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Ensenada, BC: A Honeymoon Hidden Gem for the Culinary Couple
A short drive over the Mexican border, just 85 miles south of San Diego, sits Ensenada, the third largest coastal city in Baja California. It's been a favorite destination amid the surfing crowd for some time, known for its steady waves and calm beaches, but to many Americans it's vaguely recognized as a quick stop on your cruise ship itinerary. Don't let that docked ocean liner fool you. Behind Ensenada's afternoon tourist façade of t-shirts and sombreros, there's a wealth of old-meets-new culture making it well worth the trip.
The dry, warm climate and close proximity to the ocean gives Ensenada and its surrounding valleys a similar feel to its soul-sister, the Mediterranean. This parallel has led to the emergence of a fusion cuisine, known amongst foodies as Baja-Med, where Mexican ingredients and fresh local produce and seafood are combined with Mediterranean and sometimes Asian influences. If that's not enticing enough on its own, just outside Ensenada's city limits is the Valle de Guadalupe. Currently engulfed in a renaissance since its days of Spanish influence, the valley is quickly and quietly becoming a highly regarded region in the wine world.
Valle de Guadalupe
If an abundance of crazy-fresh seafood, great wine and a little adventure sounds like your thing, Ensenada is a west coast gem not to be missed. My husband and I visited in late February at the invitation of the Hotel Coral and Marina and below I’m sharing the ins and outs of our 4-night, 5-day trip:
How to Get There
Hop a flight to San Diego airport. From there you can either rent a car and drive across the border, or see if your hotel has a shuttle available to meet you upon your arrival. If you live in the San Diego area, some hotels will even pick you up at your home for an extra fee. We opted for the shuttle, but if you plan to drive yourself be sure to take the proper precautions. Don't forget to schedule extra time in your itinerary (especially upon return) for border crossing, which can take anywhere from 10 minutes to a few hours.
Where We Stayed
The Hotel Coral and Marina: Conveniently located between downtown Ensenada and the Valle de Guadalupe, the Hotel Coral and Marina is a contemporary escape from the hustle of the nearby port. Nestled among pristine tropical lawns and overlooking the picturesque marina, it has all the amenities of a first-class hotel.
The spacious honeymoon suite, complete with its king-sized bed and double bathtub, boasts a large balcony overlooking the pool and marina furnished with comfortable sun chairs perfect for catching a few quiet rays. Bonus: the en-suite massage table is all set up and ready for your private massage. Speaking of massages, the hotel's recently added C Spa is a sleek and serene space to recharge. The couple's massage is highly recommended.
Hotel Coral and Marina
True, it's a great spot to honeymoon, but if you're in the market for a unique and tropical place to say "I do", the Hotel Coral and Marina has all you'd need for that dream destination wedding. Able to accommodate parties of 10 to 500, the hotel has a professional team available to help plan and execute all of the events associated with your big day. There are a variety of on-site reception locations to choose from, allowing you to customize the look and feel of each event, from a formal sit-down in the hotel's grand ballroom to a casual cocktail hour under the palms at the Marina Bar & Grill. Our favorite? The hotel's newest on-site location, La Isla. Situated at the end of the marina's barrier peninsula, it's a stunning spot for an outdoor reception.
Left to Right: Hotel Coral and Marina grounds, View from La Isla
For a different accommodation experience, you'll want to look into La Ville de Valle, a country retreat located on the same property as restaurant Corazón de Tierra (more on that below!) and winery Vena Cava, or Adobe Guadalupe, a winery and bed and breakfast. Both of these intimate escapes are located in the heart of the Valle de Guadalupe.
What To Do
Visit the wineries in the Valle de Guadalupe: Some have dubbed the rolling hills and lush vineyards of the valley "The New Napa", although the history of winemaking in this region is anything but new, with the northern end of Baja California being one of the first wine producing areas in the New World. Revitalized in the late '90s, the ever-expanding valley is home to some of Mexico's most reputable wineries. While it is possible to navigate the wine region on your own, be aware that many of the wineries are only accessible by dirt road. Be sure to bring a map, as routes marked by the wineries are not always easily seen. Your most relaxing bet would be to schedule a tour or a shuttle. A few favorites: Vena Cava, Adobe Guadalupe, Hacienda La Lomita
Above: Hacienda La Lomita
Above: Vena Cava
Explore downtown Ensenada: There are two sides to downtown Ensenada, each equally compelling. The tourist side, seen when the cruise ships are in port, is exciting, busy and full of street vendors and entertainment. Then there's the local side when the cruise ships disembark and the locals emerge. Here's where you'll find authentic Ensenada. The best place to hang out? Wentland, a craft brewery akin to the American hipster brewpubs we know and love, and conveniently only open after cruise-y hours.
Head to the beach: While we didn't spend any time on the beach, there are several in the area, mostly popular with the surf-scene.
Where To Eat
La Guerrerense: On an inconspicuous corner in downtown Ensenada sits quite possibly one of the most famous street food carts in the world. Travel Channel's Anthony Bourdain dubbed it "Absolutely phenomenal", and it was nothing short. The wide variety of ceviche, from sea urchin to shrimp, is the freshest of the fresh, thanks to the incredibly high standards of owners Eduardo Oviedo and his wife, Sabina Bandera, who uses ingredients from her garden to make La Guerrerense's mouth-watering salsa. At around $1.50 per tostada, it’s about as economical as gourmet gets.
Above: La Guerrerense
Above: El Rey Sol
El Rey Sol: Located in the heart of downtown, this French restaurant is one of the oldest in Ensenada. Walk through the doors and step back in time. The side-walk café is a romantic place to grab some mouth-watering pastries and a frothy vanilla latte (to die for!).
Corazón de Tierra: This is a must-stop for foodies. Owned by renowned Baja-Med chef Diego Hernández and voted #42 of S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna's The 50 Best Restaurants in Latin America (2014), this restaurant is an experience for the senses. Local wine is poured from neighboring winery Vena Cava, as 6 courses of the freshest chefs choice food is delivered plate by plate, each with ingredients farmed from the on-site garden. It's a feast for the eyes and the palate.
Corazón de Tierra
Manzanilla: Foodies rejoice! This time for raved-about restaurant Manzanilla. Owned by husband and wife chef team Benito Molina and Solange Muris, it also solidified a spot at #25 of The 50 Best Restaurants in Latin America (2014). Known for its impeccably fresh seafood, and located within walking distance of downtown Ensenada, this Baja-Med restaurant offers a vintage-meets-modern atmosphere with a farm-to-table mentality. The six course meal with wine pairing is what we'd recommend.
Hotel Coral and Marina: If you're looking to grab food closer to your room, the hotel's gourmet menus do not disappoint. At the popular BC Bistro & Cava pretty much everything on the menu is delicious, from the steaks to the fajitas. Sunday brunch, a favorite with locals, is not to be missed; fresh ceviche, oysters, and both Mexican and American staples can be found. Definitely carve out some time in the evening for the hotel's Marina Grill to sit dockside next to a private fire pit, their famous margarita in one hand and a satisfying fish taco in the other.
Hotel Coral and Marina
Arguably some of the best farm-to-table restaurants on the culinary scene and the equally matched small-batch wineries are where the "secrets" of this destination truly lie, making it the perfect spot for the adventurous honeymooners. But just a quick heads up: If you're one who thrives on the claim "I did it before it was cool" you better get on it, because this is one secret that won’t stay quiet for long.
All photos taken by Darien Parish