This is the second of two parts. Scroll down for the first post. Ensenada is not a big city. I don’t know about the statistics, but it feels like a modest city or very large town. I have always loved places of this size. Having been here a week, I am starting to see the some of the same folks. They show recognition and are starting to wave and say Buenos Dias. They probably think I’ve moved here. The citizens are good people here.
The city center (el centro) is basically divided into two sections. One is the waterfront, which extends a few blocks away from there towards the east. This is the “Zona Turistica”, an area with signs in English, high-end shops, and restaurants with food that suit the palettes of Americans and other Anglo Saxon types.
The city’s prostitutes operate out of this section too, though streetwalkers are very rare. Instead, they hang out in strip bars and massage parlors. If you’re a man walking through this area, be prepared for local guys to offer you the services of young girls. I wonder why so many people assume that middle-aged white men want to make it with girls who could be their daughters, or even granddaughters. It’s very true in Asia as well, Thailand being infamous for it. Very disturbing. All of that said, I very much enjoy seeing and photographing the pretty women of Mexico, both young and old.
The great thing about the tourist section is that, being the waterfront, locals use it heavily. Even when cruise ships arrive and disgorge their passengers, locals outnumber tourists. This means there are taco stands, great local restaurants, and even a local coffee shop or two. I’ve been frequenting a delightfully cozy little cafe in the same mall where Sanborn’s Cafe is located (look for their sign). Called Cafe Italia, it’s mere steps north of the town’s Starbucks.
Sadly, the Starbucks gets much more business, perhaps because it is streetfront on Lazaro Cardenas, the road that runs right along the waterfront. My little cafe is sort of hidden away, but it’s worth finding. Sanborn’s Cafe is a nice restaurant as well, with traditionally dressed waitresses.
Cruise ship passengers seem not to wander beyond the Zona Turistica. Granted there is plenty to keep you here. The malecon passes the fish market, which is alongside a row of seafood restaurants (convenient!). You will be offered boat rides here, from whale watching to fishing trips. There are the requisite tours that go to various places that I am not familiar with, but I have not heard of anything that really piques my interest.
If you simply walk a few blocks further from the sea, you come upon cheaper shopping and a much more traditional Mexican vibe. There is a Sears and a couple other department stores, but there are also many small shops where you can pick up clothes and other stuff at good prices. I bought myself a sombrero, my very first cowboy hat, for only $17. It’s very nice, and the same shop has high quality leather cowboy boots for much cheaper than you’d find them in the U.S. Further down south, a little ways from the city center, American big box stores have opened (Walmart, Home Depot, Costco).
In amongst the shops in the city center are a plethora of streetside eateries. This is a big part of Mexican culture. Walk down the street around lunchtime and pick a popular taco stand. You’ll get tasty fresh-fish tacos for about a dollar. And you will likely be serenaded by guitarists singing traditional Mexican songs. Most everybody eats standing up in the shade of the stand. Very often it is grandmothers making the tacos, and their grand-kids will usually be there if school is not in session. Catch a Mexican when they are eating and you will always get a friendly attitude. Food is the glue that binds people, especially families, together here.
As far as nightlife goes, there are local favorites, such as Hussong’s Cantina a few blocks inland from the harbor. Then there are the touristy places like Papas & Beer. Dance clubs are also in this same area. At about 10 p.m. on a weekend night, look for the lines to get in, young (and gorgeous) girls along with guys trying to be cool about it all. Policia are all about the area, but truth be told, this is a perfectly safe area, even at night. Ensenada is not Tijuana.
Plenty of people from California take vacations down here in the summer. But I really think Ensenada is by and large overlooked in favor of La Paz and Cabo to the south. Many visitors to the Baja Peninsula fly to the southern resorts, and I can’t say anything bad about a quick and easy winter escape down there. But if you have the time to drive down, or if you’re going by bus down the peninsula, Ensenada and the deserts of northern Baja California are certainly worth some time.
Moving on from Ensenada, you can head south via San Felipe over on the eastern side of the peninsula. This involves some gravel road south of San Felipe, but it is very scenic and unpeopled. And you get to see a lot of the Sea of Cortez, a more beautiful coastline I think than this part of the Pacific Coast. You can always return north via the main paved highway, so as to visit Parque Nacional Sierra San Pedro Martir (see previous posts). That’s all for Baja (I think). Hope you enjoyed it!