How to Plan a Weekend Getaway to Mexico
March 28, 2019
If you live in Southern California, it’s easy to experience international travel on a weekend getaway if your destination is Mexico. In fact, 2018 was one of the biggest years on record for tourism in Baja, which is located just south of the U.S. border and easily accessible from San Diego. From Tijuana to Ensenada to a scenic glamping destination in Guadalupe Valley, there are so many unique spots on the Baja Peninsula for every type of traveler. Whether you’re a beach bum or an urbanite, Mexico has it all, and the values are generally better than you might find north of the border. If you’re ready to head south, check out our guide for places to stay, things to do, and even what to pack for a weekend getaway to Mexico.
Unique Places to Stay
If you’re wondering how much a trip to Mexico is going to set you back, the number will depend on the kind of experience you aim to have. While generally more cost-efficient than similar destinations in the United States, a stay at a luxury five-star resort will probably cost more than a surf bungalow just minutes away. Luckily, there are a variety of ways to experience Baja that go beyond high-end resorts.
One of the most common things to do on a weekend getaway to Baja is surf. Surf company Wave Tribe has gathered an assortment of hotels and resorts within easy access of North Baja’s best surf spots, including Rosarito Beach Hotel & Spa, La Paloma condominium resort, and the budget-friendly Hotel Pueblito Inn. New to the surfing scene? Baja is also a good place to learn, with a variety of surf rentals and surf lessons available throughout the peninsula.
As an alternative to the typical Baja beach getaway, Ruta de Arte y Vino offers a distinct glamping experience in vintage Airstream RVs. It’s nestled in the scenic Guadalupe Valley, an area of Baja called “an unexpected wine sanctuary” by The New York Times. Guests have the opportunity to walk, bike, or take a tuk tuk to wineries and restaurants before returning to their oasis surrounded by barbecue areas, private movie screenings, and telescopes for taking in the wide-open sky above Baja.
For City Slickers
If you want more of a metropolitan experience, Tijuana is an ideal destination for fine dining, nightlife, shopping, and an overall city escape. One noteworthy hotel is Grand Hotel Tijuana, a resort and casino located on bustling Agua Caliente Boulevard, with 365 guest rooms and suites, and a golf course. The resort also features a unique “Baja French” culinary experience and provides easy access to the city’s top museums, shops, cultural sites, and nearby racetrack. Speaking of food, don’t miss Telefónica Gastro Park, a food truck lover’s dream come true. Located in Zona Centro, the hotspot offers indoor and outdoor seating, a variety of food trucks to choose from and even vegan options. Plaza del Zapato is another popular spot for craft beer, while Mision 19 is a New York Times-approved fine dining experience for a fraction of what you’d pay for a restaurant of a similar caliber across the border. As to how safe Tijuana is, you should always exercise caution while in Baja, especially at night. When bumping around the city, ask hotel employees to book you a taxi or call yourself an Uber so you don’t get lost in an unfamiliar part of town. And if Tijuana is a little too busy or touristy for your taste, head over to nearby Ensenada, just a little over an hour’s drive away, and enjoy a more laid-back experience on the coast.
What to Do in Tijuana
About half of North Baja’s 3 million people live in Tijuana. Because it’s so close to San Diego and LA, it is considered the most visited border city in the world, and with good reason. With an eclectic culinary scene, bustling nightlife, world-class golfing, museums, and more, Tijuana shouldn’t be regarded merely as a party city, as it often is. Don’t miss these activities and cultural sites around Tijuana:
- Tijuana Cultural Center
- MULLME Museo de La Lucha Libre Mexicana
- Playas de Tijuana
- Caliente Casino and Racetrack
- El Popo Market
- Avenida Revolucion
- Catedral de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe
- Club Campestre Tijuana
What to Do in Ensenada
Called a “world-class seaport” by Conde Nast, Ensenada has a more laid-back feel than Tijuana, but it’s not without its own must-try restaurants and bars. It’s also the gateway to Guadalupe Valley, Baja’s Wine Country. A great place to surf, shop, and chill, Ensenada’s treasures include these activities and cultural sites:
- Calle Primera
- Centro Cultural Riviera de Ensenada
- The Opal Mine
- La Bufadora
- Museo Historico Regional
Nearby Towns & Excursions
Beyond Tijuana and Ensenada, across North Baja you’ll find a variety of other beach towns and hidden gems to experience on your weekend getaway. From Guadalupe Valley’s wineries to the Tecate Brewery in Tecate, here are some other favorites not to be missed:
Home to over 150 wineries, Guadalupe Valley is the premier wine region of Mexico, producing 90 percent of the country’s wine. Though wine is nothing new to a region that’s been producing it for a century, tourism here has exploded only within the last decade. Beyond its boutique wineries, the area contains a variety of gourmet restaurants featuring locally harvested food, like Deckman’s, which grows and produces its own wine, vegetables, herbs, olive oil, and eggs. Add those offerings to its selection of chic accommodations that include the glamping experience mentioned above, Forbes has called it the “Napa Valley of Mexico.” Every year it also hosts the Valle Food & Wine Fest.
If seafood is your thing, then Puerto Nuevo is your place. Near Rosarito Beach, this quaint dining and shopping area is known as “Lobster Village.” Visitors can feast on giant lobsters at bargain prices while taking in ocean views. Most restaurants are family-owned. And be sure to bring cash as many do not accept credit cards.
If Tecate happens to be one of your favorite imported beers, you’re in luck, because this quiet town is its headquarters. Just as famous as Tecate’s beer is its bread. Baked in brick ovens at bakeries all across Tecate, its Mexican Village Bread has earned the town a rep as Mexico’s “capital of bread.” Its most famous bakery, El Mejor Pan de Tecate, claims the use of an Egyptian method to bake over 200 varieties of bread.
Valle de los Cirios
This natural protected area within the Central Desert of Baja is a cactus habitat with giant granite rocks and cirio trees that resemble tapered church candles. The area also holds the ancient cave paintings of Cataviña. Animal lovers will appreciate the chance to see wild pelicans and ospreys as well as peninsular pronghorns, which were once hunted to near extinction. The best way to explore this natural wonder is to schedule a guided tour.
Of course, North Baja is only the beginning. Venturing south, you’ll encounter even more possibilities, from yoga retreats in Todos Santos to the picturesque resort destination of Los Cabos. But you’d need more than a weekend to see it all.
What to Pack for a Trip to Mexico
Now that you know where to go and what to do—how should you pack for a weekend getaway to Mexico? From your passport to sunglasses, here’s our essential packing list.
- Passport. Even if they don’t check it on your way out, they’ll certainly check on the return.
- Mexican auto insurance if you plan to drive (you can get it near the border here)
- Sunglasses and sunscreen
- Warm weather clothing, flip flops, and a swimsuit
- Google Maps for navigating around
- Bottled water. Sure, you can buy some there, but it’s always good to have an emergency bottle.
Written by Erica Garza for Knockaround