Hacienda El Capricho: Heaven in the Baja Hills

By Wendy Lemlin

Welcome to Hacienda El Capricho

Welcome to Hacienda El Capricho

For those of us in Southern California, a trip to northern Baja might entail heading to some coastal destination between Rosarito and Ensenada, usually to eat some tacos, drink some cold cervezas, maybe do some surfing or lounging on a beach, and then finishing off with a stop in Popotla to pick up some colorful pottery at the roadside “studios”. Or, maybe it’s a wine-tasting and gastronomic extravaganza to the now uber-popular Guadalupe Valley, where the numbers of upscale wineries, restaurants and flashy events have increased exponentially (along with prices!) in the last five years. Foodies and artists are discovering the culinary and cultural delights of Tijuana, and San Felipe is still a laid back-destination for sport fisherman, and gringo retirees. It’s all out there and readily accessible.

But, way, way off the beaten path, nestled in the Baja mountains several miles inland from

The road to Hacienda El Capricho

The road to Hacienda El Capricho

the coast near Puerto Nuevo, exists an amazing slice of Baja that few tourists even know exists. If you continue for several winding, bumpy, dusty miles on the dirt road that runs east uphill from Primo Tapia, past All the Pretty Horses of Baja Rescue, after about 30-40 minutes you will arrive at Hacienda El Capricho, the dream of Alberto Ortiz, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, but in the midst of abundant natural beauty and tranquility. It may not be easy to find, but it is certainly easy to love. At this elevation, the

The hills are alive on the way to Hacienda El Capricho

The hills are alive on the way to Hacienda El Capricho

hills, even in the heat of mid-summer, are greener and lusher than you would ever expect, covered in native oaks, flowering buckwheat, grasses, and a variety of vegetation, watered by natural springs and underground streams.

The sound of bird calls fill the air—the acorn woodpeckers that run through their impressive vocal repertoire in the oaks, the cooing of doves, the chatter of hooded orioles, the chirping of sparrows and the melodies of robins. Sometimes you’ll hear the mooing of cattle at a nearby ranch, or the whinny of a horse.  At night there’s the occasional yip of a coyote.  There are noises here in the Baja outback, but they are the noises of nature, which only accentuate the tranquility, rather than disturb it.

The entrance to Hacienda El Capricho

The entrance to Hacienda El Capricho

Continue reading

Flying to San Felipe

by Wendy Lemlin

These arches, the symbol of San Felipe, greet visitors at the north entrance of town.

These arches, the symbol of San Felipe, greet visitors at the north entrance of town.

San Felipe, on Baja’s Sea of Cortez, has always been a playground and vacation home destination for those in the San Diego and SoCal areas, but until recently, getting there was definitely NOT half the fun, necessitating a 4+ hour drive into Mexico, over mountainous roads and sometimes long border waits on the return trip home. All this changed this past December, when Portland, OR-based SeaPort Airlines began offering non-stop air service from San Diego International Airport to San Felipe in their nine passenger prop planes, currently on Monday, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

SeaPort Airlines' 9 passenger planes fly between San Diego and San Felipe.

SeaPort Airlines’ 9 passenger planes fly between San Diego and San Felipe.

The easy, hour and 20 minute flight takes passengers over breathtaking views of mountains and canyons that few travelers ever see, far from any roads or vestiges of “civilization”, and deposits them at the small San Felipe airport, on the placid shores of the Sea of Cortez, just a 5 minute drive from the lovely beachfront San Felipe Marina Resort and Spa.  Continue reading

Art Will Bloom at San Diego Museum of Art’s “Art Alive”

By Wendy Lemlin

art alive1

Next weekend, from April 24-26, one of my favorite annual events is happening at the San Diego Museum of Art. 

During Art Alive, the Museum will become transformed into a fragrant vision of art combined with such natural materials as flowers, greenery, seeds, vines, and more, as more than 100 floral designers bring the Museum’s renowned Permanent Collection to life during the 34th annual event, creating live floral displays inspired by the works of art. Continue reading

San Diego Restaurant Round Up

By Wendy Lemlin

Spring has sprung,

the grass has ris,

this is where the good food is!

Spring always means a flurry of restaurant happenings, new seasonal menus, and new openings.  Here are some of the goings on in the San Diego Restaurant scene. Continue reading

Mardi Gras Mambo in Cajun Country

By Wendy Lemlin

A courir de Mardi Gras begs for gumbo ingredients at a farm in Southwest Louisiana's Cajun Country. Credit: Philip Gould.

A courir de Mardi Gras in Southwest Louisiana’s Cajun Country. Credit: Philip Gould.

It’s early morning in Eunice, Louisiana, and the kaleidoscope of colors and patterns on traditional patchwork costumes are a wake-up call for the eyes, as the throng of masked revelers of the Mardi Gras “courir” set out on horseback through the countryside. Musicians on flatbed trucks provide the accompanying soundtrack with accordions and fiddles, and the beer flows freely, even at this early hour. Reliving a custom harkening back to medieval France, the “Mardis Gras”, as they are called, raucously beg ingredients from homes and farms for a communal gumbo later that day. Their loose, colorfully fringed costumes conceal their identities and, in a carryover from those long ago days, parody the roles of those in authority in the France of centuries ago.

Traditionally costumed riders set out on a Cajun "Courir de Mardi Gras" in Eunice, La. Credit: Philip Gould

Traditionally costumed riders of a “Courir de Mardi Gras” in Eunice, La. Credit: Philip Gould

Many hours, beers and miles later, the procession will ride into the center of town in mid-afternoon, to join a celebration where the air is filled with music, the rhythm of dancing feet, and the aromas of such Cajun delicacies as boiled crawfish, boudin, and etouffee.

Meanwhile, in the nearby town of Iota, hundreds of people bedecked in beads and feather boas, traditional costumes or western wear, are jammed onto a platform raised about 10 feet above the main street, dancing joyously to the live Cajun and zydeco music. Soon a truck load of costumed children arrive and start their ceremonial begging, a custom also from olden days, welcoming the coins that onlookers press into their little hands.

Traditionally costumed revelers arrive in Iota, La. Credit:: Wendy Lemlin

Traditionally costumed revelers arrive in Iota, La. Credit:: Wendy Lemlin

The King's Parade on Mardi Gras Day in Lafayette, La. Credit: Philip Gould

The King’s Parade on Mardi Gras Day in Lafayette, La. Credit: Philip Gould










In Lafayette, the King’s Parade, with its floats and grandeur, is festively making its way through downtown to the carnival at Cajun Field, as thousands of spectators, already weighted down with strands of colorful beads, line the parade route and scramble for even more beads and trinkets thrown from the floats.  Continue reading

Gourmet Dining With Farmers, Friends & A Fisherman

By Wendy Lemlin

Ok, I admit it.  Life can taste pretty sweet when you’re a food writer.  It’s especially enjoyable when gourmet dining amidst great conviviality with the growers, harvesters, and curators of the delicacies on the plates in front of me.

This was the case last night (January 15) at San Diego’s Red Door Restaurant and Wine Bar for the Baja edition of their Farmers, Friends & Fisherman Dinner series, which proved so popular that seating spilled over into The Wellington Steak and Martini Lounge, Red Door’s adjoining sister restaurant. The seasonal series showcases area farmers, fishermen, ranchers, and wine or spirit makers who personify Red Door’s sustainable, local and organic credo. Continue reading

Feeling Flaky

By Wendy Lemlin

(Published in About Town Magazines, Winter 2015 as “Let It Snow”)

Winter rains at the coast can mean snow in San Diego County's eastern mountain areas.  Photo Credit: Wendy Lemlin

Winter rains at the coast can mean snow in San diego County’s eastern mountain areas.

Ah, the joys of winter: sledding, cross country skiing, making snow angels and building snowmen… think you can’t do that in San Diego County? Well, think again—-and head for the hills!

When rare winter rains drench the city and the temperatures drop at the coast, it’s highly likely that snow will cover the tallest mountain peaks in the eastern reaches of the county. It may only happen a few times a winter, and any accumulation will certainly melt within days after a snowstorm, so, if you’re yearning for the quintessential snow day, be ready with your call-in-sick-to-work excuse, put on those layers of clothes and drive east ASAP!

Here’s a flurry of snow-possible locations, each only about an hour’s drive from San Diego—close enough to spend the day and still be back at the beach by sunset. Continue reading

Fusion Tapas at Cueva Bar

by Wendy Lemlin

Interior of Cueva Bar

Interior of Cueva Bar

Ok, so I guess I’m pretty late to the party, because, despite the fact it’s been around for a few years, I just recently discovered Cueva Bar, an absolute gem of a tapas and wine bar in University Heights.  I’d walked by it on several occasions as I was coming or going from the summer concerts at Old Trolley Barn Park, but, maybe because I don’t live in the neighborhood and am not over that way too often, I somehow missed the fact that Cueva Bar is a perfect place for tapas. And wine. And more tapas. Continue reading

A Taste of Baja California Culinary Fest

by Wendy Lemlin


So, you’ve been hearing all these great things about the Baja culinary scene, and have just been waiting for a good excuse (not that you really need one!) to experience it for yourself, right?  Well, you’ve got one—in fact two!

For the first time, Baja California Culinary Fest is teaming up with The Culinary Conference Ensenada Gastronómica to present five days of mouth-watering excitement. From October 29th to November 2nd, guests will be able to explore the many flavors of Baja and discover the local natural resources of the region that the rest of the world is clamoring for these days. Chefs’ dinners, outings, tours and culinary competitions are among the exciting events planned for this foodie extravaganza. Continue reading

Info for Attending Tijuana Innovadora


If you’re planning to attend Tijuana Innavadora–and if you’re a fan of Baja, innovation in the arts and technology, the exciting culinary scene, and so much more, you should be!—here’s what you need to know to attend this incredible conference which takes place Oct. 16-26:

The innovation conference Tijuana Innovadora will present 200
innovators in technology, health, education, business, food, fashion and more on Oct. 16 to 26 at the Centro Cultural Tijuana (Cecut), although the Culinary Battles will take place at the Arena Tecate/Hipódromo Caliente (Caliente Racetrack).
The purpose is to highlight the innovation in the Tijuana-San Diego region and to promote cross-border business opportunities. This year’s theme is a celebration of the contributions Mexican immigrants have made in the United States.
The speakers are leaders in their field in Latin America, the United States and the border region.
Lectures and panel discussions will be available in English through simultaneous translation.
Special events will highlight innovation in specific areas:
Batalla Culinaria – Oct. 18 and 19, featuring top chefs from the Baja California and San Diego.
General seating $30; VIP seating $47
TI cover

Campus link (Oct. 21 and 22) : Speakers and activities aimed at college students focused on Internet technology, given by leaders from Google, MIT, National Geographic, and founders of successful site and apps.

InnovaModa – Oct. 25, featuring Mexico’s famed Pineda Covalín brand as well as local designers. General seating $29, VIP seating $42. Package of four designers’ talks (Oct. 24) is $33,students $17.
Conference tickets can be bought through the website: Tijuana Innovadora or at Cecut box office. $27 for conference block of speakers and panels (generally morning or afternoon), per day. $54 for Rudolph Giuliani or César Millán; InnovaModa and Batalla Culinaria have separate pricing (see above).
Expo — free
Workshops – more than 40, free (in Spanish)
Chats — most free
Individuals – May drive across the border and park at or around the Centro Cultural Tijuana, minutes away from San Ysidro border crossing. Parking will be extremely limited, however.
Uber: Individuals may take the trolley or Uber San Diego (a conference sponsor) to the border and from there Uber Tijuana to the cultural center.
Mexicoach: Individuals may leave for conference venue throughout the day from
the Mexicoach office in San Ysidro, 4570 Camino de la Plaza, 92173. Round-trip ticket is $5,with expedited crossing.
Groups — Transportation will be provided by Mexicoach with expedited border crossing, leaving from Inspiration Point in Balboa Park, for $15 per person. Reservations:
http://goo.gl/forms/kfQu7aaHlK; email is: groups@tijuanainnovadora.com
Neon Run 5K (Oct. 18) Runners and walkers will light up Tijuana streets.
TEDxTijuana (Oct. 21) — $26 for 16 speakers on a variety of subjects.
Cosplay Parade (Oct. 26), 3 p.m. “Comic-con”-style parade of Tijuana cosplayers.
Complete program at Tijuana Innovadora.