A Weekend in Ensenada
There aren’t many places in the world where I could tell you that you could get there in either as little as 3 hours or as many as 12. But, when the border between Mexico and the US is involved, all bets, these days, are off. Just beyond the metropolis of San Diego, the hectic border crossing at San Ysidro, and the bustling streets of Tijuana, Ensenada awaits. Unassuming, welcoming, yet not overly showy, Ensenada is a buzzing port town in northern Baja that attracts thousands of cruise shippers and road trippers (hi) alike every year. At a glance, with its sprawling beaches and cliffside open roads overlooking the ocean, you might think you were still driving along the coasts of La Jolla, just above downtown San Diego in the US. But it’d be a mistake to overlook this little seaside town, as, at least in my opinion, it offers a little taste of everything you could possibly hope for in a 48-hour trip to Mexico. If you ever find yourself considering a road trip down to Ensenada, here’s what you should know.
If you’re planning to drive to Ensenada (which, realistically, you are, since the closest airport is about 2 hours away in Tijuana), be sure to take your passport, snacks, a car charger, and some cash. We didn’t need our passports to leave the US, but we definitely needed to have them ready when we re-entered the country at the end of our trip. You’ll need pesos if you want to take the toll roads to Ensenada, which I recommend, as they cut down the commute drastically and are typically better maintained than the regular roads. In total, it cost us about $6 US to get to Ensenada from San Diego, and $6 coming back up (3 toll roads each way at about $2 US each). It’s well worth it, if not for the shorter distance, for the sprawling views of northern Baja cliffsides, beaches, and beach communities you’ll get to drive by on your way down.
We left LA at 6 in the morning, made it to the border by 8:30, and got through the border crossing in about 20 minutes. Then, it was about an hour’s drive from Tijuana to Rosarito, where we made a pit stop for breakfast and a much-needed second round of coffee. Stop into Pancake Republic on Blvd Benito Juàrez for some pretty yummy chilaquiles verdes. Top it off with coffee from the tiny, hip, open air cafe across the street–Cafe de la Fonda–and you’ll be ready for the final hour of the drive.
Where to Stay
The average price of your standard Airbnb or hotel room in Ensenada runs around $30 - $90 per night. We stayed in the cutest lofted apartment just under 10 minutes outside of the Zona Centro (central zone in Ensenada) that we found on Airbnb for $65 per night. The apartment was gorgeous, well-decorated, had remote-controlled garage parking, and came with AC. We went to Ensenada as part 1 of my birthday celebrations (I’m one of those people who firmly believes in birthday month), and our Airbnb host greeted us with birthday cake, a homemade card, and a bottle of wine from Puerto Nuevo! It really cinched the overall experience for us, and we didn’t miss the ambiance or amenities of staying a hotel one bit.
While much of Ensenada outside of Zona Centro isn’t exactly walkable, it’s also important to note that staying right inside the city center isn’t necessary, even if you don’t have a car. Uber is alive and well in Ensenada, and most trips within the town won’t cost you more than $5 US.
What to Eat + Drink
Of course, what I was really in it for was the food. Any trip to Mexico will lend itself to a whole host of delicious–and often times super cheap–meals to savor, and this trip was no exception. I was only in Ensenada for 2 days, so I was unfortunately unable to hit every spot I had in mind (a.k.a. written down on my long, exhaustive list of Yelp- and blog-lauded eateries in and around Ensenada), but here are some of the places I got to try IRL, and can therefore honestly recommend to you!
Go for the wide selection of beer, stay for the crazy good tiradito tostado
Best brunch ever! And you only need to know two words: pan francés (pictured above)
El Meson de Don Fernando
Split the molcajete. Be stuffed for days
Cervecería doble C
After an afternoon spent laying out at playa hermosa, head across the street for a quick pint here
Ojos Negros Wine Bar
Grab some sangria here on your way to….
Papas & Beer
The loudest, most packed spot in all of Ensenada’s Zona Centro
What to See
In between all of the delicious meals, we tried to squeeze in as much sight-seeing as possible in our short, 48-hour trip. Fortunately, once you’re in central Ensenada, there’s lots to see within walking distance. We started our night walking down the Malecón–a short waterfront stroll complete with views of the port and taco stands throughout–which led us to one of Mexico’s Banderas Monumentales (a 350 ft high flagpole that shoots up so high in the sky that, when standing at the base of it, looks like it shoots up into space). If you keep walking past the flagpole, you’ll hit La Plaza De Las Tres Cabezas, a can’t-miss monument with huge golden heads featuring 3 significant men from Mexico’s history (Venustiano Carranza, Miguel Hidalgo, and Benito Juarez). Flanked on either side of these monuments are similar, smaller monuments dedicated to other historic events that have helped shape both Baja and Mexico as a whole.
If you walk just 2 blocks inward from this plaza, you’ll hit Calle Primera, or First Street. This is the most touristy street in Ensenada, but it’s a must-stop due to the vast offerings of shops, restaurants, and bars all in one place. You’ll find everything from a mexican-french fusion restaurant (El Rey Sol) to a Thrifty’s Ice Cream shop. Here, we grabbed some stuffed churros from a little hole-in-the-wall stand and made our way to dinner, complete with street performing musicians and bustling crowds.
There’s something to be said about the welcoming but not overly self-proclaiming atmosphere of this little south-of-the-border port town. But a weekend in Ensenada is as hectic and fast-paced or as slow and relaxed as you make it–everything you could want out of a quick 48-hour getaway.