avoid running into each other all in an effort to find an open lane through the bottleneck. Above, dark cloud formations speckled the sky as I drove with my girlfriend through the mountainous terrain toward Rosarito, a beachside community in Baja California known for its street tacos, shorefront bars, and artisanal goods.

We met up with my cousins (from my mom's side of the family) and their significant others at Rosarito to grab a quick bite at El Norteño, a local taqueria on the main road. There was an abundance of taquerias where you could get a quesadilla, taco, burrito, mulita, and torta. Our holiday getaway was specifically planned as a family bonding experience. Our entire group of nine occupied a table as we enjoyed the bustling atmosphere and tacos with the works.

el norteño, rosarito, taqueria
From the taqueria, we could see street vendors set up stalls with a variety of artisanal goods including handmade housewares, clothing and jewelry for all ages, musical instruments, toys and street food. We devoured our quesadillas and carne asada tacos and drank our Mexican coke without a care in the world. After lunch, we all headed back on to the beach-adjacent highway to reach Puerto Nuevo, a lobster village that would be our home for the next few days.

We pulled off the highway onto the dirt shoulder to enter the gated seafront community. Our rented beach house was nestled within a group of shorefront homes, cobblestone streets, and a variety of thriving cacti. Our two-story home featured colorful Mexican-style decor, luxe furniture, and a balcony and deck with a palapa (open-sided structure with a thatched roof) where you could scan the ocean bluff views.
puerto nuevo, campo descanso
Our house was less than a minute walk to the bluffs overlooking Descanso bay. The area featured a communal recreation yard, a couple of horseshoe pits, chaise lounges, and private access stairs that led down to the shoreline. While an elusive and slightly fishy stench permeated the seaside air, I found the views peaceful and relaxing. I sipped on an Indio Mexican lager and ate Mexican Doritos that had a spicy kick, unlike their American counterpart.

That night, we all took a couple of taxis back into Rosarito to Papas & Beer, a 24-hour beachfront night club. This holiday hot spot catered to youthful indiscretions and discretions alike. Our pink and green neon wristbands gave us access to the open bar upstairs from eight to midnight when the concert started. I sipped on Tecate Light all throughout the night since that was the only beer on tap. I gazed above at the string of lights stretching from the concert stage to palm trees and the rooftop bars.
papas and beer, rosarito, memorial day 2018
We all pitched in to reserve a table on the beach dance floor. Servers brought out a bottle of vodka on ice and pineapple juice, as well as another ice bucket full of Tecate Lights. DJ's blasted out energizing beats to pump up the crowd. I enjoyed the perpetual buzz I got from drinking extra light lagers paired with the heady high from the dance music. The crowd roared when Atlanta rapper MadeinTYO came out on stage. The communal euphoric experience was contagious, even if I didn't know the artist.

We ended the night deep into the early morning. Food vendors lined up directly outside the venue's exit catering to hungry vacationers. In the middle of the street, police vehicles kept their flashing lights to presumably keep order  After a few minutes, a taxi van picked up the entire crew and drove us through the 20-minute dark journey back to our house. While I won't be making a habit out of visiting dance clubs, the event was a welcome departure from my typical routine.
hot dogs, rosarito
The next morning, my girlfriend and I took our cups of tea to the chaise lounges overlooking the Rosarito bluffs. While the water pressure in the shower left more to be desired, I managed to rejuvenate myself for our second day in Rosarito. For brunch, we drove a few miles north to an intimate French cafe called Bleu Galley Deli Cafe. Inside, attentive and welcoming cooks and servers greeted us with friendly smiles and a vibrant atmosphere.

Our meal began with a complementary serving of homemade biscuits and cilantro pesto. My girlfriend ordered a vegetable confit that looked like a work of art and I got a croque madame and rich vegetable soup. After our memorable meal, we kept driving north back into Rosarito to explore the area a bit more. Rosarito was a hub for vibrant street art that covered everything from alleys to shops. We appreciated the plentiful selection of coffeehouses and gourmet vegetarian-friendly fare.
croque madame, bleu galley, puerto nuevo, french
As we continued to explore the buzzy Rosarito main road, we stopped at FoodFest & Craft Beer Plaza. My girlfriend and I shared an Astillero IPA from Agua Mala at Cerveceria Tinta Negra, a taphouse featuring a wide array of local craft beers. We were grateful for the free wi-fi, shade, food selection, and just having a place to rest for a few minutes. Within the food plaza, you could grab a surf and turf burger, shrimp and chips entree, or a healthy juice.

After we shared the brew, we continued to walk the road passing artisanal kitchens, cafes, and candy shops. Once we had checked out most of the storefronts, we walked a few blocks west toward the beach. People splashed in the ocean, talked amongst friends, rode horses across the sand, and sat around tables taking in the view. Live music came from every corner as people celebrated the weekend and being with family.
street art, rosarito
As we finished exploring as much as we could, we came across Cafe de la Fonda, a coffeeshop that served churros, wine, and coffee from Colombia. The churro was game-changing. We enjoyed this fried treasure on the second floor rooftop overlooking Rosarito beach. Our parked car was directly across the street. One of my greatest joys of the trip was finding that perfect, free parking spot for the day.

We headed back to Cerveceria Tinta Negra to grab a La Lupulosa IPA from Insurgente. I couldn't resist, so I grabbed dinner at Nanna's Fish & Chips. My fish and chips had a distinctly Baja/cajun twist that complemented the three different sauces, each increasingly spicier than the other. It's safe to say that I'll be taking more holiday trips down to Rosarito to try the tacos, burgers, and tortas from FoodFest plaza and beyond.
fish and chips, insurgente la lupulosa IPA craft beer, rosarito, foodfest & craft beer plaza
After a full day of walking the streets of Zona Rosarito, my girlfriend and I met up with the rest of my family at a beachfront and open-air seafood restaurant. A live banda played a mixture of percussion, woodwind, and brass instruments. A sheet of darkness replaced the sunlight as partygoers continued their Memorial Day antics. Pedestrians carried around micheladas, while others took advantage of tempting drink specials available in every bar.

A short walk led us directly to a fireworks-only store. A cartoon dynamite adorned the side of the shop. This animated firework had it's fuse lit and was covering its ears. Next door were a line of shops selling blankets, sweatshirts, and traditional Mexican jewelry. I bought my girlfriend a handmade bracelet and necklace, while I bought a turtle trinket. We stopped by Aroma del Che... Café where I shared a chai latte with my girlfriend.
puerto nuevo, campo descanso
We returned home and played lotería, Mexico's version of bingo.  It was too late to light the fireworks my cousin had bought, so our excitement had to be quelled for a different time. The following morning me, my girlfriend, my younger cousin, and her boyfriend headed back home around 11 am. It took us a while to find the appropriate entrance at the Otay border crossing. Finally, we found the way after I asked a gas store employee for directions.

The hour and a half wait was assuaged by Mexican junk food, homemade ice cream, and refreshing water to wash it all down. We all recounted our experiences and tentatively planned our next family getaway. With a trip to Barcelona and Queretaro in the works, my girlfriend and I are excited to add to our growing list of places we've visited. Don't hesitate to get your passport and book a trip down to Baja California as soon as possible.

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2 comments

  1. Awesome content Fred. Sounds like you both had an amazing time. I love Rosarito! Barcelona? Can't wait to read about your next trip! The food sounds so delicious and I'll have to give Nannas Fish and Chips a try next time I'm down that way. Keep up the great content. Salud!

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    1. Thanks for reading, Matt! Carmen and I are thinking of doing Barcelona and Berlin in October, so I'll definitely be writing about my favorite places to get food and explore.

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