Ensenada is a charming beach town in the northern state of Baja, California. Due to its proximity to the Tijuana border, it’s a popular destination for Americans wanting to travel from San Diego to fill up on tacos and experience new scenery along the Pacific Ocean.
So, if you’re ready to kick back and enjoy a coastal Mexican getaway, read on to discover all that Ensenada, Mexico, has to offer.
How to Get to Ensenada
The Tijuana Rodriguez Airport is the closest major commercial airport to Ensenada. Tijuana (or “TJ,” if you want to sound like a local that lives near the border) is about a 2-hour drive. You can rent a car at the airport or hop on an ABC bus, which runs hourly between the Tijuana airport and Ensenada.
You can also arrive in Ensenada by driving across the border from San Diego. If battling Mexican traffic isn’t your style and you’ll be traveling from the U.S., you can do what I did and take a trolly from San Diego to the border. From there, cross the border on foot. Don’t forget your passport!
After passing through immigration, you’ll only be about a 5-minute walk from the ABC bus station in Tijuana. The buses between Tijuana and Ensenada depart regularly, so you shouldn’t have to wait long.
12 Amazing Things to Do in Ensenada, Mexico
Mexico is a popular destination for travelers looking to escape the cold weather at home. Unfortunately, many vacationers-to-be spend time weighing whether to visit Tulum or Cancun and other Mexican destinations in the Caribbean without giving the Pacific coast a thought. So, you’re in for a treat by experiencing these things to do in Ensenada.
1. Walk Along the Malecon
The Malecon translates to “boardwalk” in English and is Ensenada’s pride and joy. It extends over two miles along the Pacific Ocean. You’ll encounter countless restaurants, cafes, and shops where you can sit down for a cold cerveza (beer) or dig into some local seafood.
You’ll encounter some of Ensenada’s most famous landmarks along the way, a few of which are stand-alone activities that I’ll highlight throughout this article. There’s a beautiful sculpture at the far end of the Malecon by the fish market, which is a great place to watch fishing boats and cruises come and go from the marina.
2. Take a Boat Tour
After you’ve given your legs a workout exploring Ensenada’s Malecon, hop on a boat to tour by water. You’ll have several boat tour choices, including:
- Sunset cruise
- Whale watching tour
- Day trip to Todos Santos Island
- Fishing excursions
If you’re interested in a whale-watching tour, visit Ensenada from December to April, as this is when the gray whales migrate to northern Mexico. You can also see dolphins and sea lions on your boat tour.
3. Stroll Through the Mercado Negro
Don’t let its name fool you—Mercado Negro, which means “Black Market” in English, is a must-see during your time in Ensenada, Mexico. It goes by the nickname fish market, given the array of fresh seafood that locals sell there.
You can expect nothing but fresh catches of the day at Mercado Negro, including octopus, lobster, shrimp, and countless fish species.
There’s no need to worry if seafood isn’t your thing. Many vendors sell tourist-oriented items. So, Mercado Negro is an excellent stop for loading up on souvenirs to bring home to your family and friends.
4. See the Biggest Flag in Mexico
Every destination has a thing it’s known for. In Ensenada, it’s the massive Mexican flag that you can spot from practically any point in town. The flag sits along the Malecon in the center of Parque de la Bandera, which aptly translates to “Flag Park” in English.
Parque de la Bandera is a classic Instagram selfie spot in Ensenada. But the massive flag isn’t the only thing worth gawking at there. You’ll encounter several monuments and statues in the area, and you can take it all in from the comfort of benches surrounding the small park.
As a word of caution, there’s not a ton of shade at Parque de la Bandera, nor the Malecon as a whole. So, load up on sunscreen before visiting these spots.
5. Admire the Statues at Plaza Civica
Plaza Civica offers another opportunity to take unique photos. But this time, it’s because the plaza boasts the statues of three heads, representing some of Mexico’s famous figures (Miguel Hidalgo, Benito Juarez, and Venustiano Carranza).
By day, Plaza Civica offers excellent views of the marina and is an important cultural meeting point for locals, including a theater on the park’s outskirts.
At night, Plaza Civica comes to life with vendors selling delicious Mexican street food. Live street performers are also a common sighting at Plaza Civica.
6. Stuff Yourself Silly With Seafood
It’s hard to go wrong with the seafood options that Ensenada offers. The Malecon is among the best places to enjoy fresh meals.
If you have a strong stomach, give the restaurant stands around Mercado Negro a try. Alternatively, you can dine at one of the more sanitary-oriented restaurants that line the Malecon, complete with marina views.
Whether you’re craving fish tacos, mussels, seafood tostadas, grilled fish, and more, you’ll find these Ensenada favorites at nearly every restaurant. Luckily for vegetarians and vegans, it’s easy to find a few veggie-friendly options on the menu as well, given that Ensenada attracts international tourists.
7. Experience a Cantina
A cantina is a local bar, and they abound in Ensenada, Mexico. But of the many cantina options you’ll have to choose from, Hussong’s Cantina is the oldest—and original—bar in Baja, California. If the name Hussong’s rings a bell, it’s because they opened a location in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The story goes that a bartender invented the margarita at the Hussong’s in Ensenada. Naturally, this is one of the top drink choices for tourists visiting there, though Corona beers, tequila shots, and more are also available.
Ensenada is a relatively safe town. Nevertheless, as with the safety in Puerto Vallarta or any other Mexican destination you visit, taking basic safety precautions goes a long way to ensuring you have a safe and fun time during your trip—especially when you’ve got some alcohol in your system.
8. Visit the Museo de Historia
Calling all history lovers! If you’re interested in learning about who founded Ensenada and the history of Baja California, the Museo de Historia is a must-see.
The Museo de Historia sits within a beautiful old building. You can enter the building for a small fee and receive a small booklet with English translations describing what you see. You don’t need to dedicate much time to this small museum, but since it’s in the heart of all things touristy in Ensenada, you don’t have to go out of your way to get there.
I also recommend walking through the gardens around the museum. You can even grab a drink at the old bar that’s within the same building as the museum.
9. Look for Sea Lions
Although climate change is causing sea lion populations to decline in California, there’s a good chance you’ll spot sea lions in Ensenada, Mexico, where the number of sea lion residents is increasing.
During my Ensenada visit with my Mom, we spotted several sea lions in the marina. One sea lion even put on a show, playing with a fish for several minutes a few feet away from us.
The best time to spot sea lions in Ensenada is when fisherpeople dock at the marina. They often throw fish scraps in the water, attracting sea lions for everyone on shore to admire.
10. Explore the Caracol Museo de Ciencias
If you didn’t get your fill of museums at the Museo de Historia, head to the Caracol Museo de Ciencias (Caracol Science Museum). The museum is a great place to take kids, as the modern facility offers interactive science exhibits and a planetarium.
You’ll need to plan your trip to the Caracol Science Museum carefully, though. The museum is only open from Thursday to Sunday.
Most of the exhibits at the museum have English translations. When you’re ready to peel your eyes away from science, you’ll get to enjoy amazing harbor views.
11. Witness La Bufadora
La Bufadora is about 20 miles from downtown Ensenada, making it an excellent half-day trip. Be sure to pack a bathing suit and towel, for water often shoots up into the lookout point of this natural blowhole.
The blowhole formed because of the Pacific Ocean’s strong waves pushing water through a small opening in the earth. It’s common for the water to explode around 100 feet in the air, and a choir of tourists admiring it rings through the area.
Plenty of vendors around the La Bufadora lookout point will be eager to sell you Mexican treats if you get hungry.
12. Hike at El Salto Canyon
El Salto Canyon is about 40 minutes north of Ensenada in Guadalupe Valley. Exploring the canyon is an excellent option for nature lovers to trade town life for trees and cliffs.
Hiking along El Salto Canyon is the most popular activity to do in the area. You’ll be able to hike to an approximately 90-foot waterfall and swim in the natural pool beneath it.
If your adventurous soul seeks more adrenaline-pumping activities than hiking, you can also sign up for rock climbing, zip lining, and rappelling tours.
Where to Stay in Ensenada
There are plenty of hotel options in Ensenada, Mexico. Travelers seeking upscale accommodations with ocean views will appreciate the amenities at places like Torre Lucerna Hotel Ensenada and the Estero Beach Resort.
If you’re on a tighter budget, consider Hotel Las Dunas or Motel Presidente. Both hotels are a few blocks from the beach, helping keep prices affordable.
Airbnb and other vacation home rentals are also abundant in Ensenada. These are especially good choices for families or large groups.
Ready to Head to Ensenada?
Mexico doesn’t always have the best reputation, with clashes at the Tijuana border and Uber safety issues in Cancun making headlines. But as long as you follow the U.S. Department of State’s recommendations, you can expect to have a safe trip and enjoy the warmth and welcoming demeanor of the locals in Ensenada.
So, what are you waiting for? Book that flight or bus and prepare to fill your stomach and soul with a trip to Ensenada, Mexico.
This article originally appeared on Savoteur.
Author: Laura Olds
Laura is the co-founder of A Piece of Travel, a blog encouraging self-guided travel, including for wheelchair users. She’s spent most of her adult life abroad, starting with a 3-year Peace Corps service in Panama. When Laura isn’t crafting her next article, you can find her befriending street dogs while searching for local vegetarian food.