Fall will come with a roar this year. Here in Southern California, all anyone can speak about is the weather turning from blazing hot to torrential downpours – a weather situation that late 2015 should bring us. It will be a most welcome one.
Knowing the lay of the land, it’s wise to base trips down south on the weather – what floats your boat? The balm of the Sea of Cortez (where the water can reach 90 degrees) or does the crashing surf of the gray Pacific do it for you (where the water rarely reaches 70 degrees)? Either way, there is no time like now – perhaps while you are waiting on temperature breaks to migrate across the desert and fully down the peninsula – to get a short form taste test of what’s to live for in Baja this season.
With all this heat in LA, I was hoping to find Ensenada a cooling respite and one fine day in late August, I decided the moment I woke up to cruise down with my dog and my friend Lisa, to check out a trailer park by the sea that I had been stalking for months on craigslist. Of course, during my scout, there would need to be an epic taste sensation, so a detour through wine valley would be necessary before slipping back over the border before nightfall.
We started at the RV park, which was completely hidden from view off Highway 1 and perched directly on the ocean just north of the Hotel Coral and Marina. Jill, the friendly gal who oversees the park for the owner, was beyond helpful in showing me all of the spots available for long-term rent. She lives in her RV onsite full time and creates funky skull art under the massive palapa she had built – she says she plans to live there forever. For $332 a month, she has a little oasis spitting distance from the Pacific ocean and rock throwing distance from the beautiful (and very clean) marina. What a primo set up. In the know folks have parked their trailers and built out shelters, decks, gardens and walkways in this perfect little spot to wile away some time. Oceanfront runs for $510 and there is a waiting list, but there are plenty of other rows available now.
After leaving blustery Ensenada, we opted to skip rush hour traffic on the way to TJ and attempt to find some dirt road belly busting happening over in wine valley, where it was at least 15 degrees hotter. Enter La Cocina de Doña Esthela, a cowboy cuisine hideaway full of locals and love. This sprawling, homegrown establishment is worth a trip across the border just for lunch.
As we sat outside under a shaded canopy in our red Coca-Cola chairs with my salivating dog, we chowed down on an insane version of borrego tatemado (wood-fired lamb with broth on the side), served with a mess of onions, cilantro, hand-slapped tortillas, and soft, homemade queso. With juices running down my chin, I literally asked Lisa, “Where do they source this lamb?” and then out of the corner of my eye, notice an old cowboy herding a flock of lambs around the pen at the back of the restaurant. Ah, onsite, I see! Every single thing is made in house (really, the restaurant is just an extension of the family home) and for $14 total, we even had a gooey cheese and spinach gordita tacked on. Just be on the lookout for the signs as you come off the highway – we took a handful of wrong turns down bumpy dirt roads until we found the tucked away spot nestled in a meadow.
Now, way further down south, in San Jose del Cabo, a different kind of food is brewing up. In this lovely, walkable town on the Sea of Cortez, expect way warmer weather this time of year, as well as a slew of interesting restaurants all waiting to be explored. If you home base at the adorable Casa Natalia, as my boyfriend and I did for an evening, it’s easy to park your vehicle out front by the town square and treat San Jose del Cabo like a sexy, old Spanish hill town – complete with drinks at one place, tapas at another. Criss-crossing the town like a foodie pioneer, the first place to hit is La Osteria, an open air bar and restaurant with the coldest Prosecco and star-gazing known to Baja (literally, there is no roof, so the stars are shining down on you). With live music playing in the background, expect to indulge in light local fare – specializing in things from the sea. Amidst suspended lanterns and loads of climbing plants, we had the most delicious charred octopus (again, enter salivating dog), sweetbreads with crisp salad, mussels with buckets of bread and a variety of salsas, sauces and dips to slather everything through.
After grazing through Flora Farms new outpost full of farm-made sundries, just down the street in the historical district, the charm of San Jose del Cabo had seeped in and followed us all the way back to the hotel, where we once again partook in some indulging – this time in the form of the bubbling hot tub on our balcony overlooking the city. Romance is in the air in balmy San Jose and sometimes it only takes one night off the weary road to bring it all back. And, don’t forget breakfast at the hotel – it’s on the house for guests, but even the locals come in to load up on the fresh goodies.
Location and information:
La Casa de Dona Esthela - Ensenada wine valley: Look for signs from Highway 1 (the back free road into the valley) and turn right down a hilly dirt road. They are open Tuesday - Sunday, 8am to 6pm and closed on Monday (except holidays). Phone: 011-52-646-156-8453. Visit La Casa de Doña Esthela on Facebook.
Casa Natalie - San Jose del Cabo: Visit the Casa Natalie website
La Osteria: Alvaro Obregon 1907, Centro Histórico, 23400 San José del Cabo Visit La Osteria on Facebook.