First Night in Baja: Adventure Stops from San Diego to San Quintín

By Carla King

Bahía de San Quintín is less than 200 miles south of the San Ysidro–Tijuana border off Mex 1. We like it as a first overnight stop on our way south, and I think you’ll like it too. It only takes about half a day to get there, so you can afford to make a few adventurous detours.

On our way down last week, Jonathan and I stopped in Ensenada at a rest stop and then a famous gourmet taco stand, followed by a Baja racing check point before we landed in San Quintín. I’ll tell you about them in a minute, but first…

Mexican Phone Service

As soon as we cross the border we get friendly messages from T-Mobile on our cell phones. We use T-Mobile because the phone works the same in Mexico and Canada as it does in the US.

T-Mobile Welcome to Mexico message

Don’t worry!

Sometimes you have to manually set the carrier to Telmex instead of Movistar for things to work correctly.

Ensenada

There’s a big rest stop before Ensenada that we like, El Mirador at Km. 84. You can’t miss it. It’s on a high cliff and there are lots of cars, a bunch of fruit and candy stands, and clean bathrooms, which you could probably use about now.

There’s a guy who will help you park. It’s a tough job out in the sun, so please hand him a tip as you drive out. (Tips are always appreciated in Baja, just round up at gas stations and be sure to tip anyone who cleans your windows or carries bags of ice for you.)

Buy a coconut, drink it up, and then hand it back so they can chop it up with lime and spices. Then go take a look at the view.

La Guerrerense Food Cart

Despite the coconut snack, I was hungry when we got to Ensenada! So I got my iPhone out and checked the Discover Baja site because I remembered Jen had some great food cart recommendations. With her help and Siri’s we made our way just two blocks off the main road to La Guerrerense, which is, apparently, the most famous street cart in the world. (See Jen’s article.) Anthony Bourdain loved it, and now, I do, too.

I was a little worried that its fame might have made them lazy, but holey moley, that was the best seafood tostada ever! I ordered the ensalada de jaiba con camaron, pulpo y callo.

Baja, Ensenada, street food, food cart

Don’t let the faded sign fool you. This is the best!

The sign makes it look awful and though it had won a first prize I didn’t order it until the guy ahead of me did and saw how amazing it looked. I was so excited he gave me his. What a gentleman!

La Guerre Renne Taco Stand, Ensenada

Baja street food doesn’t get any better than this!

Those crabs, shrimp, octopus, and scallops had clearly just come out of the ocean, and their salsa is incredibly fresh, too. I also ordered their famous ceviche that’s made with orange juice, which makes it much sweeter than ceviche marinated in lime. Each dish is a nice little flavor sensation, and you could easily spend an hour eating your way through the menu.

We stood eating and chatting with the family next to us (whose head-of-household had given me his tostada). Their daughter was eating a fish taco from another stand nearby because she didn’t like raw fish. Silly girl! Point being, though, there is plenty of delicious street food here and groups, or colectivos, of carts who band together, so you have lots of choices. But you may have to stand up because there’s very little seating there and it’s always crowded.

Coyote Cal’s

About an hour later we made a 24-mile detour west of Mex 1 to Coyote Cal’s, a place I’d wanted to visit for a long time because of its location on the sea and its fame as a Baja race and adventure stop.

You pass through a little place called Ejido Eréndira on the way. The sea is wild and the wind is strong!

Erendira, Coyote Cals, Baja, racing, fishing

Rugged seascape in Erendira near Coyote Cal’s.

As we sat enjoying the sea, a little snub-nosed fishing boat was being towed back to shore by a tractor.

Erendira Baja Fishing Boat and Tractor

This little snub-nosed fishing boat looks to be custom made for the water conditions here in Erendira.

Winding our way back to the road to Coyote Cal’s, a few local fishermen leaned against a dented truck bed with a pile of plastic coated burlap bags that were bristling with tails. If we were staying here we might have bought one for dinner.

The road to Coyote Cal’s deteriorates even further, the result of traffic and nature, the wind and sea eroding the cliffside, undercutting it in sections that will soon need to be addressed in a more serious way than posting large rocks and orange cones to warn of impending disaster. We passed a station wagon loaded with gringos rolling slowly along the washboard and ruts, straddling the largest potholes, proving that any vehicle can make it through with a careful driver.

coyote-cals

Coyote Cal’s is an easy drive from the border into Baja to start your adventures.

Cal’s is at the top of the hill and an oasis of everything you might want if you’re traveling through Baja. First of all, you get to see trucks with suspension like this.

Baja racing truck suspension

Baja 1000-worthy suspension.

The owner—pictured below at the bar flanked by his kids—told us he’d put $100,000 into that truck. After they finished their drinks they donned helmets and raced down to pre-run the Baja 500.

Coyote Cal's Baja Bar

Coyote Cal’s Baja Bar has a huge tequila tasting menu.

There were lots of vehicles pre-running the Baja 500, including motorcycles, ATVs, and even a few classic stock Volkswagon bugs.

Coyote Cal’s has a lot of bunks ($20/bed) for tired racers and people looking for “old Baja adventures” like surfing, fishing, mountain biking, and nature tours. They will rent you mountain bikes, body and surfboards, wetsuits, and snorkel gear. You can even host your own Baja house party there.

Coyote Cal's bunk rooms, Baja

The downstairs bunk room has its own kitchen and you can use the main kitchen upstairs after 9:00.

Coyote Cal's, Baja, adventures

There are a few colorful private bedrooms for couples or their more private and cash-rich patrons.

cals-view

The crow’s nest bedroom has a spectacular view of the bay.

And Rick’s wife, Ta, offers Thai massages at $50/hour and runs a massage school on the premises.

Ta's Massage at Coyote Cal's in Baja

Next time I’ll make time for that.

San Quintín

San Quintín is our usual first-night destination (barring a Tecate wine country splurge) and we headed to our usual spot, the Old Mill Hotel.

We usually eat at Molino Viejo Restaurante. We love the big plate of ceviche, oysters right out of the bay, and Jonathan usually orders fish sautéed in butter and garlic. But we got waylaid. Javier, the owner-chef of the Old Mill Baja Restaurant checked us into the hotel and then showed us his cheese.

Javier chef Old Mill Restaurant Baja Cheese

Javier and his cheese in San Quíntin.

Some years ago, Javier worked in Holland translating Spanish-English for some business folks and had a pasta with truffles flambé a table on half a Parmesan cheese round, and has always wanted to do that. So he saved up his pesos and purchased a Parmesan, had it shipped all the way here and, lucky us, we were among the first recipients of the manifestation of that dream.

Old Mill Baja Restaurant Chef Javier Cheese

Javier tosses an angel hair pasta on the cheese, then adds the seafood and veggies. I love to come across surprises like this in Baja. After dinner, we bonded with some KTM riders, including this guy, and perhaps had too many margaritas.

Bad Choices in Baja

Can you say, “bad influence?”

He and his two buddies had ridden their KTM 500s down from LA and were goofing off pre-running the Baja 500. Their bikes were all outfitted the same, down to the stickers and the Giant Loop MoJavi saddlebags and tail bags.

KTM 500, Baja, off-road

Luckily, our room was just a few steps away.

There are lots of other options in San Quintín, including Don Eddie’s right next door, whose son now runs the place and makes a mean seafood omelet. Next time, less tequila, and the seafood omelet in the morning.

Don Eddies, Baja, San Quintin, Sport Fishing, Breakfast

As luck would have it, we woke up to a dead battery in the Tacoma (so much for that warranty we can’t exactly use right now) and our Micro-Start wasn’t charged up, so we had to recruit some surfers in a Camry to give us a jump.

camry-surfers

I love my Camry and have driven it to Mulegé a couple of times these past years. These guys were headed to a secret surfing spot down a gnarly dirt road loaded with four passengers, boards, and baggage. Sorry… they made me swear I wouldn’t tell.

Baja Toyota Camry Surfers

From there, we headed on down south to our place on Posada Concepción near Mulegé to close up the house for the summer and to get some good snorkeling in. We made it before dark, at about 7:00.

It’s great to be home, even if the thermometer is hitting 90 degrees here in Baja Sur. The days are long and the water is clear and calm and so warm you can snorkel for hours without a wetsuit. The fish are kind of surprised to see us this late in the season.

Angelfish. Sea of Cortez. Baja Mulege. Posada Concepcion

Hey! What are you doing back already?

 

Carla King, overland adventure writerCarla King has been writing about her motorcycle adventure travels since 1995. You can read about her misadventures in North America, China, Europe, India, and Africa at CarlaKing.com and also visit her Baja ADV channel

 

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