Head south of San Diego into Mexico's Baja California on your next vacation and discover a warm, sunny world of beaches and deserts, hot new resorts and historic villages, and plenty of places to just relax and forget about winter. And with the Pacific on one side and the Sea of Cortez on the other, there are great places for salt water fishing and whale watching.
You can drive the whole 800-mile length of the peninsula. But don't forget, if you fly you'll need a passport to return to the U.S. Visit the State Department and look for "Traveling to the Caribbean, Bermuda, Panama, Mexico or Canada" for details, plus links to health and safety tips.
Many people just blast all the way south to the tip of Baja and Los Cabos — the area including the well-known Cabo San Lucas. Go to "Things to Know" and then "About Los Cabos" for history and profiles of Cabo San Lucas, which has fishing, nightlife and beaches, and San Jose del Cabo, which touts its relaxed, more traditional atmosphere. In between, the aptly named Tourist Corridor has resorts, golf and more beaches. If you need to ask, the "What to Do" section has details on everything from spas and dining to tours, ecotourism and diving. That section also describes beaches, including El Medano — "several miles long" — Costa Azul for surfing and Santa Maria for snorkeling. Before you finalize your plans, check the hotel section for "Webpromos" and package deals.
But if you went straight to Cabo, you'd miss a lot of scenery and attractions along the way.
The peninsula's northern state, Baja California, shows you some of what's available with a photo gallery. And if you have the time, there are suggestions for itineraries, including Route of the Missions, Wine Country, a Hunting & Fishing Route and a Rural Route for the adventurous. Unfortunately, they don't provide maps for each of them. Some travelers might be wary of their walking tour for the border city of Tijuana, but you might consider the ones for Rosarito, Tecate and Ensenada, where one of the suggested destinations is the Riviera del Pacifico Cultural Center, a former gambling casino it says was supposedly financed by Al Capone. And click on "Bahia de Los Angeles" for fantastic whale watching in a series of coastal lagoons.
Before you cross the border, study that Web site's "Information" section, especially for its details on safety, permits, shopping and "Getting into Baja California." Then start clicking on the entries under "Destinations" for links to the tourism Web sites of the cities of Ensenada, Mexicali, Rosarito, Tecate, Tijuana and San Felipe. If your kids aren't looking forward to the trip, tell them about the Foxploration theme park at Rosarito, part of the movie studio complex used for "Titanic" and other ocean epics.
You might also give a look to the Baja Guide for extra insights on the highlights of the peninsula, like the shrimp tacos at the pier in Ensenada and local sea kayaking, bird watching at San Quintin (settled by English colonists), and the laid-back, relaxing atmosphere of Loreto.
Stop by the Mexico Tourist Board to see if you they have any other ideas you can use. Click on "About Mexico" and then "Baja California," And while you're there, study Northern Mexico and the Pacific Coast for some possible future extended side trips.
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