We visited San Carlos in November 2021 and plan to go back a couple times this winter. It is located just up the coast a few miles from Guaymas, directly south of Hermosillo, on the Sea of Cortez along a couple of broad bays. It has 2 marinas, one of which has a number of restaurants and shops, and two long beaches. It is a beautiful and relaxing place.
We learned of several things to do and places to eat in San Carlos, thanks to our friend Paul, who has been spending his winters there for the past few years.
Places to Eat
If you like seafood you are going to love the food in San Carlos. If not … well. it is Mexico, so I’m sure you can find plenty of great alternatives.
Just northwest of town, past Playa Los Algodones, is the fishing village of La Manga. You take the main road up the coast until the pavement ends, and then about a kilometer on a dirt road. The village is quite ramshackle, with a number of small outdoor restaurants. Follow the dirt road through the village until it bends sharply to the left, then about 150 meters further on you will see a large block building on your left. That is Doña Rosita: a restaurant with a very large covered patio right on the shore. Their menu is extensive, and everything we ate there (in 3 visits) was fresh, beautifully prepared, and delicious. Highly recommended!
On the way to La Manga is the Sunset Grill, another fine seafood restaurant. It is a little hard to explain how to get there, but basically you take the main road toward La Manga. A ways past the Playa Blanca resort you will come to a highway round-about / turn-around. Make a U-turn there. Then the first road to the right (about 300 meters) has a guard house. You may, or may not, be required to pay a 30 peso fee at the guard house. Proceed down that dirt road to the end. The restaurant will be to your right. It is located adjacent to The Soggy Peso, which we didn’t try. The Sunset Grill is a large talapa with a beach-sand floor, as well as an outdoor seating area. It is a bit expensive by Mexican standards, but the food is very good and the view and ambience can’t be beat. As the name suggests, the best time to arrive is shortly before sunset.
At the Marina San Carlos (located behind the MarinaTerra hotel) is the Embarcadero Cocina+Bar. The service there is great, the food very good (try one of the molcajetes), and it’s a great place to see the marina and people-watch. Prices are reasonable. There is some limited seating outside, which I recommend, weather permitting.
Across the street from MarinaTerra is El Patron restaurant. It is located on the second floor of its building with a very nice patio. I can’t make any personal recommendation about the food, because I ordered some weird appetizer combo that was just OK. But my reliable source says that the food is very good, and I know for a fact that they mix good drinks and provide a nice atmosphere.
Heading east along the coast from the marina you will come to the turnoff for Posada Condominios, where El Mar restaurant is located. They have an outstanding Sunday buffet breakfast for an absurdly low price. There is outdoor seating available. Besides the great buffet there is a full bar. Highly recommended.
Still further east is the Maukaa Restaurant and Beach Club. It is located about 200 meters past the Coralito Beach Club (which I suggest you do not try). The Maukaa is a large talapa located right on the beach. We only ate there once, but the food was outstanding. I had the hamachi sashimi, and it was as fresh and delicious as any I have had anywhere. As a side bonus, the restaurant has possibly the best bathrooms in town. The only negative for me was that the service was a bit stiff and formal - but maybe for you that’s a good thing!
Finally, if you are in the mood for ice cream, try Thrifty Ice Cream, located on the north side of highway 124 between the Marina and Maukaa. A nice selection, and very good quality ice cream.
Things To Do
We were only there for a week, so I can’t make many recommendations, yet. The overall theme for activities in San Carlos is outdoor: the sea and the mountains and canyons. Owing to laziness I didn’t get into the mountains and canyons on our trip. but we did get out on the water.
We did a kayak tour with Enrike’s Adventures off the beach at Club de Playa near the marina. The Enrike’s office is located on highway 124 east of the marina on the north side of the highway, next to the CIBanco. It’s a tiny storefront and easy to miss. The tour was a lot of fun, and the guide was very friendly and knowledgeable (and it bugs me that I can’t remember his name). There are many species of birds and fish in San Carlos, as well as a few sea lions and dolphins. And there are whales at the right time of year. A kayak trip is a great way to see it all, whether on a guided tour or not.
We hired the smaller of the two tour boats from Gary’s Dive Shop, located just a couple blocks east of Enrike’s. The 3 hour tour was very enjoyable, and the captain and mate were both friendly and very knowledgeable, pointing out a large number of bird species. We got to see dolphins, and a solitary sea lion. If you decide to take a tour with them, try for the one in the morning: the water can get pretty choppy in the afternoon. Our morning tour was pleasant and smooth.
As I mentioned, I didn’t get out on the trails, but Enrike’s offers a nice selection of guided hikes in the area, which sound worth checking out.
Places To Stay
I only have information about the place we stayed, for now.
The Sea of Cortez Beach Club is located on Highway 124 at the southern/eastern end of Playa Los Algodones. The room we stayed in was large, with a bedroom separated from the main living area. It was equipped with a small but fully functional kitchen. All rooms have a balcony facing the pool and beach. The pool is about 15-20 meters long and very shallow. During our stay the water temperature was uncomfortably warm - fine for floating, not so good for swimming. The pool area can get a bit noisy in the evening. There is a small restaurant open for breakfast and lunch. We had breakfast there twice: the first time was fine, the second time both the food and the service were sub-par.
There is no beach access from the hotel: at low tide you can access the water, but it’s just a rocky shoreline. There is an area outside for grilling, with a few large built-in grills and ample work surfaces. Parking can be a bit tight when the place is full.
Overall we enjoyed our stay, but will likely opt for somewhere closer to the marina on future trips.