When the winter blues hit, there’s no better cure than heading down to Baja for a weekend escape. Wine country, Sea of Cortez beaches, hot springs, and gray whales await! Here are some of our favorite short road trips to help inspire your next venture south of the border.
Valle de Guadalupe
Why go: Most people don’t realize that while winter is considered the “off-season” for Valle de Guadalupe, it can actually be the best time of year to visit. The weather is temperate and you’ll get access to all of the wineries and restaurants without having to deal with any crowds.
What to do: Mexico’s premier wine region is now home to over 150 wineries. A few of our favorites are mentioned here. And just as impressive as the wines is the incredible food.
Where to eat: You can’t go wrong with a meal at the campestre-style eatery, Finca Altozano. If you’re looking for a more upscale experience, Chef Diego Hernandez’s Corazón de Tierra consistently makes the San Pellegrino list of Top 50 Restaurants in Latin America. You can’t stay in Valle without enjoying breakfast at the famous La Cocina de Doña Esthela. Order the machaca con huevo or the corn pancakes.
Insider tip: If you’re looking to get an insider’s experience with all of the best places to go, and you don’t want to have to worry about navigating the tricky dirt roads after drinking too much wine, take a tour with Baja Test Kitchen who will pick you up at the San Diego border or at any hotel or house rental in Valle de Guadalupe.
San Pedro Mártir
Why go: If you’re looking to fully embrace winter and hopefully get a peek at some snow, take a trip to Baja’s Sierra de San Pedro Mártir. The 170,000-acre National Park will give you a mountain experience full of pine trees, wildlife, astronomy, and hiking.
What to do: Within the national park is the National Observatory, home to the second-largest telescope in Mexico. On a clear day, you can see both the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez from the grounds of the observatory. Also in the park are the endangered California Condors, which are being rehabilitated. There are plenty of trails for hikers around the park, and in warmer months, experienced hikers can attempt the multi-day trek to El Diablo (the highest mountain on the Baja peninsula at 10,154 feet). If you’re visiting on the weekend, the small museum in the park may be open. Read our guide to the San Pedro Mártir.
Where to eat: It’s important to note that there are no restaurants or grocery stores within a few hours’ drive (San Telmo on Highway 1 is the nearest spot to procure food). Rancho Meling is the only place in the area where meals are served and even guests staying at the ranch must let them know in advance that they plan on eating meals there.
Where to stay: While there are rustic cabins for rent just at the entrance to the Parque Nacional, the most popular spot in the region for accommodations is Rancho Meling, 34 kilometers outside of the park. This rustic working ranch—where the power is turned off at night and all meals are served family-style in the lodge—is a beloved Baja classic.
Insider tip: When there’s snow in the park, this is an extremely popular weekend day trip for local Baja Californians who drive from all around to come see the snow. Plan accordingly.
Guadalupe Canyon Hot Springs
Why go: There’s nothing like a camping experience where you get your own personal natural hot springs tub to enjoy.
What to do: Aside from relaxing and enjoying the hot springs, there’s plenty of interesting hiking to oases and waterfalls to check out.
Where to eat: There are convenience stores at the campsites, but most food will need to be brought in.
Insider tip: Getting to the hot springs is half the adventure. You’ll need to take dirt roads so be sure to inquire with the campsite directly about current conditions and directions.
Why go: With a bourgeoning culinary scene, a serene and charming atmosphere, and nearby cave paintings, Tecate is Baja California norte’s only designated Pueblo Mágico.
What to do: In town visitors can enjoy a cultural experience at the Tecate Community Museum. Or enjoy sitting along the plaza for the afternoon enjoying the mariachis and people watching. You can spend a half day driving east to La Rumarosa to experience the cave paintings at El Vallecito. Don’t leave without a trip to the famous bakery, El Mejor Pan de Tecate.
Where to eat: Tecate has a growing number of foodie spots. A few of our favorites are the enchanting El Lugar de Nos, and Rancho La Puerta’s El Cafecito 3 Estrellas where you can enjoy farm-to-table dishes created by the talented Chef Denise Roa. While you’re there, take a peek at the six-acre organic garden on the property.
Where to stay: Santuario Diegueño provides luxury accommodations at reasonable prices and has famed restaurant Asao on property.
Insider tip: Just as Tecate is a tranquilo town, the border crossing is equally tranquilo—at least when compared to Tijuana’s San Ysidro or Otay crossings. There’s no SENTRI or Ready Lane for vehicle crossing, but the regular vehicle lane is generally much shorter compared to the lines in TJ.
Why go: While it’s too hot to visit during the summer, winter is the perfect time to visit this tranquil border city which famous for having the largest China town in Mexico and most recently for being one of the best spots for Baja’s craft beer scene.
What to do: Beer nerds will want to check out some of the great craft breweries in town like Fauna or Urbana. For a truly unique cultural experience, take a tour of the historical underground “La Chinesca” China Town. Tours are only available in Spanish.
Where to eat: The specialty food of the region is the Chinese food, which has taken on a slight twist (soy sauce with ketchup anyone?). Check out the popular Dragon restaurant or Palacio Hunan.
Where to stay: Hotel Lucerna is one of the classiest hotels in town. Don’t miss their weekend brunch or having a Clamato at their Piano Bar, where the famous cocktail was born.
Insider tip: As the capital of Baja California, Mexicali is a business city so hotels are more expensive during the week and cheaper on the weekends, which is perfect for a weekend escape.
Why go: It’s peak season for this quaint fishing town, which makes it the perfect time to enjoy the nice weather along the shore of the Sea of Cortez.
What to do: Head out for a day of fishing, stroll along the malecón, or take a day trip down to Valle de los Gigantes to see the giant cardón cacti. See our Three-Day Getaway: San Felipe article for more ideas.
Where to eat: Taqueria y Mariscos Adriana is rumored to be the taco stand that inspired the U.S. fish taco chain Rubio’s. For a less casual seafood experience, La Vaquita is one of the most popular spots in town.
Insider tip: The best views in town can be found by climbing up to the top of the Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe, just across the street from the northern end of the malecón.
Why go: If you have a few extra days, it’s possible to make it down to Guerrero Negro to see the gray whales during peak season. Getting to hug and kiss a gray whale in the wild is one of the most incredible experiences (on the peninsula or otherwise!).
What to do: You can go out on a whale watching boat by heading out to the Ejido operation south of town (turn off Mexico 1 at Km. 207.5) and getting a spot on one of their pangas. For a more guided experience, Mario’s is one of the best tour operators to use. Their boats get special access into the northern lagoons. If you have any time after whale watching, you can take tours to see the Saltworks factory or out to visit the berrendos (both available through Mario’s).
Where to eat: Some of the best tacos on the peninsula are at Tacos el Muelle where Tony serves up delicious fish and shrimp tacos out of a taco truck painted like a gray whale.
Where to stay: Located right at the entrance to town, Terra Sal offers affordable and clean accommodations. There’s a large walled parking lot, a restaurant on site, and the property is pet friendly.
Insider tip: For a quick trip, it’s possible to make it from San Diego to Guerrero Negro in one very long day of driving. To break up the driving a bit, you could spend the first night in Cataviña and make it into Guerrero Negro in time for whale watching the next afternoon at the ejido. Then take one of Mario’s Tours the next morning before heading back north.