About Ensenada, Baja California
Cinderella of the Pacific
By: Slade Ogletree
Vineyards, museums, whale watching, and beautiful beaches are some of the attractions to Ensenada cruise ship port, it is one of the most important ports on the Pacific Rim.
Ensenada means “sea inlet”. It was originally named San Mateo, as it was discovered on September 17th, 1542 (four days before Saint Matthew’s day), but 60 years later, General Sebastián Vizcaíno, arrived and named it “Ensenada de Todos los Santos”. Around 1774, the missions started expanding their way up north and the significance of this bay began to be realized as a safe harbor and seaport.
By the turn of the 19th century this area was in the charge of Commander José Manuel Ruiz (the city’s main street bears his last name). In October 1824, Commander Ruiz became The Californias’ governor, leaving the town with Sgt. Francisco Xavier Gastélum (his son-in-law) in charge. The loss of San Diego and San Francisco resulting from the Mexican-American War in 1848 skyrocketed Ensenada to the status of Northern Mexico’s most important port. Then, a gold rush in the 1850s brought miners from California to Ensenada looking for riches. By 1875, the port had a population of 1,500.
In the 1880s, President Porfirio Díaz first allowed foreign investors into the area, bringing with them the need to develop infrastructure. Soon Ensenada had telephone lines, docks, commerce, telegraphs, hotels and steam cruisers connecting Ensenada with San Diego in a regular basis. In 1952 Baja was officially recognized as a state, being a territory before.
More than 90% of Mexico's wines are produced in Ensenada and its surrounding regions. The climate, warm summers and mild winters, sunny days and cool nights makes it the perfect setting to produce wine. The internationally recognized wine makers produce a number of different types and styles of wines. Most wineries offer tours and wine tasting.
As a cruise ship port, Ensenada has evolved into a significant travel destination. The attraction of shopping and some very fine eating all in the atmosphere of a genuine Mexican city. Currently, there are plush new marinas, the newest of which will cater to mega-yachts of the rich and famous with 250' docks!
The Malecon area has been completely revamped over the last 5 years and now makes an excellent place for a harborside stroll. The fishmarket, in the pall of a fading industry, has evolved into more of a sunday afternoon 'destination' with shops and restaurants filling many of which would be filled with the local catches in the days of the rich bounty of the sea.
The 75 mile stretch of highway leading to Ensenada from U.S. border is in excellent condition and can be traveled in just over an hour. Toll amounts to about $7.50 on the coastal route or you can get there by old Hwy 1 or Hwy 3 from Tecate.
It has been said that Ensenada is a town built around a bar, Hussong's Cantina, which opened in 1892. This watering hole has been a major influence in the development of this port town since opening. Today, over 100 years later, it's still hard to beat the $2.00 margaritas and the live mariachis.
The area surrounding Ensenada provides the adventurous traveler many options. A few miles south of Ensenada is Estero Beach, a landmark of sorts for many years. The large calm bay is perfect for water sports. Further south, 12 miles west of the main road and nestled against the coast, is a quaint campo known as Punta Banda. The blow hole 'La Bufadora' is the main draw here. It is the second largest in the world and can send a geyser of seawater as much as 80 feet in the air. Numerous restaurants and curio shops also help make this a great half day excursion from Ensenada. The snorkeling and diving here is excellent as well.
Ensenada area has several celebrated surfing spots, such as San Miguel Beach, California Trailer Park, Stacks and 3 M's (Tres Emes in Spanish), which are located on the north coast of the city. Todos Santos Island (better known as 'Todos') is a small island located west of Ensenada (about 2 hours by boat), and a world famous surfing spot. The Billabong XXL surfing contest has been held at Todos Santos Island several times. Wave faces can reach above 60 feet on the island.
The world-renowned Baja 1000 off-road race is held in Ensenada every year in late November, while the Baja 500 race is held in early June. Off-road enthusiasts use Ensenada year-round as a starting point to explore Baja California.
The gray whale's annual migration from Alaska to the lagoons of Baja California Sur between the months of December and March, and back in the months of April and May, can be seen from the coast of Ensenada. Sightseeing tours are available every day during migration.
This “Cinderella of the Pacific”, with it’s Mediterranean climate, rich history, and abundant recreational opportunities has long been a favorite of weekenders from Southern California. It is also the last chance for travelers going further south to “stock up” for the road ahead.