The Mexican port city of Ensenada, located in the heart of Baja California, has long been a popular choice for travellers who prefer to bypass Tijuana and enjoy an alternative town close to the USA border. While the majority of visitors who spend one day in Ensenada arrive via a cruise ship, it is also entirely possible to experience this Mexican city as an independent traveller, even if you choose to travel to Ensenada by bus and don’t have your own car.
Having spent three days here on our recent trip to the Mexican city, we found that were plenty of things to do in Ensenada and a number of fantastic places to eat with the highlights possible to enjoy even if you only have one day to spend in this lovely coastal town.
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How to Spend One Day in Ensenada
1. Start your day with fish tacos and coffee
Chances are if you’re coming all the way to Ensenada, then one of the things that draws you here is the amazing food on offer. Therefore, there’s no point in wasting any time: start your day with a fish taco!
While some taco stands tend to open mid-morning there are plenty of great options if you want an early breakfast or have arrived in early on a cruise ship.
One of the best places for fish tacos is Tacos Fenix – a small, unassuming cart located about a ten-minute walk from the harbour area that makes some of the best street food in Ensenada. They serve freshly made fish and shrimp tacos for 18 pesos each and have a wide range of salsas and fixings to doctor up your tacos.
As with nearly all taco stands that we visited during our time in Ensenada, simply order what you want, take a seat at the bar or stand while eating and pay once you’re finished.
If you want somewhere to eat breakfast closer to the harbour then another great option is Tacos y Mariscos Alan. The owner here speaks basic English and you can get some delicious fish tacos as well as other breakfast options such as pozole soup and other local favourites.
If the salsas from the fish tacos haven’t quite woken you up then make sure to head to Cafe Kaffa for your morning coffee. They have a range of drip coffee and espresso options and claim to be the first coffee shop of its kind in Ensenada. The regulars that we saw here over our repeat visits only further validate the quality of coffee here!
2. Explore the harbour area
Whether you’re arriving by cruise ship or exploring Ensenada independently, it’s worth spending the morning in Ensenada exploring the harbour area.
If you’ve had your morning coffee at Cafe Kaffa, you can walk down to the harbour and then walk across the esplanade, enjoying the ocean on one side and plenty of stalls to explore on the other.
One of our favourite stalls was Luci’s stand, located in the small congregation of stalls near the giant Mexican flag. She serves a wide range of drinks (as well as tamales) that are perfect as the temperature starts increasing in the morning.
There are plenty of benches along the harbour where you can stop for a short rest to people-watch or enjoy the ocean view. It’s also worth walking down to the Mercado Negro – a local seafood market where fisherman sell their daily catch.
It’s interesting to see all the different types of fish on offer and while there are a number of restaurants nearby they tend to be more geared towards tourists rather than locals.
3. Eat delicious ceviche for lunch
While Ensenada is best known for fish tacos, you can’t visit the city without trying some of the delicious ceviche tostadas on offer! The place to go is undoubtedly La Guerrerense – a small food cart that was originally started in 1960 and has grown in fame over the years due to famous chefs visiting such as the late Anthony Bourdain and being featured in international newspapers. They even have a large sign outside their stall highlighting all the famous people that have visited!
The menu here is simple and absolutely delicious. They offer a wide range of basic ceviches such as shrimp, octopus, scallops and mixed fish and serve it on top of a tostada with a couple of slices of avocado. There are then a wide range of their homemade salsas that you can add to your tostada – if you’re not sure which one to get the friendly staff will undoubtedly try to help!
Due to their growing popularity, they have also opened a restaurant across the street where you can also enjoy all their famous dishes. Both the cart and the restaurant are located only a few minutes’ walk from the harbour and is undoubtedly some of the best street food in Ensenada.
4. Enjoy wine or (and) tequila tastings
If you only have one day in Ensenada then you might not have enough time to go out to the wineries located in Valle de Guadalupe – the famous nearby wine region.
Luckily, you can still sample some Mexican wines by visiting the Bodega de Santo Tomas which is located only a short ten to fifteen-minute walk from the harbour. Santo Tomas is one of the oldest wineries in Mexico, having been founded in 1880 when wine had previously only typically been produced by churches.
While there are no native grapes to Mexico, wine has been produced in the region since the 17th century with grapes being bought over from Europe.
You can enjoy a tasting at Santo Tomas that includes a few of their different wines with generous pours! They also produce their own olive oil and chocolate which they also offer to sample.
The people that worked here spoke English and were able to provide a lot of detailed information about the wines which makes this a great experience for wine enthusiasts! You can also purchase any of the wines you try but there is certainly no pressure to do so.
If the wine tastings weren’t enough or you prefer to sample a different type of drink, then head to the Tequila Room located in the heart of Ensenada. They are extremely passionate about their tequilas and mescals here and source unique brands and bottles from all over Mexico.
They offer tip-based tastings at the store and we were able to sample 8 different tequilas and mezcals with different ages as well as learn a lot more about the production process.
The Tequila Room is definitely a great place to develop a new level of appreciation for the drink as the quality you taste here is a lot better than the typical tequila brands you buy outside of Mexico.
5. Dinner at a local restaurant
One of the surprising elements of our trip to Ensenada was that many of the street stalls close fairly early in the evening so if you’re after an evening meal you should head to a local restaurant instead.
We had a great meal at Tacos Maru which is a local home-style restaurant serving all types of traditional Mexican food. They do get quite busy in the evening so you might have to wait for a table however service is very quick and they give you menus and take orders while you’re waiting to speed up the process. If you’re unsure what to order then I recommend one of the combination plates that each give you different numbers of burritos, tostadas, flautas and enchiladas.
If you’re insistent on eating at a street stall then I recommend you have an early dinner and heading to Juarez Avenue (5th Street) where there are more local options that stay open for longer compared to those near the harbour. Los Originales Fish Tacos on the corner of Gastelum Avenue & Juarez was one of our favourite stalls on that street!
Once you’re done with dinner, Alta Baja Cervecería is a great place for a nightcap to finish off your day in Ensenada. They have a great list of craft beer, both local and imported, which can be enjoyed on an outdoor terrace while overlooking Ensenada.
Is an Ensenada Day Trip from San Diego Worth It?
Ensenada’s close proximity to the US border lends travellers to consider taking an Ensenada day trip from San Diego. While this is technically possible to do, it will result in a very long travel day, particularly as you risk getting delayed at the border coming back to the USA.
If you choose to travel from San Diego to Ensenada by public transport then expect about 2.5 to 3 hours of travel time each way. Driving time between the two cities is only about 2 hours but delays are very common coming back into the USA.
There is plenty to do and places to stay in Ensenada and I, therefore, recommend visitors at least spend one night in the city rather than taking an Ensenada day trip from San Diego.
Why you should spend more than one day in Ensenada
While it’s possible to see the highlights of Ensenada within one day, there are a number of reasons why you should consider extending your trip and spending at least two or three days in Ensenada.
1. Day trips from Ensenada
Ensenada is a great base to explore some of the region’s nearby attractions which can be difficult to go to if you only have one day in the city.
One of the most popular day trips is to visit Valle de Guadalupe – a region that has been described as the Napa Valley of Mexico. You can spend an entire day here, sampling delicious wine from different wineries, enjoying the scenic countryside and stopping for a gastronomical lunch.
Another option is to head to the beach town of Puerto Nuevo which is known for its delicious and affordable lobsters. This can also be a great lunch stop if travelling back to San Diego in the morning rather than evening.
Finally, arguably the most popular day trip in the region is La Bufadora – a large geyser that shoots water into the air approximately every minute. This is a fairly touristy spot so I recommend trying to get there early in the morning to avoid the crowds.
2. Eat more great food
One of the best things about spending three days in Ensenada was the fact that we were able to sample so much great food in the city! Some of the other best street food we ate not mentioned in our itinerary include:
Tacos Don Zefe – Best known for their fish tacos but you can also get enchiladas, burritos and tostadas. They have table seating as well as a bar to eat at if you’re in a rush. Make sure to try their calamari taco which is difficult to find at other taco stalls.
240 Grill – A great place to try traditional Baja dishes with an innovative twist. They have a small menu but some of their staff speak English and are very willing to help you decide what to eat! The octopus taco is sensational!
Tacos Nemo – A small cart located close to the ABC bus station. Traditional fish tacos some of the most affordable you’ll find in Ensenada!
3. Plenty of affordable accommodation
Another great reason to spend more than one day in Ensenada is that there is plenty of affordable accommodation to choose from, irrespective of the type of traveller you are! Some of the best places to stay in Ensenada are:
Hotel Cortez – a fantastic mid-range boutique hotel that is located 5 minutes walk from the harbour. They have lovely clean and air-conditioned rooms as well as a gym and swimming pool at the hotel. Click here to see their latest prices
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to search for other hotel rooms in Ensenada
Ensenada is a fantastic town to visit as either a short trip from San Diego or as part of a longer itinerary through Mexico. There are plenty of interesting things to do and fantastic places to eat that will ensure you will have a memorable trip.
Are you planning to spend a day in Ensenada? Or have you recently visited? Let us know in the comments below!