Your Next Big Mexico Trip Is a Drive Across the Border

by MEGAN SPURRELL

Last-meal-worthy fish tacos and biodynamic wineries are much closer than you think.

Mexico for the food? You’ve heard, we know. But you don’t need to fly to Mexico City to get your fix. Just south of the border, you’ll now find nitro cold brew alongside streetside taco carts in Tijuana; no-frills regional seafood in Rosarito and Ensenada that makes you wonder why you’re paying triple up north; plus two of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants, and over 50 wineries (mostly biodynamic) in the Valle de Guadalupe, less than two hours from the border. The best part is that you only need a few days to see all of the above—though you could easily fill a week.

Southern Californians have been following this route for years, and if you’re local, it may already be your go-to for long weekends. But for out-of-towners, it’s best tacked on to a San Diego or Los Angeles visit.

Encuentro de Guadalupe
Encuentro de Guadalupe in Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico’s wine country.Courtesy Encuentro de Guadalupe

The trip: Three days, 100 miles

This route kicks off from the San Ysidro border crossing, which is the port of entry for those coming from Los Angeles, San Diego, or the San Diego airport. You’ll be following the 1D toll road toward Ensenada (this is the scenic route; don’t let your GPS put you on the inland 1). Make sure you have a few dollars or the equivalent in pesos on hand to pay tolls along the way.

What to drive

Most U.S. car insurance doesn’t cover you in Mexico. Rental car companies in San Diego will usually offer insurance for travelers crossing the border—and we’d recommend opting in. If you’re coming from further or driving your own car, buy a policy from MexPro, the weekend warrior provider of choice.

Crossing the border

The drive into Mexico is breezy, but prepare for a wait on the way home. If you’re planning your trips months in advance, consider applying for expedited re-entry through the government’s Sentri program (it’s like Global Entry, but for land borders—plus, it’s free for travelers who already have Global Entry). Otherwise, just treat it like any international border: bring your passport and remember to toss any fresh fruit before reaching customs.

When to go

This northern section of Baja California is temperate all year long, with only a few rainy days per year. In the dead of winter (January), daily temps usually hover around 70 degrees—and they only get higher (80s) in the summer—meaning this itinerary holds up year-round, but spring or summer is best for getting in beach time. Regardless of when you visit, bring a decent jacket for the evenings.

Popotla
Try the seafood in Popotla, a tiny fishing village south of Tijuana.Left: Alamy; Right: Megan Spurrell

Day 1

Highway 5 takes you across the border and will spit you out on a speedway in the heart of Tijuana. Follow the chaos to Mercado Hidalgo, a 10-minute drive in, for a taste of old school TJ just as you’d picture it—packed with piñatas, Mexican candies sold by the pound, and determined hawkers who know how to close a sale. Start with fresh fruit doused in chili and lime, or a coconut hacked open right in front of you. Then hop back in the car for a taste of next-gen Tijuana: Pick up breakfast and coffee from the food trucks at Telefonica Gastro Park, then pop into Object boutique, a design shop that pulls together furniture, clothing, and homegoods from artisans across the country. Before you get back to the border, make a pit stop at the touristy but evolving Avenida Revolucion, then pick up the 1D Highway to take you to the coast. Let your soundtrack set the scene, and turn your dial to 860AM (local station La Poderosa) for tropical salsa and cumbia tracks.

Mexico for the food? You’ve heard, we know. But you don’t need to fly to Mexico City to get your fix. Just south of the border, you’ll now find nitro cold brew alongside streetside taco carts in Tijuana; no-frills regional seafood in Rosarito and Ensenada that makes you wonder why you’re paying triple up north; plus two of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants, and over 50 wineries (mostly biodynamic) in the Valle de Guadalupe, less than two hours from the border. The best part is that you only need a few days to see all of the above—though you could easily fill a week.

Southern Californians have been following this route for years, and if you’re local, it may already be your go-to for long weekends. But for out-of-towners, it’s best tacked on to a San Diego or Los Angeles visit.

Encuentro de Guadalupe
Encuentro de Guadalupe in Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico’s wine country.Courtesy Encuentro de Guadalupe

The trip: Three days, 100 miles

This route kicks off from the San Ysidro border crossing, which is the port of entry for those coming from Los Angeles, San Diego, or the San Diego airport. You’ll be following the 1D toll road toward Ensenada (this is the scenic route; don’t let your GPS put you on the inland 1). Make sure you have a few dollars or the equivalent in pesos on hand to pay tolls along the way.

What to drive

Most U.S. car insurance doesn’t cover you in Mexico. Rental car companies in San Diego will usually offer insurance for travelers crossing the border—and we’d recommend opting in. If you’re coming from further or driving your own car, buy a policy from MexPro, the weekend warrior provider of choice.

Crossing the border

The drive into Mexico is breezy, but prepare for a wait on the way home. If you’re planning your trips months in advance, consider applying for expedited re-entry through the government’s Sentri program (it’s like Global Entry, but for land borders—plus, it’s free for travelers who already have Global Entry). Otherwise, just treat it like any international border: bring your passport and remember to toss any fresh fruit before reaching customs.

When to go

This northern section of Baja California is temperate all year long, with only a few rainy days per year. In the dead of winter (January), daily temps usually hover around 70 degrees—and they only get higher (80s) in the summer—meaning this itinerary holds up year-round, but spring or summer is best for getting in beach time. Regardless of when you visit, bring a decent jacket for the evenings.

Popotla
Try the seafood in Popotla, a tiny fishing village south of Tijuana.Left: Alamy; Right: Megan Spurrell

Day 1

Highway 5 takes you across the border and will spit you out on a speedway in the heart of Tijuana. Follow the chaos to Mercado Hidalgo, a 10-minute drive in, for a taste of old school TJ just as you’d picture it—packed with piñatas, Mexican candies sold by the pound, and determined hawkers who know how to close a sale. Start with fresh fruit doused in chili and lime, or a coconut hacked open right in front of you. Then hop back in the car for a taste of next-gen Tijuana: Pick up breakfast and coffee from the food trucks at Telefonica Gastro Park, then pop into Object boutique, a design shop that pulls together furniture, clothing, and homegoods from artisans across the country. Before you get back to the border, make a pit stop at the touristy but evolving Avenida Revolucion, then pick up the 1D Highway to take you to the coast. Let your soundtrack set the scene, and turn your dial to 860AM (local station La Poderosa) for tropical salsa and cumbia tracks.

Cruise down to Popotla, a blink-and-you-could-miss-it fishing village a world away from the Papas & Beer side of Rosarito. Park in the lot at the top, then walk down toward the water: charcoal grills are set on the sand, mere feet away from where fishermen pull lobsters, red snapper, oysters, and clams the size of your palm out of the water. Plop down in a plastic chair at whichever grill looks busiest and order up (if your Spanish is rusty or non-existent, pointing will do the trick). You can’t go wrong with anything grilled, nor the raw shellfish; the dark-shelled pata de mula clams (on the half shell, squeeze of lime) are a prized local favorite. To finish strong, grab a corn tamale on your way out, made with freshly ground maize.

For an aperitivo, drive a few minutes down the 1D to Pulquerito El Pulquerita 1 “El Original” (not to be confused with any imposters). The man behind this informal stand makes his own pulque (an ancient drink fermented from maguey sap) in half a dozen flavors, and you can sample as many as you’d like. The drink has a small amount of alcohol in it—buy a jug to enjoy at your final destination, this two-bedroom Airbnb in surf-haven Campo Lopez.

Corazon de Tierra
A dish at Corazon de Tierra in Valle de Guadalupe; the tree-shrouded exterior of Corazon de Tierra.Courtesy Corazon de Tierra

Day 2

Kick start your morning with coffee at the house, or drive a few minutes down the road to the Original La Fonda restaurant. This place is a relic, with ‘70s tourist vibes, old-school Mexican inn decor, and a cliffside patio with palm fronds. Hit the road for an hour of driving with spectacular ocean views—just keep your eyes on the road, because those curves are no joke. Detour at KM 84 for the Mirador observation deck, then continue on to downtown Ensenada. This port city is a major cruise stop, but you’ll also find some of Mexico’s best seafood here.

For a DIY food crawl, order seafood tostadas at the Bourdain-approved El Guerrerense cart, a fish taco (or two) at El Chopipo, and whatever you have room for at Tacos Marco Antonio (Marco Antonio makes over 17 different fillings each day). Break up your journey with a peek inside Riviera de Ensenada: the once-luxury hotel has now been turned into a cultural center. Wash it all down with a marg at the sawdust-covered floor of Hussong’s, which claims to have invented the drink in 1941, and has been serving them to surfers, visiting cowboys, and Ensenada residents ever since.

When you’re ready for a breather, drive back up the 1D, then take the 3 inland toward the Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico’s wine country. Tonight you’ll stay at Encuentro de Guadalupe, a modern retreat dropped into the middle of the desert. Feeling flush? Spring for one of the hillside villas. For dinner, try a tasting menu of reimagined traditional Mexican dishes at Corazon de Tierra, or farm-to-table Laja. Or, if luck strikes and your dates line up, join an Animalon pop-up dinner, hosted by the region’s star chef Javier Plascencia under a 200-year-old oak tree.

Adobe de Guadalupe
Explore the vineyards at the family-owned Adobe de Guadalupe.Cintia Soto/Courtesy Adobe de Guadalupe

Day 3

Savor your breakfast at Encuentro (Best. Chilaquiles. Ever.), then get ready for a taste of the valley’s best vineyards. The arid region is known for reds, but you can find a few other varietals if you know where to look. First, a word on the car and wine combo: Today’s itinerary involves nearly two hours of driving, with three or four stops depending on how quickly you move, and how much you want to pack in. If you have a designated driver, great—the valley’s food and views rival the wine and you can always ask for a spit bucket. If not, you’ll want to hire a taxi for the day, which your hotel can arrange in advance.

Head first to the family-owned Adobe de Guadalupe, 15 minutes away, for a tasting of their killer reds, and don’t leave without walking the grounds. If you’re looking for a souvenir that isn’t a bottle of wine, pick up a liter of their olive oil. Next, you’ll head 25 minutes down the road to Conchas de Piedra, an al fresco champagne and oyster bar on the Mogor Badan vineyards. The setting is unfussy, but the dishes are superb—chef Drew Beckman, who has worked at Michelin-starred restaurants, is the man behind it all. Order a mix of small plates, including the grilled oysters, to compliment your bubbles.

If you still have steam, drive 30 minutes toward the coast to CuatroCuatros, a shrine to white wine in a valley focused on red. Make a reservation to visit their viewpoint around sunset, and sip on crisp Sauvignon Blanc with a view over the Pacific. It’s hard to believe you’re just 60 miles from the border. Circle back into the valley for dinner at whichever spot you missed last night, and remember—road trips are super easy to extend.

Source: cntraveler

The Mazatlan Post

Facebook Comments