10 Top-Rated Things to Do in Ensenada
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Seventy miles south of the California border sits a quiet fishing-village-turned-cruise-port and surf heaven. Ensenada, a small town on the coast of Baja Norte, is one of the most iconic beach towns in Mexico.
The quirky coastal city is a mishmash of day trippers in port on a cruise call, Californians passing through for a weekend of surf, local fishermen and craftsmen, musicians, and domestic visitors from the mainland. As such, it's a fairly international spot for such a small town. You'll find everything from traditional tacos to haute French fare, tacky T-shirts to indigenous handicrafts.
Among the top things to do in Ensenada are to stroll the streets to soak up the effervescent atmosphere, from live Mariachi music to cacophonous taco stalls, dancing fountains and natural geysers, epic waves, and brightly colored souvenir stands. Don't miss one of the world's largest flags – though at 164 feet by 91 feet, to miss it would be impossible.
A bit outside of Ensenada proper, many locals and visitors love to break a sweat in the extreme sports scenes, from skydiving and ATV rides to surfing and snorkeling.
Ensenada is very much on the tourist trail but still manages to retain its small-town charm. Plan your sightseeing with our list of the top things to do in Ensenada.
Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.
1. Stroll Avenida Lopez Mateos
When you first arrive in Ensenada, especially if it's on a cruise ship, the first thing you're going to hear about is Avenida Lopez Mateos. Also known as Calle Primera, the four blocks of this avenue between Calle Castillo and Avenida Riveroll are primetime for shopping and soaking up the tourist vibe.
Flanked on either end with everything from leather and silver shops to restaurants and hotels, this is the heart of the action in Ensenada. Whether you're sipping on a latte and snacking on delicious seafood, or buying a poncho and embroidered textiles, Avenida Lopez Mateos has a shop to please.
Hotels are abundant here, from the Bahia and villa Fontana Inn to Hotel Villa Marina and Hotel Mision Santa Isabel. By afternoon, the air is filled with the sounds of Mariachi music that waft out onto the avenue from the bustling restaurants.
Located in the port area, it's close to the heart of downtown and the perfect jumping-off point from which to dive into the more local sides of Ensenada.
2. Discover the Museo de Historia
To fully understand the story of Ensenada, it's best to start at the beginning. That's why it's worth a trip to the History Museum of Ensenada. This is the best place for a comprehensive look into the history of the region, from pre-Hispanic times through the Spanish Colonial conquest and up to the present.
Through artifacts like beads and pots to historic photographs and modern-day gardens, the history of Ensenada comes to life. What's even more interesting is that the museum is housed within the Rivera del Pacifico building, which used to be a lavish casino in the early 20th century during Prohibition.
Not only is it an architectural marvel, but its walls tell the stories of visiting celebrities like Lucy and Desi Arnez, as well as seedy characters like Al Capone. Not only are the exhibits of the museum interesting, but the murals, paintings, and stunning ceilings of the building are works of art in themselves.
Address: Blvd. Costero 2, Bahia Ensenada, 22800 Ensenada, B.C., Mexico
3. Catch the Water Show at Parque de la Bandera
Ensenada is home to a small, but vibrant, malecon (sea wall) that runs along the water's edge. While strolling the malecon, be sure to stop by El Parque de la Bandera. Translated as the Park of the Flag, you'll recognize this park by none other than its towering flagpole. Some say the massive Mexican flag that towers over the park is the largest in Mexico, and it will be very easy to see why.
Within the park is a small playground and a bandshell that often hosts live music. But the most exciting part of the park are the dancing fountains. Every evening from 8pm, the fountains spring to life, putting on a live water show synched to music and splashed with festive lighting. If you've ever been to The Bellagio in Las Vegas, you know the hypnotizing power of a dancing water show set to a soundtrack.
It's a wonderful time of night when locals and tourists pause together to watch the energetic musical display.
Address: Prol. Castillo, Zona Centro, 22800 Ensenada, B.C., Mexico
4. Wander Plaza Civica
In the heart of Ensenada is Plaza Civica, the town's main square. A stroll through this central plaza will shed light on some of Mexico's important historical events. The park is known locally as "Three Heads Park" because of the three giant golden busts of figures from Mexico's history. Take a look at the busts of some of the country's more notable figures, like Benito Juarez, Miguel Hidalgo, and Venustiano Carranza. To know more about who each one was, take a look at the plaques on each bust.
But more than history, the plaza affords lovely ocean views, which make for great photo ops, as well. Plaza Civica is lined with vendors who are selling everything from street food and crafts to jewelry and books.
Address: Adolfo Ruiz Cortines, 22895 Ensenada, B.C., Mexico
5. Mount a Steed at Rancho Los Bandidos
One of the most popular things to do in Ensenada is to head over to Rancho Los Bandidos for a trail ride. The ranch is an actual working ranch in the foothills of the Sierra San Pedro Martir mountains. It's a true trip back in time to the Wild West days of Baja California. Riders are paired with horses that match their skills, which makes it safe and a relaxing adventure for the day. After the safety briefing, riders mount their houses and head off into the hills.
The trail winds to the San Miguel Hills, which open to stunning views over Ensenada, including the coastline, Salsipuedes Bay, Ensenada Bay, and the Pacific Ocean. After the trail ride, guests head back to the ranch for chips and salsa, tacos, and snacks.
This activity is popular with cruisers who can arrange for shore excursions, but anyone is welcome to the ranch for a ride. The entire excursion lasts about two hours, and Rancho Los Bandidos is about 20 minutes from the cruise terminal.
Address: Domicilio Conocido, Ensenada, Ensenada Municipality 68430 México
6. Visit La Bufadora
If you didn't get your fix of dancing water from El Parque de la Bandera, perhaps La Bufadora will be fully satisfying. The area of Mexico on which Ensenada sits is known for its geological strata that includes one of the largest blowholes in North America.
La Bufadora is caused from the ocean waves that push air and water through a very narrow passage in the rocks. That said, the legend says that the Bufadora is the result of a whale that was once wedged between the rocks. Over the years the whale turned to stone and has been lodged ever since. Whichever version you choose to believe, the result is one of the largest marine geysers in the world.
A path to La Bufadora takes visitors from the parking lot to the viewpoint. It's a bit of a drive on highway 1, south from Ensenada. On the way, you'll pass flea markets and a few tourist stalls.
Be prepared to get wet. The waves can blast water more than 100 feet into the air, so it's not uncommon for viewers to get drenched in the process.
Address: Calle N, 22819 Ensenada, B.C., Mexico
7. Hike El Salto Canyon
Lace up your hiking boots and get wild in the raw, unspoiled nature of the Baja peninsula. Hit the trails in El Salto Canyon.
The steep, black-rock canyon slices through the Guadalupe Valley, offering dramatic terrain with steep walls, dark crevices, and snaking trails. The best way to experience the canyon is to hire the expertise of a guide, who can point out the kingbirds and red-tailed hawks that circle the sky.
The El Salto Canyon Trail is a 4.9-mile loop, and is not for the faint of heart. The trail is frequented by rock climbers and experienced hikers. In fact, much of the trail is unmarked, and bouldering is required.
But those with the know-how and stamina are rewarded with absolutely breathtaking views and a waterfall along the way. In the rainy season, the waterfall gushes more than 100 feet. Note that the trail and canyon are also pet-friendly, should you be traveling with your trusty dog sidekick.
8. Pop Up to Rosarito
While you're in Ensenada, you may want to pop over to one of Mexico's other best-known beach towns, Rosarito. Once upon a time, Rosarito was a getaway for the Hollywood A-listers, who would cross the border to escape Prohibition in the United States.
About an hour up the coast, Rosarito is today known for its explosive sunsets, wildlife, spas, and beaches. In fact, Rosarito Beach has been a surfer's mecca for decades.
Even if you're not a surfer, the beaches are known for their ATV tours, snorkeling, fish tacos, and sun worshippers. The town is also heralded for its extreme sports, from hiking and dirt biking to motorcycles and jet skiing. Head out to Los Coronados, a string of rocks that have become a habitat for wildlife, and a prime place to visit for snorkelers and scuba divers.
Rosarito is an artisan haven, too, from the Local Artisan Market to Plaza Pabellon's galleries, restaurants, and coffee shops. You may even opt to spend the night at one of the many hotel options that line the beaches in Rosarito.
9. Dive into Extreme Sports
Baja California's rugged terrain, unspoiled beaches, and pounding surf have made it a paradise for adventure lovers for many years. Ensenada is no different and, in fact, it's one of the best places to visit in Mexico for extreme sports.
Surfing is the main attraction, which is the official/unofficial sport of the Baja peninsula and has been for nearly a century. In fact, the first surf contest in Baja, the Baja Surf Club International, was held here in the 1960s. Today it's one of the most popular surf towns in Mexico, which means it can get a little crowded on weekends and in the summer. Fall is the optimal time for surfing, in terms of weather and crowds.
But visitors to Ensenada can do much more than surf. ATV rentals are popular for cruising around the sandy beaches. You can book an ATV tour or rent by the hour. Visitors also love to skydive, kayak, snorkel, or even charter sport fishing day trips out to sea. Keep your eyes peeled for whales!
Tour operators in Ensenada offer parachuting, tandem jumps, and skydiving courses for the ultimate in free-fall adventures.
10. Browse the Malecon
Most port cities in Mexico have paved sea paths that hug their coastlines. These sea paths are known colloquially as "malecones," and they are often thriving centers of activity for both locals and visitors. The malecon in Ensenada is no exception.
A stroll along this bustling sea path takes you past vibrant outdoor booths hawking souvenirs, fish markets, taco stands, and live music – all with spectacular views of the wild and rugged Pacific coast. Stroll past Plaza Civica for a look at the historic busts before heading into the open market, where you'll see local fishermen selling their day's catch. The other end of the market has a string of restaurants where the food is about as fresh as it can be.
The best time to stroll the malecon is at sunset, when you'll have uninterrupted views of the magnetic colors. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the massive flagpole that stands more than 300 feet tall.