Motorcycle Touring Destinations: San Felipe, Baja, Mexico
By Joe Berk
What: San Felipe and northern Baja, an international ride offering great scenery, well-maintained roads, world-class wine tasting and incredible dining.
How to Get There: Take I-10 to Palm Springs and head south to Mexicali. Better yet, cross into Mexico through Tecate, parallel the U.S. border to Mexicali, and grab Mexico 5 to San Felipe.
Best Kept Secrets: Chuy’s Place in San Felipe (wonderful seafood), Los Naranjo’s (an awesome brunch stop on the Ruta del Vinicola), and the L.A. Cetto vineyards (great wines, olives and olive oil).
Avoid: Spring break (our college students haven’t quite mastered the art of moderation) and entering Mexico without your passport (you’ll need it if you want to return).
More Info and Photos: Moto Foto Online, L.A. Cetto wines, San Felipe Website
I’ll make no excuses: I love Baja, and a trip to San Felipe is a good way to get a feel for this magical land. Nestled at the northwestern apex of the Sea of Cortez, San Felipe is 130 miles south of the border, and getting there will take you across some of the best riding on the planet. A scant 350 miles southeast of Los Angeles, it makes for a great weekend ride of motorcycle touring.
San Felipe emerged as a tourist destination in the 1950s (that’s when Mexico paved the road). Don’t let that tourist label turn you away, though. San Felipe is laid back without the turista bite. Reasonable hotels abound, and the cuisine is both authentic and inexpensive. Fishing is the major industry, and whether it’s pescado, camarón or langosta, your dinner was swimming just hours before landing on your plate. While savoring the cuisine and sampling the wines of northern Baja along San Felipe’s malecón, you’ll see fishermen working their boats as the tide recedes. The tidal variation is extreme, exposing a mile of ocean floor each evening — folks drive into areas where the water was 20 feet deep earlier in the day. It’s surreal.
Calexico (on the U.S. side) and Mexicali (on the Mexican side) straddle the border where most folks cross into Mexico. You can ride through Palm Springs and around the Salton Sea to get to Calexico, but that’s a ride through a whole lot of nothing (and then you’d have to navigate through Mexicali traffic). A better way is to pick up California SR 94 east of San Diego (a magnificent road), cross into Mexico through Tecate (where they make the beer), and then grab Mexico 2D east. It runs through the La Rumorosa, or the Rumorosa Grade (see Image Gallery), and it’s a scenic piece of road that’s great on a motorcycle, and on around Mexicali’s southern edge. Once you pick up Mexico 5, it’s a sleek and scenic 100 miles south across the sulfur fields to San Felipe.
Leaving San Felipe, take Mexico 3 and head to Ensenada. Mexico 3 runs through stunning country — Baja’s eastern coastal plains, desert, the mountain range forming Baja’s spine and then down to the Pacific. When you see the Pacific, hang a right to stay on Mexico 3. It turns northeast and becomes the Ruta del Vinicola. This Mexican wine region rivals Napa Valley in every way except price. Keep an eye out for Los Naranjo’s. It’s a popular destination for Mexican riders and they have the best brunch in all Baja. Strong words, but try it and tell me you don’t agree.
After Naranjo’s, look for the L.A. Cetto vineyards. Even if you’re not a wine connoisseur, it’s a great destination. You can only take one bottle of wine into the U.S., but there’s no limit on olive oil or olives, and these folks have some of the best I’ve ever had. A young lady in the L.A. Cetto tasting room offered me a cup of olives a few years ago. Now I buy a case every time I’m there.
Tecate is just a few miles up the road, and it’s your point of entry back into the U.S. The great thing about Tecate is their garita (the border crossing); it’s much faster than those in either Mexicali or Tijuana. It’s all doable in a weekend, and it’s a grand motorcycle touring adventure. MC
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