There are few things I love more than a good, long road trip… better yet, a good, long road trip on roads less traveled. I love the feeling of getting lost and discovering something new. And there are few roads less traveled than those through Northern Baja.
My fiancé Will and I will be getting married this year in a seaside village in Northern Baja called La Misión. Every New Year’s Eve, we rally a group of friends for a little surf adventure that’s just a short drive south of the border but feels like we’re worlds away.
Baja holds a very special place in our hearts — not only do we spend every New Year surfing there, we also celebrate our anniversary every New Year. So when we started dreaming up ideas for a destination wedding, Baja was high on our short list. We wanted to share this beautiful place with the friends and family who haven’t yet made the road trips with us. A wedding was the perfect excuse to get people together for one big, long, party-filled weekend.
With a date set, we planned to meander along the coast and start our venue search. Our visit coincided with our friends’ trip on the same weekend, so we decided to caravan with them down the peninsula.
Moko and Austin — two people who crave adventure and the pure life as much as we do — were towing their fresh-off-Craigslist travel trailer to a surf community south of Ensenada. Will and I tagged along because not only do we lust after our own trailer one day, but our friends were permanently parking theirs on a point break so remote, it was considered the “real” Baja. They would be moving into their sweet new vacation home, and there would be waves right in front. We were sold.
Every time we drive down Baja, I’m amazed at the amount of pristine, uninhabited coastline I see. There are a few highrises and gated gringo communities here and there; but if this gem had been a part of California, an overpriced colony of Malibu-esque manses would be fronting those beaches.
Here in third-world Baja, beat-up trailers and greasy taco stands get equal share of the million-dollar views. I love to drive along the coast and imagine myself living in one of those trailers in my itinerant hippie fantasy.
We drove past the northern cities and turned inland into the local wine region, trading endless ocean views for rustic rolling valleys. (Baja wine for the wedding, yes!)
We drove through the middle of nowhere, winding along two-lane roads, and no drive through the middle of nowhere is complete without a random roadside fire with the smell of burning plastic in the air.
Those two-lane paved roads turned into one-lane dirt roads, getting narrower and narrower the further we drove, until we finally reached the coastline again with offshore winds rolling off a rocky point. Four hours after we crossed the San Diego border, we arrived at this secluded heaven.
There’s not much happening here, and that’s exactly how the handful of ex-pats and locals like it. It’s miles from the main highway. Its waves are forgiving and uncrowded. A busy day at the break means half a dozen people in the lineup. Trailer encampments dot the rugged coastline. There’s a hostel above the beach with campsites on the cliff for your tent or your Westy. It’s a perfect little slice of the slow life.
In front of the hostel, a set of whale bones was splayed on the sand in all its grandeur. It had washed up ashore a couple miles away, and the guys from the hostel and the neighboring ranch hauled everything back with their trucks and reassembled the skeleton piece by piece.
The head alone was over 20 feet long!
Next door to the hostel is a quirky compound dubbed the Boat Ranch.
In the early 80s, professional psychologist and former professional surfer Kent Layton defied his naysayers and purchased 14 unwanted boats from San Diego Harbor, all with blown motors and rotten hulls. Some owners even offered him money to simply haul them away.
Paying around $50 a pop for Federales escort on the highway, he towed the cabin cruisers and yachts all the way through Tijuana and Ensenada to this nearly deserted headland, where a surf break had just been discovered 12 years earlier.
He laid out the Boat Ranch about 30 yards from the cliff’s edge, positioning each boat with its bow angled 28° into the prevailing wind.
These defunct boats offered shelter and escape at the same time. A few transient surfers rent them out and fix them up throughout the year, but often the Ranch sits empty. Each boat bears the artistic mark of its former tenant, from rock gardens to glass bottle sculptures.
In the back of the Ranch sit three empty lots to build or park whatever you desire, and Moko and Austin just laid claim to one of them for their 30-foot trailer.
Just out their “backyard” is an unobstructed view of another surf break for us to explore.
Or should I say, a surf break for Moko and I to explore while her husband works on their trailer!
While they were getting acquainted with their new home, Will and I checked in to the guest trailer at the Ranch.
I have to admit that spending a weekend at the Ranch had me toying with the idea of parking my own trailer down here…
Or even fixing up one of the old boats to live in. This could very well be my itinerant hippie fantasy come true.
And the waves? I could’ve surfed that fun little longboardy break all day.
A typical dinner would be that morning’s catch from the local fishermen, whether it be lobster or yellowtail. I never thought some of the freshest sushi I’d ever taste would be in Mexico.
At night we’d sit around this fire pit, ringed with row boats turned on their sides. It made me want to learn how to strum guitar and beat a bongo.
Instead of fire wood, we filled the pit with dried yuccas that we scavenged from the hillsides along the road.
We’ve got some serious yucca going on here.
And when you throw one into the fire, it looks like this.
It’s hard to tell without a point of reference, but the flames topped 5 feet and I thought my friends were going to break out in chant and sacrifice me to the surf god.
I’d also just gotten a new cast-iron Dutch oven that I couldn’t wait to fire up. There was no better way to break it in than a Baja bonfire with great friends and great food. Bubbling inside that oven was a lazy peach cobbler, Boy Scout style!
It went so fast that I could barely get a picture before the last slices were scooped up.
As if the sacrificial fire wasn’t exciting enough, we also lit a few fireworks and ran for cover. Bottle rockets blasted into the air like it was Fourth of July!
It was hard to leave the Ranch after our weekend of doing nothing at all and everything we wanted, but Will and I were on a mission… to La Misión. This tiny town, if you can even call it that, is one of many pocket communities that line the Gold Coast of Baja. We had only been there once on a whim to surf the beach break at K58, but I remembered the dramatic cliffs and expansive shoreline and utter seclusion of this stretch of coastline.
Through weeks of searching online, I had discovered a little-known boutique hotel perched high on the cliffs with what seemed like a thousand steps down to the beach. It had only nine rooms, an old-world Spanish flavor, and perfectly enough, its name loosely translates to “little heaven.”
You know everything is right in the world when this is the view from your bed in the “standard” room.
I don’t want to give it all away yet since our plans are still in progress, but I get all giddy when I see this beautiful backdrop for our barefoot wedding.
If I’m feeling extra wild on my wedding day, I might even make my entrance on an ultralight… ?!
And of course, there’s a surf break right in front with your pick of peaks.
We wrapped up our long weekend with lunch at the best taco stand in all of Rosarito — El Leñador Grill. All of their tacos are outstanding, but I especially love the marinated and grilled peppers and onions. I could just eat a whole heaping plate of those and be happy.
We continued up the coast with the windows rolled down and the salt breezes whipping our hair. While I took a siesta on the beach, Will paddled out for a few peelers at K38. A little grub, a little surf, and not once did we check the time while we were down south. This is why I love Baja.
Seth PetersonMarch 5, 2017 at 4:26 am
found your blog cause of the sauerkraut recipe and then started poking around. I love baja, haven’t been much since the early 2000s. found your spot in google earth, good location. you need to go further south, though, so many points.
Linda from Garden BettyMarch 7, 2017 at 10:26 am
I would love to do a road trip all the way down to Cabo one day. I’ve seen lots of pictures and heard lots of stories from friends who’ve surfed all the points along the peninsula. It sounds amazing. 🙂
Dolfy FreinquelNovember 6, 2015 at 3:57 pm
Thanks Linda!!!! I’ll check it out. D
Dr Kent LaytonNovember 6, 2015 at 7:06 am
call and I will tell you about the hostel at Quatro Casas point 619 922 3817
Dolfy FreinquelNovember 5, 2015 at 8:16 pm
Hi…great article about Baja. Can you give me the name and the location of the little paradise hotel with 9 rooms in Baja…..I just cannot find any reference…Thanks. Dolfy
Linda Ly of Garden BettyNovember 6, 2015 at 2:04 pm
Poco Cielo, though they’ve built a few more rooms since this post was written. Do a search on my blog for “wedding” and you’ll see our pictures from there. 🙂
ted939February 6, 2015 at 6:05 pm
My girlfriend and I want to rent one of those Boat Ranch boats for some days of surfing if we can! Well, I haven’t told her about it yet (I just today saw/read this blog), but I want to surprise her with it, and I know she’ll love it as a getaway. We’re right up the coast in San Diego 🙂
And/or, maybe you could tell me that hotel you found near K-58??
Thanks for keeping such a great blog,
Linda LyFebruary 6, 2015 at 10:11 pm
None of the boats are for rent as it’s a private community, but the hotel on K58 is the one I was married at, Poco Cielo (there are many pictures here on my blog). Highly recommended. It’s a completely different wave at Poco Cielo, but fun if you like beach breaks.
ted939February 6, 2015 at 10:41 pm
Oh, I just mentioned renting because you said, ”
A few transient surfers rent them out …” Maybe that was just back then?
Thanks for your reply and the Poco Cielo reference – I’ll check it out. You guys rock 🙂
Linda LyFebruary 7, 2015 at 12:14 am
I meant the surfers rent them to live in. 🙂
ted939February 7, 2015 at 7:59 am
Ah, got it. How long do transient surfers rent them to live in? We’re transient surfers 🙂 !
Linda LyFebruary 7, 2015 at 3:49 pm
One of our residents has been there over 30 years. If you’re thinking of living in Baja, there are SO MANY properties along the coast, and some even closer to San Diego. When you get to more remote places like the Boat Ranch, however, it’s always a matter of knowing someone who lives there. The communities are very private because they’re homes, not weekend rentals.
ted939February 8, 2015 at 2:44 pm
Wow – 30 years? Awesome – although 30 years in one spot isn’t what I’d call transient.
Perhaps we’ll cross paths at some point down there somewhere (or here in S.D./L.A.!).
We just had a great afternoon/sunset surf at Tourmaline in S.D. yesterday – hopefully down to Baja in not too distant future.
Thanks for all!
Dr Kent LaytonNovember 13, 2013 at 8:46 am
Betty you and your hubby can use my room any time you want . It has a wood stove and is great during a storm. The key is under a shell on the left side of the door. I designed that place for people like you two have fun Dr Kent Layton 619 922 3817
KlaytonMay 3, 2012 at 6:27 pm
Get a Boar Ranch t shirt at cafepress.com the boat ranch a photo from the air Regards KL
KlaytonMay 3, 2012 at 6:25 pm
The Boar Ranch is available for photo shoots and adventures to friendly honest people that like to just be there or surf, lobster,waves, fish, photograph, burn large fires,motocross baja cross country style, four wheel drive,smile, lounge, find private time in the boats back decks beyond eyes, sky rockets, m 80 s in the hand that dont blow themselves up,steaks, chicken, veges, flashlights, video cameras, tequilla, margis, corona pacifico, kites and your imagination, inquiries to Kent Layton.619 922 3817 i will hook you up to Keven Hansen the guru of the Boat ranch in this day and age. Make sure you have a good functioning car of 4 wheel drive cheers KL code name Dr Strange Love hahaaahaahaahaaahaaahaahaaaaahahahahahaaaaaaa
Linda LyMay 4, 2012 at 2:04 am
Hey Dr. Strange Love! Can I call you DSL for short? I think I’m heading back down there this month, let you know when I do!
janetApril 14, 2012 at 10:50 am
Growing up in Nebraska, then Colorado and now Ohio, I never became a surfer but I love the emptiness and beauty of your spot. The hotel is excellent!! Thanks for sharing. Makes me want to go on vacation right now.
Linda LyApril 14, 2012 at 3:45 pm
I love the mountains just as much as I love the ocean. 🙂 It’s a wonderful world we live in… so much to see!
Anne Blake CummingsApril 14, 2012 at 9:05 am
What a great pictorial! I pinned several on Pinterest, thank you for sharing. All best on your Baja wedding and much future happiness!
Linda LyApril 14, 2012 at 3:43 pm