1. Where to Stay
Enjoy a wine country retreat on a budget at Hotel Meson del Vino (from $50), whose fourteen rooms are clean and simply decorated. Amenities like a pool, ATVs for rent, a wine-tasting room, and restaurant serving wood-fired pizzas round out the mix.
Get your design fix at Endémico (from $205), an architecturally stunning, twenty-cabin property that opened on a 40-acre winery late last year. Cars are left at the entry, but chauffered golf carts will shuttle you from your podlike, glass-and-steel cabin on the boulder-strewn hillside to the expansive tasting room and adjacent pool.
Play bocce ball in a private vineyard at La Villa del Valle (from $225), a hilltop organic farm and hacienda that offers six well-appointed rooms overlooking the valley’s olive groves and lavender fields (“El Valle de Guadalupe” in Spanish). Owned by a Hollywood executive and her husband, the property is also home to renowned restaurant Corazón de Tierra, where you can see the staff plucking ingredients from the garden for your meal.
2. Where to Eat
Have lunch in the shade of three tall pine trees on the edge of El Mogor Badan’s vineyards at Deckman’s, a farm-to-table bistro that opened in 2012 and serves forward-thinking five- or seven-course tasting menus (from $45) that change daily. Helmed by former Michelin-starred chef Drew Deckman, the kitchen turns out elegant plates of beef tongue tiradito and sea bass tartar with sesame, ginger, and gooseneck barnacle tempura.
Dine on a working farm at Finca Altozano (Km. 83, Carretera No. 3 Ensenada-Tecate; 52-664-166-6839), a casual spot opened last August by Tijuana’s celebrity chef Javier Plascencia. The menu consists largely of small plates of meats grilled outdoors over mesquite; try the barbecued lamb ($14) or beef short-rib tacos ($4 for two).
Make a reservation for dinner at the valley’s oldest destination restaurant, Laja. The twelve-year-old spot engenders a sort of fanaticism among diners with its rustic dining room, farm-to-table ingredients, and dishes like oven-roasted lamb and house-cured bacon risotto on the four- and eight-course menus (from $55).
3. What to Do
Visit the best wineries from among the region’s more than 50 properties. Start out at Casa de Piedra, which rebooted the local wine scene in the late nineties and ranks as one of Mexico’s premier producers today. Visionary owner Hugo D’Acosta has turned the small, intimate spot into a local institution and offers tastings (by appointment) of their Tempranillo-Cabernet blend, Vino de Piedra, and others in a rustic stone farmhouse. Afterwards, head to ultramodern, 250-acre Paralelo, D’Acosta’s second winery, which opened in 2006 and was designed from repurposed materials. Don’t miss a sample of the Ensamble line, a collection of complex blends of five or so grapes. Finally, find strikingly modern facilities hidden at Hacienda La Lomita (tastings from $2), surrounded by rolling hills of Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Chardonnay vines. Sample their smoky Pagan wine while admiring sculptures from local artists in their tasting room.
Get a taste of Valle’s other vineyards at to La Estación de Oficios El Porvenir, better known as “La Escuelita,” a school and cooperative that has been one of the region’s driving forces of viticulture since opening in 2007. Formerly an olive oil factory, the current design incorporates recycled materials such as mattress springs, barrel fragments, and glass bottles. Here, you can explore the winemaking facilities, purchase bottles in an old RV, or taste wines at their café.
Make a detour to La Cava de Marcelo, in Ojos Negros, for cheese that will pair perfectly with your bottle selections. At the 100-year-old artisanal cheese cellar, one of the few in all of Latin America open to the public, spend an afternoon on their tour ($10) sampling their wide variety of regional cheeses, from queso fresco flavored with basil to two-year-old añejos.
4. Insider’s Tip
Flights from the U.S. to Ensenada or Tijuana, the nearest airports to the valley, all have stops and are prohibitively expensive, so your best bet is to fly to San Diego and then drive 90 minutes south on the Pacific Coast highway. Keep in mind that a U.S. car insurance policy will not cover you in Mexico, so be sure to ask your rental agency for additional Mexican insurance or purchase some online before your trip. And remember that customs at the border will only allow one liter of alcohol, so enjoy your favorite bottles while you’re there and then order them once you’re home on Wines From Baja.
5. Oddball Day
Take a day off from swilling wine and explore what lies beyond Valle’s vineyards. Start off with a breakfast of huevos rancheros ($2) at El Correcaminos (Km 93 Carretera Tecate-Ensenada; 52-646/155-3101), a laid-back truck stop near San Antonio de las Minas. Spend the rest of the morning at Adobe Guadalupe riding rare Azteca horses ($80 per hour), the result of a selective mix between pure-blood Andalusian and American Quarter horses. Next, drive to the coast to experience one of Mexico’s best street food scenes in Ensenada. Be sure not to miss the seafood tostadas ($1.50) at the legendary La Guerrerense (corner of Alvarado and Av. López Mateos; no phone) and the fish tacos ($1) at Tacos Mi Ranchito El Fenix (corner of Espinosa and Av. Juárez; no phone). Since you’re close to the sea, drive over to one of the area’s biggest natural attractions, La Bufadora (“the blowhole”), a marine geyser that spouts seawater up to 70 feet into the air. If you prefer to surf, rent a board ($25 per day) at San Miguel Surf Shop (Av. López Mateos 560; 52-646/178-1007) and head over to Playa San Miguel, just north of Ensenada, to take advantage of some of Baja’s most consistent swells. Kick off the evening on a high note, with dinner at Mexico City–born chef Benito Molino’s haute seafood temple, Manzanilla, for Kumamoto oysters ($2 each) and fried abalone with a soy and ginger sauce ($18). For a nightcap, avoid Ensenada’s spring-break-oriented party bars and opt for a Mexican craft brew ($4) from Baja brewers like Agua Mala and Cucapá at Wendlandt Cerveceria.
The region’s official tourism site, Discover Baja California, offers comprehensive information on the peninsula’s other destinations.
Wineries in Baja has useful maps of the valley’s vineyards and restaurants.
Glossy magazine Baja Traveler reviews restaurants and has reader-picked awards for the best things to see and do in the area.
Keep abreast of the latest local news with the English-language Baja Times.