Baja Weekend Trip Suggestions?
I'll admit it. I rewatched the "No Reservations - Baja" episode with my fiancee and the seafood has tempted us into considering a trip down to Tijuana and/or Ensenada. I've driven into Mexico dozens of times (although not since around 2007) but typically I avoid stopping in Tijuana as our destinations are farther south. Can anyone on the board here help me build an itenerary for a 3-day weekend?
The street food in the Zona Norte looked great (Kentucky Fried Buches), but how safe is it?
Has anyone been to a Xolos game, the Tijuana fair, Caliente, or the bull fights?
Is the Guadalupe Valley worth a visit?
Any recommendations for spots farther south? (Probably not beyond Ensenada)
My Spanish is fine (though few will confuse me for a native) and my fiancee is Mexican and fluent so we will not have problems communicating. We've both travelled extensively through Mexico and love it, but I have to admit that the news has deterred me from the border areas for years. I know this is pretty broad, but thank you for any help you can offer.
Cannot develop a 3 day itinerary for you, but I can recommend the following restaurants in Tijuana:
El Mazateno (taco)
El Rodeo (steak, interesting decor--owned by brother of Juliet owner).
In the same 'ecological' building, same level where Mision 19 is located, there is a great wine shop (name escapes me at the moment).
I would stay in Ensenada for a night or two and dine at the famous and beloved La Guerrenese seafood cart a couple times a day..stay at the Hotel Coral and Marina...you can walk to centro and they have transportation to Santo Tomas winery and hit up Laja for lunch or dinner.
Hogaza bakery in Ensenada is wonderful.
Stay the following night at the Grand hotel on the golf course in TJ...stayed many times and it is a lovely hotel..
Mision 19 for dinner is a must...Caesar's for lunch.
Gypsy Jan lives in Rosarito, hopefully she'll see your post and respond with recs for her area. In the No Reservations episode AB stopped in the little fishing village of Popotla, which is either just south or just north of Rosarito I can never remember which. It right by the Foxploration studios.
As far as safety is concerned...Tijuana has been very quiet for the last 18 months. Does the narcoviolence still exist? Of course, but it is not as blatant, overt or in your face as it was before 2010. Unless you are looking for trouble, drugs or both, chances are very slim that you witness or be a victim of drug related violence. For the last 14 months I have been crossing back and forth on a pretty regular basis to eat and visit. At no time have I ever felt threatened or unsafe. Granted, I haven't been walking around Tijuana at 2 am, but I can tell you that up until about midnight I have had no problems. I've taken radio cabs and taxi libres that we hailed on the street with no problems. For tourists in the primary tourist areas - and that would include Kentucky Fried Bouches - if they pay attention and take the same safety precautions that they do at home, there should be no safety issues to speak of.
Xolos games are wild and crazy. Their estadio is on the grounds of the Agua Calient casino and track. When they win the fans go wild :-).
If you're into wine, terrific food - everything from great pizza (Ochentos) to Slow Food farm-to-table - and a laid back relaxing vibe, the Valle de Guadalupe is a do not miss. If you're more into beer, clubbing and traditional food, it might not be a vital stop.
There are so many options for seafood in Tijuana, from the fondas in the fish market to restaurants like Los Arcos. El Mazateño does a tremendous job with shrimp tacos - enchilado or en mantequilla. The octopus enchilado tacos are also killer and I keep promising myself to go back and try the tostadas piled high with mixed seafood. Erizo Cebicheria is one of Javier Plascencia's places and I have to admit that I ADORE it. Other than the barnacles I had recently, I've not had any dish I didn't like and I'm about 1/2 way through the menu. The scallop and mango ceviche is fantastic, as is the ceviche with 3 varieites of Baja clams and the shrimp and calamari ceviche with coconut and dried mango. The octopus carpacchio with nopales is both beautiful and delicious and if you like heat the aguachile de camarones is worth it. I can do a fair amount of heat, but this aguachile was almost incindiary but it was so good we couldn't stop eating it.
For really creative seafood tacos check out the corner of Auga Caliente and Ocampo for the Kokopelli street stand. Ridiculously good tacos...smoked marlin (tastes like carnitas) stuffed into fire roasted chiles then stuffed into the corn tortillas and topped with inventive salsas. My employees keep telling me about places out in the Playas that I need to go check out. Too many options...not enough weekends :-)
Check out the archives of the Life & Food blog - http://www.lifeandfoodblog.com/ - by a couple of young (20-somethings) with an undying passion for Tijuana and it's food.
You can also check out the Restaurants forum on Baja Nomad - http://bajanomad.com/ -, just understand that it's mostly a bunch of crusty and opinionated ex-pats, but they do know where to go to find good food and drink and they aren't shy about saying what the like and what they don't. You don't have to register to read the forum, but you won't be able to ask a question or respond to a thread without registering.
A couple months ago I had friends who had friends from England visiting. They wanted to take them to Baja, but like you, they hadn't been since before the violence started. I gave them a few recommendations, they went and had a blast. Their reaction when they came back was "why did we wait so long".
Bottom line? The horrible violence has abated, tourists are safe, the food is great, the locals even better. Why wait...just go and have a good time.
Thanks for the shout out DD, you are awesome.
Guero57 if you will send me an email to email@example.com I have a series of Excel spreadsheets on TJ, Rosarito and Ensenada that I can send to you as attachments.
On an additional note. the pop-up restairant. Deckman's at Mogor in the Valle de Guadalupe is really the hot ticket right now. A bus tour from Rosarito is going out later this month and I would be happy to post the info.
I can't post the review because I got blocked from CH for "violating copyright issues" when I did just that.
This summer we drove out to a cheese dairy outside of Ensenada. It is called La Cava de Marcelo. They have a dairy tour followed by a tasting of their cheeses in the cave. The cave is a large dining room in the basement of one of the buildings surrounded by all of the cheese ageing behind glass walls. They have a grill outside where you can order lunch and eat it under the trees. We all enjoyed it. It was a perfect half day adventure. I think it took just over an hour to get there from Ensenada.
We have also had Sunday brunch at the Hotel Coral and Marina. It was a good mix of traditional, regional Mexican items and chef stations. It is a modern hotel with a boat marina just outside. Perfect for a walk to work off brunch.
My favorite tacos in Ensenada are a bit before downtown on the main road going south into town. It is a large busy taqueria called Los Traileros. There are semi trucks on their sign so it is truck stop tacos. They have two sides for service, one for fried fish and shrimp tacos the other for grilled meat. There are inside but open air tables for seating. I could happily eat there every day.
My in-laws have had a home at Baja Mar, between Rosarito and Ensenada, for seven years and have had no issues with crime. I drive into either town by myself and feel fine about it. We avoid Tijuana at night but I think we are going to have to go to Mision 19 on our next trip.
If it all works out, we may plan a weekend trip soon to Tijuana. Specifically to eat at Mision 19 but also maybe Caesar's and Juliet Bistrot. (We've been to La Querencia) Considering a stay at Hotel Real del Rio.
Any other suggestions for food, market shopping, or museums?
(DD are you there??)
I second GJs recommendation to check out Bill Esparza, his info and recs are pretty spot on, easy to find and tasty.
Right now I almost prefer Erizo to Mision 19. They're totally different places, but if you like seafood, Erizo is the place.
CECUT is the primary museum space in Tijuana and a good place for newbies to start. It's within walking distance of the Mercado Hidalgo, you can't miss it, it's a giant sphere :-)
Not familiar with that hotel, unless it's the Camino Real. Hotel Lucerna is another good choice for tourists. And if you're staying only in Tijuana, I'd recommend parking on the US side, walking across and using cabs to get around. They're plentiful and the fare always seems to be $5 or $8, except if you take it to El Mazateño, then it's an expensive cab ride. Worth it, but expensive.