Surfing Northern Baja Mexico 2017
Jesus Protects You As You Surf K-38 in Baja
On Big Swells, You'll Be Glad He Is There.
[This is a living article with constant updates: last updated 2-2016]
I have been a big fan of surfing northern Baja all my life. I started going to Baja when I was 5 years old. In fact, my great grandmother's sister immigrated from Norway and moved with 5 kids to the mountains of Baja.
My uncle Ron, the family expert on such matters, says that they exported marble from Baja to the USA.
Soren Meling (1855-1917) was my great grandfather—in case you have been in those mountains above San Telmo on the way to the Observatorio Astronomico Nacionale, their place was called Meling Ranch. It seems Baja is in my blood and has been for a few generations. That pic to the right was taken early days Meling Ranch.
When I started surfing, I stopped going to the ranch. I keep going to Baja though, likely for the same reason my ancestors went there, to try and find some solace in my life—always imagining that once I crossed the border something magical would take place. And it usually did—and still does.
Driving though those dirt road towns that felt like the wild west, I would always be transported to a mythical time—at the very least I would be able to surf some sick waves without tons of OC kooks in the line-up (no offense to you if you live in the OC, that's where I grew up).
Here is the deal, Northern Baja gets all those step angled swells that just race right by us in Ventura—but down in Baja this creates an entirely different kind of magic. Look at this chart of a 305 degree swell, Baja is getting lit up like a Christmas tree.
You'll need a few weeks to get all the information needed for your new passport and you'll also have to wait for the Feds to process your application.
USA Passport Requirement For Baja Mexico
- Fill Out Form DS-11: Application For A U.S. Passport
- Submit Completed Form DS-11 In Person
- Submit Evidence of U.S. Citizenship
- Present Identification
- Submit a Photocopy of the Identification Document(s) Presented
- Pay the Applicable Fee
Provide One Passport Photo
Here are the complete directions for passports-are-us: travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/passports/first-time.html
If you have kids under 16 and want to take them along, you'll need the original, or a certified copy, of their birth certificate.
A photocopy of the original won't work unless it's certified. You can get one of those at the County Clerk's office—the county your little rebel rousers were born in bro. Or do what I did and just leave them down in Mex to watch the trailer and surfboards between surf trips.
Car Insurance Required Before Surfing Northern Baja
You MUST get Mexico car insurance. If you get in an accident in Mexico without insurance you will likely go to jail. It will cost you $40 for the weekend or about $300 for the year if you make multiple trips.
And no, your USA car insurance will not cover your ass in Baja. I like getting mine online before I go while sipping a beer in front of my computer Homer Simpson style.
Here is the one I always use, it's called Mexico Insurance Online. If you forget to purchase it before you go, then you need to grab it on the way to Baja.
Exit the 805/5 at San Ysidro and there are a ton of drive-though insurance companies that will issue you one on the stop pretty much anytime of the day or night.
Crossing Mexico Border
Crossing The Mexican Border
Back in the day with my father we used to bring guns in under the hood, as we were avid hunters and liked to bring our own shotguns to the Ranch. When I got older I traded the guns for surfboards and on occasion we used to bring herb across with us—I am telling you now, those days are long gone.
Need some inspiration about surfing this region—and you like to read—see this epic novel Tijuana Straits by Kem Nunn.
I don't care who wrote your prescription for Triple Purple Humboldt Gold, leave that shit at home or you might end up in a Mexican jail.
Just in case you didn't follow directions and you are now reading your phone while sitting in a Mexican jail here is a list of Baja lawyers called 'abogados' in Spanish.
Let me tell you, I've been in the Rosarito jail, and you don't even want to get anywhere near a Mexican prison. Here is the main difference between Mexico and the US, in Mexico you are guilty until proven innocent—not the other way around.
Here is an article about Mexico's Federal Civil Code if you are bored and are feeling brave or lucky.
If you learn nothing else from this article but this one thing, it could change your life, leave the pot at home—drink tequila for the weekend. If you get Mexican secondary, be kind, patient and gracious.
If you have nothing to hide then you'll be out of there after they search your vehicle. As a side note, they don't normally search your person or make you walk through the x-ray machine. I am just saying, you didn't hear it here.
See this link for prohibited items if you are confused.
If you don't get pulled over, then keep driving and stay to your right and head for the Tijuana beaches off-ramp. This is going to take you up a long hill and drop you onto the coast where you should take the toll roads further south. It's about $2 per toll and there are three between the border and Ensenada, Baja.
Surfing Northern Baja—Where?
The Best Surfing in Northern Baja
Ok, let's take a moment and check the actual swell in the area, this is real time surf check for surfing northern Baja:
I am not going to cover all the surf breaks in northern Baja, but I am going to talk about the ones that I like best after spending a few decades surfing this region.
I usually stay away from surfing Tijuana beaches, unless you want Hep C or feel like taking on the sewage contaminated runoff around this region that flows from the Tijuana river. I'd highly recommend staying away from these breaks.
As soon as get to the top of the hill and turn south along the coast you'll start to see the swell off in the distance. Continue on the toll road. If there is very little swell, you got two options. Your first small swell option is going to be one of the waves you come across right along the main road called Baja Malibu.
Baja Malibu Surfing
You will come across this huge arch, and right between that arch you are likely to see some excellent waves at Baja Malibu just five miles south of the border.
This wave is a thick barrel and breaks along scattered beachbreak and catches swell from any direction—which is why it's one of your best spots when there is no swell running.
If there is any considerable size this place is a board-breaker. Take the Baja Malibu exit and park in the lot next to the sign of the same name.
Baja Malibu Rentals
If you want to stay in this area there is a 3 bedroom with ocean views for $100 a night. See the dog friendly listing here.
You can also try the resort to the south if you want something a bit more luxury, but I never see anyone go into the place.
Rosarito Beach - A Party Thing
If you are into the party thing, or just want to be part of the crowd, and be in a dirty beach metropolis, then Rosarito is for you.
Get the full experience, ride the bull at Papas & Beer and drink bad tequila to your heart's content with the tourists at any of the numerous bars or restaurants scattered along downtown.
Rosarito is mainly beachbreak, but it has a few other options if you want to hunt for them. The best surf seems to be near the pier, with the south side being better most years. Most people stay at the Rosarito Beach Hotel in one of the 500 rooms, you can't miss it—it's the behemoth red and white building downtown in the middle of all the action.
Here are ten other options for hotels in Rosarito if you decide that this is the experience you want. If you aren't going to stay in Rosarito, but you want to chase chicks and drink all night, then I would highly recommend that you either sleep on the beach or stuff your pockets with cash for the bribe you will have to pay when that cop pulls you over.
The Rosarito police are notorious for throwing shit-faced Gringos in jail and extorting money from them—you are better off pulling out your wife's credit card and grabbing a sleazy hotel at 2am and dealing with the wrath of questioning that you will have to endure once you get home—mounting your car for that 10 minute ride back to your Baja castle down the road is a bad Gringo idea and could land you in jail.
Click here for the Rosarito surf report.
South of Rosarito
The coast between Rosarito and La Fonda is my favorite part of this entire area. Points, reefs and beach-breaks abound—and you got lots of beautiful coastline where there are tons of no name breaks.
However, things are quickly changing and this area won't be the same in ten years so go enjoy it now.
This is an ok wave in front of the RV park—too close to Rosarito in my book.
Popotla Fish Market[/caption]
When a big northwest swings in this place can be really fun. It's kind of hit and miss but I have surfed it really good with nobody out several times. You will have to figure out where to park and don't leave any valuables in the car.
You might be able to leave your car at a private trailer park on the south end of the cove, or at the north end of the Fox studio lot. Grab some fresh fish on your way out, the locals will be stoked and so will you. We found this recent report on just where to go once you visit the local fish market:
"Start off with raw shellfish, ceviches, and cocktails, and for this you only need one stand: Los Compadres de Sinaloa. Walk past the boats, fish mongers, shellfish stands, and junk food vendors where you'll find an attractive coctelera huddled behind a wall of the typical seafood hot sauces ready to serve you. El Compadre takes care of all the shucking and cracking of live shellfish to be served au natural, or he hands it off to Erika who'll take care of any preparations."Click here for the Popotla surf report.
People seem to enjoy staying in the Popotla area. Cathy, a recent visitor to the area said, "The beach is cleaned everyday, one of the cleanest I ever seen. It's also very long, so you can walk about one hour one way."
We found a few places to stay here and we liked this three bedroom, two bath 1200 square foot beach side (because that's what we like) the best. The rentals run from $70 to $150 per night in the Popotla gated and guarded community.
U.S. driver's licenses are valid in Mexico and make sure you have yours with you and that it isn't expired. Mexican law requires that the vehicles be driven by their owners or that the owner be inside the vehicle. So if you borrowed your bros car or decided to take your roommate's car while he was in Portland at that granola eating contest, then the vehicle could be seized by Mexican customs and will not be returned until Star Wars 14 comes out.
The next few spots are some of my all time favorite—once you make a few trips and actually get these breaks firing you will wonder why you have been surfing all those OC breaks all those years when just a few hours away these breaks were going off and uncrowded.
Calafia is one of those mysto breaks that rarely works well but if there is any south in the water there will be some waves. It works best on a large south—it's a rocky right point that can throw on the takeoff and then gets a bit softer on the inside—but on the right tide and swell, even the inside can stand up and offer some fun turns and slashes.
Park and eat at the Calafia restaurant or pay the parking lot dudes some cash to watch your vehicle (always pay someone). This wave gets spiky at low tide so watch yourself, if there is enough swell and water moving around you could pull it off.
Calafia Hotels & Rentals
Like most places in Baja these days they are putting up condos along the cliffs around Calafia—which is good if you want to stay here, you can find some options here.
People tend not to like the Hotel Calafia, so you might want to stay away from it unless you are feeling adventurous. This one on airbnb has an ocean view and is in the newer complex called Playas de Rosarito and goes for $140 a night.
Got an extra 150k in the kitty, you might want to grab your own Baja villa—check out Baja Real Estate Group and then invite me for the holidays.
Calafia Food Paradise Cove Tiki Bar & Grill
Looks like there is some decent grub at Paradise Cove Tiki Bar at K36 owned by Beau. The reviews look good with a 4.5 star rating on Trip Advisor.
I am going to check it out next week while I am searching for waves and a decent beer after I get out of the water. Little of Hawaii in Baja, with live music and hot showers for surfers.
K-38 A Mexican Jewel
This might be my favorite waves in North America—I know that is a big statement, especially since I live 20 minutes from Rincon, but I got to tell you, when this wave is working it has a life of its own.
People talk about this wave being the most crowded wave around but on my last few trips to Baja we surfed it solo. The break faces due south but it will pick up anything—west, northwest, west northwest, you get the picture.
I have surfed it on every swell direction imaginable and it has a hundred different faces. K-38 likes a mid-to-low-tide and breaks over a cobble stone riverbed, with bigger rocks near the takeoff zone. The right is epic, but there are lefts to be had also. If you do go left, watch out for a few shallow sections on the inside.
There are a few main peaks and when it's big it pushes our further and further. At 10-12 foot there is a lot of water moving around, so pay attention. Speaking of paying attention, wear some booties if you bring them.
It's a sea urchin party out there and you are invited—they tend to congregate near the rivermouth mainly, but you might find a few staggerers anywhere.
Just south of the main break are a few more waves at K-38.5 in front of the exclusive Club Marena. I've caught some fun lefts between the two rock outcroppings at a higher tide when K-38 was either starting to shut down or was just too crowded for my taste. There is a fun little right just around the corner that breaks into a large open bay—bigger boards are better as it's a soft sweeping shoulder.
K-38 Getting There
You can't get to K-38 from the toll road, best thing to do is drive past it on the toll road (that way you can get a good look at it) and then make your exit another mile south at Puerto Nuevo.
Drive back north along the free road and make a left after the break at the top of the hill just on the north side of the bridge. Go down the dirt road to the first driveway and pull in to Robert's and check the surf.
If you end up staying there to surf you'll need to pay $5 to whoever is in the lot. Your car is safe here—you can also use the showers after you surf or go to the bathroom on the property.
View From Roberts K-38
K-38 Hotels & Rentals
Many new surf shacks have been built over the last decade, you got some great options right on the cliffs overlooking the main break. If you want to stay on the main break, you can stay at the OG surf motel at Robert's K-38. They only take walk-up reservations or by email: email@example.com.
People seem to really like it and you can't get any closer to the main peak. There are some other places to stay scattered along the cliffs and also in the large white tower to the south (Club Marena)—depends on your budget. I did some research on the casas overlooking K-38 and this is what I found, a little pricy but you are right on the main break and can watch it in your PJs while having breakfast. Ocean Front K-38 for $250 with 5 bedrooms, 11 beds, ocean views, 6 hammocks and—get this— a private skate mini ramp on the beach property along with psychedelic painted walls and accommodates 15.
Club Marena 2 bedroom with views of ocean and all the amenities of your home back i Orange County. $190 per night with a two night minimum. K-38 with Hot Tub sits right on the beach (not on the cliff), accommodates 8 people and has 2 bedrooms. Looks sweet and has tons of 5 star reviews from Ron who lives (guess where?) the OC. Here is what Bree said, I am hoping she visits next time I go down.
A few more options can be found here on wavecation.
K-38 Places to Eat
Guys go crazy over Taco Surf just up the hill on the main road north of K-38. Someone on Surfline also suggested Ana Mar for breakfast, but I have never seen it open.
Besides K-38 being my favorite surf spot in Mexico it is coupled with my favorite brick oven Pizza restaurant just down the road— Ollie's Pizza, run by an ex-pat, named after the owner's full size poodle Ollie (thanks for the update Beau).
This place is absolutely awesome fine dining in Baja—who would have thought? Any hungry surfers around? The staff at Ollie's Pizza is super cool and the wine list is excellent—they are only open Wednesday through Sunday from 4pm until 10pm. From the outside it looks like a hole, but once you walk through those doors you'll be pleasantly surprised.
I always plan my trips so I have multiple opportunities to eat here and so should you. Ollie's Pizza is located just north of the Las Gaviotas complex: Carretera Libre Rosarito Ensenada Km 40.5, 22740 Rosarito, Baja California, Mexico. Phone:+52 661 613 2046
You can't miss this place, it's one of the largest gated communities in northern Baja. Just down the road from K-38—look for the sign. To book a rental there are a few options, the official site is www.las-gaviotas.com (way old school) but I have rented homes off it over a dozen times without any issues. There are a few listed on airbnb here but they tend to be a bit more expensive.
Las Gaviotas Facebook Page
Sign For Splash
Splash is Located at KM 52 on the Free Road between Rosarito and Ensenada. Heading south from K-38, they are just past the sand dunes, and just after Halfway House heading north.
The Halfway House is a good option for breakfast or a beer and a game of billiards (if they still got the table). They usually have a drum kit set-up and some instruments in case you want to have a quick relive-my-youth moment (which is mostly the reason we go to mex anyway right? ;)
Surfing Between Las Gaviotas & La FondaJust south of Gaviotas is a fun break called Raul's—also one of my favorites. It is better on a bigger swell, but can be a good option if you want to escape the crowds of the better know places. It does best on a big south at medium to high tide.
Raul's breaks over a shallow sloping flat rock reef and sits (for now) in front of a vacant lot. There is a church at the top of the road—that's how you know where it is, just turn at the church and drive to the end of the road.
There is an off-ramp from the toll road here called Puerto Nuevo and is the best way to get off the toll road for either K-38 or Gaviotas—there is a military checkpoint just south of k-38 on the free road so you get to bypass all that drama.
Puerto Nuevo South
There are waves every few kilometers until you get to K-55. The wave at Puerto Nuevo is supposed to get good—though I have never surfed it. There is a right-breaking reef at the north end of the beach.
If you like lobster, make sure to grab a meal here before you leave. There are waves at K-44, Cantamar, the Dunes, Hotel Cafe America and the Halfway House. On the right day, with the right swell, all of these breaks can go off, but they are a little fickle—but hell, it's Baja, so get out there and explore.
K 55 Beach & Point
K-55 or Campo LopezCampo Lopez consists of about one hundred homes on rutty dirt roads that cascade toward the ocean from the Mexican highway going south to Ensenada. You could drive right by it and not really notice it—unless you are surfer, because the camp sits on one of the best waves in Baja.
Lots of the homes are typical of classic Baja beach construction: trailers to which rooms have been attached by carpenters of widely varying talents. Nothing about Campo Lopez is splashy.
It is Baja funky—a world apart from the fancy tourist towers that spring up every year along the Baja coast. I have had some insane days out at K-55 over the years, it seems to pick up any swell and is a righteous wave with sick barrels.
There are a few reefs to choose from and a sandy beach at the north end of the beach. This place will hold on the biggest of swells. The bad news is that this is a private beach community.
K-55 surf report on surfline.
However, in our new world of rent-anything-to-anyone, you can get into this little piece of paradise. This airbnb link has accommodation listings along this entire coast and the official Campo Lopez Facebook page is here.
I could find only one listing at K-55 for a rental called K55 Beach House at $250 a night. That's a lot to pay for a night in Mex but it could be worth it if the swell is macking.
La Fonda Main Break
La Fonda or K-58This will be our last break for this article, I don't think I have taken a surf trip to Baja without surfing this wave at least once on the trip.
La Fonda is a magical place that pulls in any swell—last year we went to Baja in June and the forecast said that La Fonda was going to be flat. We pulled up to head high barrels and some of the best surf I had had in a long time. Flat huh?—you just never know at La Fonda.
However, the opposite can happen too—this place can get huge and will make you cry for your pappy if you get slammed onto a sandbar by an outside set. Combo swells bring the best shape, if there is too much north in the swell it can get walled and too much south at it won't hit the sandbars right.
You can pull in to the Alisitos camping area and check the surf, they are charging $10 to pull in there these days but it's worth it to know you car is safe on the bluff and you can take an outdoor shower after your session in the Baja luxury ducha. If you are into camping, you can just stay here for the night. There is a small convenience store with cold beer and fresh tortillas at the entrance to the campground.
As a more upscale alternative, you can walk up to La Fonda Hotel or La Mission for a meal—both just a short walk.
Careful at low tide—we had to take my bro to the emergency room in Rosarito las year—read my article in The ledInertia titled Worst Case Scenario in Rosarito.
Famous La Fonda HotelThe views overlooking the surf are fabulous and the food is ok. The banana pancakes make for an awesome meal after a long surf session in the cold water.
You can also stay at the hotel, but it's got a funky energy these days. It seems that the previous owner was thrown out for violations of some kind and there is now a wall between the restaurant and the hotel. They used to be all one location.
There is a new restaurant on the south end of the property and the original owner, Joe Dmytri, manages the hotel. Here is the original story in Spanish. There was some kind of bruhaha a few years back that resulted in the division of the original restaurant and the the hotel. I wouldn't stay there again, not unless you want to bedbugs with your pillow.
Poco Cielo is next door to La Fonda, seems like the views also compare and the food looks similar. Rooms are reasonably priced at $80-$130, all styled with different themes. I am not a fan of any of the hotels in this area, but if you need to crash for the night then take a pick and roll the dice.
Salsipuedes K-87There used to be a spectacular break south of La Fonda called Salsipuedes—perhaps the best surfing in northern Baja. Well, it's still there, accessible by boat.
Salsipuedes is a legendary right point that wraps around into a beautiful bay—it's a heavy wave and only works on a big swell, so enter with caution.
Salsipuedes was bought and was being developed by Grupo Lagza, Surfrider’s San Diego Chapter shot down an attempt by company representatives for a “surfer friendly” endorsement of the Salsipuedes project—among their promises was the claim that surf access would not be restricted.
In December 2013 the highway collapsed above the Salsipuedes development, plunging a cement truck some 100 feet toward the ocean. The driver got out and was unhurt.
The campground and access to Salsipuedes is closed—if you have a boat, you can get this famed wave all to yourself.
Your next stop is the wave at San Miguel, about 20 minutes south toward the Ensenada portion of Baja. We are going to do another article on surfing around Ensenada and South—but to end this one we want to throw in some information about visiting the wine country.
Valle De Guadalupe - A Visit To The Wine Country in Baja
Wave Tribe Enjoying Some Wine LA CetaLast year while chilling with some friends at Las Gaviotas we decided to make a trek to the wine area of Baja called Valle De Guadalupe. I know many of you (especially Californians like me) are thinking to themselves, 'Mexican wine, yea right.' But hold on to your inner sommelier because you are about to get your socks knocked off.
Getting there is easy, just after the last toll at San Miguel you'll see a sign that says Valle De Guadalupe. Ver right towards the hills and in about 20 minutes you'll come across some non Baja-esque vineyards and rolling green hills—and the wine is exquisite.
Finca Altozano is all the rage and has an excellent selection of local wines and fabulous Mexican dinning. Call for a reservation early in the week, otherwise you won't get seated.
Monte Xanic, one of the Valle’s oldest wineries is also worth a visit. The winery is located atop a hill and looks over a lake with clear water. By the water, you can enjoy wine tastings and relax.
Hotels in Valle De GuadalupeLa Villa del Valle is a modern Tuscan-style B&B with several rooms, a nicely appointed public sitting space and delicious Mexican breakfasts.
Encuentro Guadalupe Antiresort is an eco-hotel with 20 smartly designed, box-like rooms scattered across a hillside in the middle of the valley.
Hotel Boutique, with 20 rooms, gardens and vineyard views, is a new entry to the valley’s burgeoning lodging scene, as is El Cielo, which seeks luxury status.
Surfing Northern Baja More Resources
- Baja Highway Interactive Map: http://cabobob.com/00BajaHwy/mapframes.htm
- Baja Forum: http://forums.bajanomad.com/
- Baja Forum: http://bajaforums.com/eve
- Baja News: http://www.gringogazette.com/northen_edition#sthash.dqwQpCMB.dpbs
- Baja Classified: http://bajacalifornia.global-free-classified-ads.com/
Valle De Guadalupe Wine Map
Departing MexicoI just got back from an epic 7 day trip and I thought I would give an update on departing Baja. Follow the toll road back toward the border. After the last toll road, about one mile south, is a nice spot to stop and take a bathroom break before you get to the border crossing.
Don't Forgot To Get Gas?Remember, you need enough gas to sit in line for a few hours, and if it's hot, you'll want to run the air-conditioning while cueing to get back stateside. The most convenient gas station before the border is up the hill toward downtown TJ just before you hook right toward the border crossing. You can fill up there and then double back and continue to the international traverse.
Fooled By the Sign to San Diego.I finally got this down after doing it wrong a hand-full of times—it sucks if you do this wrong because you have to go through a TJ maze of traffic and craziness to get back to the border line—add another 30 minutes to hour and a ton of extra stress. You will turn right at some point before going up the ramp to get to the main border area—the signs are very deceiving—but listen up, don't follow the first lane (the one far right) follow the middle lane that goes up the ramp in a more slopped fashion.
The far right lane will take you PAST the border and into TJ.If you take the first lane you will have to follow it to downtown and make your way back to the border crossing like a rat in a maze. Sometimes they block off the streets nearest the crossing, so you might need to maneuver a few roundabouts before making your way back. Worst case scenario (and I have done this) pay a taxi driver $5 and follow him back to the border.