Breezing Through Baja

Ensenada, Mexico, is a charming fishing port village located on the coast of Baja California. The picturesque scenery and inviting beaches make Ensenada an appealing resort destination for vacationers. And, as Baja peninsula’s third largest city, Ensenada boasts a number of tourist attractions, restaurants and nightclubs, as well as plenty of opportunity for shopping and sightseeing. Here are ten Ensenada activities not to be missed:

1. Visit La Bufadora. La Bufadora, Spanish for “The Blowhole,” is an amazing natural sea geyser. Over hundreds of years, the sea’s erosion of the cliffs formed a cave. As the waves of the Pacific Ocean crash into the cave, water and foam shoot up out of an opening at the top of the cave, reaching a height of approximately 25 feet. The effect of this natural phenomenon is awe-inspiring-it appears and sounds like the blowhole of some gigantic whale! The site has become a popular tourist attraction and is a short trip south of Ensenada on an excursion bus. Botanical gardens and observation decks, as well as atmospheric lighting, make the spot an even more welcoming and beautiful place for tourists to visit.

2. Shop Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Til You Drop. The First Street Promenade runs eight blocks down the waterfront from Castillo Street to Ruiz Street. This is the main stretch in Ensenada. It is filled with shops and open air booths featuring plenty of shopping opportunities for tourists. Hand-crafted items, such as leather goods, pottery, blankets, glassware, silver and jewelry, are readily available at bargain prices. Keep in mind that the Mexican culture embraces the art of negotiation. Vendors will not necessarily expect you to purchase an item for the first price they quote and are more than willing to entertain any and all reasonable offers. In fact, haggling is a form of social exchange in the Mexican culture, and it can be considered rude to refuse to engage in a little friendly negotiation. It’s all a part of the adventure and is an art form, so watch and learn, and then join in the fun. You’ll soon get the hang of it, and when you return home with your treasures, will have a great story to tell about each individual find.

3. Visit The Riviera Pacifica. Another fun destination for shopping enthusiasts is the Riviera Pacifica. The Riviera Pacifica has a rich and colorful past. Formerly a turn-of-the-century gambling casino owned by boxing legend Jack Dempsey and frequented by Hollywood’s rich and famous, the location has been restored and transformed into a beautiful cultural center. Browse among the many booths featuring arts and crafts by local artisans. Enjoy Mariachi music, as well as colorfully-costumed Mexican folkloric singers and dancers. Rita Hayworth was discovered dancing to the music in the Riviera Pacifica’s Grand Ballroom, where her father was once the band leader. The Riviera Pacifica also boasts the Bar of the Seven Sins. Originally built with one long bar, the bar was later split into seven individual bars in a creative response to the passing of a law which limited the number of drinks that a patron could purchase at one bar in a day. Each bar features a painted mural depicting one of the seven sins. Tour guides at the site are fond of pointing out that the murals actually depict “the same sin committed seven different ways.”

4. Sample Authentic Mexican Food. Although Ensenada offers a variety of restaurants and international cuisine, a visit to this small fishing port would not be complete without sampling real Mexican food and the plentiful seafood. Local restaurants offer a variety of authentic Mexican fare, including hand-made tortillas, carne asada, tacos, chili, tortas, chilies rellenos, ceviche, frijoles, salsa, stuffed jalapenos and quesadillas, as well as Ranchero-style steaks and barbecue. Seafood dishes are also in abundance in this harbor town, including fish, lobster, Pacific abalone, sea urchin, oysters, clams. An open-air fish market features tuna, snapper, lobster, crab, shrimp, and even shark and barracuda. The market or “mercado” is a great place to sample fish tacos and shrimp cocktails. And be sure to stop at one of many taco stands while strolling through town.

5. Join The Fiesta! The Mexican culture definitely embraces the “work hard, play hard” philosophy of living. Rather than visiting more touristy bars located near the hotels, venture onto little side streets, like Ruiz Street. This is where you will find authentic Mexican cantinas like Hussong’s and Papas & Beer. You may (or may not) want to time your visit to avoid the throngs present when the cruise ships are docked. The drinking age is 18 in Mexico, and American college students in port for the day have been known to flock to the beach bar at Papas & Beer for a day filled with revelry, including loud music, tequila and body shots. At these times, the bar is wild, raucous and packed to overflowing. You’ll barely be able to stick your head inside the door for a peek . . . although if you do, it will be well worth the price of admission. Papas & Beer is definitely the place to go if you want to dance on tables or have a bartender turn you upside down after a tequila shot. Just across the street, Hussong’s Cantina is the oldest bar in Baja Mexico. It’s been going strong for over 100 years. Hussong’s features mariachi bands and has the look and feel of a Wild West saloon, including wooden floors covered with sawdust. It’s biggest claim to fame? The margarita originated at Hussong’s! And after more than a century, Hussong’s is still the best place in the world to get a margarita or an ice-cold cerveza.

6. Go Golfing. Ensenada offers several nearby world-class golf resorts. The Bajamar Oceanfront Golf Resort offers spectacular views of the ocean and surrounding hills. The Bajamar course is considered particularly challenging. It features Scottish-style links and 27 holes with three possible course combinations. The Real Del Mar Golf Club is located north of Ensenada in world-famous Rosarita Beach and offers both hill and ocean views. A few miles south of Ensenada is the Baja Country Club. Located in a beautiful canyon, the Baja Country Club course features an offering an exhilarating ocean breeze that is refreshing and adds to the challenge of the course.

7. Go Wine Tasting. Ensenada is located in the heart of the Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico’s wine country. Two wineries located within the city limits and six others in the surrounding area produce nearly 90% of the wine produced in Mexico. All offer tours and inexpensive tasting opportunities. In August, the 10-day Wine Harvest Festival features Mexico’s best wines, as well as gourmet food and, of course, lots of music. The inviting Mediterranean climate and lush valley setting of the vineyards and neighboring olive groves makes Baja’s “Bordeaux Belt” a tourist attraction not to be missed.

8. Hit The Beach. Ensenada has sandy beaches and calm, inviting waters, perfect for swimming and a variety of water-related activities. A number of tide pools offer an opportunity for the kids to splash around, play and explore nature’s sea wonders. There’s nothing more relaxing than cruising Ensenada’s many lagoons on a sailboat or schooner. Dolphins and other sea animals abound, frolicking in the waves alongside the boats. During the winter months you can catch a glimpse of gray whales on their migration south. Sport fishing is also plentiful off the coast of Ensenada. Charter boats are available for whale watching or fishing. Try your hand at fishing for local yellowtail, ling cod, rock cod, halibut, sea bass or barracuda. Water sports are also readily available, including surfing, boogie boarding, snorkeling, diving, parasailing and waterskiing.

9. Get Some Action. Ensenada’s beaches, as well as its surrounding hills, canyons and valleys offer a myriad of opportunities for the active outdoorsy thrill-seeker. If you’re not into water sports, take heart. Ensenada offers plenty of action on dry land, including horseback riding, mountain cycling and motorcycling. Ensenada’s Sports City features baseball, football, tennis and swimming pools. Bowling and billiards are also available at several locations throughout the city.

10. Buy Some ChiclÃ?©. Johnny Depp’s character in the film Once Upon A Time In Mexico, CIA agent Sheldon Sands, may just as well have been strolling through Ensenada when he was repeatedly way-laid by a young boy selling “chiclÃ?©,” Spanish for “chewing gum.” Agent Sands’ irritated response? “Why? Why would I want that? Why would I want bubblegum?” Selling packages of chewing gum to tourists is the occupation of choice for young children in Ensenada. Their aggressive sales tactics would make even The Donald proud. If you’re in the market for chewing gum, Ensenada can’t be beat. If you’re not in a chewing gum mood, be polite-you’ll want to keep these kids on your good side. If you saw the film, you’ll know that Agent Sands soon had reason to be glad he’d purchased chiclÃ?© in bulk from his young, entrepreneurial tormentor.

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