Just an hour south of the border from Tijuana, and nestled into the curve of the magnificent Bahía de Todos Santos (All Saints Bay), Ensenada is an easy drive down the Tijuana-Ensenada Transpeninsular Highway 1 (the toll road), also referred to as “the Gold Coast.” The drive alone is spectacular, especially south from Rosarito. With vast vistas emerging at every turn along this coastal road, this is surely one of the most dramatic routes on the Pacific Coast.
Ensenada represents a huge municipality – the largest land area in Baja and in all of Mexico, covering approximately 20,264 square miles. With its Mediterranean climate, Ensenada has become the wine capital of Mexico and has a thriving agricultural industry. Ensenada has also become a leader in science, technology and education: The city has the highest number of scientists per capita in Latin America. The Center of Scientific Research and Higher Education of Ensenada (CICESE) conducts research in Earth Sciences, Applied Physics, Oceanography, and Experimental and Applied Biology. The Autonomous University of Baja California, Ensenada (UABC), which has programs focusing on oceanography, physics, biology and other sciences, and reflects the region’s new agricultural and tourism service industries with its recently opened culinary school.
Ensenada is often called “the friendly port,” offering a casual and unhurried environment that provides everything to make the traveler happy and comfortable. With ocean, vineyards, hills and valleys – not to mention abundant possibilities for dining, shopping and recreation — it is an ideal destination for a day, weekend or month
The area that is now Ensenada was at one time populated by indigenous peoples called the Yuman. Today, a rich part of Ensenada’s heritage is retained in the ancestors of those people, including the Kiliwa, Paipai and Kumiai tribes who remain part of the area’s cultural fabric. In 1542, explorer Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo discovered Ensenada Bay and the city of San Mateo was founded here. In 1602, Sebastián Vizcaino arrived in search of safe harbors for Spanish galleons, and renamed the city to be Ensenada de Todos Santos (Ensenada of All Saints.) The island that guards the mouth of the bay is Isla Todos Santos (All Saints Island.)
In 1805, in payment for his military services, José Manuel Ruiz Carillo was given Ensenada’s territories. He was appointed governor of Baja California, his administration surviving in spite of a brief invasion staged by American William Walker who had proclaimed himself to be the “president” of the Republic of Lower California. Walker was ousted in short order. In 1882, Ensenada was designated the capital of Baja California, and attempts at developing the area were made by the English Mexican Land and Colonization Company, called the English Company. The 1910 Mexican Revolution wreaked havoc on much of Mexico, Ensenada notwithstanding. Progress and even population suffered and Ensenada’s influence diminished. In 1915, politicians ordered a shift of political power to Mexicali, which today remains the capital of Baja California.
Following the revolution, Ensenada stalled…until the United States implemented Prohibition in 1919. Things started looking up as Americans, often lead by celebrities and movie stars, came to the Baja coast to drink and gamble. In 1930, Ensenada’s beautiful Riviera del Pacifico was built and for a time was a popular and glamorous casino. Gambling was later outlawed in Mexico, but tourism continued to blossom. Today, Ensenada welcomes several cruise ships each week, and thousands of visitors who arrive by car. The city thrives, with its population approaching 300,000. In recent years, it has become an appealing landing-spot for retirees and those soon-to-be, who enjoy its proximity close to the US border, its developed infrastructure (including Costco, Walmart and Home Depot) and its rich cultural lifestyle.