Ensenada has some activity or someplace to please every interest, but there are a few ‘must-dos, must-sees’ that top the list. For lots of information, go to the visitors’ information booth near the main plaza (close to where the giant busts of national leaders are located). Ensenada…it has something for every taste and every budget!
At the north end of Ensenada, at kilometer 84 on the Transpeninsular Highway 1, is El Mirador (the Viewpoint). Many travelers take a brief stop here, about 15 minutes out of town, to try and glimpse migrating whales or to enjoy a Baja sunset from this lofty perch with its vista of the Pacific Ocean from the north all the way down to the southern tip of Ensenada Bay. From here, there is also a view of the ‘tuna rings.’ These are circular tubes that float in protected inlets, and they are managed by fishermen who have become known as ‘tuna wranglers.’ Yellowtail and Bluefin tuna (which can over 900 lbs.) are brought in from deep-sea waters and are corralled in these tuna rings that are actually giant nets suspended from the surface tubes, that go all the way down to the ocean bottom, thereby protecting the precious catch within. The fish, each of which is valued at tens of thousands of dollars, are eventually processed at local plants and most are flown overnight to Japan.
Taking the Transpeninsular Highway (Highway 1) south from Ensenada, travelers will turn right onto the Maneadero cut-off road towards the famous La Bufadora (buffalo snort) near Punta Banda. It is about a 45 minute drive and there are taxis and tours that make the journey daily. La Bufadora is one a very few natural ocean blow-holes in the world. On a good blow-hole day, seawater will surge up through the rocks, spouting more than 70 feet into the air, spraying the crowd with some of the salty brine. The ‘town’ features a frenzied shopping street (but great selections of Mexican products) and some good restaurants, so not all depends on activity at the blowhole!
The National Flag and the Busts of Leaders
This is really a good starting (and meeting) point for visitors. On the National Civic Plaza in the heart of the downtown area near the waterfront, is the huge Mexico flag that is visible from many locations throughout town. The flag rises 338 feet! And then there are “the big heads,” as locals say. The 12-foot busts depict historic Mexican leaders Benito Juarez, Miguel Hidalgo and Venutio Carranza.
Established in downtown Ensenada on Ave. Ruiz in 1892 by German immigrant John Hussong, this rowdy bar probably isn’t much different than it was then: sawdust on the floors, the smell of smoke and beer, and plenty of noise provided by ranchero musicians and mariachis. And then there’s the shoe-shine man.
El Mercado Negro (Black Market for Fish)
This is a sensory experience not to be missed (but wear closed-toe shoes). El Mercado Negro (the Black Market), an indoor-outdoor fish market, is off of Blvd. Costero, the main street near the waterfront. Comprised of two long hallways, each aisle is lined with spaces for fishermen selling different kinds of seafood. The choices are vast: plump-looking shrimp; abalone (in season); swordfish, smoked tuna and more. Numerous tiny restaurants surround the market and waitresses and waiters unabashedly hawk their menus: fresh giant sea scallop cocktail, anyone?
Las Bodegas de Santo Tomas
Baja’s oldest winery, established in 1888, this downtown beauty is just a short taxi ride from the main downtown tourist area. It features the high-end restaurant La Embotelladora Vieja (the old bottling plant). Tours are offered daily at 11 a.m., 1 and 3 p.m., and it is well worth it to learn about the role of the winery and of wine in the history of Ensenada. Across the street on the esquina (corner) are several boutique shops where pastries, breads, organic fruits and vegetables and bagels can be purchased. For adventurers, Santo Tomas also offers actual vineyard tours at its facility about 40 minutes south of town in the Valle de Santo Tomas. For information, in Ensenada call 646-174-0836 or 646-174-0829.
The Wine Route (Ruta del Vino)& the Valle de Guadalupe
Rounding the bend on Highway 3 from Ensenada to Tecate (just 15 minutes from town), the traveler sees a vast panorama of vineyards, olive trees and ranchos: this is the portal to Mexico’s premier wine country. In recent years, the move to create artisan wines in this region (there is a wine school, La Escuelita, in the village of El Porvenir) has paid off handsomely with local vintages winning national and international awards. There are score of cavas and wineries in this rich valley, many open to the public, such as Liceaga, L.A. Cetto, Doña Lupe, Monte Xanic and others can be visited by appointment. Besides being the nation’s premier wine region with a mild Mediterranean climate, the Valle de Guadalupe is bountiful in other ways. Its history is as rich as its earth, with roots in the settlement of Russian immigrants in the area. Much can be learned at the Museo Communitario del Valle de Guadalupe (the community museum), at km. 70 on Highway 3. The valley and foothills are also home to local Kumiai Indian people, who continue a heritage of creating amazing basketry and crafts.
Riviera del Pacifico Cultural and Convention Center
On Boulevard Costero (believe it or not, this was once beachfront property!), this edifice was built in 1930 as a gambling casino, supposedly financed by Al Capone and managed by Jack Dempsey. Inside, there’s a little window high above the floor, where bosses could keep an eye on the gambling clientele…and probably keep an even sharper eye on regulars like Myrna Loy, Lana Turner and Dolores del Rio.
True, it’s home to a renowned hotel, beach resort and RV park, but there other reasons this unique spot has been a favorite place for travelers since the 1950’s. This region on the south side of Ensenada is a natural estuary, protected by a white stretch of sandbar that breaks the ocean waves, where seals, sea lions and seabirds lounge about or occasionally get into a barking frenzy (probably gossiping about those pesky tourists in thong bathing suits).
The Centro Estatal de las Artes, CEARTE, is a modern, state-of-the-art museum on Boulevard Costero (the city’s main drag that parallels to the ocean), that is an important venue for exhibitions, theatrical and performance art, bands and concerts, and it even has a gift store.
(Other activities/spots that could be mentioned here as key visitor points are Ojos Negros and the Ramonetti Cheese cave, Las Canadas waterpark/ecotourism, shopping, the old ‘carcel’ that houses the anthropology museum)