From the border at the San Ysidro/Tijuana crossing, it is about 20 miles to Rosarito Beach, 80 to Ensenada. Depending on which route you take, it will take at least as many minutes or more.
The primary difference in living and buying in the Tijuana/Ensenada vs Mazatlan corridor is your proximity to the US border. You can easily drive back to the US from Baja...not so with Mazatlan.
A lot also depends upon what kind of Mexican experience you are looking for. Typically, I'd say the farther away you get from the border, the more authentic culture you will experience.
I am most familiar with Baja Mexico, so that is where I will focus my comments on.
From my observation, surfers and beach swimmers use the ocean just about all year! It seems that kids and surfers will endure just about anything! My personal tastes allow me to enjoy the beach and pool year around, even if I wear a sweatshirt with my shorts.
I believe most of the pools in the complexes here are heated year around because because we have very sunny weather as a general rule. If you are looking for reliable weather reports, check on San Diego, CA. You will find the beach in San Diego has the same weather as in Rosarito and Ensenada.
The weather gurus talk about "May Gray" and "June Gloom." Means we have morning overcast most of the time during May and June. July and August are great weather months for temps and sun, however, I enjoy it year round because even if the temperature is cool, I can still wear shorts and a sweatshirt almost 12 months out of the year. Of course there are cooler days...it is on the beach after all and we do get pacific breezes.
I have rented out my condo and July and August are the strongest months...virtually weekend, plus. Other months, I may get anywhere from 2 to 6 days a month, and have several months with nada rentas. I don't think it is a year 'round rental market based on my experience, however, if you are willing to rent to young party-goers, you could get more. That market picks up in March and peaks around Easter/Spring Break, then levels through the summer until those good months of July and August.
Any three day weekend in the US can generate rentals...Veteran's Day in November, Thanksgiving, New Years, President's Day, etc.
9/11 had an affect on tourist in general here. The common perception was that because people would not be flying as much they would drive to local destinations. I think most of the LA folks went to Palm Springs, etc., not Baja. There has also been bad PR recently because of crime related issues in Baja.
Be that as it may, the past month has been very active in Baja...lot's of tourism. The "smart guys" are banking on Baja, and there are developments lined up for the next 5 to 10 years either approved, underconstruction, or coming on-line now. I tend to go with these guys...they are putting their money where their mouth is.
My observation is that while there have been hiccups here and there, real estate has been an excellent investment. It certainly has been for me! As long as anywhere within a 4 hour drive from Baja beachfront real estate is four times what it is in Baja, the market and values will stay good in Baja. When 1,000 square foot condos with ocean views start at $600,000 and go up to the mid-seven figures, buying in Baja looks damn good! Same weather, interesting culture, lots of diversions....
I live in Rosarito, and am a former real estate agent/broker in California, so I have a perspective I'd be willing to share. Perhaps one day I will be selling in Baja, but not if it interferes with my siesta! In any event, I'd be happy to sit down with you and share my thoughts and recommendations over a cup of coffee.
As far as recommending an agent, I know some and will be willing to introduce them to you. I think finding someone with similar backgrounds is the first step, and I know some who practice in California and Baja and may share interests with you.
It seems to me that each project or community has it's own personality, and that some thought should be put in to matching yours with it...(hope you follow the twisted syntax there!) I live in a low-rise project as opposed to a high-rise; I prefer the feel of a more garden style project. However, my project does not have all the razzle dazzle as some of the new high rise developments. For me the trade-off is easy...I don't need a concierge and poolside cocktail service. But those are the plus and minuses we all should weigh.
When I was a practicing agent, that was my philosophy. Before I started searching for a house based upon the number of bedrooms, I needed to know more about my client. Was it a working mom, or stay at home? How old were the kids? How active did they want to be in the landscaping? Were they going to spend their weekends with friends over for a barbeque, or leaving the house for a ski weekend?
Same here in Baja. Look for the "community feel" and don't get too excited because one has prettier granite counter-tops.
You also want to make sure the developer is solid, and that the Homeowner's Association is on good financial footing. Remember, if there is a problem with a roof, pool, or irrigation system, that is a common responsibility of the HOA...or YOU if they don't have the bucks to perform as they are supposed to.
With that in mind, I'd also look for a place to rent for a few months so you can do this kind of homework.
Let me know if I can assist further,