06.24.13 – Day 1 - Just a few days ago, LA Splash Publisher Lawrence Davis called me and asked me if I had ever been to Mexico; even though I live just hours from the border, I had never crossed it. Lawrence then invited me to leave everything I know behind for a few days and join him in exploring Baja, California (not the state!). Now we are officially en route to Mexico, where we will temporarily leave our American lives for five days of adventure. We left Los Angeles only about two hours ago and we are already at the international border- that was the quickest most painless drive I’ve ever had- even in Monday morning traffic. Crossing the Mexican-American border couldn’t have been easier; we didn’t even have to get our passports checked and there was no line! Within minutes we are literally on Mexican soil.
**Side Note: Though passports are not checked when entering Mexico, returning to the States is not so simple- passports are obviously required and customs is a much lengthier process when entering the U.S., so keep this in mind!
First thing’s first after crossing the border: it’s time to turn our phones off. Against my own will I turn my phone onto ‘Airplane Mode’. While at first I did this reluctantly, after having my phone turned off for five minutes, I have never felt better. Instantaneous freedom. Who knew that putting all the heaviness and ties of my social life is just a 3-hour-drive-South away? The difference between So Cal and Northwest Mexico, in proximity, is small. However, the effect on your mentality is huge. Just cross that border and your entire life is behind you, at least for a few days. This is the quickest and easiest escape I ever would have thought of.
First stop: Tijuana. The culture shock is already, well… shocking me. This looks nothing like LA, or even Southern California for that matter. Who knew that just minutes after leaving the States you would enter a completely different world? Tiny shops and kiosks coat every square inch of the town and the streets are filled with people ready to shop and enjoy the wide range of amenities. The most undeniable part of the scene is the artwork- everywhere I look walls and buildings are covered in graffiti and paintings done by various local artists. There is so much going on- so much color – so much noise – so much life – I’m instantly excited just to be a part of it all.
**Side Note: Tijuana translates to “Aunt Jane” and was actually named after a real person.
Some of the first things that I notice are what appear to be zebras standing around in the streets. Peculiar. After asking around I am told that they are actually donkeys and that the stripes are painted onto them. The donkeys have always been a favorite for tourists to get photographs with, while in Mexico. However, before color photography was invented these donkeys would blend into the background of the black-and-white pictures. Thus, some brilliant person thought to paint stripes on them so that the donkeys would become more visible in pictures. Though we have color photography now, the striped donkeys have become a Tijuana tradition and the city is now well known for its “zonkeys”.
Right upon entering Tijuana we are lucky to meet with Dr. Jack Doron Goldwasser, President of the Mexican Business and Tourism Committee. He explains to us that certain businesses in the area that are deemed high-quality and trustworthy are awarded the "Outstanding Host" award by the Secretary of Tourism. He tells us that these are the shops and restauraunts that we should visit in Tijuana because they have been approved and regarded as superior in service and product quality. This is really good advice for anyone visiting Tijuana for the first time and is unsure of which shops and restaurants are approved for quality.
Now it’s lunchtime so we head over to Caesar’s Restaurant- home of the original Caesar salad! I walk into the gorgeous restaurant and am blown away by how accurately they have designed the 20’s theme: an old-school bar, wooden chairs, white tablecloths, walls covered with gold-framed, colorless photographs, matched with black-and-white tiled floors. I feel like I just stepped into a time machine.
I’m thinking to myself, “if the Caesar salad originated here, it better be good.” After having the dressing and salad prepared on a cart directly at our table, we finally get to taste the legendary dressing. One bite in and I think to myself, “Yup, this is definitely the real deal.” I probably would have driven down to Tijuana just to try this. The main course is beefsteak and it is finished off with a sweet crepe dessert that tasted like a Werther’s Caramel.
After lunch we head over to Rosarito - our next stop is the Baja California Center, or “BCC”. The venue is a brand new addition to the area and accommodates a huge variety of events. We take a tour of the massive building and I am immediately impressed – I find it comparable to the San Diego Convention Center. For those of you who attend conferences, like myself, you would instantly understand how valuable a place like this is for any city to have. In my opinion, the quality of a convention center is often indicative of the quality of the city – and this one is remarkable. The seemingly endless space accommodates sports events, motocross races, concerts, conventions, private parties, and meetings. The structure is perfectly placed right next to the ocean, providing for an ideal waterside view. There are seventeen different meeting rooms, with several different designs to serve any gathering-need. And of course, the BCC has an extraordinary exhibition area that can be divided into four independent halls to accommodate expositions. There is a substantial amount of outdoor garden space and an equally impressive amount of parking. It was no surprise to me when I learned that although the center was built just a few months ago, it has already hosted numerous shows, events and conferences.
Even more exciting than the building itself is learning that it is not even complete yet – over the next few years the convention center will be extended and even more structures will be added on in the surrounding area. General Director, Lic. Gabriel Camarena Salinas told us that all of the empty space surrounding the building would be utilized to expand the BCC in the near future. For anyone who wants to host the perfect private party, South of the border, you officially have an impeccable venue to do so.
Next stop on our list of noteworthy institutes in Baja is the Rosarito Beach Hotel. This beachside resort instantly steals my heart with its traditional Mexican-art themed buildings, literally just feet from the ocean. The hotel’s “backyard” is Pacific Coast sand, with a gorgeous pier leading into the water. The getaway resort has every and any amenity you could ever dream up: restaurant, shopping, spa, pools, gardens, dining halls, ballrooms- all right there. I could live here for weeks and never even have to leave the beach- everything you need is right in front of you. And for those who would want to wander off into the city anyway: all of the nightlife, shopping centers, and art galleries are only minutes away from the hotel.
One of the most noteworthy amenities of this resort is, definitely, the spa. I walk in and am blown away by how both regal and authentic the ambiance is: high ceilings, chandeliers, beautifully painted walls, and red carpets leading up to the spa’s second floor. Here, I discover some of those most luxurious spa treatment rooms I have ever seen- there is even a full-service salon.
The Rosarito Beach Hotel originated in 1925 as a family-owned mansion, so all of the buildings and halls have a beautiful classic look to them; if you’re like me and love that “old-school” feel, this is the place to go. Millions of people from throughout the world would agree with me one this- guests have included Hollywood stars, Mexican presidents, and international royalty.
We leave the hotel for an authentic and renowned dinner at La Casa del Pescador in Puerto Nuevo, one of the most well-known restaurants on the Rosarito strip. From the moment I walk in I can see the balcony’s ocean-view at the back of the restaurant- stunning. We are seated practically on the water itself and have the most surreal view of the sun setting into the Pacific Ocean. Before this moment I didn’t think things this beautiful existed in real life. Honestly, this view of the ocean waves crashing against the walls of the restaurant and golden light of the sunset pouring through the restaurant- I feel like my heart is bursting at the seems. I almost forgot I even came here for food…
...but I am reminded soon after: we are served traditional tortilla soup followed by the biggest, most mind-blowing display of lobster I have ever laid eyes on. Wow. I can tell how fresh the dish is- they literally pulled those lobsters out of the ocean below me, and put them on the plate in front of me. And they are phenomenal. The lobsters are served with handmade tortillas (of course), rice, and beans. Traditional Mexican food combined with fresh seafood- this is pure Baja. I had my dinner with a refreshing drink that the restaurant calls a “caprichosa”. Excellent everything.
**Note: “Caprichosa” is Spanish for “capricious”, meaning whimsical or flighty. I guess this drink is perfect for me. It is made with pineapple juice, melon liqueur, and champagne…yes, yes, YES.
After enjoying one of the most dreamlike meals of my life, it is time to check-in to our hotel for the night. Just when I thought things couldn’t possibly get any better, I arrive at Las Rocas Resort and Spa and I couldn’t have dreamed up a better place to spend my night. Of course, all of rooms have an ocean-front view and I can hear the water crashing onto the shore from my balcony. My suite has a miniature living room and a bed I could just swim in- plenty of room here. Tonight, I am literally falling asleep to the sound of the Pacific Ocean. I can hear the water from bed and I can feel the tide pulling me in…rocking to me to sleep. If all of this is a dream, please don’t wake me up.
Here are links to ALL FIVE DAYS of my wonderful trip to Baja California:
Photographs by Lawrence Davis