San Felipe: Quiet Beach Village
407km (253 miles) S of San Diego; 382km (237 miles) S of Tijuana
Unless you happen upon San Felipe during spring break, when thousands of college kids flee south to party at El Rockodile on the malecón (tel. 686/577-1219), or during Semana Santa -- the week before Easter when Mexicans from throughout Baja make a break for the beach with tents and extended family in tow -- nothing much happens in this teensy little beach town. And that's just what makes it so special.
Beyond the first impression of tranquillity in this popular camping destination, San Felipe seems to hold a special place in the hearts of the West Coast travelers who've known about it for decades. A survey of So-Cal adults elicits childhood stories of family vacations spent camping on the beach in San Felipe, and the destination still retains an air of nostalgia. Although residential and resort development is winding its way through the surrounding area, those who haven't been back since elementary school will be happy to know not much has changed in the center of town, at least.
Ask anyone what there is to do in San Felipe, and they'll probably say, "not much." If you're expecting anything more than a banana-boat ride ($5 per person, flag down the boat driver on the beach), a sportfishing excursion (call Tony Reyes Tours at tel. 714/538-8010 or make a deal with the captains on the beach), some fish taco-and-cerveza indulgence, or perhaps a few sunny highlights in your hair, San Felipe may not be for you. San Felipe is as low-key as Baja gets, and that makes it an important stopover for those seeking insight into the "old Baja" of yore.
Where to Stay & Eat -- Promises of luxurious resorts and residential developments line the highway in the form of billboards, but for now, expect bare-bones accommodations and simple cuisine during your stay.
Stay at La Hacienda de la Langosta Roja, Calzada Chetumal 125 (www.sanfelipelodging.com; tel. 686/577-0483). It's right in the center of town, a block from the malecón, so the location can't be beat. The spare rooms are tidy as can be, the running water is hot, the cable TV and air-conditioning work, and the first-floor restaurant is the closest thing to fine dining you can find in San Felipe. In fact, apart from great Italian food, it serves some of the best ceviche anywhere in Baja, and the wine list has a decent selection of regional and international wines. Rooms go for $49 weekday, $59 weekends, and $79 holidays.
Some may prefer more classic San Felipe accommodations -- the ubiquitous campground. For RV and tent campers alike, it doesn't get any better than Pete's Camp (www.petescamp.com/principal.html; tel. 951/694-6704 in the U.S., no local phone), on the north beach of San Felipe. The lovely Navarro family owns and operates the 79-space campsite, which is open to families, RVs, and pets (on leashes), and the on-site restaurant serves Mexican and American favorites. Nightly rates are $15 per vehicle per site. Any vehicles more than 4.5m (15 ft.) in length must take two sites, at a rate of $30 per night.
For seafood, fish tacos, and margaritas that will rock your world, plan to spend a festive afternoon at Bajamar (tel. 686/577-2648) on the malecón. The shrimp tacos ($6) are fried to perfection and the salsa extra fresh.