This post about Things to Do in Ensenada, Mexico, is authored by Trisha.
A trip to Ensenada is always incorporated with wine tours, but very few people know Ensenada is more than this. Sure, you can do a wine-tasting weekend, but Ensenada is big and has a diverse culture.
The surrounding areas of Ensenada offer natural beauty, with the Pacific Ocean on one side and mountains on the other. This makes it an excellent outdoor spot for hiking, camping, and wildlife watching.
Ensenada is a coastal city famous for its seafood, like the Baja-style fish tacos and ceviche. Apart from its unique cuisine, it is also a region with Chinese and Japanese influences: a culture you won’t see anywhere else in Mexico.
Discover the top things to do in Ensenada, from local cantinas to outdoor activities in the comprehensive guide below!
Things To Do in Ensenada
1. Go to Hussong’s Cantina
A historic bar and a legendary spot in Baja, California, Hussong’s Cantina is a must-visit (especially for daytime drinking). Founded in 1892 by a German immigrant, Johann Hussong, it’s the oldest bar in California, full of history and character.
The cantina has a rustic aesthetic, with its original wooden bar still in use, displaying the bar’s age and authenticity. On the walls, you will find old pictures and news articles displayed about the history of Hussong’s, where you can understand better what a cantina is.
Hussong’s Cantina is steeped in lore and local anecdotes. One such story is that the margarita cocktail was invented in the 1940s by a bartender who created it for the daughter of a German ambassador, Margarita Henkel, who was visiting then.
Whether these tales are accurate or somewhat hearsay, Hussong’s Cantina is an integral part of Ensenada’s history and a significant part of its cultural fabric.
Cold beer, strong margaritas, conviviality, and history make it a unique place. Here, you will find locals anytime, so it’s a great place to go day drinking and learn about the Mexican cantina culture.
Tip: Hussong’s does not sell food, but they will allow you to bring food from the taqueria next door. No exaggeration here – it is the best tacos in Ensenada!
2. Get Asian food
You may have a lot of Asian food back home in the US and Canada, but few foreigners know that Ensenada has a rich history with Asian immigration.
The Mexicans are the least likely to succumb to Asian food (because, come on, Mexican food is world-class). But Ensenada has this visibly rich Asian food culture.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, China faced political instability and economic hardship, leading many Chinese people to emigrate. The transcontinental railroad building in the United States attracted many Chinese laborers, some of whom would later migrate south to Mexico, including cities like Ensenada.
However, anti-Chinese sentiments rose worldwide across North America in the early 20th century, including Mexico. The Chinese Exclusion Act in the United States and similar legislation in Mexico decreased Chinese immigration.
Despite these challenges, the Chinese community in Ensenada managed to survive and contribute significantly to the local economy and cultural diversity.
In recent years, immigration from other Asian countries, including Korea and Japan, has added to the multicultural fabric of Ensenada. The Asian communities, though small, have left an indelible mark on the city’s culture and history, from its cuisine to its commerce.
3. Walk around the city
Walking around Ensenada is safe and will give you a preview of how it is similar to the layout of California (USA) but depicts Mexican culture.
Starting at the waterfront Malecón, you can enjoy a refreshing walk by the sea, watching fishing boats bobbing in the harbor and pelicans diving for fish.
Walking inland, you’ll reach Avenida Lopez Mateos, Ensenada’s main shopping street. Here, you can browse a range of shops selling local handicrafts, jewelry, and traditional clothing.
Stop by the Mercado Negro fish market nearby, where you’ll see a stunning array of fresh seafood. It’s also a perfect spot to try a local specialty – the delicious Ensenada fish tacos (aka Baja-style fish tacos).
A short walk away is the Riviera del Pacifico Cultural and Convention Center, which was once a glamorous casino in the 1930s. It hosts cultural events and houses a small museum. This building is a beautiful example of Spanish-style architecture.
Finally, don’t miss Ventana al Mar, a plaza by the sea with a giant Mexican flag and a sculpture of the famous ‘La danza de los venados’, a dance native to Baja California.
Note that some parts of Ensenada are hilly, so wear comfortable shoes!
4. Go to Museo Historico Regional
The Museo Histórico Regional (Regional Historical Museum) is an excellent destination for history enthusiasts and those interested in a deeper understanding of the region’s rich past and cultural heritage.
Housed in the former city jail, visiting this museum offers an opportunity to delve into Ensenada’s multifaceted history, from its indigenous beginnings through its colonial period to the present.
Inside, you’ll find an array of exhibits designed to showcase the different epochs and aspects of the region’s history. These include a variety of artifacts such as indigenous tools, pottery, textiles, historical documents, and photographs.
There’s also an exhibit dedicated to the region’s natural history, including geology and local wildlife.
What makes this museum particularly intriguing is its focus on the local perspective, shedding light on the lives of the native populations, such as the Kumeyaay and PaiPai, and the impact of Spanish colonization and Mexican independence on the region.
The building itself has historical significance. It served as a jail and a school before being converted into a museum, adding an extra layer of historical context to your visit.
The museum is open daily from 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM, and admission is FREE!
5. Visit La Bufadora
Located on the Punta Banda Peninsula near Ensenada, La Bufadora is one of the largest marine geysers in the world. It’s a natural sea cave that, when waves crash into it, forces water up through a hole, creating a spectacular spout of seawater that can reach up to 30 meters high, accompanied by a distinctive ‘roar’.
It is about an hour outside Ensenada City, so rent a car for the whole trip to Ensenada (or bring your vehicle if you live in California, USA).
La Bufadora is famous and can get crowded, so aim to arrive early (around 7:00 AM). You will walk a half-mile pathway lined with vendors from the parking lot to the blowhole. The blowhole is most impressive at high tide, so check the tide schedules before visiting.
Wear a waterproof layer, as the sea spray can get you wet, especially if you stand close. Take your time with your visit; there’s a rhythm to the geyser’s eruptions, with smaller sprays leading up to a grand, towering burst.
Lastly, take some time to explore the vendor stands on the way, where you can shop for local handicrafts, enjoy fresh seafood, and try the region’s typical churros or other Mexican snacks.
6. Hike to the Ensenada viewpoint
Also known as the Scenic Route or the Mirador, the Ensenada viewpoint is a great outdoor activity within the city. The hike is relatively easy and is suitable for individuals of all ages with a basic fitness level.
The trail is well-marked, gradually ascending, and typically takes 1-2 hours, depending on your pace. Despite being accessible, the pathway can be a bit rocky, but the relatively low difficulty level and the rewarding view make this hike a popular activity in Ensenada.
Make sure to wear appropriate footwear, carry water, and apply sunscreen!
Once you reach the top of the Ensenada viewpoint, you’re rewarded with a breathtaking panoramic view of the city and the beautiful Pacific Ocean. You can see the city’s layout, the bustling port filled with fishing boats and luxury cruise ships, and the vast blue ocean stretching towards the horizon.
You can even see as far as Todos Santos Island on clear days. The view is stunning during sunrise and sunset when the city and the ocean are bathed in warm, golden light.
The viewpoint also offers picnic areas, so if you have the energy, you can bring white wine and snacks!
7. Wine region: Valle de Guadalupe
Valle de Guadalupe is the main attraction when visiting Ensenada, but it is outside of Ensenada City (about 40 minutes by car). Often referred to as Mexico’s Napa Valley, it is a must-visit destination for any wine enthusiast.
Nestled between mountains, it’s home to many wineries producing some of Mexico’s finest wines. The valley offers a unique blend of Mexican and Mediterranean climates, perfect for wine cultivation.
Not only will you get to taste award-winning wines, but you’ll also enjoy the scenic beauty of vineyards and olive groves. Additionally, Valle de Guadalupe boasts an emerging culinary scene, with farm-to-table restaurants and food trucks serving exquisite cuisine that pairs beautifully with local wines.
Wine-tasting prices in Valle de Guadalupe vary depending on the winery and the tasting experience you choose. An essential wine tasting at a mid-level winery could cost around $10 to $20 USD.
However, some more upscale wineries, or those offering a more comprehensive tasting experience with a tour or food pairing, might charge up to $75 USD.
There are many wine tours to Valle de Guadalupe from Ensenada, where transportation is included (from $125 USD), so you may want to check on that if you don’t want to drive.
Some people just don’t visit here for a day trip. Valle de Guadalupe is famous for its accommodations in the middle of vineyards, so this is an added experience if you have extra time and budget!
8. Wine region: Ojos Negros
Ojos Negros, located east of Ensenada, is an enticing destination for travelers seeking a less-trodden path. Known for its fertile valleys, Ojos Negros is a prime region for agriculture and viticulture.
This is less popular than Valle de Guadalupe, and only a few tourists know about it. It is about a 20-min drive from Ensenada City that offers you the opportunity to experience rural Mexican life, with its ranches, farms, and vineyards.
This region is particularly renowned for its cheese production, so cheese lovers will enjoy touring local creameries and tasting the artisanal products. Several boutique vineyards have begun to spring up, making Ojos Negros a new and exciting frontier for wine enthusiasts looking for a fresh experience.
Ojos Negros has very few vineyards, so you don’t really need to spend the night here. You can do wine tours here within 3-4 hours and then return to Ensenada City.
Based on similar wine regions in Baja California like Valle de Guadalupe, you might expect to pay anywhere from $10 to $50 USD, depending on the specific vineyard, the variety of wines offered, and whether or not a vineyard tour or food pairing is included.
9. Ensenada nightlife
Ensenada is known for its vibrant and diverse nightlife. This is usually the go-to place for Californians looking for a cheaper bachelor’s party, birthdays, weddings, or any occasion. You’ll definitely spend less here than in California for the same quality!
From casual bars and historic cantinas to lively nightclubs and beachfront parties, there’s something for everyone in Ensenada.
Hussong’s Cantina is a must-visit if you’re looking for a place with history and authenticity. Established in 1892, it’s the oldest bar in the Californias and is famous for its lively atmosphere and live music, and claims to be the birthplace of the margarita.
For those who enjoy energetic and bustling beach clubs, Papas & Beer is a prime spot. Known for hosting exciting parties, especially during spring break, this place often features live music and DJs, attracting a lively crowd of locals and tourists.
Bar Andaluz has a more relaxed atmosphere, located in the historic Riviera del Pacifico. It is the perfect place to sip cocktails and enjoy quieter conversation in a unique setting.
For dance enthusiasts, La Estancia is a popular local nightclub. Here, you can groove to Latin beats until the early hours of the morning, immersing yourself in the local party scene.
Lastly, if you’re a craft beer lover, consider visiting Muelle 3. This harbor-side spot boasts an impressive selection of local brews and provides a relaxed setting with splendid sea views.
10. Cheap shopping
Shopping in Ensenada, Mexico, tends to be less expensive than in California, USA. This is primarily due to differences in the cost of living, wages, and taxes between the two countries.
In Ensenada, you can find many locally produced goods, such as handicrafts, leather items, textiles, and jewellery, often at lower prices than similar items would cost in California.
From bustling local markets to high-end boutiques, you will find everything you want to shop for in Ensenada for a lower cost!
One of the city’s main shopping areas is along Avenida Lopez Mateos, also known as First Street. This bustling strip is lined with stores selling various goods, including traditional Mexican crafts, jewelry, clothing, and leather goods.
For a more local experience, head to Mercado Negro, the city’s fish market. Beyond an array of fresh seafood, you can also find food stalls selling Ensenada’s famous fish tacos.
The La Bufadora Market is another shopping hotspot near the La Bufadora marine geyser. Here, you’ll discover an array of souvenirs, handcrafted items, and locally produced foods.
How to Get to Ensenada
While Ensenada has no commercial airport, the closest major airport is Tijuana International Airport in Mexico, about 85 miles north. Many airlines operate regular flights to Tijuana from various cities in the US and beyond.
You can take a taxi or bus or rent a car to get to Ensenada from Tijuana International Airport. Renting a car is ideal as you can stop at your own pace. The drive itself is already scenic and is part of the things to do in Ensenada!
Driving to Ensenada from the US border is straightforward if you are bringing a car. After crossing the border into Tijuana, you’ll take Mexico’s Highway 1 (the Scenic Road) south.
This toll road, the Free Road, offers beautiful coastal views. It’s a well-maintained highway, and the drive to Ensenada is around 1.5 to 2 hours.
Make sure to have Mexican auto insurance, as US insurance is not valid in Mexico. Be prepared for checkpoints and adhere to local driving laws and speed limits.
Bring a valid passport; it’s a mandatory document for international travel. Ensenada is not part of the USA!
Be ready for potential delays, as wait times can be lengthy, particularly during peak travel times. Always respect and cooperate with the customs officers.
If driving, ensure your vehicle is in good condition, and purchase Mexican auto insurance before your trip, as US auto insurance is not valid in Mexico. Additionally, check border crossing hours, as not all points are open 24/7.
If you regularly drive to Mexico from the US, just get a SENTRI (Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection) and Global Entry program. It can significantly expedite the border crossing process from Mexico to the US.
The SENTRI program provides pre-approved travelers with expedited Customs and Border Protection processing through dedicated lanes. It requires a thorough background check, fingerprinting, and an interview.
Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. Like SENTRI, Global Entry requires an in-depth background check and an interview. Both programs aim to speed up border crossings for frequent and low-risk travelers.
Where to Eat in Ensenada
- Manzanilla: Co-owned by renowned chef Benito Molina, Manzanilla is a must-visit for gourmet food lovers. The restaurant specializes in Mediterranean-inspired dishes using local ingredients, and the menu changes based on what’s in season. Seafood is a standout, but there are also delicious meat and vegetarian options. The wine list, focused on local Valle de Guadalupe wines, is exceptional.
- La Guerrerense: This famous street food stand turned restaurant offers some of the best seafood tostadas you’ll ever taste. Owned by Sabina Bandera, who has been honored at food festivals worldwide, La Guerrerense serves up fresh, flavorful tostadas topped with a variety of seafood options and homemade salsas.
- Muelle 3: Right on the waterfront, this seafood-centric restaurant offers fresh, high-quality dishes in a relaxed setting. The menu changes based on what’s fresh that day, and the ceviche and fish tacos are particularly recommended. Pair your meal with a glass of local wine or beer for a perfect seaside dining experience.
- Boules: Located in Ensenada’s downtown, Boules offers a delightful fusion of Mexican and international cuisines. Their creative menu items and presentation, combined with the contemporary and rustic atmosphere, make for an unforgettable dining experience.
- Restaurante Sanos: For those looking for healthier dining options, Sanos is a great choice. They serve vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options, with a focus on organic and local ingredients. The menu features a range of salads, wraps, smoothies, and more. Even non-vegetarians will enjoy the fresh, flavorful dishes.
Where to Stay in Ensenada
- Hotel Coral & Marina: Overlooking the stunning marina, this hotel offers an exceptional stay with spacious rooms and suites, all with ocean views. Facilities include a spa, outdoor pool, tennis courts, and a restaurant serving both Mexican and international cuisine. Their marina-side location allows guests to enjoy various water activities.
- Estero Beach Hotel & Resort: This beachfront hotel boasts a serene location away from the city center, providing a resort feel with amenities like a private beach, outdoor pool, tennis courts, and on-site restaurant. Rooms are spacious, and many offer ocean views.
- Quintas Papagayo: For a more intimate stay, consider this charming hotel, which offers both rooms and bungalows. The lush gardens provide a peaceful atmosphere, and the hotel’s location on the cliffs overlooking the ocean offers beautiful views.
- Hotel Boutique Valle de Guadalupe: Located in the heart of the Valle de Guadalupe wine region, this hotel is perfect for wine lovers. The individual eco-lofts offer privacy and comfort, and the hotel boasts a large outdoor pool and an on-site restaurant specializing in locally sourced dishes.
- San Nicolas Hotel and Casino: In the heart of downtown, this hotel offers a great mix of comfort and entertainment. The rooms are spacious, and the hotel has a large pool, a casino, and a restaurant. The location makes it easy to explore the city center on foot.
Additionally, you can also opt to stay in Valle de Guadalupe instead of Ensenada City. The accommodations in Guadalupe are situated within the vineyards surrounded by mountains, while hotels in Ensenada have a city vibe.
Tips for Visiting Ensenada
- Understand Transportation Options: If you’re flying, the closest major airport is Tijuana International Airport. From there, you can drive, take a bus, or arrange a private transfer to Ensenada.
- Ensure You Have Proper Documentation: Ensenada is not part of the USA so make sure to bring proper documentation, like you’re traveling to another country.
- Learn Basic Spanish Phrases: While many in Ensenada speak English, especially in the tourist industry, knowing basic Spanish phrases can enhance your experience and help in less touristic areas.
- Plan a Winery Visit: The nearby Valle de Guadalupe is a burgeoning wine region. A visit to one or more local wineries is a must-do experience.
- Taste the Street Food: Ensenada is renowned for its street food, especially its fish tacos. Make sure to try them from a reputable vendor.
- Visit Local Markets: Markets like Mercado Negro offer a glimpse of local life and are great places to purchase fresh produce or seafood.
- Pack for the Weather: Ensenada has a Mediterranean climate. It’s usually mild, but can be hot in the summer and chilly in winter, so pack accordingly.
- Explore the outdoors: Take advantage of natural attractions like La Bufadora, the famous marine geyser, and consider a hike to the Ensenada viewpoint for the panoramic city and ocean views.
- Respect Local Customs: Be aware of local customs and practices to ensure you respect the local community. This includes bargaining in markets, tipping etiquette, and behaving responsibly while enjoying the nightlife.
Trisha moved to Mexico in 2018 with the hopes of backpacking for 6 months. Fast forward to 2020, she obtained a 4-year residency visa in Mexico and decided to stay. She has lived in Sayulita, Mexico City, Guadalajara, Puerto Vallarta, and now calls Cabo San Lucas and Baja California Sur her home.
Nina Ragusa is an adventurer, messy bun master, breakfast fan, and full-time travel blogger. She’s been abroad since 2011 and blogging on Where in the World is Nina? for nearly as long. Nina helps people like you move around the world while making money. She loves talking about how to work abroad and online to travel longer!