Barkin' Baja: Enjoy Mexico With Your Dog
Sun spangled the Pacific Ocean with glints of blue jewel tones. Flecks of opalescent mica in the sand glimmered underfoot, and the hillsides still manifested some emerald green reminder of the past winter's rains. At beach's edge, wildflowers grew chest high, sunny yellow and orangey blooms swaying in mild ocean breezes. The air was scented with a not-unpleasant mixture of sea salt, plus that uniquely Mexican mix of diesel exhaust, taco-stand cooking, and buckets of cut flowers.
I parked in the lot of La Mission beach in northern Baja California, about 40 miles south of the US border. Finding the beach almost empty, I freed Sophie, my sand-colored, mixed-breed dog, for a leash-free romp. As soon as her paws hit the sand, she bounded off, her long, plumelike tail wagging like crazy, and a big, doggy grin plastered on her face.
There were seagulls for chasing, horses afar at which to bark orders, and new smells to divine and conquer. For a dog, this must certainly be one of life's true joys: to run freely, full throttle, on a wide, long expanse of beach, ears flapping in the sea breeze, nose twitchy in olfactory overload, and gentle ocean waves to cool her at will. The sweeping playas (beaches) of northern Baja California, Mexico, can be both a doggy delight and a people paradise. From Southern California, the U.S.-Mexico border is an easy drive. Cross just 15 miles south of San Diego, then head south via either a new, well-maintained toll (cuota) road, the Ensenada Scenic Road, or the more meandering, free Carretera Libre (Free Road).
Getting to northern Baja beaches really is half the fun, and so many await, visitors with dogs could easily explore new ones on every visit. Once across the busy border and beyond the bustle of Tijuana, the drive steers from one spectacular photo-op after another - on your right, the azure Pacific Ocean below pounds rugged cliffs, with the rocky Islas Coronados, an ecological sanctuary, just offshore. On your left, eye-stopping hills and mountains seem to roll into the horizon. Roadside, colorful, open-air markets offer ample opportunity to stock up on hand-made ceramics, tiles, furniture, glassware and works of iron; and, seemingly everywhere, seafood restaurants and taco stands tempt you with their savory aromas.