Seek out Bourdain-approved street food, drink in the legendary birthplace of the margarita, and surf the waves in this Baja California beach town.
As one of the most popular ports in Baja California, just a one-hour drive from the US border, Ensenada has evolved into a popular vacation destination for spring breakers and seasoned cruisers. The resort certainly scores highly for buzzing nightlife, but there’s a mellower side, too, with history museums, a pleasant harbor district and the Playa Hermosa (Beautiful Beach) that really lives up to its name. So, whatever floats your boat, there are loads of things to do in Ensenada – here are the best.
A few miles along the coast, at the end of the Playa Guarnicion Militar, is a sleepy, laid-back neighborhood popular with tourists seeking a little seaside serenity. The slightly rugged, out-of-town Lighthouse Beach (or Playa El Faro) attracts independent vacationers, thanks to its abundance of modest holiday rentals and camping opportunities. Clean and generally calm Pacific waters make it family-friendly, too, as well as a great place for a little fishing.
Ventana al Mar (Window to the Sea) is a little harborside park and part of the bustling malecón (waterfront promenade) in the city. There’s not much shade during the day, but kids (and big kids) love to run through the numerous fountains to cool off. Locals tend to congregate here when the day cools, to enjoy synchronized water and light shows and regular live music on the outside stage. To find it, just head towards the marina, and look out for the huge Mexican flag fluttering on a monumental pole.
Also known as First Street, Avenida Adolfo López Mateos is Ensenada’s main artery, lined with loads of tourist-friendly local businesses. You could easily while away a few hours here, starting with a coffee at one of the many cafes, watching the odd horse-drawn carriage trot by. Pop into colorful shops full of local handicrafts and curios or small galleries selling works by local artists. And, when you’ve worked up an appetite, don’t miss the renowned La Guerrerense street-food stall, as raved about by Anthony Bourdain himself.
If you are in town to party, you will not be disappointed, especially if you happen to visit during spring break. The part of the Zona Centro towards the harbor is the throbbing heart of the city’s nightlife, with a cluster of some of its liveliest bars. You’ll often find an up-for-it crowd at Papas & Beer, while nearby El Pato has the best live music shows in town. Don’t forget to pop into Hussong’s Cantina, the oldest in Baja – and the legendary birthplace of the margarita.
Until gambling was outlawed in the 1930s, Ensenada was one of the hottest gambling hubs in Mexico, attracting a roll call of colorful characters. Opening in this gaming heyday was former-casino Hotel Playa Ensenada, a rumored haunt of mob boss Al Capone. Today, it goes by the name of Riviera del Pacífico and is still wonderfully evocative of the era. It now houses a cultural center and small museum that traces the region’s storied past.
As it’s part of the huge All Saints Bay, it’s no wonder there are plenty of water-related sights to enjoy in Ensenada. One popular tourist spot is La Bufadora, the world’s second-largest blowhole, shooting seawater up to 100ft (31m) in the air. The legend goes that it was a trapped whale, which eventually turned to stone. You can also see the real flesh-and-blubber variety during the annual whale migration between November and February.
Mexican wine? Absolutely. Just north of Ensenada is the Valle de Guadalupe, a booming wine region and Baja California’s answer to Napa Valley. It’s home to scores of wineries, and there are numerous wine-tasting tours in Ensenada that can take you to one in an afternoon – or several in a day. The scenery is spectacular around here, and it’s also great fun bumping along the dirt tracks that lead to the wine estates.
Ensenada is one of the most popular surfing spots in Mexico, with surfers from both sides of the border descending on the resort in the fall when conditions are perfect. Indeed, board-bearing daytrippers from San Diego have been patrolling these waves since way back in the Forties. But there are loads of other open-to-everyone, water-based activities here, too, including kayaking and scuba diving.
Experience the beautiful city of Ensenada further by booking a stay at a luxurious resort or a quaint boutique hotel, bookable now with Culture Trip. The local cuisines and spectacular beaches of Baja California will be sure to get your wanderlust ticking.
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