By: Kaitlyn Urrutia. Kaitlyn is a Los Angeles native who travels often and has been a Couchsurfing member since 2017. She has been visiting Baja California with her family since she was a child.
Southern California is as well-known for its nearly year-round balmy climate as it is for its road-trip-ability. Californians pride themselves on the multitude of landscapes at their fingertips. With an endless amount of weekend getaway options, from the pool-filled oasis of Palm Springs to the sandy beaches of Santa Barbara, California’s neighbors to the south are too often overlooked. The Mexican state of Baja California begins where San Diego ends, just beyond the USA’s southern border. From scrumptious dollar tacos to upscale wineries (at half the price of US wineries!), you will not regret this little jaunt into Mexico. Just make sure you remember your passport as the states may share a name but are most definitely different countries!
Take the scenic route from the San Ysidro border in San Diego down the 1D, Mexico’s answer to the Pacific Coast Highway, it’s unobstructed views rival those in Big Sur and Malibu. Make your first stop a small coastal resort town of Rosarito. Once a hugely popular party town, first catering to Hollywood elite in the mid-1900’s then to rowdy college students from San Diego, nowadays it’s a better spot to feast, shop, and stroll in the daylight. Try the local’s cash-only Tacos El Paisano, my family visited the area every summer growing up and the weeks-long strict taco-only diet from this no-frills spot is a formative part of my upbringing. The tacos run between $1-$2, making it an easily under $5 lunch. Cross the street to the west for a market that’s touristy at first glance but full of hidden Mexican-made gems, think painted pottery, handwoven textiles, and of course, the illustrious opportunity to get your hair braided.
Continue your journey to the Fishing Village of Puerto Nuevo. At first glance, the entire town could seem like a tourist trap. However, with your first bite of ceviche, you’ll realize you’re in seafood heaven. Whole fresh-caught lobsters go for around $20 at many of the restaurants in this seaside town. Seafood lovers should consider spending a full day here, you can plan to lie on the beach between meals or grabbing cocktails at one of the many rooftop spots overlooking the Pacific.
Roadside Taco Break
On a stretch of road between Puerto Nuevo and Valle De Guadalupe lies the best taco spot I’ve ever been to in all my taco-eating years. It’s called Taquería El Trailero and has 10+ types of excellently marinated and freshly grilled meats to choose from that run for about $1 USD each. While they offer a variety of things beyond tacos, the tacos are so good that I’ve never even considered a torta or tostada. The usual suspects of a great taco are all here: fire-kissed homemade tortillas, a smattering of cilantro and onions, and creamy Baja-style guacamole. What makes it truly special is they’re also topped with expertly flavored salsa, charcoal-grilled spring onions, perfectly pickled red onions, and robust pinto beans to boot. If your mouth isn’t watering right now, sorry, I simply cannot relate.
Valle De Guadalupe
Valle de Guadalupe or “The Napa of the South,” said potentially no one ever, but I would argue endlessly with anyone who disagrees. It’s a great place to hang your hat and enjoy a few days of serene wine tasting with sweeping vineyard views, there are a plethora of affordable boutique hotels, Airbnb’s and couches to be surfed. Wine tastings in this region run from about $8-$12 USD. Incredible meals and snacks cost at about half of what you’d find at an upscale winery in California, approx. $25 for two courses and a drink. Visit instagram-worthy spots like campestre-styled Finca Altozano, modern tempranillo-specialized Clos de Tres Cantos, or oak tree-shaded Casa Magoni to taste the best wines from the region. Ubers are plentiful in this area (while not true of all parts of Baja) and somehow operate at prices that don’t seem real, (15-minute rides cost around $2 USD – so tip your driver!)
Baja California Norte has long been neglected both by visitors to California and to Mexico as a whole. However, those days are now behind Baja California Norte. With some of the best food in the country, wineries that rivals it’s neighbor to the north, and seafood at prices that make you order seconds – it is definitely time to plan your next trip just south of the border. Why not add it to your next California road trip? But remember, passports required!