Hi, lovelies! Aida here from the food-travel site Salt & Wind. As my fellow California girls Britt and Cyn can attest, one of the best things about living in the Golden State is all the road trip opps. From Napa to Big Sur and Ojai to Palm Springs, we have plenty of noteworthy road trips right in our backyard. But one road trip that I’m all about right now? Crossing the border south to Mexico!
A few years back I got the intel that the scene in northern Baja California (as in the area from Tijuana to Ensenada) was worth a visit and started visiting on the regular. In that time I have totally smitten — So much so that I even run small group tours to Baja California.
A mix of gritty and creative, Baja California is one of my favorite places right now. If you haven’t seen Tijuana since a drunken night in college, you might be all, “ huh?” but trust. There's an emerging wine region, tons of fresh seafood, a mix of street food and fine dining, and a new generation of creatives making their mark in art to design.
What a little more intel? Here a few reasons you should travel to Baja California this moment:
The Seafood (Really All The Food) Is Insanely Delicious
You know that whole sunshine-meets-Mediterranean climate thing that makes food grown in California so freaking good? Well, it’s true for Baja California too. The mild climate plus the awesome soil makes for Insta-worthy produce all year long. And the food in Baja California reflects the Mediterranean climate as the chefs there cook with seasonal produce and with olive oil more than lard.
From chefs considered the best in Latin America to street stands cooking up legit tacos, there’s a lot of amazing food in this border region (just watch the No Reservations Bjaa episode to see what I mean) — all of which is rooted in Mexican cuisine but unique.
But my favorite food of all? The seafood. Even though it’s just south of the border, Baja California has a distinct seafood scene with everything from lobsters and crabs to sea urchin and some of the best clams around. Be it seaside shacks serving up just-made ceviche or chefs serving octopus almost too pretty to eat, it’s pretty much a seafood lovers dream.
There’s A Legit Wine Region
Yup, that’s right, Mexico has it’s own wine region and it’s well worth visiting. Just south of the border and east of Ensenada is one of Mexico’s best kept secrets: the Valle De Guadalupe aka the Ruta del Vino. Home to more than 100 wineries, you can find everything from Napa-esque red wines to sparkling roses and lesser-known varietals.
The Valle De Guadalupe often coined the “ Next Napa” but honestly the two regions couldn’t be more different. Yes, Valle is quickly developing a wine scene but it’s a totally different animal making wines for both the Mexican and the U.S. markets. Most noteworthy is that there isn’t as much regulation on wine making in Mexico, so wine makers are free to experiment and they take full advantage with unexpected blends.
Oh, and why you should actually go there to wine taste? Well, it’s nearly impossible to find these wines Stateside so you have to actually go there to get a taste.
There’s Some Serious Creativity (And Good Shopping)
The fact Baja California is a border state? That means the creative scene distinct from the rest of Mexico. It doesn’t feel quite as tide to tradition and, since many locals regularly cross the border to work or study, there is a culture that’s really a mix of Mexico and the United States.
And you see that reflected in everything creative from the art to the fashion to the food. As the Baja California creative scene has grown locals starting their own small-batch coffee spots and fashion brands to craft cocktail bars and gallery pop ups. Pretty much every time I cross the border there’s a new boutique, bar, or gallery to explore and I always come back with a unique purchase or three!
There Are Views On Par With The Mediterranean
From this rest stop panorama alongside the highway to the blowhole in Ensenada and the beach boardwalk in Tijuana, the Baja California coastline has some majorly gorgeous views. One corner will look like a sleepy surf town while the next curve reveals a view right out of Greece, which is why you want to give yourself plenty of time to drive the coastline and explore each and every turnoff.
Yet It’s 100% Distinctly Mexico
At the end of the day, my favorite part of all of Baja California is that it’s 100% Mexican and 100% unique. Being able to hop across the border at a moment’s notice and explore this up-and-coming region is one of the greatest bonuses we have as Southern Californians.
Get A Taste Of Baja California
Mainland Mexicans poke fun at Baja California for not having the millennia-long food history but Baja has plenty to be proud of in the kitchen.
My favorite food trivia about Baja California? Both the Caesar salad AND the Margarita are from the state. The Caesar salad was invented right in the heart of Tijuana while the Margarita hails from Hussong’s Cantina in Ensenada.
Anytime I’m in Ensenada, I make time to duck into Hussong’s a classic Margarita on the rocks. And when I’m not there? Well, when watermelons are in season, I make batches of these Watermelon Pomegranate Margaritas like it’s my job!
In case you hadn’t noticed by now, I’m totally smitten with Baja California! That’s why I run small group tours to Tijuana, Ensenada, and the wine country of Baja California. Oh, and FYI, I’m heading there not once but three times this Fall. Join in on the fun and get to a peek into Baja California before it’s on everyone’s radar!
Salt & Wind for The Sweet Life By Brittany + Cynthia Daniel
Follow Salt & Wind on Instagram and Facebook! Aida is a native Californian, a food travel expert, and the founder of Salt & Wind and Salt & Wind Travel. When she’s not in her kitchen cooking seasonal California food, she’s out exploring the world with a group of fellow traveler lovers!
Photos by Joanne Pio and Aida Mollenkamp