What to do in Four Days in Ensenada
An Ensenada Itinerary - When Driving from the US
Here’s a new one: I don’t know if I’d recommend going to Ensenada on your own. It’s not dangerous, and a lot of people speak English. However from my experience, it just didn’t seem as common for people to be traveling solo in the area, especially not women. Between that and the general precautions about driving along or walking alone late at night, I feel that there’s a likelihood that a woman traveling alone might have to be on guard, or deal with more questionable looks, here than in other places. If you are on your own, try to join up with some group tours for the activities I’m recommending below, through either Viatour or other groups. There’s also several hostels in the downtown area that are worth checking out to meet fellow backpackers.
With that caveat, I enjoyed my trip to Ensenada and you will to! Here’s what you should do in four days, when you’re driving down from California. The drive itself can be an experience - beautiful views and dramatic cliffs!
Learn more about what to expect driving into and out of Mexico from California in this blog post
Get an early start to drive across the border - don’t forget your passport and your Global Entry card (if you have one). Follow the directions to the Scenic Toll Road, and enjoy the ocean views once you’re on it. You’re on a safe road and don’t worry about other drivers or the police - it’s in their best interest that nothing bad happens to you. Make sure you have small bills on hand (either USD or pesos) for the three toll stops. Stop by lunch at one of the seaside cafes en route. A few recommendations:
Once you’re in Ensenada, check into your hotel or rental. Make your way to a beach (f you’re south of town) or a portside restaurant like Muelle 3 in time to enjoy the sun going down, and toast it with a margarita or your beverage of choice. Don’t forget the shrimp or the fish tacos - both are amazing. If you’re up for more bar-hopping, make sure to check out Hussong’s Cantina. It’s the oldest bar in the city, and possibly in Baja, having been founded by German immigrants in 1892. It’s supposedly the place that invented the margarita - they can be purchased 2 for 1 on Saturdays!
Check beforehand on the high and low tide times in the area - use this site if you’re unsure. Plan on heading to the landmark La Bufadora marine geyser sometime in the morning, ideally close to the high tide mark. That way you can see the dramatic blowhole in action. It can get crowded during the summer months and during peak cruise season, as it’s a common excursion for the cruise ships parked in Ensenada’s harbor. Driving there, there’s several makeshift parking lots that you can pull into - they’re all about the same price. Once parked, you’ll pass by a gauntlet of souvenir stands, markets, pharmacies, restaurants, bars, and more. It’s best to hit them up on the way back, once you’ve had a chance to review them all. Make sure to haggle - all prices are negotiable! Get some lunch at one of the on-site seafood vendors, whichever one catches your eye the most - oysters, clams and more are grilled right in front of you!
On your way back (or way to) the peninsula, it’s worth stopping by the beach at Punta Banda. Hot springs bubble up from under the sand onto the beach right at the edge of the ocean. The water can be extremely hot, so be cautious when digging into the sand! Locals will bring shovels and dig out their very own hot tub right on the beach.
On your way towards Ensenada on Route 23, you’ll pass mostly farm land and small properties. There’s a handful of restaurants tucked in as well. If you’re driving in the evening, and into people watching, check out the ex-pat restaurant La India Bonita. Weekend nights you might walk in to find American retirees boogieing to a 70’s rock cover band while food is served from a tiny one stove kitchen and the booze flows freely.
Either drive yourself, or hire a driver/tour, and head north to the Valle del Guadalupe. This lesser-known wine region is starting to gain more notice in the United States - it’s even been featured in multiple New York Times stories about ‘discovering’ the area. The dry, desert climate feels a lot like the Santa Barbara region to those who have done wine trails in Central California. If you’re driving yourselves, and the weather is nice, try to stop by Malva for lunch or dinner (FYI, you may need a reservation). The dining is all outdoors overlooking the surrounding vineyards, and is worth it for the views, as well as the three-course menus!
Try to make your way to the Malecon, the esplanade along the waterfront, in downtown Ensenada before the major cruise ships disembark. The largest Mexican flag in Mexico towers overhead. The Plaza de Tres Cabezas, with its three bronze head statues, can be a fun site to see if you’re able to avoid the worst of the crowds. Pick up some late breakfast/early lunch tacos at one of the many stands. Then start making your way back north, so you can be ready for the sometimes hours-long wait to get back across the border to the United States. Don’t worry if you get hungry on the way - vendors all along the border wait line will have you covered with churros, tacos, and more!