Unplug In San Felipe | Baja California’s Sleepy Beach Town Is More Accessible Than Ever

March 10, 2015

San Felipe has been beckoning us to its lazy shores since we moved to San Diego. Whispers of its relaxing coastline, amazingly fresh seafood, warm and pristine waters, and friendly inhabitants have enticed us to plan the 4-hour drive down Baja California to this quiet fishing village for a little R&R, exploration and sumptuous tacos. But in December 2014, this sleepy Mexican beach town became much more readily accessible with Seaport Airlines launching service for direct flights to San Felipe from San Diego’s commuter terminal four times a week. So, after 5 years of researching and planning our journey, we finally made it to beautiful San Felipe for 3 days of fun, deliciousness and new friends in a most relaxing locale.

Nestled on the eastern coast of the Baja California peninsula, on the shore of the Sea of Cortez, San Felipe is about 130 miles south of Mexicali. To reach the town from San Diego generally takes a four hour long, picturesque drive, two hours on the U.S. side via Interstate 8 East and two hours through Mexico after crossing in Mexicali via Highway 5. Getting to San Felipe is now easier than ever with the advent of Portland-based Seaport Airlines' weekly flights into San Felipe International Airport. Hop aboard a 9-person Cessna Caravan and enjoy an exhilarating, view-filled, one hour and twenty minute flight before landing in the heart of Baja California.

Not unlike most tourist destinations in Mexico (and hey, let's face it, many parts of the U.S. as well), San Felipe suffered a hard hit during the economic crisis spurred in the mid 2000s and is still in recovery mode. That said, witnessing this community's tenacity and its fervent commitment to rebuilding and flourishing was both motivating and heartwarming. The community knows that it possesses something truly unique and special, and wants to share a glimpse of its simple beauty with the world - and they are working diligently together to make that happen.

The beautiful San Felipe Marina Resort
During our trip, we enjoyed a 3-night stay at the gorgeous and most-hospitable San Felipe Marina Resort & Spa, located a short drive from the town center - a stretch of beachside bars, restaurants and shops known as the Malecon. This family-owned resort boasts a prime seaside location with a beautiful expanse of beachfront, featuring spacious accommodations, thatched beach palapas dotting the sand, an indoor pool and spa, an outdoor infinity pool and hot tub, a volleyball court, an on-site restaurant and frequent events and recreational activities. We were mainstays at the hotel’s El Secreto restaurant, especially for breakfast (best pancakes EVER!), as well as for their amazing coconut ceviche (and powerful WiFi)! The hotel is currently gearing up for construction of an 18-hole Jack Niklaus-designed golf course, as well as onsite condos, homes and other accommodations.

Spicy gobernador taco from Taco Factory
We frequently visited the Malecon area to shop, dine and relax. Though the town is rather low key during the week (we hear Thursday - Saturday nights get pretty wild!), there is always plenty to eat and drink. Some of our favorite spots were Baja Mar and its more casual, adjacent eatery, Taco Factory. Owned by longtime resident Octavio Ascolani, these beachfront spots embrace the fishing culture that the Ascolani family has become known for over generations of living and thriving off the sea in San Felipe. Enjoy local delicacies fresh from the Sea of Cortez, including juicy corvino and plump Baja shrimp. We were rapacious when it came to Taco Factory's gobernador tacos, enjoying the shrimp and cheese filled creations each day we were in town. They were seriously the best shrimp tacos either of us had ever indulged in and may alone be worth the trip to San Felipe.

Lady SanDiegoVille in front of a giant Cardon cactus
Another highlight of the Malecon is a visit to renowned San Felipe Salt Company owned by U.S. expats Michele and Bob MacDonald. Being avid home cooks, we appreciated Bob’s explanations of the mineral fortitude of his salt compared to others and loaded up on various flavors, including chipotle, garlic and Italian, so we can add the healthy salts to our meals at home.

An other-worldly attraction in the San Felipe area not to be missed is the Valle de Los Gigantes (Valley of the Giants), a stretch of desert about 30 minutes south of town that hosts hundreds of thousand-year-old Cardon cacti. We are not the most easily-impressed people, but the site of these monstrous cacti is absolutely breathtaking. Neither words nor photos do them justice!

Although there are plenty of fun things to do in San Felipe, including riding ATVs, sport fishing, horseback riding, flying in an Ultralite, playing tennis and volleyball, swimming, kayaking, snorkeling, golfing, etc., we chose to do what we do best - EAT! We loved the Italian offerings at El Padrino and were most impressed by their thin-crust, NY-style pizza, so far from home. We also really loved Margarita House, owned by the young and charming Octavio Ascolani, Jr., who, in addition to presenting delicious dishes using the freshest Sea of Cortez seafood, offers an incredible list of margaritas, to be enjoyed at the restaurant’s neighboring patio pool if you so wish! Margarita House will host the inaugural Jose Cuervo Margarita Festival on April 4 at the cost of $10 per person - great occasion to go check it out.

Pulpo sope from Margarita House
San Felipe has become a popular destination for retired Canadians and Americans looking to settle down in a paradise-like locale, as property ownership and the cost of living, in general, are far less expensive in Baja than north of the border. Located 7 miles north of San Felipe, El Dorado Ranch is currently the area's top community for those looking for American-style amenities for a fraction of the cost of anywhere in the states. El Dorado owners - developer Pat Butler and his wife Doreen - took over the property in 1994 and have since filled the once desolate landscape with beautiful homes, beachside condos, an 18-hole golf course, tennis courts, numerous pools, restaurants and a hotel, all accessible to visitors. El Dorado touts that it is environmentally conscious in its operation and is the largest employer in San Felipe, and this resort community only hopes to continue to increase in size and population in years to come.

San Felipe is a slow and easy town, unspoiled by the fast-paced, technology-driven lifestyle that many Americans have become accustomed to and - dare we say it - obsessed with. Visitors are encouraged not to be “ugly Americans” by approaching Mexico with preconceived notions or expectations of how things should be, or how they are in the United States or similar industrialized societies. Mexico is a mindset to which some must adjust their perspective. If you’re a tourist looking for everything to be shiny and tidy and new, you are certainly welcomed, but you may want to consider staying at an Americanized resort. Mexico is known for its rustic, simple charms and friendly people, and San Felipe epitomizes those characteristics. If you're a true traveler, Mexico is sure to seduce and will most definitely secure a unique place in your heart - especially San Felipe.

For more information on San Felipe, visit sanfelipe.com.mx and explore the links contained in this article.

Where To Stay
San Felipe Marina Resort & Spa
Playa del Paraiso
Hotel Riviera Coral
El Cortez Hotel
Chapala Hotel

Things To Do
See the giant cacti in the Valley of the Giants
Soak in the seaside hot springs of Puertocitos
Walk the beach at low tide
Take a fishing trip
Hitch a ride on an Ultralite
Cruise the dunes or dessert on ATVs
Horseback riding
Treat yourself to spa treatments and a massage
Golf at El Dorado Ranch
Hike and explore the dessert and mountains
Visit the petroglyph covered caves and canyons
Walk/Run/Bike the Malecon
Annual San Felipe Shrimp Festival 

Places To Eat
Baja Mar - seafood
Taco Factory - fantastic tacos and Mexican snacks
Margarita House - seafood and many types of margaritas
El Secreto at San Felipe Marina Resort & Spa - American/Mexican
El Padrino - Italian food and NY-style pizza
Rosita - Mexican, breakfast
The Sweet Spot - barbecue/Cajun
El Nido - Mexican-style steakhouse
La Vaquita - Mexican seafood
Parrots Cracker - American style
Beans and Rice - Mexican
Mariscos La Morena - Mexican
Chuy’s Place - Mexica steakhouse
El Kikiriki - taco cart
Fat Boy’s - pizza and tacos
Rumors Bar & Grill - tenderloin sandwich and Maidrites
Bare Foot Beach Bar at El Cortez Hotel - American/Medican
Pavilion Restaurant, El Dorado Ranch - American
Oshii - Japanese

Party Time
Rockadille - rowdy bar
Al’s Backstreet Bar - dive
Busters - day bar
Our SeaPort airplane 
Damn near in the cockpit 
Incredible views 
Coconut ceviche from El Secreto
Baja Mar & Taco Factory
Great pizza from El Padrino
SanDiegoVille at El Padrino
Spicy margarita from Margarita House 
Fruit bowl breakfast from El Secreto
Best pancakes ever from El Secreto