San Diego to Rosarito Mexico: 2-Nation Vacation

January 27, 2021

During tight economic times, vacationers are looking for ways to pack the most punch into their vacation. Unfortunately for many, travel abroad seems out of reach. However, with some careful planning, there’s a way to combine two top-notch destinations for nearly the cost of one: San Diego, California, and Rosarito, Mexico. Did I hear you say “road trip?”

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san diego to rosarito

California’s southernmost city has long been considered a favorite vacation spot, and with good reason.  The area abounds with great food, culture, beaches, and activities – enough to spend weeks here.  But with just several days, here are the highlights.

Balboa Park

Pristine Balboa Park was originally built for the first U.S. World’s Fair, the 1915 Panama-California Exposition.  If you’re into photography, you’ll find some great examples of mission architecture sitting on beautifully landscaped grounds.  You can walk or bike around the park, stopping when you like at the more than 25 museums and attractions, see a play, ride a carousel, or simply sit back and enjoy the street performers.

La Jolla

La Jolla which means “the jewel,” is exactly that – a Mediterranean-style beach town atop steep cliffs flanking the ocean.  You can walk all the way from one of San Diego’s most beautiful beaches to the cove, where you’ll be rewarded with live seals basking in the sun. You can snorkel in the crystal clear turquoise waters, wade in the tide pools, surf the waves, or kayak into one of the seven sea caves.

In the quintessential town just across from La Jolla beach, there are a variety of lovely boutique shops and trendy restaurants with ocean breezes or views.  One establishment not to be missed is Alfonso’s, a family-owned and operated, casual, authentic Mexican restaurant that serves pitchers of high-octane margaritas with a menu of original and delectable cuisine snatched straight from the family vaults.

Old Town San Diego

Old Town San Diego is a fun place to spend an afternoon walking around, taking in the history, visiting the shops, and getting a bite to eat.  There are so many things to do in old town San Diego; you can hook up with a tour through Old Town, but it’s also very easy to explore on your own.  Be sure to stop at Fiesta de Reyes, a vibrant plaza designed to look like old Mexico.  A mariachi band adds festivity to the colorful scene.  There is an authentic sheriff’s museum, the Wells Fargo museum featuring antique stagecoaches, and the “haunted” Whaley House, built on the site of the Old Town gallows, reported to be home to four resident spirits including that of Yankee Jim Robinson, who was hung from the gallows in 1852.  You will also find a variety of small, charm-filled restaurants within and just outside of Old Town where you can enjoy tacos and a Corona.

San Diego for Kids

For visitors with children in tow, San Diego also has a world-renown zoo, Sea World, Legoland, and great hiking in Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve.

Where to Stay in San Diego

Hotels in and around San Diego can be rather expensive, especially at the beach during the high season.  One reasonable option is the Shores Hotel, right on the beach.  The rooms are comfortable, though not fancy, and many have ocean views with balconies. Some of the highlights include live music on the oceanfront patio and the opportunity to cook s’ mores and chill out around a blazing beach bonfire.

The Catamaran Resort & Spa on Mission Bay across from the beach is within walking distance to many activities, restaurants, and shopping.   The tropical design of the hotel and lush, well-kept gardens yield an Asian feel to the resort.


san diego to rosarito

Located just an hour’s drive south of San Diego are the white sandy beaches of Rosarito, a friendly and laid-back beach town.  Quiet, nonviolent Rosario which has suffered unfairly from the reputation of mainland Mexico’s troubled border cities and from the decline in the U.S. economy is just beginning to hit the radar of American and Canadian tourists because of the bargains to be found in this quaint seaside town.

Where to Stay

In Rosarito, there simply is no place better to stay than the historic and charming Rosarito Beach Hotel.  This reasonably-priced gem is in a class all its own.  Upon entering the foyer, you’ll feel like you’ve entered a magical world of days gone by.  This resort was made popular mid-century as a retreat that catered to Mexican presidents, international royalty, and Hollywood stars, and the little beach town grew around it.  Most rooms have an ocean view, and you’ll find great dining at Azteca, as well as a lounge, a Mexican floorshow, and a spa on the property.

Activities in Rosarito Beach include walking along the quarter-mile pier, world-class surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, horseback riding on the beach or a variety of shopping venues including arts and craft galleries along Popotla Boulevard and the open-air markets of Mercado de Artesanias where you can bargain for locally-made pottery, souvenirs, and jewelry.  There is a local theatre guild and events like blues festivals are often booked on the beach.

Puerto Nuevo

Puerto Nuevo, 10 miles south of Rosarito is a must-do on any Rosarito itinerary.  This small fishing village began in the 1950s as a small stand near a Newport cigarette billboard (Newport translates to Puerto Nuevo in Spanish). The billboard is long gone but more than 30 restaurants and shops now dot what has become one of the most famous lobster destinations, claiming to serve more lobsters in this town than anyplace in the world.  One restaurant, Puerto Nuevo II is owned by one of the founding families of this famous lobster village, Rosa Maria Plascencia and her husband Enrique. The lobster preparation here is a science, deep-fried to the perfect texture, drenched in butter and served with salsa and chips, tasty rice, beans, and fresh hand-made tortillas whose heavenly aroma permeates the restaurant.

Take advantage of the perfect opportunity to double your fun with a visit to two diverse and sought-after destinations.

Take a Two-Nation Vacation first published in Divine Caroline

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About the Author

Patti Morrow

Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and the southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials” and she was named one of the “Top 35 Travel Blogs” in the world.

She is also the star of the upcoming TV series “Destination Takeover” which is scheduled to premiere in the new few months.

Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. She has traveled extensively through six continents looking for fabulous destinations, exotic beaches, and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer tribe.

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