UTSD SAN DIEGO — Taking a drive across the border would be one way for San Diegans to sample Baja California’s expanding culinary scene. But this weekend there’s an alternative: Saturday’s Baja by the Sea festival on the San Diego waterfront.
The event’s promoters are promising a wine garden, a beer garden, and 30,000 free food samples at Embarcadero Marina Park North. The menu ranges from traditional Mexican cooking to the Baja Med cuisine that has been winning international attention. More than 70 restaurants have joined forces to offer specialities that include salpicón de carne de res (shredded beef), marlin tostadas, Caesar salad and chilies filled with tuna.
Baja by the Sea
Where: Embarcadero Marina Park North, downtown
Tickets: Free. Those who register (on-site or ahead of time) will receive tickets for four food samples and four beverage samples.
Online: Baja By The Sea
Baja by the Sea is conceived as a showcase for more than just the state’s flourishing food scene. The schedule includes live music, dancing and participation by groups such Tijuana’s Xolos soccer team and the Zonkeys basketball team. Members of the state’s medical community will have a pavilion to promote medical tourism, and the agricultural sector will offer samples of Baja California products — from strawberries to green onions to meat to sea products such as abalone and lobster.
“There’s a lot of people who have not visited Baja in about 20 years,” said Baja California’s tourism secretary, Oscar Escobedo, who is expected to attend the event’s launching. “This gives an opportunity to people from San Diego to see what we have to offer.”
Spearheading the effort is the state’s restaurant chamber, Canirac, together with Baja California state and municipal tourism authorities. All five of the state’s mayors are expected at the opening, together with the presidents of the San Diego Tourism Authority and the Port of San Diego.
This is the third time that the event is staged in San Diego. The first Baja by the Sea was in 2009, a time of plummeting tourism in Baja California, under the combined effects of lengthy border waits, economic recession, drug violence and swine flu.
“Of 1,000 shops on Avenida Revolución, 700 were empty,” said restaurateur Francisco Villegas, director of Baja by the Sea, and the man who originally conceived the event. “It was a tragedy.”
As tourists became increasingly scarce, Villegas thought: “If they’re not coming to us, let’s go to them.”
The event was held again in 2010, but for the past for years has not been staged.
This year’s comes at a far more optimistic time for the state’s tourism sector.The state has a growing craft beer scene, while the Guadalupe Valley not only produces most of Mexico’s wines, but is a popular tourist destination. Escobedo, the tourism secretary, said hotel occupancy rates are up statewide.
Baja by the Sea’s organizers are expecting 8,000 to 10,000 people to attend.