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Weekend Escape: Rosarito, Mexico

Baja Drivers

Finding a real sweet deal for golf buddies at Real Del Mar

April 19, 1998|JACK MATHEWS | Mathews is film critic for Newsday

ROSARITO, Mexico — From the lobby bar of the hillside Marriott Residence Inn Real Del Mar in Baja California, you can step out onto an open-air balcony, look west over the red tile roofs of the hotel's suites, down toward the lushly carpeted first and 17th fairways of the championship golf course, beyond the beach town of Rosarito, and out into the Pacific where the Coronado Islands rise like barren mountain peaks from the sea.

Or, you can turn around and look at Leonardo DiCaprio.

"If I were you, I'd put that thing in the safe," I tell the bartender, pointing to an autographed photo of DiCaprio. "Somebody's going to make off with it."

The bartender shrugs, as if to say, "Who'd do a thing like that?," then draws another couple of Tecates for me and my friend, Encinitas illustrator Dave Purciel. It is 6 o'clock on a recent March evening, and the wine and beer poured free during the two-hour guest hour, adding some color to the sunset.

DiCaprio's photo, meanwhile, is the centerpiece of a collage of snapshots framed on a wall separating the bar from the lobby. The pictures are of the cast and crew of "Titanic," who stayed here while filming at Fox Baja Studios about 20 minutes down the coast, proving that at least some of that $200-million budget was well spent.

Real Del Mar, 13 miles below the border, is the real deal for spoiled transients, whether they're here for eight months, like the "Titanic" crew, or for one night and a day of golf, as we were. At Real Del Mar, the golf course came first; the inn, which has 75 suites and 12 smaller studios, was added about three years ago. The hotel has a spa with steam room, sauna and exercise gym. For extra money, or as part of a package, you can get massages and pedicures.

And it's a relative bargain. For $99 each plus tax, we have a 24-hour package that includes a fully equipped one-bedroom suite with a balcony and the same sensational Coronado view, plus a round of golf, an electric cart, continental breakfast, and . . . "How many Tecates is this, Dave?"

"Three."

Three, and there's an hour to go.

*

But let's back up a little. This trip began two days earlier at the Bajamar Golf Resort 40 minutes south, near Ensenada. Dave and I are part of a group of friends who've known each other since Kennedy was president, and who've been playing golf nearly as long. We're spread out now, from California to New York, but we still get together once or twice a year for a few days of golf and reminiscence, and this spring brought us to Bajamar. The next trip will take us to Real Del Mar.

It's not that Bajamar is a bad deal. It isn't. Its three nine-hole courses are well laid out, in great shape and plenty challenging for seven guys whose handicaps range from a low of 10 to . . . well, I don't want to mention any names, but one of us (OK, it was Dan Nicholl) shot 126 for 18 holes the first day. "How many balls did you pound into the rocks on the Ocean course, Dan?"

"Six."

Six, and there were 10 holes left to play.

On our second day, the four holes along the spectacular black volcanic coast on the Ocean nine played dead into a gale-force wind that fire-hosed us with a mixture of rain and sea mist and turned a 170-yard par three into a par four. The setting looks like Pebble Beach, feels like Hurricane Andrew. At Bajamar, a day's round of golf means you can play any two of the resort's three nine-hole courses.

Our disappointments came mostly with the food (no one in our group had a good meal in two days) and the slow, understaffed service. It took an hour to get breakfast in the morning, and the front desk was manned by an infuriatingly blase clerk. Taking the advice of a couple we met there, we decided to stop on the way back at Real Del Mar in Rosarito to have lunch and scout it for a future trip.

By the end of that lunch, we're coming back. Pedrin's, an elegant, family-run restaurant overlooking the 18th green of the Real course, is fabulous. The main menu is a combination of regional and continental dishes, ranging from tortilla soup and jalapen~a chicken to lobster bisque en crou^te and chateaubriand. There's a separate menu for traditional Mexican food, and you can mix and match as you wish. I had lobster bisque (to die for, just as the couple at Bajamar promised) and chicken enchiladas suizas.

*

The rest of our group had to get back to work the next day, so Dave and I unloaded our stuff and stayed over, promising to file a full report. Here it is:

It can't get any better than this, guys. The hotel, restaurant and golf course, while owned by the Mexico City real estate development company Frisa Group, are operated individually and provide superb service. The suites are like decorator townhouse models, with full kitchens, counter bars, tiled baths with heated floors and walk-in shower tubs, two queen-size beds, a sofa bed and two televisions.

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