Puerto Penasco: A Beach Paradise in the Desert

(c) Rocky Point Restaurant Guide
(c) Rocky Point Restaurant Guide

About four hours from Phoenix and Tucson alike, and a little more than an hour’s drive past the Mexican border at Lukeville/Sonoyta sits the formerly small fishing town of Puerto Penasco (Rocky Point to Americans and Ge’e Suidagi in Tohono O’odham). While it is currently a spring break/holiday hot spot for Arizonans looking to spend some time on the beach, Puerto Penasco’s major tourism development actually didn’t start until the 1990s. Initial development was slow, but by the 2000s the growth of the tourism industry and improvements in the city progressed at nearly a monthly rate. In some places, like the community of Las Conchas, condos starting at $100,000 were common- a mere 5 minute walk from the beach.

(c) AB Raschke
(c) AB Raschke

I have been traveling to Puerto Penasco regularly for nearly a decade, and it is easy to see why people were eager to grab their slice of paradise here. The beaches, even at their busiest, were spacious compared to the overcrowded coasts that I have visited in California. Swimming here is easy- the water is warm and comfortable, the sand is soft, and when the tide is perfect there are large tracts of relatively shallow water to drift lazily through. At other times, the waves are good enough for body surfing or boogie bordering, and despite the generally sandy nature of the beach, there are also amazing tide pools here. Puerto Penasco’s beaches offer visitors a little bit of everything.

(c) AB Raschke
(c) AB Raschke

Besides the beaches, Puerto Penasco is home to CEDO, a vibrant shopping/dining hub in Old Port/Malecon, as well as some ecological treasures (and formerly a little aquarium). CEDO is also known as the Centro Intercultural de Estudios de Desiertos y Oceanos or the Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans. CEDO has their base in Las Conchas, which has a small museum and shop for visitors. CEDO also runs a variety of ecotourism trips, which include paddling out at Morua Estuary, trips to Pinacate (a must see!) and the San Jorge Islands, among other things. For any one interested in the outdoors, CEDO is your go-to for Puerto Penasco.

Alternatively, Old Port or Malecon is a nice dose of culture, although this area is heavily influenced by tourism, and for any seasoned traveler, it is pretty easy to see. There is lots of shopping here, and while there are definitely some gems to be found, much of what you find here are the cookie cutter souvenirs that most tourists appear to be after. There are areas of Puerto Penasco with more authentic wares, of course, but Malecon is still a great place to visit. Standing on the edge of the main road in Old Port, you can look at some of the oldest parts of the town on one side, and the ocean,

(c) AB Raschke
(c) AB Raschke

rimmed by mountains, on the other. Many of the restaurants in this area are built to cash in on this view, with many of them having large, second-story patios (there is even one restaurant that was built over the water). There are also many places in this area to buy fresh seafood from Puerto Penasco’s own fishermen.

Besides dining downtown, I would highly suggest that anyone who visits Puerto Penasco stop and have lunch at Pollo Lucas. This is my favorite restaurant in the whole city, and while the dining is outside, beneath a thatched roof, it is the best Mexican food that I have ever had. Everyone that I have ever have brought here has loved it. It is simple, delicious, and affordable. I highly recommend it.

And if you have any questions about Puerto Penasco or my travels feel free to leave me a comment. 🙂

My next update will be on November 15th; about the historic Tonto National Monument!

(c) AB Raschke
(c) AB Raschke
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2 thoughts on “Puerto Penasco: A Beach Paradise in the Desert

  1. Michele Kennedy

    Love this area as it holds many wonderful family memories. Beachcombing is a favorite activity of mine and Puerto Penasco does not disappoint. Pollo Lucas is one of the best restaurants I have been to with fabulous atmosphere and the most delicious food!

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