Losing a Baja Legend: Don Johnson from Hotel Serenidad in Mulegé



Don Johnson, owner of Hotel Serenidad in Mulegé, passed away at age 94 on September 15, 2020. A true Baja legend, his name is synonymous with Hotel Serenidad, where his hospitality welcomed everyone from Hollywood elite to Baja road trippers for more than five decades.

Don and Nancy Johnson

Don was born on December 20, 1925 and grew up in San Jose, California. He first visited Mulegé in 1959 when he and a friend spent a week navigating a panga from San Felipe all the way to Mulegé. That spirit of adventure led Don to leave his job as a custom tailor in San Jose to move to Mulegé fulltime in 1961 to become part owner of the Loma Linda Hotel, located on the north side of the river. He loved the warm, welcoming people of Mulegé who respected Don and his strong work ethic and gracious personality. Don fell in love with a local girl, Nancy Ugalde Gorosave, and the two married in 1964. It was a love story that would span more than 50 years until Nancy’s passing in 2016.

Don bought Hotel Serenidad with Nancy and two other business partners in 1968. He built a 4,000-foot airstrip which was an integral part of the business succeeding as the transpeninsular highway was still a dirt road at the time. The hotel became a lush oasis and an exotic escape for people flying in for a weekend of true relaxation and fun.

Top photo: Don Johnson and John Wayne with other friends and family. Bottom photo: US Ambassador John Gavin appointing Don as the US Consular Agent for BCS

The landing strip brought Hollywood regulars to the hotel such as Fred Astaire, Charles Lindbergh, James Arness, John Denver, Olivia Newton John, and John Wayne. Don developed a deep friendship with “The Duke” who was a frequent visitor to Baja and Hotel Serenidad. Don was likewise a guest many times at Wayne’s home in Newport Beach.

Don was a gregarious and welcoming host—a true ambassador for Baja California. That position was made official when he was appointed as the U.S. consul for Baja California Sur, a position he held for 13 years before the consulate was moved to Cabo San Lucas.

It’s hard to find a Baja traveler who doesn’t have a story to tell about Don Johnson and his legendary Saturday night pig roasts, or at least a tale about having one too many of the famously potent Hotel Serenidad margaritas! Don’s welcoming generosity was legendary and will not be forgotten.

Don is survived by his three daughters, Diana, Sandra, and Sara Laura along with many grandchildren. The family intends to upgrade Hotel Serenidad and continue its operations.


All photos courtesy Brown McPherson











16 thoughts on “Losing a Baja Legend: Don Johnson from Hotel Serenidad in Mulegé

  1. Sounds like a life well lived. I hope someone can continue his legacy with the hotel. Such a great old school Baja place.

    1. tony parrinella says:

      Hi Cindy your old friend tony parrinella from san jose ages ago very sorry to hear about your dad hope things are well with you still remember the bike ride on the 17 mile drive

  2. Cindy Johnson Schmidt says:

    Including, his 1st born daughter, Cindy Johnson. Born in San Jose, August 1956.
    Cindy & her 3 sisters, continue to carry on their family relationships & Johnson Legacy.

  3. Karla L says:

    A true legend. An amazing human being with such charisma and love for people that was contagious. He fell in love with Mexico and his people and we as Mexicans love him for that. Thank you Mr Johnson for giving us so many great memories.

  4. Cindy Holcomb says:

    My deepest condolences to Don’s family
    So blessed to have meet Don over the past 3 years. Mulege will not be the same but blessed that his legacy will remain at Serenidad

  5. Claudia Casta-Pecora says:

    The “Don” Johnson will be dearly missed, the sparkle in his eyes and his beautiful smile touched many lives. He was surrounded by love u til the moment he departed and his legacy will live on….his three girls will make sure of that!
    RIP Mr. Johnson

  6. Jon Jessen says:

    On April 30, 1975 I dead sticked into the Serenidad air strip. Don Johnson found a place for me, my wife and a friend and wife until parts were flown in and our engine was repaired by a Mexicana Airlines mechanic stationed there. We flew On home on May 3rd. On April 30th 1975 I was the world’s luckiest man.

  7. Don says:

    So sorry to hear this when I him 2 years ago he was the nicest man I have ever met,,a great loss to mulege and humanity may god rest his soul in peace

  8. Michael Bartz says:

    When I was a young lad in the mid 60s we frequently flew into the Serinidad. Take off’s fully loaded we’re always exciting. I spent a lot of time knocking around the hotel, boating up the river to town, watching Mulege go dark when the generators shut down. Mr. Johnson was a great host and living the dream.

  9. Richard Haddock says:

    Every time we drove to Cabo we stayed at Hotel Serenidad to enjoy the hospitality of the staff and Don Johnson. He was a true Baja Legend of times gone by. RIP amigo

  10. Allen Schwartz says:

    I have known Don for almost 30 years. I last saw him in March of 2019. When we got done greeting each other, he told me had had a new nick name. When I asked what it was, he laughed and said “Jesus Christ” as in “Jesus Christ, are you still alive!!??” Don was one of a kind and a true gentleman! He will be sorely missed!!

  11. Linda Adams says:

    So sorry to hear such a wonderful Baja legend has left us. My heart is filled with so many memories at the Serenidad and wonderful people of Mulege. Will be sadly missed.

  12. Bruce "Burrito" Johnson says:

    My Baja Dad will be sorely missed. Been visiting since ’74. I used to kid him “If you dont take care of me at the Serenidad I will tell everyone in Baja that I am your illegitimate bastard son”. Don just cracked up. We spent many a meal together. One morning I walked out to the patio.No one was there and Don was washing a stray dog in the fountain that someone had covered in whitewash. An act of kindness more than 40 years ago that I have never forgotten. Don Johnson was a true gentleman & class act and he will be missed.

  13. Patrice says:

    Our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends. I had the great fortune to have a dance with Don one evening at the hotel. I’m no good at it but he was very complimentary of my efforts. Sleep well sweet Prince.

  14. John Hermann says:

    What a great place to go , my 1st trip there was in 1970 with my parents in our Cessna 182 .
    Pig roast on the beach ,my folks would fly there multiple times a year .
    My last visit was in 2018.
    Can’t wait to get back in the Baja !
    RIP, Don.

  15. Dorothy says:

    Flew in several times in the early seventies. I am now 75 & still say it was the best place I have ever been in my life. Hotel Serenidad was wonderful – then no locks on any doors. Pig roast & daily food was the best. Locals were actually dreading the road being built.

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