Weekend Getaway To Mexico
Rosarito Beach Hotel’s Rich History
by Pamela Price
The beauty of living in Los Angeles, California is that I can get in my car, drive two or three hours and be in a completely different setting and culture. Even a different country. Our LATF travel pages have taken us from the woods of Wrightwood to the mountains of Big Bear Lake. For our summer issue, it was only appropriate that we journey to the beach. In this case, the beaches of Rosarito, which is a coastal resort city in the Mexican state of Baja, California. All you need is a three day weekend, a small suitcase, your passport, and you’re ready to go.
I made a long weekend of it with my friend over the Memorial Day vacation. It was the perfect time to get away. We made sure to leave early enough to beat the traffic. Just 30 miles south of San Diego, CA, and a little over three hours from Los Angeles, Rosarito Beach Hotel is located right on the beach between the Pacific Ocean and coastal foothills of Baja.
On our way, we made a quick stop in Tijuana. The change in scenery as we crossed the border was evident, from the stray dogs roaming about, to the colorful stucco buildings. Once we arrived in Rosarito, the street life was vibrant with vendors selling pottery, colorful blankets and candies covered in chili. Just before the entrance to the hotel, people walked through white tents which displayed all different types of artwork and food. I could almost taste the tamales and empanadas!
We drove through the Rosarito arched entryway and were pleasantly greeted by their staff. The main lobby area is painted with beautiful scenic murals. Plenty of families and couples were checking in for the holiday weekend. We toured the property: their main restaurant, Azteca, has a beautiful view of one of their many pools and the oceanfront, as well as the Casa Playa Spa with intricate Spanish tiles. It’s hard to believe that the hotel, which was once a camping lodge with tents in 1925, is now a 500 room resort. They have the eight-story Coronado Tower, which captures the feel of Mexico’s Old World charm, the three-story Playas Tower with 70 suites, and their newest addition, the 17 story, 271 suite Pacifico Tower, which also holds condos for sale. We had a spectacular view from our modern Pacifico room. Although some parts of the hotel could use a little tender loving care, I recommend the Pacifico Tower with its newer amenities and design.
Staring at the vast blue ocean, you feel right at home. But maybe that’s also because Rosarito Beach Hotel is family-run. Owner Hugo Torres has seen the evolution of the beachfront property and the city of Rosarito since he first started working at the hotel in 1974. Hugo is often on site, along with his sons, Daniel Torres (who is the Director of Marketing) and Gustavo Torres (a realtor and delegate with the Baja Department of Tourism).
They were all thrilled to be celebrating the 90th anniversary of Rosarito Beach Hotel. With such a rich history, it only seemed appropriate to hear the hotel’s story from Hugo himself. A distinguished gentleman, Hugo is responsible for making Rosarito its very own city, independent from Tijuana. He has a noticeable passion for the city. After all, he was appointed Rosarito’s first mayor and re-elected for a three year term in 2007.
“We have kept it in the family because it’s the tradition of the family. We want to keep it one thing. I arrived in Rosarito in 1943 when I was 7,” Hugo told me as we sipped tea and coffee during Azteca’s famous Sunday brunch.
The hotelier explained why he loves the hotel industry, “Well, the hospitality and the challenge of competition. The little things every day… new people. You don’t get bored here working in a hotel. There are a lot of activities that you have to do.”
Hugo went on to tell me all about the history of the hotel. In 1925, Manuel Barbachano first opened Rosarito to the public as a hotel. Senior Barbachano married Maria Louisa Chabert and built her a mansion on the ocean. That mansion is now the hotel’s Casa Playa Spa and Chabert’s restaurant. Later on, a Belgian architect added on to the hotel and it became the “Hollywood of Rosarito,” as Hugo called it.
“The movie stars started to come in the late 30s. They would come every weekend. And also Mexican actors like Dolores Del Rio and Maria Félix,” he said. Star guests included Orson Wells, Gregory Peck, Spencer Tracy, Marilyn Monroe, Lana Turner, Joan Bennett and Kim Novak, among many others.
Hugo explained that the hotel was truly built for the people from Southern California. “There were no people in Tijuana and, with the locals, just 500 inhabitants in Rosarito. It was made for Los Angeles. When it was finished in 1935, the trip from Los Angeles to here was a long drive, a travel experience. You came into another country.”
He is right, although many parts of Los Angeles have a strong Mexican culture, visiting Baja is a different world. When asking Hugo what he likes best about Rosarito, of course the hotel was at the top of his list
“My favorite area of Rosarito: inside the hotel of course. I like the little market on the boulevard. I like Puerto Nuevo. I have a friend that owns a restaurant, Puerto Nuevo. And the bodegas.”
There is plenty to do during the night and daytime. It’s quite the experience to horseback ride on the beach. The horses come down from a local ranch to ride on the sand with the tourists every day, and it’s just $10! If you’re more into lounging, the hotel has a wonderful outside bar and cafe tables right on the sand. I recommend you order a margarita. As you enjoy the view, oftentimes vendors on-foot will come around and offer to sell you jewelry, clothing, candy and even a massage.
But save your shopping energy for the street market because it’s an incredible adventure for any bargain shopper. Just a few blocks away from the hotel is a maze that looks like a small village of vendors. With US dollars and pesos, you can bargain for anything, from a dreamcatcher to pottery bowls, hats, dresses and more. It always helps to know that one important question: “¿Cuánto cuesta?” (How much does that cost?). When we were visiting, there was a stage outside on the street where belly dancers, guitarists and traditional Mexican folk dancers performed. If you want to eat lunch out, there are many food vendors and even a few great restaurants in the small squares off the main street.
In the evening, we enjoyed a delicious and affordable meal at Rosarito’s Azteca restaurant. Their frozen margaritas and Puntas Azteca entree are my top dining recommendations.
After dinner, the hotel sometimes has festivities. Their best is karaoke at their Rosa & Rita bar! If you have enough cocktails to rid you of stage fright, it’s a blast to sing in front of the small crowd of hotel guests. You might even get them to sing-a-long and clap with you. But after a long day of shopping, beach lounging and singing, it’s the epitome of relaxation to go back to your comfortable room and rest with the sounds of real ocean waves not too far away.
Until next time… Buen viaje! (Have a good trip!)
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Boulevard Benito Juarez # 31
Rosarito, Baja California México