The Adult Way To Do Baja

Photo: Courtesy of Adobe Guadalupe.
When I was growing up, my babysitter would sometimes take my brother and me to Tijuana for the afternoon without telling my parents beforehand (this was before passports were required). Since we lived 30 minutes from the border in San Diego, they didn’t think much of it — my mom especially. This is someone who, at age 15, was enlisted by my grandma to haul bottles of tequila back for her older sister’s wedding: They parked on the San Diego side, walked across the border, stocked up on cheap booze, and carried several shopping bags of it back along the beach, like it was any old summer stroll.

So familiar were we with Baja that my family vacationed there more frequently than anywhere else. Then, all of a sudden, we stopped. And, so did a host of others. Drug-related violence erupted in late 2006 when newly elected Mexican president Felipe Calderon started cracking down on cartels. With frightening headline after headline, Baja's reputation seemed irreparably marred. People were afraid to venture south of the border, and tourism was at a near standstill.

But, now, nine years later, Northern Baja has turned over a new leaf. The dust has settled, and it's revealed an even shinier Baja than before. Two areas in particular — Valle de Guadalupe and Tijuana — are not merely attracting tourists again; they're drawing in a group that's notoriously hard to please: discerning foodies. A cooler-by-the-minute burgeoning wine region and a buzzy restaurant scene spearheaded by prominent chefs have cemented Northern Baja as not just a worthy travel destination, but the food and wine hot spot of the moment. Oh, and it's all conveniently less than a four-hour road trip from L.A.

Ahead, I've rounded up a mix of old favorites and new spots I can't wait to try. Click through for 23 reasons to let the college kids go to Cabo for spring break while you sip wine amid unspoiled scenery in Valle de Guadalupe and nosh on cutting-edge cuisine in Tijuana. See you on the other side of la frontera
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Know Before You Go

1. There are no nonstop flights from Los Angeles to Tijuana, so flying is a lengthy and expensive option — driving across the border will be your best bet. L.A. to Tijuana will take you about two and a half hours, while L.A. to Valle de Guadalupe is closer to a three-and-a-half-hour drive.

2. You don't need pesos, as businesses will accept U.S. dollars. However, know that most menus will be listed in pesos, so don't flip when you see a $200 tab: $1 is currently worth $15.45 pesos.

3. Drivers are required by law to buy Mexican insurance, which you can easily purchase online before crossing the border.

4. Frequent travelers will want to look into the SENTRI program, which can take several months to get approved but gives you access to extra-short lines at the border.
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Photo: Courtesy of Encuentro.
Region: Valle de Guadalupe
Where to stay:
Encuentro Guadalupe Antiresort

Encuentro is the ultimate "glamping" getaway in the Valle. Guests can book one of 20 stand-alone, one-room bungalows that dot the hilly landscape, which were specifically built to respect the natural surroundings. A gourmet restaurant (pictured here), a pool, and a winery complete the grounds.
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Photo: Courtesy of Deckmans en el Mogor.
Region: Valle de Guadalupe
Where to eat:
Deckman's En El Mogor

After spending 10 years cooking in Europe, Michelin-starred chef Drew Deckman now helms this wall-less indoor-outdoor restaurant in the Valle. A cool atmosphere and a menu chock-full of local, sustainable ingredients make this spot a must-see on your trip.
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Photo: Courtesy of Antonio Díaz de Sandi.
Region: Valle de Guadalupe
Where to eat:
La Esperanza Baja Med

How about that view? This restaurant from prominent chef Miguel Angel Guerrero opened in October, but it's quickly become a favorite in the Valle for foodies in the know. Guerrero has spearheaded the Baja Med cuisine movement, a fusion of Mexican, Mediterranean, and Asian influences, resulting in tasty dishes completely unique to the region.
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Photo: Courtesy of Villa del Valle.
Region: Valle de Guadalupe
Where to stay:
La Villa del Valle

Another great lodging option in the Valle is this six-bedroom inn. The grounds include the Vena Cava winery, a pool and Jacuzzi, fruit orchards, and a Baja Botanica store, a made-in-the-region, organic beauty line.
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Photo: Courtesy of Corazon de Tierra.
Region: Valle de Guadalupe
Where to eat:
Corazon de Tierra

This restaurant is the crème de la crème of Valle de Guadalupe dining. Thanks to chef Diego Hernandez, the spot was named one of the prestigious S.Pellegrino 50 Best Restaurants of Latin America in 2014. Lunch or dinner will set you back a pretty peso, but hey, you're on vacation — you deserve it.
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Photo: Courtesy of Club Tengo Hambre.
Region: Valle de Guadalupe
What to do:
Club Tengo Hambre Tours

Not adventurous enough to explore Valle de Guadalupe on your own? Club Tengo Hambre is a roving supper club that offers wine and cookout group tours of the area. Your ticket not only includes tastings at three wineries and a meal at Deckman's en el Mogor, but also round-trip transportation from Tijuana to the Valle in a private, chauffeured vehicle. Easy as pie. The club was started by a trio of Baja power blogging teams: Antonio and Kristin Díaz de Sandi of Life & Food, Jason Thomas Fritz of Tijuanalandia, and Bill Esparza of Street Gourmet L.A.
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Photo: Courtesy of Antonio Díaz de Sandi.
Region: Valle de Guadalupe
Where to eat:
Troika

Troika may just take the cake for the most scenic food truck stop ever. There won't be any eating on your lap here: It has its very own shaded outdoor patio area and bar setup. The rotating menu is based on which local ingredients are available, but expect tacos, tostadas, charcuterie, and salads at affordable prices.
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Photo: Courtesy of Adobe Guadalupe.
Region: Valle de Guadalupe
Where to stay:
Adobe Guadalupe Vineyards & Inn

From wine tasting to horseback riding to massages, there's no shortage of things to do at the picturesque Adobe Guadalupe Vineyards & Inn. One of its six guest bedrooms will cost you $160 per night, which includes a wine tasting tour and full breakfast for two.
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Photo: Courtesy of Finca Altozano.
Region: Valle de Guadalupe
Where to eat:
Finca Altozano

Restaurants in the Valle are not big on walls. But, it only makes sense: Why not take advantage of the unspoiled scenery and near-perfect weather? Finca Altozano from famed chef Javier Plascencia is the perfect airy alfresco spot for a relaxed meal.
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Photo: Courtesy of Hacienda La Lomita.
Region: Valle de Guadalupe
Where to eat:
Hacienda La Lomita

It's hard to decide whether Hacienda La Lomita — a restaurant and a winery — offers better food or beverages. Luckily, you don't need to choose: Indulge in a much-deserved after-tour lunch break to enjoy delicious dishes like the taco pictured here.
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Photo: Courtesy of Museo de la Vid y el Vino.
Region: Valle de Guadalupe
What to do:
Museo de la Vid y el Vino

Take a break from all of your sipping and swirling to learn about the elixir of the gods at the Museo de la Vid y el Vino. Fascinating interactive displays put the Valle's wine-making tradition in context, while museum-coordinated tours of nearby wineries allow you to put your new knowledge to good use.
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Photo: Courtesy of Antonio Díaz de Sandi.
Region: Tijuana
Where to eat:
Mision 19

We'd be remiss to talk about Tijuana without (again) mentioning chef Javier Plascencia. Often touted as single-handedly putting TJ on the culinary map, Plascencia runs several restaurants in the city, including the sleek, contemporary Mision 19. Here, you can expect arguably the most cutting-edge cuisine in town, including grilled octopus and roasted suckling pig. And, it's not just the food that's ahead of the curve: The restaurant is located in Baja's first LEED-certified building, meaning it's energy-efficient and was constructed using sustainable materials.
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Photo: Courtesy of Turista Libre.
Region: Tijuana
What to do:
Turista Libre Tours

Want to experience TJ like a local? Turista Libre leads group day trips throughout the city, exposing tourists to the "overlooked and underrated," like cool street art, markets, a wrestling match, or a back-alley swap meet.
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Photo: Courtesy of Caesar's.
Region: Tijuana
Where to eat:
Caesar's

Did you know Tijuana was the birthplace of the Caesar salad? The story goes that Caesar Cardini invented the legendary dish in 1924 at this very restaurant, when he whipped together the salad with the few ingredients he had during a busy Fourth of July weekend. Renovated and reopened in 2010 after closing for several years, this renowned TJ landmark is worth a visit just to try the OG recipe for yourself.
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Photo: Courtesy of Tijuana Culinary Art School.
Region: Tijuana
What to do:
Culinary Art School

Is this a culinary school or an architecture school? The grounds are as innovative as what's going on inside the classrooms. The school's internationally recognized education programs, culinary research, and community outreach have cemented it as one of Baja's most important institutions. For non-pros, there are workshops, extension courses, and events aimed at food fanatics of all stripes.
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Photo: Courtesy of Vrbo.
Region: Rosarito
Where to stay:
Las Gaviotas

Located about 40 minutes south of Tijuana near Rosarito, Las Gaviotas is a gorgeous gated community of homes available for rent. Boasting charming Mexican features like colorful kitchen tiling, wood beams, and tiled floors, each house is individually owned and decorated. Prices vary by house, starting at an affordable $75 per night for a one-bedroom. There's a pool and a tennis court, plus a beach and surf spot only accessible to guests. Book through the Las Gaviotas website or VRBO.
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Photo: Courtesy of Erizo.
Region: Tijuana
Where to eat:
Erizo

Tijuana seafood fans make a beeline for Erizo, another one of chef Javier Plascencia's outposts. It's fresh, it's delicious, and the decor is ridiculously cute, too. Plus, two tacos and a cerveza will cost you all of five bucks.
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Photo: Courtesy of Antonio Díaz de Sandi.
Region: Tijuana
Where to shop:
Mercado Hidalgo

Tijuana's top chefs need somewhere to source their fresh ingredients, and Mercado Hidalgo is usually their answer. Here, you'll be able to stock up on all of the produce, spices, candy, and other goods you can get your hands on.
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Photo: Courtesy of Tacos Kokopelli.
Region: Tijuana
Where to eat:
Tacos Kokopelli

As buzzy as Tijuana's restaurant scene is, you can never overlook its culinary mainstay: the taco. On your quest for unadulterated Mexican goodness, one of Tacos Kokopelli's three TJ locations is a fantastic place to start. There are even plenty of options for vegetarians.
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Photo: Courtesy of Antonio Díaz de Sandi.
Region: Tijuana
Where to eat:
Máquina 65

Máquina 65 is one of several food trucks stationed in Telefónica Gastro Park. With menu options like an octopus burger, it's no wonder the food truck calls itself "alta cocina callejera" (a higher level of street food).
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Photo: Courtesy of Rancho La Puerta.
Region: Tecate
Where to stay: Rancho La Puerta

Only 40 minutes east of Tijuana, but a world away in terms of scenery, Tecate's Rancho La Puerta is the ultimate luxury escape. This health and spa retreat's sprawling 3,000 acres offer hiking trails, an organic farm, several pools, a spa, a salon, fitness facilities, yoga, tennis, and so much more.
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Photo: Courtesy of Cecut.
Region: Tijuana
What to see:
Centro Cultural Tijuana

Located in the city's Zona Río district, this is the main hub for art, theater, dance, literature, music, and more. Highlights include a massive IMAX theater and the permanent "Museo de las Californias" exhibit, which details the history of both California and Baja.
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Photo: Courtesy of El Taller.
Region: Tijuana
Where to eat:
El Taller

El Taller is a converted warehouse complete with a tin roof, giving the space a cool, industrial vibe. Don't miss its signature Baja Med–style pizzas, the most popular dish on the menu.
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