Fresh off its biggest year of tourism in over a decade, with more than 14 million visitors from the U.S. alone, Baja California has never been hotter. While the Western state may fly relatively under the radar in comparison to other buzzy regions of Mexico (looking at you, Tulum), it’s well worth visiting to partake in the region’s rapidly expanding restaurant scene, wine and outdoor activities. Here are five reasons to add Baja California to the top of your summer travel list this year.
Tijuana Is a World-Class Food City
A stone’s throw from San Diego, Baja California’s most populous city has long been heralded for its late-night vibrancy, street food and agave-fueled bars. But in recent years, the city’s culinary scene has developed a strong identity all its own, stepping out of the shadows of nearby San Diego and into its own spotlight thanks to a slew of inventive chefs, a cornucopia of indigenous ingredients and a captive audience. Nowadays, Tijuana boasts a multifaceted and thriving restaurant landscape made up of fine dining destinations, food trucks, fresh seafood and restaurants maximizing popular local ingredients like chocolate clams, octopus and cave-aged queso. Telefónica Gastropark is a bustling collective of food trucks, an apt homage to a city with a global reputation for street eats; Mision 19 serves as a showcase for celebrity chef Javier Plascencia, whose reputation for locally driven cooking is unparalleled; Plaza Fiesta is a lively open-air craft beer district helping push the city’s brewery scene into the upper echelons; and El Taller features Miguel Angel Guerro’s stamp on regional Baja-Med cuisine, with dishes like al pastor pork pizzas, ceviches and rib-eye chicharrones. One particularly impressive destination is Oryx Capital, a rightfully popular hot spot with elevated gastropub fare, crafty riffs on classic cocktails and Tijuana’s first speakeasy, Nortico. Beyond restaurants, the city is churning out new talent through its famed Culinary Arts School designed by architect Jorge Garcia.
Baja is an Adventure-Seeker’s Dream
The rare place where beaches, forests and deserts all share common ground, Baja California is a wonderland for outdoor enthusiasts and nature-lovers. Within a span of a few hours, visitors can be dipping their toes in the Pacific Ocean, hoofing it through the mountainous terrain of San Quintin, off-roading through the Tecate desert, whale watching in Ensenada or diving with sharks off the coast of Baja de Los Ángeles. It’s the rare destination where the sky’s the limit, affording an abundance of activities befitting a wide range of interests and abilities.
The Valle de Guadalupe Wine Region Keeps Getting Better
Home to more than 100 wineries (and growing), Valle de Guadalupe has emerged as a winemaking region on par with the finest vineyards in France, Spain and Northern California. The best part is how under-the-radar the valley remains, especially compared to its more popular counterparts. Although there’s a palpable sense of growth and development, its innate rugged landscape provides a backdrop that feels wholly new. To visit the Valle de Guadalupe feels like discovering natural countryside preserved in time and place. Dirt roads weave in and out of fruitful vineyards and to lauded al fresco restaurants like Mixtura and Tres Gallines, not to mention the castle-like Encuentro Guadalupe hotel tucked into the mountains.
New Hotels Are Opening at a Rapid Rate
Considering Baja California’s nearly 600 hotels have seen their occupancies surge more than 25% since 2014, new lodging options are a very real necessity. In fact, the state is set to add upwards of 20 new properties by 2019, in locations ranging from Tijuana and Ensenada to Rosarito, each one chock full of unique amenities and offerings. The newest of the bunch is One Bunk, a stylish boutique hotel in Tijuana with nine rooms, a mezcal lounge, coffee bar, retail shop, rooftop lounge and a “nano barber shop.” After that, a 58-suite hotel is due at the El Cielo Winery this summer, to keep up with the increasing tourism in the Valle de Guadalupe. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, with Hotel One in Mexicali, Hotel Ibis in Tijuana and City Express Suites in Rosarito all slated to join the fray over the next two years.
Border Crossing Has Never Been Easier With the Fast Pass
While most of the U.S.-Mexico border is infamously difficult to legally cross, Baja California and Southern California have formed a harmonious relationship that serves as the gold standard, not only encouraging border crossing, but making it easy and efficient. U.S. visitors to the state can now save time going home by requesting a Fast Pass from various hotels or medical tourism destinations in Baja, enabling them to breeze by standard border lines. Then there’s the SENTRI (Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection) for drivers, which drastically cuts down on wait times at the border. These can now be applied for with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. If visitors have any issues or questions, the Ministry of Tourism also implemented a tourist assistance hotline manned by a bilingual staff, accessible by dialing 078 from any public, private or cell phone.