Best of Baja 2016
46 ways to relax, dine, drink, and play the Mexico way
With topography, culture, and cuisine so rich and varied, the Baja Peninsula could be its own country. There’s the newly pulsating urban center of Tijuana, the devout seafood following in Ensenada, a vibrant and polished wine scene in Valle de Guadalupe, natural wonders along the Sea of Cortez, and Cabo’s mix of lavish hotels and impeccable beaches. But best of all, the region is just a hop, skip, or short flight away. Try on our 46 tips for the top ways to relax, dine, drink, and play—the Baja way.
You have to walk through the fish market to get to this easy-to-miss spot, but once you arrive at Muelle 3, you’ll feast on super-fresh, five-star seafood in a cozy, few-frills space by the wharf. Must-tries include the shrimp and octopus quesadilla and house ceviche, made with fish, shrimp, clams, and mussels.
Ensenada, Bulevar Teniente Azueta 187
Flora’s Field Kitchen
It’s been in business since 2008, but every visit to Cabo should include a meal at this alfresco restaurant, where most of the organic ingredients are plucked right from the adjacent farm. Opened by two Northern California natives, the agricultural compound also includes cool shops like Santo Cabo bath products and is a popular stomping ground for celebs like George Clooney.
San José del Cabo, Las Ánimas Bajas, flora-farms.com
Deckman’s en el Mogor
Michelin-starred chef Drew Deckman will open his first San Diego restaurant next year in Bankers Hill, but his open-air Valle eatery still commands the spotlight. He cooks dishes over fire with hyper-local ingredients like lamb raised on the property. Haystacks and picnic tables make it feel like a gourmet campsite.
Valle de Guadalupe, Carretera Ensenada-Tecate km 85.5, San Antonio de Las Minas
Co-working spaces, apartments, and trendy food shops converge at Estación Federal, just a 10-minute walk from the San Ysidro border. The mixed-use space breathes new life into one of Tijuana’s oldest neighborhoods. With the renovation, there’s now a coffee shop (Nativo Coffee Community), Vietnamese food (Banh Mi Deli), craft beer events, and artwork by local talent.
Tijuana, Larroque 271, Empleados Federales
They serve quesadillas, burritos, and “chocomilk,” but if you’re at the woodshed-like food cart that is Vieko Cocina, you had better order their wildly delicious chilaquiles. The kiosk whips up versions with carne, pollo, chicarrón, or eggs and serves them in Chinese-takeout-style cartons on a petite patio.
Tijuana, Avenida Gral Ferreira 2271, Colonia Juárez
TJ isn’t just about tacos and craft beer—there’s a burgeoning craft cocktail movement, too. Inside the gastropub Oryx Capital, Nórtico offers a Prohibition-style drinking experience, with cocktails curated by San Diego’s Snake Oil Cocktail Co. and George’s at the Cove mixologist Stephen Kurpinsky. Drinks include creative ingredients like coffee bitters and praline syrup.
Tijuana, Bulevar Agua Caliente 10750, Colonia Aviación
SOUTH AMERICAN FUSION
It may be housed in a shipping container on the grounds of Relieve Vinícola winery, but the year-old Mixtura is every bit elegant—like a cool, middle-of-nowhere art installation. The menu blends flavors from Baja, Peru, and the Mediterranean into dishes like organic greens dressed in lavender-infused vinaigrette, chocolate clams with Parmesan, and Peruvian-style ceviche.
Valle de Guadalupe, Calle Granate, San Antonio de Las Minas
An oldie but a goodie, this unassuming food truck has been slinging fresh, made-to-order tortas since 1964. Carne asada is the iconic choice, but they also offer a vegetarian version as well as horchatas to wash it all down. Make sure to get there early, as food often runs out by lunchtime.
Tijuana, Avenida Jalisco 2424, Zona Centro
Now boasting five locations—four in Tijuana and one at Finca Altozano restaurant—these coffee pros specialize in espresso pours. Their Tijuana locations have minimalist decor and marble countertops, while the Valle outpost sits by one of the highly Instagrammed giant wine barrels at Finca Altozano.
Tijuana; Avenida Brasil 8920, Colonia Cacho; Avenida Sonora 3330, Colonia Chapultepec; Avenida Tapachula 7-H, Colonia Hipódromo; Calle Juan Sarabia 8351, Zona Centro
Valle de Guadalupe, Carretera Tecate, km 83
The buzzy Decantos made a splash when it opened last year, thanks to its practice of old-fashioned decanting (as opposed to mechanical filtering), which is said to preserve more flavor and aroma. The patio features panoramic valley views and makes for the perfect setting to sip deep reds and crisp whites, and snack on their house-made pizzas. They also sell bath and body products from local spa Viníphera.
Valle de Guadalupe, Rancho San Miguel Fraccion A, Ejido El Porvenir
ELEVATED STREET FOOD
Rupestre GastroTruck & Bar
The former food truck now stands stationary in downtown Ensenada and doles out game-focused plates, like venison or pheasant tacos, as well as a killer smoked tuna tostada. There’s also craft beer and wine to enjoy on the patio, which is splashed with colorful paintings of Frida Kahlo, Albert Einstein, and other notable figures by local artist Raul Carrillo, aka Vango.
Ensenada, Álvaro Obregón 480
Finca La Carrodilla
Sustainability is paramount to Finca La Carrodilla owner Fernando Pérez Castro, who opened Hacienda La Lomita with his family in 2009 before launching Carrodilla, the region’s first certified organic winery. They also compost, use solar panels, and employ an impressive water recycling system. Try their excellent cabernet sauvignon or the Bordeaux-style “Estrella” blend on their succulent-filled rooftop.
Valle de Guadalupe, Parcela 99 Z1 P14, Ejido El Porvenir
LUXE FOOD COURT
Telefonica Gastro Park
The Zona Centro food collective serves smoked sausage at Humo, noodles at Javier Plascencia’s Don Ramen, and octopus hamburgers at Máquina 65, and hosts movie nights in their lot. This July, Telefonica also launched weekend service in Valle de Guadalupe, offering a more fast-casual option in the region of sit-and-stay-awhile dining.
Tijuana + Valle de Guadalupe, Avenida Ocampo 2036, Zona Centro; instagram.com/telefonicagastropark
FOOD CART UPGRADE
Peripatetic chef Anthony Bourdain proclaimed Sabina Bandera’s tostadas “Le Bernardin–quality seafood in the street,” and in August the chef-owner opened a restaurant a few steps from her La Guerrerense food cart, which has been in the street food game since 1960. Her signature seafood tostadas are on the menu, as are pozoles, house-made salsas, and wines by famed Valle de Guadalupe vintner Hugo D’Acosta.
Ensenada, Avenida Adolfo López Mateos and Alvarado
Yes, you can get Monte Xanic wines at select Costco stores, but you’d be missing out on a swanky bacchanalian experience at their winery. Stroll down to the tasting terrace by the lake and try the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc Viña Kristel, which has earned gold and silver medals in various competitions.
Valle de Guadalupe, Francisco Zarco; montexanic.com.mx
Wendlandt, which boasts a former Stone Brewing Co. brewer, recently doubled production, firmly planting itself as a top Baja brewer. Their seaside El Sauzal brewpub feels familiarly American with a Mexican twist—think pizza and sliders served alongside tostadas. Try a pour of their famed Perro del Mar IPA. Not feeling hoppy? They also have a great selection of wine, tequila, and mezcal.
Ensenada, Bulevar Costero 248
GOURMET TACOS (NORTH)
Verde y Crema
A neon pink sign welcomes diners to chef Jair Tellez’s hip eatery that honors all things local with ingredients sourced from nearby farms and murals painted by Mexican artists. Don’t miss the Korean beef tacos, octopus tostada, and large selection of craft beers.
Tijuana, Calle Orizaba 3034, Colonia Neidhart
GOURMET TACOS (SOUTH)
La Lupita Taco & Mezcal
The colorful, family-owned establishment starts with homemade tortillas and then adds nouveau fillings like braised pork with cilantro and mint and an al pastor variety with a cheese crust. They also serve mezcal flights and tamarind martinis. If your liver feels up to the challenge, head next door to Baja Brewing Company for another round.
San José del Cabo, Calle José María Morelos, Zona Centro
Started by married couple Alma Perez and Leonardo Valencia, the eatery that began with just four tables has undergone two expansions and just opened a second location. The menu includes a few meat options but skews vegetarian, with French toast, mole chilaquiles, vegan burgers, and vegan desserts like a silky pistachio pie. They also blend fresh juices and can customize juice cleanses for a fraction of the price you’d pay in the U.S.
Tijuana; Avenida Brasil 8930, Colonia Cacho; Avenida Hipódromo 19, Hipódromo
When you need a break from the tacos and tostadas, dine on chef Angelo Dal Bon’s northern Italian menu. The restaurant operates in the summer and fall in a Valle hillside that shares a space with Villa Montefiori winery, and throughout the year in the historic district in Todos Santos. Plates include an excellent carpaccio, as well as fig with prosciutto, delicate tortellini, and fried squash blossoms.
Todos Santos, Calle Centenario 33, Todos Santos
Valle de Guadalupe, Carretera El Porvenir km 9.8
A hidden gem compared to the usual restaurant suspects in Valle, the stylish Malva has perks like lower prices, fewer crowds, and food that’s equally delicious. The multicourse tasting menus—served in seven- and 10-plate options—offer a comprehensive look at chef Roberto Alcocer’s talent. Dishes range from duck carnitas sope to grilled octopus with chile de árbol, but save room for the popcorn ice cream.
Valle de Guadalupe, Carretera Ensenada-Tecate km 96, San Antonio de Las Minas
Art curator Illya Haro and boutique owner Verónica Hernández run this pop-up, which takes place twice a year. Vendors include rows of Mexican jewelry, art, fashion, books, and more. Nero48 also includes musical and gastronomic components; Javier Plascencia cooked at the last event. The next pop-up takes place December 3–4; check their website for details.
Spouses Alexis and Seth Sullivan recently opened the doors to their chic showroom, which displays their modern, handmade furniture. Their work spans midcentury-style reading chairs, wooden bar stools, coffee tables, and pottery. They’ve also worked on commercial projects, like Catania in La Jolla, the funky sombrero tables at downtown’s Taco Stand, and new Tijuana café Bresca in Zona Centro.
All things edgy and design forward come together at Object. Owner Verónica Hernández stocks the high-end shop with graphic ponchos, leather bags by Robin Archives, and earthy kitchenware. Her flagship location, which recently opened in Colonia Aviación, offers a larger space to host events. The boutique also creates customized holiday gift boxes with jams and sweets from Mexico-based Villa de Patos.
Tijuana; Calle Amado Paniagua 3017, Colonia Aviación; Avenida Revolución 716, Zona Centro (inside One Bunk Tijuana hotel); object.mx
Miles & Louie
Three Tijuana natives are behind this bespoke leather brand, which expertly cuts, sews, and crafts shoes and bags out of the city’s Plaza del Zapato. Thanks to the made-to-order ethos, pieces can be translated into different colors and specifications, making for a one-of-a-kind experience. The prices are surprisingly low without losing any of the fine craftsmanship.
La Caja Galería
They’ve opened outposts in Guadalajara and Ensenada, but La Caja first launched in Tijuana in 2005 to celebrate local and international artists, and provide a platform for emerging talent. Now housed in an abandoned storage facility renovated with recycled materials, the gallery has launched a graduate program and workshop series for people with visual impairments. On display are artists like Tijuana’s Jaime Ruiz Otis.
Tijuana, Callejón de Las Moras 118-B, Colonia 20 de Noviembre
Valle de los Gigantes
Once known as a hotbed for spring breakers, the laid-back seaside town of San Felipe—a little over four hours by car from San Diego—has shifted its focus to family-friendly outdoor pursuits. Beyond kayaking, swimming, and fishing tours in the Sea of Cortez, the region is also home to the Valle de los Gigantes, a 200-acre park just nine miles from town that’s filled with enormous cacti, some of which are 2,000 years old.
Take a quick nonstop flight from Tijuana to La Paz, and you’ll be rewarded with clear waters and awe-inspiring aquatic adventures along the Sea of Cortez. The highly reputable Baja Expeditions has been a pioneer in La Paz’s ecotourism industry, with a long history of conservation efforts. Their activities range from swimming with whale sharks and whale watching excursions to 10-day kayaking trips.
La Paz, bajaex.com
Desert Nest Zip Line
Wine tasting isn’t the only way to get a buzz in Baja. The new Desert Nest Zip Line, established by luxe glamping resort CuatroCuatros, takes thrill-seekers soaring above Ensenada on five consecutive lines—including the longest one in Baja California at 3,280 feet—with speeds up to 40 miles per hour. Feeling extra adventurous? Take flight on their monthly full-moon zips.
Rosarito Ensenada Ride
The 50-mile fun ride, which debuted in 1979, takes cyclists along the Pacific coast at Rosarito Beach through the countryside in Ensenada. Many participants don costumes—the wackier the better—and most any type of wheel is kosher, from beach cruisers to tandems and in-line skates. Riders should bring pesos to buy fruit or water along the way, but the finish line at the Ensenada waterfront promises food, drinks, and live music.
Rosarito to Ensenada, rosaritoensenada.com
Rancho La Puerta
Recently deemed a Pueblo Mágico—cities with added historical, folkloric, or ecological significance as determined by Mexico’s federal secretary of tourism—Tecate is home to this spa resort, which unveiled three super-private villas last month. Each includes a master suite and a patio with mountain views and an outdoor shower, as well as a warm saltwater pool. When you’re not living la vida villa, try their wellness classes, which range from cooking to crystal bowl sound healing and reiki energy sessions.
HOTEL FOR GROWN-UPS
The Thompson brand brings a dose of urbanity to Cabo with The Cape, whose sleek exterior, open-air lobby, and infinity pool right on the beach feel like a playground for adults (though families with kids are welcome, too). They also have a restaurant helmed by famed Mexico City chef Enrique Olvera, a beer garden pergola, and an ocean view with every room. It’s also just a 10-minute drive to the more party-party downtown area.
Cabo San Lucas, thompsonhotels.com
Finca La Divina
As if Javier Plascencia needed more to do—he’s the chef-owner behind Bracero and Misión 19 among other eateries—he opened his first B&B last winter. The four-room La Divina, which is more home than hotel, is just a few miles from his Finca Altozano restaurant and includes splashes of color in each room, a pool, a huge common space, and the now-famous hand-emblazoned plates seen at Bracero. They’ll add six rooms by the end of 2017.
Valle de Guadalupe, fincaladivina.com
A slightly more rustic option that’s just a one-hour drive from Cabo, each of the five affordable beachfront casitas have a palm-thatched roof, local artwork, mosquito nets, and a mix of private and shared bathrooms. What Surf Casitas may lack in luxury it more than makes up for with a secluded tropical location. Plus, there are hammocks, and the waves are suited for intermediate to advanced surfers.
Todos Santos, surfcasitas.com
Clos de Tres Cantos
The monastery-inspired property, which is decked out in stone, glass, and wood structures made of recycled materials, added two guest rooms this summer. With a glass of their tempranillo–petite sirah blend called Nada in hand, check out the underground cellar, illuminated by colorful wine bottles and outfitted with a secret wall.
Valle de Guadalupe, Carretera Ensenada-Tecate km 81, Rancho Santa Lucia, San Antonio de Las Minas
QUADRUPLE THREAT B&B
La Villa del Valle
Talk about a one-stop shop. The Tuscan-style inn, founded by Brits Eileen and Phil Gregory, includes six rooms overlooking lavender fields, a bocce court, fruit orchards, yoga classes, a library, and more. There’s also Vena Cava Winery, with its unique architecture made of recycled fishing boat hulls; Troika food truck for a quick gourmet lunch; and the award-winning Corazón de Tierra restaurant, which earned a spot on San Pellegrino’s prestigious World’s Best Restaurants list in 2014.
Valle de Guadalupe, lavilladelvalle.com
No one does Valle edge quite like Encuentro. The hotel is made up of 20 metal and steel bungalows set on a rocky hillside that make minimalism feel grand. A new restaurant and a second bar will open in the space now occupied by their art gallery by the end of the year.
Valle de Guadalupe, grupoencuentro.com.mx
Cabo Surf Hotel & Spa
A surfing-centric hotel doesn’t have to feel shabby. Located on acclaimed Acapulquito Beach, the low-key, well-appointed Cabo Surf boasts 36 rooms, a surf school, complimentary yoga, and the excellent 7 Seas restaurant. Peak surf season runs from March through November, but the region has good conditions year-round, with smaller, more forgiving winter waves that are ideal for beginners.
Cabo San Lucas, cabosurf.com
Opened just over a year ago by eight childhood friends, this stylish 75-acre property includes a B&B (Casa Ocho) with five bedrooms, a pool, and an event space. The space is decked out in rustic woodwork and minimalist tiles—the vision of lauded local architect Alejandro D’Acosta, whose brother, Hugo, oversees Bruma’s winery program. Next up, a restaurant on property.
Valle de Guadalupe, bruma.mx
Mar Adentro Cabos
Suites at this architectural opus are individual “cubes,” which come with private pools and a personalized pillow menu (yes, that’s a thing!). There are three restaurants, two of which will debut in January; the currently open Nido is a Japanese fusion eatery set in a nest-like pod. And though it might not scream “family vacation,” the resort has a kids club and theater, too.
San José del Cabo, maradentrocabos.com
Hotel El Ganzo
Binge on coolness at El Ganzo, which is outfitted with a recording studio, an artist-in-residence program, outdoor movies, comfortable beds, and a quiet location. The hallmark feature, though, is the rooftop infinity pool, whose whopping 2,000 square feet line the edge of the hotel roof. It’s also accented with an adjacent all-glass hot tub.
San José del Cabo, elganzo.com
Villa del Palmar
Tucked in the less-frequented Loreto, an area Jacques Cousteau called “the aquarium of the world,” this hotel is a nature-lover’s paradise. There are five swimming pools, glass-bottomed kayaks, sportfishing, and scenic hiking trails—and that’s just scratching the surface. Nonstop flights are available at LAX, and for water that clear and land that untouched, it’s worth the extra miles.