As temperatures heat up this time of year on the rest of the peninsula, Ensenada stays comfortably cool with its mild climate and Pacific breezes, making it the perfect summer escape. Just a two-hour drive from San Diego, Ensenada is an easy getaway that offers a little something for everyone. There’s the world surf reserve, beautiful beaches, artisanal shopping, world-class food from fine dining to street carts, and a bourgeoning craft beer scene. Being located 30 minutes away from the Valle de Guadalupe wine country doesn’t hurt either. Here’s how to pack all of the highlights into a long weekend.
Start your trip to Ensenada by getting an overview—literally—of the city and the harbor. Chapultepec Hill (GPS: 31.862557, -116.633984) is the best spot in Ensenada for taking in views of the city, the bay, and the Todos Santos islands. You can drive or hike up to the mirador lookout. After you’ve taken in the views, head back down the hill to have breakfast at Casa Marcelo Restaurante. The artisanal breakfasts feature savory eggs dishes embellished with fresh cheeses and butters that are made at their nearby ranch in Ojos Negros.
Spend the afternoon enjoying Ensenada’s downtown area along Calle Primera (Av. López Mateos). The lively street is lined with artisanal shops selling everything from local leather goods, to silver jewelry from Taxco, and artisan pieces from Oaxaca. For lunch, stop at La Guerrerense, a mariscos seafood stand that Anthony Bourdain called “the best street cart in the world.” Try the famous erizo (sea urchin) and almeja (clam) tostada. Afterwards, head down the street and pop into the famous Hussong’s Cantina, Ensenada’s oldest bar (est. 1892), for a margarita or beer.
Enjoy outdoor dining under strung Italian lights at Boules. Don’t miss the tuetano (bone marrow), served in a large tyrannosaurus rex-sized bone with tortillas on the side. Other delicious dishes include the crab ravioli and queso fundido de mar. After dinner, head to Wendlandt, one of Ensenada’s craft breweries that was recently named the “2015 Best Brewery in Mexico.” Enjoy artisanal beers like the Perro del Mar IPA or Hann Zomer Saison in the intimate and chic gastropub environment.
Drive south of town for an excursion to La Bufadora, a natural geyser that shoots water up to 100 feet in the air. Admission is free, but be prepared to pay about US$1 for parking. Food and souvenir stalls line the walkway down to La Bufadora. Don’t miss the almejas gratinadas, au gratin clams, grilled with cheese and topped with tomatoes and salsa.
Return back to town and spend the afternoon walking around Ensenada’s harbor area. The Mercado de Mariscos fish market (once call the Mercado Negro, black market) is open for those who want to peruse the stands filled with shrimp, fish, octopus, and the unique geoduck clams. There are over a dozen fish taco stands around the market (Ensenada and San Felipe both claim to be the home of the fish taco), or for more refined dining, head to nearby Muelle Tres. Here, Chef David Martinez makes incredibly sophisticated ceviches (don’t miss the ceviche de la casa) and fresh seafood dishes.
After lunch, walk down the malecón along the harbor to take in the buzz of the city. Underneath the large Mexican flag is the Parque de la Bandera, a large plaza the city recently remodeled with a water fountain feature, a new outdoor stage and pavilion, and some stalls selling souvenirs and snacks. Ensenada’s landmark Plaza Civica is just around the corner with the famous three large gold heads of Benito Juárez (the first president of Mexico), Padre Miguel Hidalgo (who began the Mexican Revolution), and Venustiano Carranza (the first president after the revolution).
Spend the evening getting familiar with Baja’s craft beer scene. Located north of town along highway Mexico 1 in El Sauzal are both Agua Mala, one of Ensenada’s premier breweries, and Baja Brews Colectivo y Jardin Cervecero, a new collection of craft beer and food stalls, that’s quickly become the new hip spot in town. You can enjoy really good food for dinner at either spot. Agua Mala works with local chefs and restaurants for delicious menu collaborations, and Baja Brews has stalls with Ochentos pizza and Les Pinche Frances. If you’re in the need for a late-night taco fix, don’t miss El Trailero across the highway. They’re open 24 hours a day and serve a variety of great tacos from fish to carne asada to adobada (al pastor) and more.
Start your day the way the locals do, with a fish taco for breakfast at Tacos el Fenix. This little street taco stand has been serving up fish tacos since 1970 and is a favorite for most Ensenada locals. Then, get out to enjoy a day relaxing or surfing at one of Ensenada’s beaches. Experienced surfers will want to head up to San Miguel, part of the world surf reserve, north of town. Beginner surfers of any age will have a great time taking a lesson with Surf Ensenada. They provide the surfboards, wetsuits, and fun and knowledgeable instructors. If you prefer more relaxing day of just soaking up rays at the beach, head to Playa Hermosa, one of the largest and most beautiful beaches in the area.
Walk up from Playa Hermosa to have lunch at one of Ensenada’s food colectivos, El Callejón or Región Gastronómica. With a collection of food stalls, either of these options (they’re right across the street from one another) offer a variety of cuisines and artisanal dishes. For delicious Baja-Asian fusion seafood don’t miss Peninsula in Región Gastronómica. After lunch, head down the street to Arcobaleno 33, an Italian-style gelato spot with delicious artisan flavors like cucumber with chia.
Finish up your stay in Ensenada with a meal by one of Mexico’s top chefs. Benito Molina and his wife, Solange Muris, have restaurant Manzanilla, which has been voted one of Latin America’s best 50 restaurants. Housed in an old warehouse with eclectic décor, guests enjoy dishes like steak and quail carnitas ravioli.
While Ensenada itself has enough to keep you fully occupied for a full three days, these nearby excursions are worth adding on an extra day or two to your trip:
Valle de Guadalupe
Mexico’s famous wine region is now home to over 120 wineries as well as a number of campestre farm-to-table restaurants. Spend a day wine tasting with Baja Test Kitchen, who can pick you up directly from your hotel in Ensenada.
For a unique excursion, head east on Mexico 3 (toward San Felipe, not Tecate) to the Valle de Ojos Negros. Here, you’ll find one of Baja’s top cheese producers, Rancho La Campana and their cheese cave, La Cava de Marcelo. It’s worth it to take a tour, which will take you through the dairy farm and the cheese cave, where you’ll enjoy a cheese and wine tasting. They also serve food, which can be enjoyed in a picturesque setting at the picnic tables underneath the trees.
Families will want to spend a day at Las Cañadas, a water park extravaganza with zip lines, waterslides, pools, paddle boats, horseback riding, and ATV riding. Overnight camping is available.
Where to Stay
Located south of town on the beach, this property has nice hotel rooms, a pool area, as well as a camping and RV park. Discover Baja members receive a 10% on RV Park and Camping.
Posada El Rey Sol
Located in the heart of the action in town, this property is associated with the famous French restaurant El Rey Sol (stop in for the pastries even if you don’t make it for a full meal). Discover Baja members receive a 15% discount.
With a great location in town, you’ll be able to walk to nearly everything in downtown Ensenada. There’s a lovely pool area that kids and adults will enjoy. Discover Baja members receive a 15% discount.
The stunning ocean views at Las Rosas are best enjoyed from the jacuzzi or infinity-edge pool. There’s a spa and restaurant on the property.
Hotel Coral & Marina
This swanky property has nice rooms, a great pool area, on-site restaurant and bar, as well as its own marina.