Baja California has long been a go-to travel destination for Americans, mostly thanks to the popularity of the border city of Tijuana, but there’s much more to explore.
To help you decide where to stay during a trip there, we’ve rounded up the best areas, our favorite things to do and places to eat, and our top picks for where to stay in each. Let us be your guide!
Why You Should Visit Baja California in 2023
Baja California is mostly comprised of a peninsula extending south of the US state of California and touching part of Arizona.
It shouldn’t be confused with Baja California Sur “South”, which is a separate Mexican state covering the lower half of the peninsula. The southern state is known for Cabo San Lucas while the northern state is home to Tijuana.
Everyone knows Tijuana, but the area outside the state’s most famous city includes a lot more check out, from the mountains and valleys that line the center of the state to the coastal cities and beaches.
The state also covers about 27,000 square miles. So, you may want to choose where to stay in Baja California based on the types of things you want to see and do.
The 5 Best Parts of Baja California
Here’s a quick look at some of the best parts of Baja California to consider visiting during your trip. Learn more about what each place has to offer to decide which option best fits your traveling style.
Our favorite areas include:
- Tijuana: Best for nightlife and shopping
- Ensenada: Best for first-time visitors and a laid-back atmosphere
- Rosarito: Best for beachgoers and surfing
- Guadalupe Valley: Best for wine aficionados and cooler weather
- San Felipe: Best for nature lovers and seafood
Where to Stay in Baja California in 2023
Some of the best areas to stay in Baja California are found in the northwest. As many of these cities are a short distance from each other, you may be able to squeeze in visits to multiple spots and see more of what the state has to offer.
If you’re looking to party, you’ll likely want to stay in Tijuana. It’s the party capital of the state and the most heavily populated.
The size of the city ensures that there are lots to keep you busy when you’re not visiting the clubs. It’s a vibrant city with a diverse cultural scene, thanks to the wide selection of galleries, museums, and street art on display.
As you stroll the streets, you’ll also find an array of vendors, small shops, and local artists.
The city is also known for its culinary delights. It’s a top spot for food lovers, especially those looking for delicious street tacos and fresh seafood dishes.
Domestic and craft beers are available just about everywhere, ensuring that you’ve always got something to wash the food down with. Tijuana is also the first stop when entering Baja California, making it a convenient choice when visiting Mexico from the US state of California.
It’s about a 30-minute drive south of San Diego. Of course, you can always explore Tijuana before moving on to one of the other cities in this guide.
Things to Do in Tijuana
- Squeeze through the crowds as you explore Avenida Revolucion, the main street in Tijuana, for shops, restaurants, and live entertainment
- Immerse yourself in the local art, history, and culture at the Tijuana Cultural Center
- Enjoy the scenic beauty of the beaches of Tijuana
- Get up close to wax figures of celebs and historical figures at the Tijuana Wax Museum
Where to Eat in Tijuana
- Tacos El Franc for mouthwatering street tacos from a local favorite
- La Querencia for authentic Mexican cuisine and a warm, friendly atmosphere
- Mision 19 for fine dining and innovative dishes using local ingredients
- Dandy del Sur for drinks and live music in the heart of Tijuana’s nightlife scene
Tijuana Budget Hotels
- La Villa de Zaragoza: Located right in the heart of Downtown Tijuana, this budget hotel places you in the center of the action. It also offers a surprisingly long list of amenities, including an on-site restaurant and bar.
- Hotel Frontiere Tijuana: This low-cost hotel is further from the center of the city but also offers a restaurant, bar, and fitness center. You’ll also find a KFC and a pizza place just outside the hotel.
Tijuana Mid-Range Hotels
- Real Inn Tijuana by Camino Real Hotels: If you’re looking to shop, consider staying at this three-star hotel. It’s across from a shopping mall and within walking distance of a variety of other shops, restaurants, and cafes.
- Baja Inn Hoteles Rio: Featuring an outdoor pool and three onsite restaurants, this hotel is a great choice for those who prefer to mostly stay put, as you have everything needed for a wonderful experience. Other highlights include an on-site coffee house, bar, and room service.
Tijuana Luxury Hotels
- Pueblo Amigo Hotel Plaza y Casino: Try your luck at the casino with a stay at this luxurious hotel near the downtown area. It features spacious rooms with living areas and garden views, along with a wide range of amenities.
- Grand Hotel Tijuana: As one of the top-rated hotels in Tijuana, this place is sure to provide exceptional service, clean facilities, and just about anything that you need to enjoy your trip. Whether you want to eat in your room or the on-site restaurant, the staff caters to your wishes.
For those wanting a more laid-back vibe compared to Tijuana, Ensenada is a natural choice. It’s about 73 miles south of the larger city and tends to attract fewer tourists.
You get many of the same features found in Tijuana, such as shopping and clubs, but on a smaller scale. It’s also more centrally located. The city is closer to the valley and has the mountain range as a backdrop, giving it a different look and feel compared to Tijuana.
Ensenada also has a distinct culinary scene. It’s widely recognized as a gastronomic paradise. You can find everything from fresh seafood and international cuisine to traditional Mexican dishes.
There are also more fine dining options and upscale hotels, which may appeal to luxury travelers. After checking out the coast, explore the city’s downtown to discover an endless selection of small shops, cafes, and markets.
You can find food, clothes, jewelry, and souvenirs at incredibly low prices.
Depending on when you visit, you may be lucky enough to witness one of the city’s large festivals or cultural events, such as the Carnaval or the Wine Harvest Festival (Fiestas de la Vendemia).
First-time visitors may want to bypass the crowds in the largest city and head for this smaller, but still large, resort destination. Yet, if you want excitement, stick to Tijuana.
Things to Do in Ensenada
- Indulge in fresh seafood and various local delicacies at the Ensenada fish market
- Feed the animals and discover interesting species at the Pai Pai Ecotourism Park
- Marvel at the sea lions basking in the sunlight at La Lobera
- Take a break from the beaches to explore the bustling boardwalk of Ventana al Mar
Where to Eat in Ensenada
- Mariscos El Guero for affordable seafood dishes, including shrimp tacos and grilled fish
- La Guerrerense for seafood tostadas topped with a variety of interesting ingredients
- Manzanilla for sophisticated dining and dishes prepared by a renowned chef
- Hussong’s Cantina for margaritas and live music at Baja California’s oldest bar
Ensenada Budget Hotels
- CAPITAL O Hotel Rose: This budget hotel offers great value, thanks to its reasonable prices and luxurious rooms featuring high-end furnishings. It’s a comfortable place to stay and not too far from the beach.
- San Nicolas Hotel Casino: As this is one of the most affordable spots to stay in Ensenada, you’re likely to be surprised by the quality of the rooms and facilities. This budget hotel boasts a stunning outdoor pool area and large, comfortable rooms.
Ensenada Mid-Range Hotels
- Hotel Villa Marina: Found just a short stroll from the seafront, this mid-range hotel offers a convenient spot for those wanting to spend time in the water. You’ll also be a few minutes walk from the boardwalk, which is one of the main attractions in this town.
- Baja Inn Hoteles Ensenada: Located a few blocks from the previous pick, this hotel has a variety of room types to choose from to fit your budget. It also boasts a full-service restaurant with local and international cuisine.
Ensenada Luxury Hotels
- Hotel Coral & Marina: Enjoy world-class treatment at this high-end hotel just outside the center of Ensenada. It’s got everything you need for a comfortable stay, including a small living area with a flat-screen TV.
- Casa Asturias: This hotel stands out for its large rooms with private pools and patios, along with some of the highest prices in the state of Baja California. However, it’s a top-rated place with all the comforts of home and staff that are ready to serve your needs.
Rosarito sits on the coast just a few miles south of Tijuana. Thanks to its gorgeous beaches with consistent waves, it’s a popular destination for surfing and other water activities.
The town also tends to come alive at night, with live music spilling from the dozens of bars and clubs in the main commercial area near the beach. You can spend your days in the water or on the sand and your evenings exploring the bars and restaurants.
Rosarito is also known for its delicious seafood. Shrimp cocktails, fish tacos, and ceviche are just a few of the local favorites that you can frequently find at restaurants and street stalls.
You’ll also find a wide selection of mid-range and luxury accommodations. Parts of Rosarito resemble an upscale resort town, with towering beachside buildings with shops, markets, hotels, and resorts.
Those wanting to cut loose and spend time on the beach may prefer Rosarito to Tijuana or the other towns in Baja California. However, if you don’t plan on walking on sand, try one of the other spots.
Things to Do in Rosarito
- Catch a wave or stroll the pier at the popular Rosarito Beach
- Stretch your legs with a hike to the summit of Cerro El Coronel
- Hop over to Popotla Fishing Village to get fresh seafood from the market and watch fishermen bring the catch of the day
- Sit back and enjoy a live performance or concert at the Rosarito Theatre
Where to Eat in Rosarito
- Tacos El Yaqui for casual food from a local favorite known for serving generous portions
- Los Pelicanos for classic Mexican dishes and seafood with an ocean view
- Mi Casa Supper Club for a refined dining experience with a fusion of Mexican and international flavors in a spot just north of the city
- Papas & Beer for a lively atmosphere and live music near the beach
Rosarito Budget Hotels
- Las Mariposas Mini Suites: This affordable little hotel has a few small suites with private terraces and comfy, homely furnishings. You’ll feel as though you’re staying in a guest house, but also save money that you could use elsewhere during your trip.
- OYO Hotel Hacienda Don Luis: As one of the lowest-priced hotels in the area, you may not expect much from this hotel. However, it offers decently sized rooms and a nice pool out back.
Rosarito Mid-Range Hotels
- Hotel Corona Plaza: The rooms at this mid-range hotel don’t really stand out, but you may spend more of your time exploring the city anyway. You can also try the hotel’s on-site restaurant for Mexican-style dishes.
- City Express by Marriott Rosarito: You can expect reliable service, clean rooms, and standard amenities when staying at this hotel owned and operated by one of the largest hotel chains in the world. It may also remind you of home, as an Applebee’s and a Buffalo Wild Wings are just feet from the hotel.
Rosarito Luxury Hotels
- Hotel Festival Plaza Playas Rosarito: As one of the few high-end hotels in Rosarito, this place stands out for those wanting the best the town has to offer. It’s a top-rated spot with one on-site restaurant, an outdoor pool, and a spa.
- Oceana Rosarito Inn Condo: This privately owned condo includes over a dozen individual suites with space for up to four guests. You’ll also enjoy a long list of premium features, including a full kitchen, washing machine, garden, and outdoor swimming pool.
4. Guadalupe Valley
Guadalupe Valley sits just northeast of Ensenada, putting it further inland compared to the other recommendations. It’s further away from the coast, which helps give it a more moderate climate.
The weather in the valley is often cooler and less humid during the spring and summer months. Along with great weather, the valley is known for its wineries.
It’s the perfect place to stay for wine aficionados and those wanting to get away from the beach crowds. However, if you’re looking to shop or party, you may want to stick to the coast. Guadalupe Valley has a more relaxed atmosphere, fewer tourists, and friendly locals.
The main highlights include the wineries and the rest of the outdoors, including the area’s hiking trails. They’ll take you through lavender fields, vineyards, and semi-mountainous terrain.
The valley also has its own distinct flavors. You can find gourmet cuisine and farm-to-table restaurants featuring unique combinations of influences, including traditional Mexican and international dishes.
Things to Do in Guadalupe Valley
- Sample wines from the top wineries in the Guadalupe Valley with a wine-tasting tour
- Pet the zoo animals after a ride on a water slide at Jersey’s Kid’s Zoo Park
- Gaze out over the valley after hiking to the top of Sierra Blanca Cerro
- Learn more about the indigenous Kumiai people at the Siñaw Kuatay Museum
Where to Eat in Guadalupe Valley
- Finca Altozano for farm-to-table dining and breathtaking views of the vineyard
- Deckman’s en el Mogor for affordable, farm-fresh dishes and outdoor seating
- Corazon de Tierra for gourmet dining at a Michelin-recommended establishment
- Bar Vena Cava for a wide selection of wine in a cozy, cellar-like space
Guadalupe Valley Budget Hotels
- The Pangea Valle de Guadalupe: If you’re up for something different, consider staying at this unique hotel with A-frame cabins and tents. It’s a rustic atmosphere that works well when staying in the valley but may not appeal to those wanting standard amenities, such as room service.
- Posada Del Valle: As one of the most affordable places to stay in the region, this place has limited amenities, but great views. You can gaze at the mountains from your room in the evening and spend your day exploring the activities around the valley, such as hiking and cycling.
Guadalupe Valley Mid-Range Hotels
- Cabañas Los Laureles Ruta del vino bc: You don’t need to know how to pronounce the name of this hotel to enjoy its sprawling accommodations and remote location. It’s perfect for those looking for privacy, but you’ll need to travel a little further to find shops and restaurants.
- Rancho Matalote: This nice little hotel has relatively small rooms and a warm, friendly atmosphere. Some rooms also have kitchens and seating areas.
Guadalupe Valley Luxury Hotels
- La Cima del Valle: This upscale retreat has large rooms with amazing views of the mountains, which you’re not likely to find in other spots in the town. Some of the rooms also have balconies, allowing you to get an even better look at the gorgeous landscape.
- Oeno Wine Lodge: Enjoy the solitude of life on a quaint little vineyard with a stay in this luxurious lodge. It’s in the heart of the valley and includes access to wine tasting and tours.
5. San Felipe
While many of the most populous cities in Baja California are on the west coast, San Felipe is on the east coast facing out to the Gulf of California. It’s a charming coastal town and typically much more tranquil compared to the bigger cities.
The town has lots to offer, including miles of sandy beaches with crystal-clear waters. You can swim, sunbathe, or paddleboard without needing to push your way through crowds of tourists.
After tiring yourself out at the beach, you can find something to eat from any of the many restaurants and food vendors in the immediate area.
While seafood is the most popular type of dish, you can still find traditional tacos and casual fare. The nearby Sierra de San Pedro Martir National Park also offers more opportunities to stretch your legs and explore the outdoors.
You can hike, cycle, or walk through desert landscapes, sand dunes, and beachside trails. San Felipe is further from the other picks, which helps cut down on the size of the crowds.
However, you’ll also find fewer options when it comes to hotels, shopping, and dining. Yet, it’s still a great place to get away from the throngs of tourists that pour into the state each day.
Things to Do in San Felipe
- Stroll along the city’s waterfront promenade, El Malecon, for shopping, dining, and views of the ocean
- Swim, snorkel, or kayak in the beautiful waters of the Sea of Cortez
- Get your heart pumping during a ride on a dune buggy or ATV as you go off-roading along the sand dunes
- Watch for birds during a boat tour to nearby Bird Island (Konsag Island)
Where to Eat in San Felipe
- Mariscos La Vaquita for fish tacos, shrimp cocktails, and a casual environment
- El Nido for flavor dishes and handmade tortillas at low prices
- Alfredo Restaurante at Las Palmas for gourmet Mexican and Italian cuisine
- El Dorado Ranch for cocktails, live music, and views of the Sea of Cortez
San Felipe Budget Hotels
- Hotel Posada Magdalena: The rooms at this low-cost hotel are small, but you have a balcony that you can head on to if you ever feel too cramped. You can also spend more time exploring San Felipe, as it’s a short distance from the beach and other attractions.
- Hotel La Hacienda de la Langosta Roja: Found right on the main avenue, this hotel has one of the best locations. It also has an on-site restaurant with Italian-style food.
San Felipe Mid-Range Hotels
- #40 Bungalow Seaside Hotel & Victors RV Park: Get to the beach in seconds when you stay at this seaside hotel with bungalow-style rooms. Each room has its own patio and view of the sea, making it a good choice for a romantic getaway.
- Stella del Mar: Also found a few steps from the beach, this mid-range hotel has modern facilities with minimal décor and private beach access. Other useful amenities include an on-site restaurant and bar.
San Felipe Luxury Hotels
- Hotel Las Palmas: Here’s one of the top picks for discerning travelers, thanks to the quality furnishings and reliable customer service. As one of the more luxurious options, this place also tends to fill up quickly, requiring you to book early during most of the year.
- #44 #27 Room 2 Beds Near Beach: This next option includes studio suites near the beach, which is great if you plan on spending most of your time outdoors. You’ll get views of the sea, a small kitchen, a private entrance, and a secluded place to stay.
So, Where Should You Stay in Baja California?
|🎉 Best for Clubbing||Tijuana|
|👪 Best for Families||Ensenada|
|🏖️ Best for Beachgoers||Rosarito|
|🍷 Best for Wineries||Guadalupe Valley|
|🥾 Best for Exploring the Outdoors||San Felipe|
Baja California offers many miles of coastline and is home to a popular party destination. Millions of people flock to Tijuana each year for spring break and other major holidays.
However, you’ll also want to explore some of the other areas. From the beaches of Rosarito and San Felipe to the wineries in Guadalupe Valley and the laid-back atmosphere of Ensenada, there’s something for everyone. Happy travels!