Baja California is one of the most diverse regions of Mexico. From white sandy beaches to wine producing valleys, there is no shortage of incredible places to visit. Baja California Norte in particular is great for visitors from the U.S., since it’s only a short drive to many of its best destinations.
After living in San Diego for 2 years, we’ve definitely done our fair share of Baja California road trips. The trips we take may only be a short drive, but Mexico feels like a whole different world. Spending time in a beautiful, new culture over the weekend while making it back in time for work on Monday is truly the best of both worlds.
To get you started on picking the perfect Baja California Norte destination for your road trip, here are our top 5 favorites (in no particular order!).
Tijuana is one of those incredible places that is hiding in plain sight. Many people pass on visiting Tijuana because of negative things they’ve heard in the media, but the truth is that Tijuana is an great city to visit. With a thriving food scene and plenty of fun things to do, you could easily spend a week in Tijuana and have a blast every single day.
If you’re interested in planning a trip to Tijuana, make sure you check out our list of 16 Incredible Things To Do In Tijuana.
Best Things to Do in Tijuana
Telefonica Gastropark is a great way to spend an afternoon in Tijuana. It’s hard to describe exactly what Telefonica is, since there is so much going on here. I would sum it up by saying there are lots of great food options, a brewery, and places to sit and relax.
Outside there are a bunch of gourmet food trucks and tables to sit at. These are no ordinary food trucks, and the tacos you order will likely be some of the best you’ve ever had. Inside, there is a modern brewery with a bunch of cool places to hang out and enjoy the sports games on TV.
Our favorite part of Telefonica Gastropark is the small upstairs area. Climb the narrow stairs and there is a hangout area suspended over the brewery, complete with a net that you can lay down in and enjoy your beer. Long story short, Telefonica Gastropark is a unique experience that you can easily spend a few hours enjoying.
Albercas El Vergel
El Vergel is no ordinary waterpark. It’s called “the waterpark with no rules” for a reason…there are no rules. Pay the $8 USD admission fee and enjoy a whole day at El Vergel with no shortage of things to do. There are pools, slides, jungle gyms and so much more.
A great feature of El Vergel is the food and drink stands that are located all over the place. It makes it easy to visit and grab a bite to eat or a drink, but you can also bring your own cooler in. Got valuables? Don’t worry–there are lockers to rent inside the park.
El Vergel is most famous for the Slip N’ Fly–a massive slip and slide that thrusts riders 30 feet into the air and into a pool at the bottom. It’s pretty intimidating standing at the top of the slide, but it’s an experience we won’t be forgetting anytime soon.
Playas de Tijuana
La Playas de Tijuana is the beach in Tijuana, located just south of the U.S. border. It’s a really popular spot to visit in the summer when the weather is beautiful.
But there is more to do than just lounge on the beach and swim, which is one of the main reasons we love Playas de Tijuana so much. You can also stroll along the boardwalk and grab a bite to eat or enjoy a beer or a glass of wine at one of the many restaurants and bars. There are also art installations to enjoy as you walk. There’s truly something for everyone.
Best Places to Eat in Tijuana
A few of our favorite places to eat in Tijuana are outlined below. If you want more options, check out our blog post on 7 Amazing Places to Eat in Tijuana.
La Casa del Mole Poblano
If you’re looking for authentic Mexican food in Tijuana, look no further than La Casa del Mole Poblano. This rainforest-themed restaurant has a combination of amazing atmosphere and even more amazing food.
Inside, you’ll find a colorfully decorated restaurant complete with fake palm trees and a massive waterfall in the middle of the restaurant. It’s the type of place that immediately makes you feel cheerful and relaxed.
The food is even better than you’d expect. Try the cafe de olla for the best cup of coffee ever, and order the authentic chilaquiles con mole for a taste of Tijuana’s food culture.
Alma Verde is a modern breakfast spot that is perfect for foodies and coffee fiends. The atmosphere is one of the best parts about eating at Alma Verde, with beautiful woodwork displayed all over the walls and ceilings. Green plants and succulents are everywhere, giving the restaurant a botanical feel.
The best thing to order at Alma Verde is the croque madame (surprising, we know). It’s one of the best that you can get outside of France, and it’s even better than the Chilaquiles (which are also pretty damn good). Overall, they have a very diverse menu, including healthy options like smoothies and cold pressed juices.
La Espadana is another excellent Mexican food restaurant. This spot is popular among church-goers for Sunday brunch, and has an array of authentic Mexican dishes as well as a bakery with cakes and sweets for sale. The atmosphere is perfect for fine dining, but the food is still very reasonably priced especially when compared to American prices.
We loved the spicy salsa served with warm tortilla chips before our meal. Everything we ordered was amazing, and the service was incredibly friendly. They even helped us figure out how to get a cab to take us to the pedestrian border crossing after our meal.
We visited Tecate for the first time recently and fell in love with this charming small town. It’s located about an hour east of San Diego and is located right across the Mexican border. This makes it a very pedestrian friendly city, since you can walk across the border to the main downtown area in a matter of minutes.
The city has a very safe and clean feel, so it’s a great getaway for families with children. They also have a world-class fitness spa and resort, called Rancho La Puerta, that is very popular among tourists.
Best Things to Do in Tecate
The Tecate Brewery is the site of the first Tecate Brewery ever. Tecate is one of the most popular beers in Mexico, so it’s cool seeing the place where it was founded. It’s owned by the same company that produces other popular Mexican beers, including Dos Equis and Indio.
When we visited Tecate, the main brewery was closed for renovations so we were unable to do a tour. If you’re interested in checking to see if tours are available when you visit, the quickest way to get in touch is to message them via Facebook.
Thankfully, Tecate had just opened up a new beer garden at their brewery (called Jardin Cerveza). Jardin Cerveza is located right next to the Tecate Brewery, and it’s a great alternative if you aren’t able to book a tour of the brewery. They give each visitor a free drink ticket to get a Tecate beer and enjoy in their modern environment. We drank our beer on their rooftop patio overlooking the city.
Miguel Hidalgo Park
It’s rare for a city to have park as picturesque and peaceful as Miguel Hidalgo Park. This beautiful, central park has amazing views and is a great way to spend a sunny afternoon in Tecate. There are benches all over the park, as well as a man pushing an ice cream cart around for a sweet treat.
The centerpiece of the park is the gazebo in the middle of the park. With wrought iron benches and old gaslamp style streetlights, this beautiful park will take you back to another time.
Check out the street art
As you walk through the streets of Tecate, you’ll notice colorful street art all over the place. We love when cities encourage street art, because it turns blank, boring walls into an artist’s canvas. It makes the whole city more beautiful.
We couldn’t help but take pictures and admire each of the street murals that we passed by in Tecate. They were all over the place, and the artists used such creativity and beautiful colors in cultivating each mural.
Best Places to Eat in Tecate
El Mejor Pan de Tecate
El Mejor Pan de Tecate is no ordinary bakery; it’s a staple of the Tecate community. It opened over 50 years ago as a small family-owned business. Today, it’s a bustling bakery with over 100 different variations of pan dulce (“sweet bread”), a specialty in Tecate.
We stopped by El Mejor Pan de Tecate and took our time selecting some sweets to try. We got a little adventurous and selected a few treats that we had never heard of or seen before. Then, we headed to the beautiful patio out front to enjoy the baked goods. Everything we tried was absolutely incredible, even the baked goods that we were clueless about.
Meson TKT is a great restaurant to try some authentic Tecate Mexican food. The colorful interiors of the restaurant are perfect for a casual bite to eat. After some deliberation over their massive menu, we ordered the carne asada nachos. The steaming hot nachos came out on a massive plate, and were every bit as delicious as you would imagine.
Afterwards, head out onto the beautiful patio to enjoy a margarita. Be patient as they make your margarita–perfection takes time.
Ensenada is one of the most diverse cities that we’ve visited in Baja Norte. The city has a beautiful culture and downtown area, and everywhere you look there are amazing things to do and places to eat. Since Ensenada is a major port city, it is a popular stop among cruise ships.
A big part of Ensenada’s culture is street food. There are street vendors all over the place, and don’t be nervous about trying the street food. It’s all extremely fresh and delicious, and often times it’s better than the food that you can get in restaurants.
We’ll touch on a few of the best things to do and restaurants in Ensenada below, but there is way more to do and see. Check out our post on 15 Epic Things To Do In Ensenada if you’re truly interested in planning a trip to Ensenada.
Best Things to Do in Ensenada
Wine Tasting in Valle de Guadalupe
Just a 20 minute drive outside of Ensenada’s downtown area is Valle de Guadalupe, a picturesque wine producing region. Valle de Guadalupe is responsible for the majority of Mexico’s wine production, and it’s an incredible way to spend a day in Ensenada.
The wineries and vineyards are all located along the main road in Valle de Guadalupe: La Ruta del Vino. You can just pull off the main road and try any winery that looks good, but we’ve written about our favorite places to go wine tasting in Valle de Guadalupe if you want more details.
La Bufadora is a marine geyser/blowhole located at the tip of the Peninsula de Punta Banda, about an hour outside of Ensenada. It’s caused by sea water building up in underwater caves, then bursting upwards in strong gusts of water.
Plan your trip around high tide to get the most impressive bursts of water. Marine geysers are incredibly rare, so if you get the opportunity to see La Bufadora, go!
Tara Garden (“El Jardin de Tara” in Spanish) is a beautiful community park in Ensenada, featuring a 20 foot Himalyan statue of Princess Tara. In addition to this beautiful sculpture, Tara Garden also has some of the most picturesque views of Ensenada since it’s perched up on a hill.
Pro tip: Get up early in the morning for your visit to the Tara Garden. You’ll be able to see the sun rising over the city. It’s breathtaking!
Best Places to Eat in Ensenada
La Guerrerense is easily the most popular street vendor in Ensenada, and for good reason. Their fresh Mexican-style seafood dishes were popular enough to draw a visit from renowned foodie Anthony Bourdain.
As amazing as La Guerrerense is, there are countless other amazing street food vendors in Ensenada. If you’re interested in trying them out, you’ll want to read all about Ensenada’s thriving street food scene.
Hacienda San Angel
Hacienda San Angel has the best all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet in all of Ensenada. Their chilaquiles and tamales (pictured above!) are some of the best that we have ever had. Even better, the price rings in at about $15 USD per person for unlimited gourmet Mexican food.
After an unexpected craving for pizza in Ensenada, we stopped by Covelli’s Pizza for a romantic candlelit Italian dinner. Covelli’s is proof that the delicious food scene in Ensenada expands far beyond Mexican food. We were extremely impressed by the delicious pizza and caesar salad that we ordered. They also have a great array of beverages, including the wine smoothie which we highly recommend.
Rosarito is the perfect relaxing beach getaway that you’ve been dreaming of. Located along miles of pristine coastline, Rosarito is a popular getaway during the spring and summer months. But don’t be fooled by it’s touristy facade–Rosarito has some of the best Mexican food that we’ve ever had. If you’re interested in planning a trip to Rosarito, check out these 19 Amazing Things To Do in Rosarito.
Best Things to Do in Rosarito
Ride ATVs on the beach
Riding ATVs on the beach is a completely unique experience. In addition to getting a great adrenaline rush, you’ll also get to enjoy stunning views of the ocean, beach and pier. No need to make reservations ahead of time–just head south of the Rosarito pier and you’ll see a line of ATV’s lined up for rentals. Just remember to bring cash, and don’t be afraid to negotiate!
Visit the famous Papas & Beer
Papas & Beer is very popular among spring breakers, but don’t be deterred if that’s not your scene. They also have great drinks and an outdoor patio. If you want to skip the crowds, just make sure you show up earlier in the evening. Otherwise, if you feel like letting loose a little, head to Papas & Beer during spring time for a wild time.
Best Places to Eat in Rosarito
The warm, fluffy pancakes from Pancake Republic are to die for. It’s the perfect way to gear up for a day of adventuring in Rosarito. Located just down the block from the Rosarito Beach Hotel, we love the feel in this cozy, retro diner.
Tacos El Yacqui
Tacos El Yacqui is our favorite taco spot. Ever. It may not look like much from the outside, but trust us–the tacos are incredible. The moment you get in line at this casual taco joint, you’ll smell the fresh carne asada cooking on the outdoor grill and you’ll know you stumbled into something special.
The perrones are the best thing to order at Tacos El Yacqui. They are served on warm cheesy tortillas with freshly grilled carne asada, gresh guacamole, beans and onions. The ingredients may sound simple, but you have our guarantee that these tacos will blow you away.
The ambient El Nido is among the best Mexican restaurants in all of Rosarito. The moment you walk in, you’ll be amazed at how thoughtfully and intricately this restaurant was decorated. Overgrown plants hang from the ceilings, green lights illuminate the stone walls, and candlelit tables are placed beneath straw umbrellas.
The menu at El Nido has something for everyone, offering everything from authentic Mexican dishes to steak and seafood. After multiple visits, we’ve perfected our order at El Nido: the beef enchiladas with red sauce and a trio of marlin tacos.
Pro Tip: Ask your server about visiting the secret underground wine cellar!
Many people have never even heard of Mexicali, Baja California. This is a shame, because it’s a city with a rich cultural history. After Chinese immigrants finished working on U.S. railroads in the 1900s, many settled in Mexicali, Baja California. This is the reason that Mexicali has historically had the largest Chinese population in all of Mexico.
It’s also the reason why Mexicali has some of the best Chinese food you can get on the West Coast. We paid a visit to Mexicali to see what all the hype was about. The rumors are true, the Chinese food is seriously delicious! Check out our full blog post on the Best Chinese Restaurants in Mexicali for more details.
Best Chinese Food Restaurants in Mexicali
Restaurante Pekin was our favorite Chinese restaurant in Mexicali, in part due to the incredible food, but also because of the friendly service. The restaurant is very modern and large, with high ceilings and ample seating.
We ordered the mandarin chicken, chipotle chicken and fried rice. All three dishes were absolutely incredible! The prices were also extremely affordable.
Restaurante China House
We had high hopes for Restaurante China House since the reviews that we saw online were stellar–it didn’t disappoint. This was the busiest of the restaurants that we went to, and for good reason. China House has a bustling, modern atmosphere, with large TVs featuring sports games for patrons to enjoy.
We ordered the small portion of the vegetable lo mein, and it was absolutely humongous! It was plenty of food for two people. It was fresh and hot and tossed in a light sauce that really completed the dish. They also served the dish with a plate of fresh streamed rice. 10/10 recommend!
Beijing Restaurant had the best atmosphere out of any restaurant that we went to. Their back wall was beautifully decorated with a mural of the Great Wall of China, and modern panels of art flanked the ceiling. They also had a bar in the back of the restaurant displaying various bottles of Chinese alcohol.
We decided to order a few appetizers at Beijing Restaurant since this was our first stop of the day. The crispy cheese wontons were absolutely delicious, dipped in a sweet and sour sauce for an extra pow of flavor. The spring rolls that we ordered were equally delicious; so crispy and fresh that the roll broke apart as you bit into it.
We love the diverse terrains and cities in Baja Norte. It’s a completely different experience depending on the city you go to, and we’ve loved exploring all that Baja Norte has to offer. For example, if you want a relaxing beach getaway, go to Rosarito. But if you want a unique food and cultural experience, check out Ensenada.
While there are lots of guided tours available, don’t hesitate to plan a road trip on your own. The main roads between cities in Baja Norte are actually in really good shape. We get a lot of questions about what it’s like driving down there, and we definitely recommend it (just make sure that you have the right car insurance). The highways are all in very good condition and they are very clearly marked.
Don’t forget to watch our video on our top 5 favorite Baja California Norte destinations here:
For more details on planning your trip to Baja California, check out our other blog posts:
- Perfect Baja California Itinerary: Roadtrip to Tijuana, Rosarito & Ensenada
- 15 Epic Things To Do In Ensenada, Baja California
- Wine Tasting in Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California’s Breathtaking Wine Country
- 16 Incredible Things To Do In Tijuana, Mexico
- Best Chinese Restaurants in Mexicali, Baja California
- 7 Amazing Places To Eat In Tijuana
- Popotla Fishing Village: Beachside Seafood in Mexico
- La Bufadora: Exploring Ensenada’s Marine Geyser
- 19 Amazing Things To Do In Rosarito, Mexico
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