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 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.
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