Evidence of the presence of Paleo-Indians in the region has been dated as early as 10,000 B.C. By 3,000 B.C., a group emerged that is recognizable as the Yuman ancestors of the Kumeyaay, who continued to inhabit the northern portion of the Baja California Peninsula at the time of European contact. The Kumeyaay referred to the area now known as Rosarito Beach as Wa-cuatay, which translates to "big houses" in the Kumeyaay language.
In September 1542, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo passed through the Rosarito Beach area on his way from Ensenada to San Diego Bay. In 1773, a frontier was defined separating Nueva ("new") or Alta ("upper") California, under the jurisdiction of the Franciscans, from Antigua ("old") or Baja ("lower") California, which was entrusted to the Dominicans. In 1788, Luis de Sales, a Dominican priest, redrew the boundary, extending Baja California to the Rosarito Arroyo, known at the time as the Barrabas Arroyo. In 1817, Dominican missionary Tomás de Ahumada founded the Misión San Miguel la Nueva among the Kumeyaay people 22 kilometers to the south of the present-day Rosarito Beach.
The property of El Rosarito Ranch, granted to Don José Manuel Machado on 1825, stands out as the first in the area. Subsequently his son, Don Joaquín Machado, applied for title to the land to President Porfirio Díaz. On May 14, 1885, Machado received his title and registered it in Ensenada, then the capital city of the state of Baja California. May 14 is now recognized and celebrated as Rosarito's Foundation Day by the Historical Society of Rosarito.
It began with the Barbachano family's establishment of the Rosarito Beach Hotel and Rene's bar in 1925. The family, who has been prominent in politics and culture in Mexico since the early 19th century, also built the first highway, allowing tourists from San Diego to visit the area.
While Prohibition was the law of the land, many U.S. residents began to cross the border into Mexico, where drinking was still legal. Tijuana seemed to attract a more speakeasy-oriented clientele, and Rosarito became a haven for the more well-heeled and Hollywood set. Hollywood film stars such as Orson Welles and Dolores del Río visited Rosarito. They were attracted by hunting (deer, quail and rabbit) and fishing (lobster, abalone). While Rita Hayworth was married to Prince Aly Khan, son of Aga Khan, the two would visit the Rosarito Beach Hotel, take over an entire floor, and bring their own staff, including a personal chef. Other Hollywood visitors included Mickey Rooney, Ava Gardner, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn.
The Ejido, common land for farming, began when, on August 17, 1930, General Lázaro Cárdenas, then President of Mexico, issued a resolution granting 46.71 square kilometres (over 10,000 acres) of land to a community of local farmers known as Ejido Mazatlán.
Urbanization developed in 1950 Rosarito's with the planning and construction of streets and city blocks. As land sales soared, coupled with the construction of small restaurants, some shops and two hotels, the city began to take shape. In the 1960s, Rosarito entered the commercial/industrial era with the constructions of a huge thermoelectric power plant and the later installations of Pemex, the state-owned petroleum company.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, Rosarito's growth was moderate but constant. The well-known lobster village, Puerto Nuevo arose in the 1970s and 80s, just fifteen minutes south of Rosarito, originally as a fishermen's neighborhood who would offer the daily catch in their living room, and now is a tourist/culinary destination. In the early 1990s appreciable economic growth was achieved by the construction and competition of numerous hotels, condominiums and shopping centers established along the main street. This street has been renovated and enlarge to encompass four lanes and a lighted meridian strip and was officially designated Boulevard Benito Juárez in the year 1989.
A Barbachano descendant, Hugo Torres Chabert, current owner of the Rosarito Beach Hotel, led the drive to incorporate the city in 1995, and was appointed to a term as Mayor. On December 1, 1995, Rosarito was converted from a suburb of Tijuana, to an independent city. The territory surrounding the city became the fifth municipio (municipality) of the State of Baja California. The impact of cityhood on modern Rosarito Beach cannot be understated. Prior to incorporation, all tax revenue was filtered through the coffers of Tijuana. Post incorporation has marked major improvements in infrastructure. Due to rapid growth, some streets are indeed still unpaved, however the vast majority of streets have been improved with pavement, curbs and street lights. The city announced in late 2008 that the Baja water and sewer utility was expediting completion of major projects and paving would soon be complete. The major downtown corridor, Boulevard Benito Juarez, is on a steady rejuvenation plan, where all new period street lights, wide sidewalks, curbs and gutters are being constructed.
Now, Rosarito offers more than 900 hotel rooms from 25 resorts, hotels & motels; golf courses and spas. The Popotla Boulevard area in south Rosarito is developing a reputation for original art and furniture manufacturing. Around 2005 the latest real estate boom began in Rosarito and what is often called "the Baja Gold Coast." Within a few years, scarcely a piece of oceanfront property large enough for a condominium resort was left unsold to developers.
In 2007, Torres Chabert ran for election and was overwhelmingly elected to a new term. The subjects of rising crime rates and police corruption were major issues in the campaign. Torres Chabert is deeply concerned about the safety of tourists, and pledged strong action to deal with both issues. In early 2008, both federal and state police were ordered into the city (along with neighboring Tijuana) to reinforce the city's efforts. On the site of the city fairgrounds in North Rosarito, a new "Rosarito Pabellion" (Pavilion) shopping center began construction in late 2007. Said to become the largest shopping center in Baja California, it includes major anchors, (Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Coppell, Ashley's Furniture) Cineopolis multi-plex theaters, and chain restaurants such as Burger King, Subway, Applebee's and VIPs.
South of the commercial center along Boulevard Benito Juarez, a new, widened four lane Boulevard Popotla is rapidly developing a reputation as a target area for hand-crafted "rustico" furniture, metal sculpture, and boutique art studios and galleries. Fox Studios, where scenes from the movie Titanic were filmed, is located here.