Located just 2.5 hours south of the border, San Felipe is a small fishing village on the Sea of Cortez that has grown into a popular spot for expats and tourists. With its proximity to the U.S., San Felipe is perfect for weekend travelers coming to enjoy the relaxed Baja lifestyle. Fish tacos, sunrises over the Sea of Cortez, and prolific fishing trips are the way of life in San Felipe. The warm weather and laid-back pace of life draw U.S. and Canadian expats and visitors who come to fish, eat, and relax.
The malecón is the heart of San Felipe, running along Playa San Felipe, the beach where panga fishing boats gather. Little taco stands, restaurants and bars line the other side of the street. Explore along the malecón and then head to check out the views of the sea and city from the Shrine of the Virgin Guadalupe, one of San Felipe’s most iconic landmarks. On the northern end of the malecón, walk across the bridge toward the small mountain with the shrine on top, next to the lighthouse. You’ll need to climb a lot of stairs to get to the top where the shrine is, but the views make the trek worthwhile.
San Felipe and Ensenada are in a constant rivalry for which city is the true home to the fish taco. No matter the true origin, it’s Taqueria y Mariscos Adriana on the San Felipe malecón that is rumored to be the fish taco stand that inspired the U.S. Rubio’s fish taco chain. Like most taco stands, the facilities are bare-minimum, but the fish tacos are great and shouldn’t be missed.
After filling up on fish tacos, spend the afternoon doing what San Felipe is best suited for—relaxing. Sun bathe along the beach or grab a kayak and head out to paddle around the Sea of Cortez.
Try dinner at any of the downtown restaurants like Mariscos La Vaquita (Av. Mar de Cortés, 686/577-2837), featuring large traditional Mexican seafood platters like lobster or steamed clams. They have a selection of craft beers from Mexicali as well. After dinner, hang like a local and head to Club Bar Miramar (Av. Mar de Cortés 315, tel. 686/577-1192) for a drink. Expats have been coming to this classic spot since the 1940s to play ping-pong or pool, but mostly to just hang out and catch up with friends.
Head south to get out of town and explore some of the surrounding area. The road from San Felipe is now paved all the way south to Bahía San Luis Gonzaga, providing easy access to the region and the Sea of Cortez. Just south of San Felipe is one of the treasures of the entire peninsula, the Valle de los Gigantes, or the Valley of the Giants. The area is filled with massive cardón cacti that grow to heights of nearly 60 feet tall and weigh up to 25 tons. Many of the cacti are over one hundred years old. These giant cardón cacti are one of the most-photographed attractions in northern Baja and you can’t take a trip to this region without getting your photo with one of them. The turnoff is around Km. 14 near Rancho Punta Estrella. It’s US$10 per vehicle to enter the park. There’s a parking area where visitors can leave their vehicles and hike around. Because of soft sand, four-wheel drive is required in order to venture farther into the park by vehicle.
After getting your fill of photos with the giant cacti, continue south to the beautiful and tranquil Bahía San Luis Gonzaga. The bay is actually comprised of two bays that are separated by a sand spit that appears during low tide and connects to a small island in the bay. This peaceful area is prime for camping, relaxing and stargazing at night. Stop in at Alfonsina’s for a shrimp burrito and a cold beer with beautiful bay views.
If you’ve got the time before heading back to San Felipe, head south for another 35 kilometer to stop in for a cold beer and some conversation at Coco’s Corner, a roadside institution for Baja adventurers. Coco’s Corner is legendary for its remote location in the middle of nowhere and its owner, Coco, who has been there for 26 years. The seemingly haphazard structure is decorated with empty beer cans and filled with off-road stickers plastered on the walls and signed underwear hanging from the ceiling. Coco has a famous book (he’s filled eight of them) with the signatures of people who have passed through and a log of their vehicles. Stop for a cold beer and the opportunity to check out one of Baja’s quirky desert legends.
For drinks and beachfront views, try Barefoot Bar (Ave. Mar de Cortés, tel. 686/577-1055) at the El Cortez hotel. The location is right on the beach so it’s a great place to grab a margarita or a beer while enjoying views of the Sea of Cortez. There’s live music on the weekends.
Fishermen can’t pass up an opportunity for a day of fishing in San Felipe. What’s available to catch depends on when and exactly where you go, but usually anglers will find sea bass, cabrilla, corbina, trigger fish, red snapper, sierra mackerel, dorado, grouper, roosterfish, amberjack, and plenty of yellowtail. Pangas are available to hire for day trips and can be found on the beach along the malecón in front of Miramar Bar. The price is about $60 per person, which will include the fee for a daily Mexican fishing license, life jackets, bait, and reels. Boats leave around 6:30am as winds pick up in the afternoon and evening. It’s best to make advance arrangements, so go down at least the evening (if not a few days) beforehand to make plans. Many boats head to Isla Konsag for fishing, a 45-minute boat ride from the malecón. Referred to by locals as “The Rock,” there’s a variety of wildlife on and around the island including marine birds, a colony of sea lions, and, of course, fish down below.
Head south of town to the Puertecitos Hot Springs. Enjoy ocean hot springs, nestled into the rocks along the coastline of the ocean. High tide is the best time to visit the hot springs as the ocean waters cool the hot springs down to the perfect temperature to enjoy the beautiful scenery and warm waters. High tide time changes daily so consult an online tide calendar such as Tide Forecast. It’s $12 per vehicle to access the hot springs through Puertecitos Seaside Campo. Access to the hot springs is half a block past the Pemex gas station, on the left.
Spend your last evening enjoying dinner on the malecón at the likes of Bajamar Seafood and Steak House (Av. Mar de Cortés 100, email@example.com, tel. 686/221-1359) or their more casual sister eatery, Taco Factory serving taco and margaritas under a large palapa roof right next door. If you’re in the mood for something different, The Sweet Spot Bar and Grill (Malecón 162, tel. 686/577-6366) is owned by former San Diego Charger, D’Andre White, and specializes in southern style smoked BBQ. The menu features items like pulled pork, ribs as well as seafood.
Where to Stay:
Hacienda Don Jesus (Mar Báltico 829, tel. 686/577-0080, www.donjesus.com, US$60) has 31 rooms located just one block off of the malecón. Rooms are clean and comfortable with cable television, wifi, air conditioning, and toiletries. Kids will love the pool area and there’s a large secure parking lot.
Hotel El Cortez (Av. Mar de Cortez, tel. 686/577-1055, US$85) is located right on the beach, just south of town and malecón. The 112 rooms are a bit dated but have air conditioning and are large and comfortable. There’s a pool on the property in addition to a restaurant and the popular Barefoot Bar.
If you want to stay out of town, Baja Rentals (U.S. tel. 619/276-1430, US$120), a cluster of rental houses on the seaside bluff in Percebu. Houses are equipped with full kitchens, cable TV, DVD players, and board games. They have kayaks for rent, an outdoor grill for barbecuing and bonfire pits.