Nestled on a crescent-shaped bay facing the Pacific Ocean, Ensenada is just 80 miles south of San Diego, located at the top of Mexico’s laid-back Baja California peninsula. With desert mountains sprinkled with cactus and palm trees to one side and the bold, sapphire blue of the ocean to the other, there are plenty of things to do in Ensenada for adventure-seeking travelers.
This once-sleepy surf city is also buzzing with cultural attractions and boasts a burgeoning food and drink scene, featuring a raft of craft breweries, local wineries, and zingy street food. From whale watching and snorkeling with tropical fish to taco and tequila tasting, there are plenty of Ensenada attractions to keep you busy on your next Mexican vacation.
Discover the Geological Wonder of La Bufadora
One of the best things to do in Ensenada is to visit La Bufadora, an unabating marine geyser that shoots up to 100 feet into the air through a narrow passage in the coastal rocks. La Bufadora geyser is considered one of the largest on the planet, and this rugged section of Baja California boasts some of the most striking views of the Pacific coastline.
If you don’t fancy getting wet, pack a lightweight waterproof jacket to wear, although the spray can feel lovely and cooling, especially on a hot day. There are plenty of facilities at La Bufadora, including bathrooms, food outlets, and souvenir vendors.
Tag on a visit to Arbolitos Cove, a pristine inlet lying a short drive south of La Bufadora, for more spectacular views of the jagged coastline. Inhale the fresh ocean air and dramatic panoramas as you hike around the grassy cove.
Sip on Local Wines
Just outside of Ensenada, the Calafia Valley Wine Country in Guadalupe Valley echoes Napa Valley. The region is home to a burgeoning wine-making industry, aided by the warm, Mediterranean-like climate.
Casa Doña Lupe Winery and the neighboring L.A. CETTO are two of the most prestigious wine and brandy producers in the region. Witness their sublime vineyard settings of neat rows of vines interspersed with the occasional palm tree during a tour and tasting.
Sip fruity Cabernet Sauvignon, intense Petite Sirah, aromatic Tempranillo, and citrusy Chenin Blanc during your tasting. L.A. CETTO also has a tasting room, La Cava, in Ensenada itself, where you can also try the wines.
Guadalupe Valley’s Cavas Valmar and Bodegas de Santo Tomas, the oldest winery in Ensenada, are also worthy stops for tours, tastings, and to pick up a souvenir bottle or two to take home.
Surf From Hermosa Beach
Ensenada is home to some spectacular, pristine beaches. The closest to central Ensenada is Hermosa, located next to the city’s boardwalk, where you’ll find large thatched parasols and a surf school, Surf & Sup, which offers two-hour private and group surf lessons.
Take a Road Trip to Rosarito Beach
Rosarito Beach, roughly an hour’s drive north of Ensenada, is worth a visit for the journey alone. You’ll be treated to breathtaking views of the dazzling Pacific Ocean as you drive the Tijuana-Ensenada highway.
There’s plenty of space on Rosarito’s family-friendly foreshore to spread out under the sun. Rustic food and drink vendors are located on the beach and the town’s array of cafes, bars, and restaurants lie directly behind the strip.
If you’re a fan of diving, Rosarito also boasts the 125-acre Underwater Park, featuring the wreck of a sunken ship. Plans are in place to add to this sub-aquatic attraction, including the creation of a ship cemetery and a sculpture garden.
On the route back to Ensenada, look out for Castillo del Diablo—Devil’s Castle—just off the highway in Alisitos. This off-beat attraction is a controversial, six-story mansion adorned with creepy statues, including a towering red devil with horns and ugly gargoyles, built right on the beach.
Join a Tequila Tasting
Of all the things to do in Ensenada, quaffing tequila on a fun and educational tasting is one of the best. Learn about the process of making this iconic Mezcal drink, made from the piña (heart) of Mexico’s blue agave plant.
Whether you prefer your tequila neat, on the rocks, or shaken in a Margarita cocktail, the best way of exploring this hugely popular Mexican drink is on a tasting at one of the city’s tasting rooms.
Take a Boat Ride to Todos Santos Island
Ensenada’s attractions don’t get much better than Todos Santos Island, lying roughly 12 miles off the coast in the Pacific Ocean. Hopping on a boat at Ensenada Pier to reach the island will give you the perfect chance to spot local marine life, including dolphins and whales breaching the ocean’s surface.
Gray whales migrate south, to the waters around Baja California, during winter. It’s also possible to witness humpback, sperm, minke, and pilot whales.
One of the best things to do in Ensenada is to snorkel off Todos Santos Island. Dive into the Pacific with a local guide who will be able to advise on the best spots for spotting the unique rock formations, plants, and marine life that lie below the surface.
Keep your eyes peeled for the region’s bright, tangerine-colored garibaldi fish, seals, and sea lions. Don’t forget to pack a swimsuit and water-resistant sunscreen.
Sample Local Street Food
From trucks serving tangy ceviches to hole-in-the-wall joints offering chili-infused fish tacos, the Pacific Ocean is the greatest influence on Ensenada’s street food scene. One of the best things to do in Ensenada is to taste your way around the city, starting at the Mercado Negro (fish market), near the pier.
You’ll see rows of fresh-off-the-boat lobsters, and a variety of whole fish, clams, oysters, and shrimps piled high in crates as you get your first taste of a delicious fish taco.
Just a short 10-minute walk from the market is La Guerrerense restaurant, with the giant, garnet-colored octopus tentacles painted on the walls offering a clue as to what’s on the menu.
La Guerrerense specializes in ceviche tostadas, with a range of fillings available, from sea urchin and octopus to clam and white fish with mango.
Take a seat outside and snack on a selection of tasty tacos with a Mexican craft beer. Look out for the photo on display of the restaurant’s owner, Sabina Bandera, proudly posing with the late chef Anthony Bourdain, who visited the restaurant in 2012.
Another popular spot is El Nuevo Jalisciense, an unassuming restaurant serving some of the region’s best lip-smacking delicacies, including tempura-battered fish and shrimp tacos.
Once you’ve worked your way through the local street food, stop at a local microbrewery to sample one of Ensenada’s amber-hued beers. There are a couple of independent breweries with tasting rooms, including Wendlandt in El Sauzal.
Go Horseback Riding
Horseback riding is one of the most enjoyable things to do in Ensenada. Choose to hone your horseback riding skills on a soul-soothing beach ride or on dusty desert tracks.
On Playa Hermosa, enjoy a one-hour slow and steady ride as your horse trots along the sand and through shallow waves. Or opt for a two-hour jaunt among the hilly vineyards surrounding Ensenada. If you choose a vineyard horseback excursion, look out for a ride that includes a visit to a working ranch for a more authentic experience.
Shop for Local Crafts
Head to Ensenada’s vibrant Avenida Lopez Mateos, just a short walk from the waterfront, if you’re in the market to shop for souvenirs. Leather goods, ceramics, jewelry, handwoven blankets, and ponchos are among the typical mix of goods you’ll find.
Avenida Primera, packed with cocktail bars, cafes, and taco joints, is fun for crafts, colorful clothes, and accessories.
Ride a Segway Along the Malecón
One of the best things to do in Ensenada is to hire a segway and ride along the city’s waterfront malecón (boardwalk). Breeze past the billowing Mexican flag, supposedly the tallest in the country, and feel the fresh ocean air on your face as you glide along the stretch of All Saints Bay.
Taco, tequila, and ice-cream stalls are dotted on the waterfront near the marina, along with plenty of benches.
Visit the Riviera Pacific Cultural Center
This Ensenada attraction is a must-visit to learn about the region’s rich culture and history. The whitewashed, waterfront Riviera Pacific Cultural Center is set inside the former Hotel Riviera del Pacífico.
Opened in 1930, the hotel gained notoriety right away—towards the end of the Prohibition era—when thirsty North Americans would venture south of the border into Mexico to purchase and consume alcohol. According to local folklore, the Margarita cocktail was invented at the hotel—though several places also lay claim to inventing this world-famous tequila concoction.
Explore Ensenada History Museum, housed within the cultural center, to learn about the indigenous groups of Baja California, including the Kumiai people. The Cultural Center also offers a lively program of music and folkloric shows that take place within the grassy grounds. Settle in for a traditional Mariachi performance—it’s one of the best places to witness authentic Mexican music and dancing in Ensenada.
Strap in for a Guided Off-Road Adventure in Guadalupe Valley
The vast Guadalupe Valley may be better known for its wineries, but the Baja hinterland is also popular with off-road activities. Try an exhilarating ride in an open-sided buggy to experience some of the region’s slippery, sand-silt terrain, while soaking up sublime vineyard views.
You’ll be driven through the spectacular landscape by a guide, passing through olive and pine groves, cacti, and ripening grapes, as you hurtle along in your four-wheeler.
If you prefer to get behind the wheel yourself, opt for a heart-thumping ATV (all terrain vehicle) ride in the Guadalupe Valley. Once you’ve finished your off-road adventure, stop by one of the Valley’s wineries to sample the local grapes.
Hike El Salto Canyon
Roughly 21 miles north of Ensenada, next to the village of Santa Rosa, lies the extraordinary El Salto Canyon. The off-the-beaten-track El Salto, which translates as “The Jump”, is made up of deep black-rock canyons—with some of the lower mountainous zones carpeted in green forests—hulking boulders, a rain-fed waterfall, and plunge pool.
There are numerous routes to choose from, from moderate rambles to tough tracks that are only suitable for experienced and skilled climbers. The good news is the waterfall and plunge pool are easy to reach if you don’t plan on hiking far.
The routes afford astonishing views of Guadalupe Valley’s vast landscape. Look out for the local wildlife such as red-tailed hawks and spiny lizards, which thrive in El Salto’s environment.
The area is popular with campers—particularly those on climbing vacations—with a few sites dotted around the area. There’s also a convenience store, though it’s best to go prepared, with plenty of water, snacks, sunscreen, and solid footwear.
After a hearty hike, stop for a well-earned lunch at the nearby La Estancia de Santa Rosa.
Kayak in the Pacific Ocean
Head to the nearest beach and it shouldn’t take you long to find a watersports vendor, with kayaking one of the most popular Ensenada attractions. You can either take off independently or with a guide.
If you’re inexperienced in the water, opt for the latter to enjoy a scenic paddle along the coast. Swimwear, a towel, a small dry bag, a sun hat, and sunscreen are all essentials for a day spent on the beach and in the water.
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