The best nonfiction Baja books that can transport you there

Who am I?

I grew up on Southern California beaches—Manhattan Beach, Venice Beach, Ocean Beach, La Jolla—but first experienced Baja as an adult. It was like a different world. Returning repeatedly over the next decade, I came to know the stunning shorelines and quiet bays of the peninsula’s midriff as intimately as my home state’s beaches. Swimming and diving Baja’s clear blue waters and hiking its dusty trails and palm-studded mountains, I have admired the many moods of this unique desert peninsula. A writer and editor, I have read extensively from the vast selection of books about Baja, both new and classic works.

I wrote...

Honeymoon at Sea: How I Found Myself Living on a Small Boat

By Jennifer Silva Redmond,

Book cover of Honeymoon at Sea: How I Found Myself Living on a Small Boat

What is my book about?

When Jennifer Shea married Russel Redmond, they decided to spend their honeymoon sailing in Mexico. The couple sailed to Baja California's Sea of Cortez, where they spent twelve months before sailing along Mexico and Central America and through the Panama Canal. Jennifer's experiences on Watchfire are interspersed with the events that led to stepping onto the boat—from her bohemian 1960s childhood in Southern California to the years she spent as a struggling actor in New York.

Jennifer’s grandfather once said, “If you want to get to know someone, take a long trip in a small boat” and that turned out to be true. The couple are still living aboard a sailboat, now in Washington’s Puget Sound; their honeymoon at sea continues.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Miraculous Air: Journey of a Thousand Miles through Baja California, the Other Mexico

Why did I love this book?

I love how this author's modern-day experiences blend with her well-researched history, and I was intrigued by how she brought in a big serving of cultural heritage, giving readers tasty anecdotes about the eclectic people who shaped Baja and who still do—from a daring pilot to an artist far from home.

Like me, C.M. Mayo is a child of blended race whose desire to comprehend her Mexican heritage and experience her Mexican-ness seems to drive a large part of her travels.

I could relate to her instant love of the peninsula but was thrilled by her journalistic delving into the modern dichotomies of this “other Mexico” like the celebrating of the Day of the Dead beside the cheap commercialization of Halloween.

By C. M. Mayo,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Miraculous Air as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Baja California is a place where nothing is as it seems. Cleaved from the Mexican mainland by the Sea of Cortes and separated from the rest of North America by a multitude of cultural and economic differences, the nearly one-thousand-mile-long peninsula is scarred by imperial transgressions yet blessed with extraordinary natural beauty. "The very air here is miraculous," wrote John Steinbeck, "and outlines of reality change with the moment."

It was desire that first took C.M. Mayo to Baja California, but only a longing for understanding could produce this exquisite portrait of "the Other Mexico." As mindful of the peninsula's…

Book cover of Almost an Island: Travels in Baja California

Why did I love this book?

My favorite memoirs blend personal observations with some history and natural history and this book delivers on all those fronts.

I enjoyed how Berger’s essays ranged from the microcosm to the macrocosm, focusing on subjects as diverse as the dogs who lived on the rooftops of La Paz neighborhood, to the joy and the business of chasing eclipses.

An amateur natural historian who previously wrote about the environmental effects of the Glen Canyon Dam in “There Was a River” Berger obviously loves Baja, but more importantly, he is fascinated by the unique desert peninsula. His book drew me in from its first page and fascinated me in repeated readings.

By Bruce Berger,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Almost an Island as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Long frequented by pirates and haunted by pariahs, Baja California has become a favorite destination for whale watchers, hikers, and scuba divers. For Bruce Berger it has been more. In Almost an Island, he takes readers beyond the Baja of guidebooks and offers a wildly entertaining look at the real Baja California.

Eight hundred miles long, Baja California is the remotest region of the Sonoran desert, a land of volcanic cliffs, glistening beaches, fantastical boojum trees, and some of the greatest primitive murals in the Western Hemisphere. In Almost an Island, Berger recounts tales from his three decades in this…

Book cover of Into a Desert Place: A 3000 Mile Walk around the Coast of Baja California

Why did I love this book?

A formerly comfort-seeking Brit takes a very difficult walk around Baja and learns a lot about himself, and of course, about this “desert place.”

What’s not for me to like in a story like that? There is adventure and struggle, but also plenty of humor, and the thread that binds it all together is the author’s dawning love for a land that became his special place.

Mackintosh is still living much of the time in Mexico and has written five more books about Baja, burros, beer, and even dogs, but this adventurous paean to the peninsula will always have a special place in my heart, because I read it when I was newly in love with Baja myself.

By Graham Mackintosh,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Into a Desert Place as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"I had never been particularly good at anything except catering to my own comfort and safety," begins Graham Mackintosh with cheerful frankness in this engaging, suspenseful, and finally stirring travel adventure.

An Englishman, Mackintosh fell in love with Baja California on a visit and, despite a glaring shortage of both experience and money, determined to walk its entire coast. Into a Desert Place is his account of how he equipped himself, what he saw and learned, and how he survived on this harsh and beautiful journey. The book was first published in England and then by Mackintosh himself in the…

Cave Paintings of Baja California: Discovering the Great Murals of an Unknown People

By Harry Crosby, Joanne H Crosby (illustrator), Lowell Lindsay (editor)

Book cover of Cave Paintings of Baja California: Discovering the Great Murals of an Unknown People

Why did I love this book?

You cannot judge a book by its cover, especially this one.

I know it looks like a coffee table book—and it is a gorgeous book full of incredible photos of the cave painting sites and much more, all by the author—but it is so much more than that.

First off, it is an adventure story, and it quickly becomes a story of exploration and discovery. I found myself as gripped by it as by the plot of any mystery tale, and I am so grateful that the author taught me about, and inspired me to learn even more about, Baja’s amazing and mysterious cave paintings.

This book was truly an inspiration to me.

By Harry Crosby, Joanne H Crosby (illustrator), Lowell Lindsay (editor)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Cave Paintings of Baja California as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A full-color account of the great murals of a forgotten people. Depicts the author's discovery and documentation of a world-class archaeological region in remote central Baja.

Book cover of The Log from the Sea of Cortez

Why did I love this book?

I first read this book long before I ever set foot south of Ensenada, and was immediately captivated by it—I loved how Steinbeck would wax deeply philosophical at times, but never lost the thread of the story of their journey.

This book is funny too! When Russel and I were sailing in the Sea of Cortez, we would pick it up and read the sections about the temperamental outboard engine Steinbeck dubbed the “Sea Cow,” and laugh out loud at his anecdotes. I am also fascinated by science and the ocean, and reading the book was like an overview class on oceanography and marine biology.

By John Steinbeck,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Log from the Sea of Cortez as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1940 Steinbeck sailed in a sardine boat with his great friend the marine biologist, Ed Ricketts, to collect marine invertebrates from the beaches of the Gulf of California. The expedition was described by the two men in SEA OF CORTEZ, published in 1941. The day-to-day story of the trip is told here in the Log, which combines science, philosophy and high-spirited adventure.

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