If you’re planning a Baja California road trip, you’ll want to consider a few things during the planning process: how you’ll get there, how you’ll get around, and the most important part, where you’ll go!
I spent some time exploring Baja California Norte and I was definitely glad we decided to hire our own car and go it alone. While you can explore the region by bus, it is much slower and you have to rely on bus timetables and only stop where the buses do.
Here’s how I recommend enjoying your Baja Calfornia road trip.
Arrive into Tijuana
If you’re coming from San Diego, crossing the border by foot is easiest. This way you don’t have to worry about the huge lines on either side (especially going back into the US). You’ll save yourself a ton of time and hassle if you opt to cross without a car and pick one up on this side.
If you are flying into Tijuana, it’s also incredibly easy to come and go. I flew from Mexico City to Tijuana for less than $100 each way and that was during the busy Christmas period.
Just be sure that when you book the flights that you don’t pay extra for the CBX (Cross Border Express). This is the bridge you can take to cross into the US from Tijuana. You obviously don’t need the CBX if you are staying in Mexico.
Renting a Car in Baja California
The best option when it comes to getting around Baja California is to rent a car in Mexico. There are a lot of regulations surrounding driving an American-plated car in Mexico that may make it more expensive (you need your insurance to cover you in Mexico).
I rented a car in the downtown area of Tijuana but didn’t have a great experience, so I recommend booking it with a company at the airport if possible. Renting a car in Mexico is incredibly easy and relatively inexpensive. Just make sure that you book directly with the car company and not through a third party website like rentalcars.com or Expedia.
If you book through a third party, you may have some unexpected insurance fees to pay once you get to the rental car place. You must have third party insurance and usually, the insurance that those websites try to sell you isn’t the correct one. If you book directly with the car rental company, you can be sure that you are paying for everything that you need.
Driving in Baja California
Driving in Baja California is incredibly straightforward. Once you leave Tijuana there is pretty much one straight road along the coast. It is a toll road, so you’ll want to make sure you have some cash on you. Each toll is roughly 35 Pesos (as of January 2018) and there are three tolls between Tijuana and Ensenada.
The road rules are very similar to the US. You drive on the right side of the road. You stop at red lights and stop signs. It seems like you can turn right on red here in Baja (which I’ve never seen in other parts of Mexico), but this may just be because there are so many Americans in this region.
More reading: Driving in Mexico
First Stop: Tijuana Centro
I know a lot of people cross the border and can’t wait to get out of this famous border town, but I really liked Tijuana. I think that it’s definitely worth at least one full day of your Baja California road trip.
You should also definitely stay the night so that you can enjoy some of the craft beer and delicious late-night tacos.
Tijuana is the grandfather of craft beer in Mexico. There are literally dozens of craft beer breweries around Avenida Revolucion. I’ve written a full post about the best craft beer breweries in Tijuana.
It’s also home to some of the best birria tacos I’ve ever had and a really beautiful cultural center.
More reading: What to Do in Tijuana
Where to Stay in Tijuana
There are tons of hotels and Airbnb options in Tijuana. We stayed really close to Avenida Revolucion in this little Airbnb. It was less than $40 a night and was nice and quiet at night.
If you prefer hotels, I really loved the look of One Bunk TJ. Although it’s located right on Revolucion, most of the rooms don’t face the main street. It looks stylish and comfortable and has tons of great reviews.
If you’ve never used Airbnb before, you can sign up with this link and get up to $35 off your first booking.
If you want to stay by the beach, it doesn’t get much better than this beachfront apartment. It starts at $200 USD per night, but depending on when you book and how long you want to stay, you can get a bit of a discount.
It is truly a magical view worth every penny. Imagine having coffee on this balcony?!
More Reading: Is Tijuana Safe?
Second Stop: Playa Tijuana
The best part of a Baja California road trip (in my humble opinion) is the stunning coastline. If there’s a beach nearby, I’m going to it and I’m going to eat some seafood while I’m there.
Playa Tijuana is a fantastic place to start this coastal road trip (or a good place to finish it before you return your car). If you’re traveling during the summer months, it will be full of visitors enjoying the sunshine and swimming in the sea. From this beach, you can actually see the downtown area of San Diego, which I found pretty fascinating. It’s crazy how close you really are.
I also highly recommend sitting down for a few fish tacos or at a Mariscos restaurant like Mariscos Vallarta (where Anthony Bourdain went). You’ll likely be able to listen to some like Norteña music, too.
Third Stop: Rosarito
This is one of the best places to stop for some top-quality seafood. No matter what time of year, there are seafood stalls set up along the beach and all over the town for that matter. You’ll find everything from tuna to lobster, clams to oysters. We ate so well at this stop.
You can easily spend the night as there are tons of great hotels and Airbnbs in this area, but we just spent the day.
Where to Stay in Rosarito
There are so many nice places along the beach in Rosarito. Most have at least 3.5 out of five stars and some really great reviews. This widget will show you the best options with prices per night along the coast. I haven’t actually stayed overnight in Rosarito myself. So I thought it best to give you all of the options to choose from and let you be the judge!
Simply insert the dates of your trip to Rosarito into the box below. It will show you all of the hotels that are available, how much they cost, and exactly where they’re located. Click on each price for more information and to book your stay.
Final Stop: Ensenada
I recommend saving the majority of your time for Ensenada. There is so much to do in Ensenada, so many places to enjoy and it’s all best suited for having a car. The town itself and the surrounding activities can in their own right be a Baja California road trip!
If you want to do a self-drive tour of the nearby wine region, just be sure to have a designated driver! Luke and I explored a few of the different wineries that are really close to each other over two days and it was an absolute blast. It is one of the most beautiful regions of Mexico that I have ever been to.
You can read all about our self-drive tour and how to do it yourself here:
One last spot that you can’t miss on your Baja California Norte road trip is La Bufadora. Be sure to go as close to high tide as you can. Then you can see the height of this unique marine geyser. The views from here are worth the drive alone, but the geyser is also pretty spectacular.
Where to Stay in Ensenada
There are a few nice hotels in the area, but I really recommend staying in an Airbnb in Ensenada. It’s a much cheaper option and you can often get much more for your money like a kitchen, living room, and little patio area.
This is where we stayed in Ensenada and I can’t recommend it enough. It was a few blocks away from the Malecon (boardwalk), which meant it was really nice and quiet at night. But it was still close enough to all of the action that we could leave the car parked and walk everywhere. It also has two bedrooms with double beds, so great for a family, two couples, or two friends who want to travel together!
Want to Travel Further South?
Are you driving all the way to the tip of Baja California Sur?
If you are planning a trip to Cabo San Lucas, you’ll need to stop along the way.
I spent three months living in San Jose del Cabo and a month in Todos Santos. I have explored Baja California Sur as much as you can in a short six months.
Head to the Baja California Sur section of this website. There you’ll find detailed guides for many of the locations around the state.
A few places you’ll want to stop along the way. Click on the links to go to the videos that I’ve made about those places on YouTube.
- Santa Rosalia
- Bahia Concepcion
- La Paz
- La Ventana
- Los Barriles
- Todos Santos
- Fox Canyon
- Cabo Pulmo
- San Jose del Cabo
- Cabo San Lucas
I also have a newly released guidebook all about traveling Baja California Sur. You can read more about it here and purchase a digital copy. Or head over to Amazon to grab a paperback.
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