‘Infamous’ Hotel California a Fake, Disappoints Wake

Like a lot of people, I bought into some of the hype surrounding the Hotel California in Todos Santos. I had read and heard it might have something to do with the infamous rock song written by The Eagles, that the hotel might have inspired them to pen the lyrics. We drove up the western Pacific coast of the Baja California peninsula from San Lucas to Todos Santos, eager to see if we too could be inspired, but we eventually learned the truth: The entire myth surrounding the hotel is complete nonsense.

Don Henley told Rolling Stone that it was the band’s “interpretation of the high life in Los Angeles” and later reiterated “it’s basically a song about the dark underbelly of the American dream and about excess in America, which is something we knew a lot about.”

Fax from Don Henley to Joe Cummings debunking the myth that he had stayed in Todos Santos.

Don Felder described how the lyrics were written: “Don Henley and Glenn wrote most of the words. All of us kind of drove into L.A. at night. Nobody was from California, and if you drive into L.A. at night… you can just see this glow on the horizon of lights, and the images that start running through your head of Hollywood and all the dreams that you have, and so it was kind of about that… what we started writing the song about. Coming into L.A…. and from that ‘Life in the Fast Lane’ came out of it, and ‘Wasted Time’ and a bunch of other songs.”

And even more: In 1997, travel writer Joe Cummings became intrigued with the legend. He talked to everyone he could and decided that the stories just didn’t seem right. He sent a fax to Don Henley and asked about the hotel in Todos Santos and the rumors that he and/or the band had been here and possibly even written the song here. To Joe’s surprise, Don Henley immediately returned his fax and stated that “I can tell you unequivocally that neither myself nor any of the other band members have had any sort of association – business or pleasure – with that establishment.” Based on his own research and this fax, Joe wrote “Hotel Where” which was later published in the March 2000 issue of El Calendario de Todos Santos, the local English language magazine.

Sweet, good to know now (and pretty cool assuming that fax is real… see photo below). This is a prime example of why one’s travel plans, expectations, and anticipations should never revolve around a specific desire. Sometimes, things don’t turn out as glamorous as you make them up to be in your head. Other times, as was my fate here, you buy into some sort of pop culture and it turns out to be nothing like it was built up to be (imagine that!).

Cerritos Beach in Baja, California.

The thing that annoys me is that I feel personally and purposely mislead – the hotel apparently made up the whole thing in an effort to increase business. Well, it worked. The hotel is a gigantic tourist trap, and to be extremely honest, I wondered what I was missing. It’s not on the ocean (as the website would lead you to believe), and although it may have been cool back in the day, a tacky gift shop sits at street level beside the restaurant and lobby. Gift shops are about as far from inspiring as it gets for me.

Life went on, though – I’ve learned to bounce back. We followed a lead to a roadside fish taco stand called George’s, which was excellent and served great fried fish tacos. From there we took a man’s recommendation to head out of town a bit, head towards the beach via the dirt roads that cross through the cacti. We stumbled upon two beautiful beaches, one being a well-known surf spot called Playa Los Cerritos. It has a rather authentic feel despite a few small hotels nearby on the beach, and I think that is definitely aided by the fact that you have a 5-10 minute drive on a dirt road to get there. Lots of people come here to surf (or learn how) and the current was good for body surfing that day for us. Definitely worth a stop in as you cruise the western coast – it’s located at kilometer 64 on carretera 19.


Hotel California in Todos Santos, Baja California.
Fax from Don Henley to Joe Cummings debunking the myth that he had stayed in Todos Santos.
Coastline near Todos Santos, Baja California.
Cerritos Beach in Baja, California.
Cerritos Beach in Baja, California.
Cerritos Beach in Baja, California.

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