Rosarito Beach Looking North

Rosarito Beach Looking North

Playas de Rosarito (Rosarito Beach) is a city in the Mexican state of Baja California located approximately 35 minutes south of the U.S. border in Tijuana. Its beaches and dance clubs are a popular destination for young people from the United States during the Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends. Playas de Rosarito is the seat of the municipality of Rosarito.


Evidence of the presence of Paleo-Indians in the region has been dated as early as 10,000 B.C. By 3,000 B.C., a group emerged that is recognizable as the Yuman ancestors of the Kumeyaay, who continued to inhabit the northern portion of the Baja California Peninsula at the time of European contact. The Kumeyaay referred to the area now known as Rosarito Beach as Wa-cuatay, which translates to “big houses” in the Kumeyaay language.

European arrival and missions
After conquering the Aztec Empire, Hernán Cortés sent expeditions to explore what he believed to be the Island of California. In 1533, mutineer Fortún Ximénez was the first European to land in Baja California, at La Paz, Baja California Sur. In September 1542, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo passed through the Rosarito Beach area on his way from Ensenada to San Diego Bay. 1697 saw the establishment of the first permanent European settlement in Baja California in a Jesuit mission at Loreto.

In 1773, a frontier was defined separating Nueva (“new”) or Alta (“upper”) California, under the jurisdiction of the Franciscans, from Antigua (“old”) or Baja (“lower”) California, which was entrusted to the Dominicans. In 1788, Luis de Sales, a Dominican priest, redrew the boundary, extending Baja California to the Rosarito Arroyo, known at the time as the Barrabas Arroyo. In 1817, Dominican missionary Tomás de Ahumada founded the Misión San Miguel la Nueva among the Kumeyaay people 22 kilometers to the south of the present-day Rosarito Beach.

The third stage in Rosarito’s history began with the establishment of the big ranches. The property of El Rosarito Ranch, granted to Don José Manuel Machado on 1825, stands out as the first in the area. Subsequently his son, Don Joaquín Machado, applied for title to the land to President Porfirio Díaz. On May 14, 1885, Machado received his title and registered it in Ensenada, then the capital city of the state of Baja California. May 14 is now recognized and celebrated as Rosarito’s Foundation Day by the Historical Society of Rosarito.

The fourth stage of Rosarito’s history was centered around tourism. It began with the Barbachano family’s establishment of the Rosarito Beach Hotel and Rene’s bar in 1925. The family, who have been prominent in politics and culture in Mexico since the early 19th century, also built the first highway, allowing tourists from San Diego to visit the area.

While Prohibition was the law of the land, many U.S. residents began to cross the border into Mexico, where drinking was still legal. Tijuana seemed to attract a more speakeasy-oriented clientele, and Rosarito became a haven for the more well-heeled and Hollywood set. Rosarito was visited by Hollywood film stars such as Orson Welles and Dolores del Rio who were attracted by hunting (deer, quail and rabbit) and fishing (lobster, abalone). While Rita Hayworth was married to Prince Aly Khan, son of Aga Khan, the two would visit the Rosarito Beach Hotel, take over an entire floor, and bring their own staff, including a personal chef. Other Hollywood visitors included Mickey Rooney, Ava Gardner, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. In early 2008, Britney Spears made a one day trip to Rosarito in an attempt to avoid the paparazzi; she failed.

A Barbachano descendant, Hugo Torres Chabert led the drive to incorporate the city in 1995, and was appointed to a three year term as Mayor. In 2007, Torres Chabert ran for election and was overwhelmingly elected to a new three year term. The subject of rising crime rates and police corruption were major issues in the campaign. Torres Chabert, as owner of the Rosarito Beach Hotel, was deeply concerned about the safety of tourists, and pledged strong action to deal with both issues. In early 2008, both federal and state police were ordered into the city (along with neighboring Tijuana) to reinforce the city’s efforts.

Now days, Rosarito offers more than 900 hotel rooms from 25 resorts, hotels & motels; golf courses and spas. The Popotla Boulevard area in south Rosarito is developing a reputation for original art and furniture manufacturing. Around 2005 the latest real estate boom began in Rosarito and what is often called “the Baja Gold Coast.” Within a few years, scarcely a piece of oceanfront property large enough for a condominium resort was left unsold to developers. Even Donald Trump associated his name with a condo-hotel project north of Rosarito Beach just over the Tijuana city limits; while the developers insist the project will still be built, they announced a loss of financing in November 2008 due to the worldwide financial crisis. In August 2008 the Rosarito Beach Hotel opened a new condo-hotel tower.

The market was driven by equity-rich North American Baby Boomers who were looking for a second home. When the real estate market slumped in 2007, its impact was felt in Baja, but most developers are biding their time until the market returns. The market slow-down, financial crisis, and negative publicity about crime in the area has led to a general downturn in tourism and investments.

The well-known lobster village, Puerto Nuevo arose in the 1970s and 80s, just fifteen minutes south of centro Rosarito, originally as a fishermen’s neighborhood who would offer the daily catch in their living room, and now is a tourist/culinary destination. Lobster, rice, and beans, washed down with Margaritas is the “comida del dia.” Lobster “Puerto Nuevo Style” can be advertised anywhere in Baja, where the recipe is lobster, doused with butter and grilled, although if a customer insists it will be prepared in the traditional method.

The Ejido and fifth stage in Rosarito’s history began with the inception of Ejidos, common land for farming, when, on August 17, 1930, General Lázaro Cárdenas, then President of Mexico, issued a resolution granting 46.71 square kilometres (over 10,000 acres) of land to a community of local farmers known as Ejido Mazatlán.

Urbanization in 1950 marked the sixth stage in Rosarito’s development with the planning and construction of streets and city blocks. As land sales soared, coupled with the construction of small restaurants, some shops and two hotels, the city began to take shape.

In the 1960s, Rosarito entered the commercial/industrial era with the constructions of a huge thermoelectric power plant and the later installations of Pemex, the state-owned petroleum company.

This seventh stage in Rosarito’s evolution was marked with further construction and the development of shopping centers and more restaurants and shops were established along the main street. This street has been renovated and enlarge to encompass four lanes and a lighted meridian strip and was officially designated Boulevard Benito Juárez in the year 1989.

During the 1970s and early 1980s, Rosarito’s growth was moderate but constant. The mid-1980s, however, was marked with the strong development of tourist related businesses of obviously considerable investment.

In the early 1990s appreciable economic growth was achieved by the construction and competition of numerous hotels in 1989, condominiums and shopping centers.

The impact of cityhood on modern Rosarito Beach cannot be understated. Prior to incorporation, all tax revenue was filtered through the coffers of Tijuana. Post incorporation has marked major improvements in infrastructure. Due to rapid growth, some streets are indeed still unpaved, however the vast majority of streets have been improved with pavement, curbs and street lights. The city announced in late 2008 that the Baja water and sewer utility was expediting completion of major projects and paving would soon be complete. The major downtown corridor, Boulevard Benito Juarez, is on a steady rejuvenation plan, where all new period street lights, wide sidewalks, curbs and gutters are being constructed.

On the site of the city fairgrounds in North Rosarito, a new “Rosarito Pabellion” (Pavilion) shopping center began construction in late 2007. Said to become the largest shopping center in Baja California, it includes major anchors, (Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Coppell, Ashley’s Furniture) Cineopolis multi-plex theaters, and chain restaurants such as Burger King, Subway, Applebee’s and VIPs.

South of the commercial center along Boulevard Benito Juarez, a new, widened four lane Boulevard Popotla is rapidly developing a reputation as a target area for hand-crafted “rustico” furniture, metal sculpture, and boutique art studios and galleries. Fox Studios, where scenes from the movie Titanic were filmed, is located here.

On December 1, 1995, Rosarito was converted from a suburb of Tijuana, to an independent city. Hugo Torres Chabert, current owner of the Rosarito Beach Hotel led the incorporation drive and was subsequently appointed to a three year term as Mayor. The territory surrounding the city became the fifth municipio (municipality) of the State of Baja California, this being the eighth stage of the history of Rosarito.

The geographic city limits of Rosarito are quite large, abutting the Tijuana city limits to the north, and Ensenada to the south along the coast and inland.

Real Estate

In the past years the Rosarito real estate market has been experiencing a boom along its oceanfront area. With the major names in real estate investing in highly modern community developments. With more than a dozen beach front developments being built, Rosarito has become a very important issue in the real estate business in Baja California and Mexico.