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Less than two hours from San Diego, down the Baja California peninsula, it’s one of the easiest and safest places to experience Mexico on a budget — which makes it easy to think of this small coastal city and cruise line layover as a sort of Mexico for Beginners. But dismissing northwest Baja is a mistake. Beyond the souvenir shops selling sombreros, knockoff artesanía (handicrafts) and tacky T-shirts, there’s a college town, a port town and a budding culinary capital that invite exploration. While Ensenada and the surrounding area can require a bit of patience, its pleasures are worth the time it takes to find them — and all the more so because they can be had so affordably.
There were the family day trips—lunch at Calafia, curio shopping, maybe a stop in Tijuana for a photo with a zebra-striped donkey if we had an out-of-town visitor along. As teenagers, my friends and I took the trolley to San Ysidro and walked across the border, treating TJ like an exotic mall. San Diego kids went to Baja to surf and camp and eat fish tacos and drink Coronas. (Let’s not discuss the nightclub shenanigans we partook in once we could pass for 18.)
The trio, with about 12 restaurants between them in San Diego, Tijuana, Ensenada and the Valle de Guadalupe, are Baja’s Emissaries of Eating. While out promoting their own businesses and brands, these globe-trotting gastro ambassadors are at the same time shifting the narrative of a region once known more for kidnappings and cartels than quail and kumamotos.
Could long lines at the San Ysidro Port of Entry be largely in the past?
Many drivers accustomed to waiting in line for hours instead sailed through the busy border crossing within minutes on Wednesday. What made it possible was the reopening of seven inspection lanes — and the completion of a key phase in the $741 million reconstruction of the massive port, the busiest on the U.S.-Mexico border
The International Community Foundation is raising funds to support immediate disaster relief and rebuilding efforts in Baja California Sur in response to damage caused by Hurricane Odile
The aftermath of Odile left 26,000 tourists stranded in Baja California, away from their homes, and with no communication means. But in a remarkable operation, the Mexican Government, the military and the private sector coordinated an “air bridge” that would move 18,000 tourist out of the affected region in three days.
“There’s quite the misconception of Mexico, but the economy is growing and there is a large middle class here,” says Ketner. “It’ll just take more time getting people accustomed to the idea, and us a few months to figure out what our niches are.”
The Rosarito Beach area of Baja California in Mexico, once a thriving spring break locale that was decimated by crime and a collapsing economy, has had to find new, quieter ways to prosper.