Known for its velvet smooth wine, sprawling vineyards, and raw, open land, Valle de Guadalupe is making its mark for being one of the world’s must-experience travel destinations.
Valle de Guadalupe (Valley of Guadalupe) is about an hour and a half south east of the San Diego border, about 40 minutes east from popular travel destination, Ensenada. In, my lifetime (so far), I have spent many vacation days South of the Border. The sand, the surf, the beach, the cheap tacos and buckets of beer- it is the perfect little getaway. Mexico – Baja California in particular – has always been knows for tacos, beer and the beach. However, when someone mentions fine wine, world-renowned culinary chefs and rolling hills of beautiful vineyards, Mexico isn’t the first country to comes to mind. Most people are actually shocked when I tell them that my favorite wines are from Mexican vineyards, but it’s true, they are.
In this article, I’m going to take you on a trip through Baja California, where I will highlight some of the best resorts, restaurants, wineries, and must see places in Rosarito and Valle de Guadalupe.
I know most people would get extremely overwhelmed with the thought of crossing the border and driving in Mexico, and while driving in a foreign country always has heightened anxieties, it really isn’t too bad. Fortunately, in our age of increasing technology and cell service, phones and navigation work seamlessly while crossing the border. In addition to our trusty navigation, there are plenty of signs to get you to where you want to go, every mile or so has signs directing you toward Rosarito Beaches (our first stop), Ensenada and then the famous “Ruta del Vino (Wine Route)”. The Cuota (toll road) is the way to go when driving through Baja; it’s about $2-$4 US dollars and has smooth roads – sans massive potholes – along the coastline; I find this drive very relaxing and beautiful. About 30 minutes after crossing the border, you will arrive in Rosarito. Rosarito is THE place to eat some of the best, simple tacos, enjoy buckets of cold beer or blended margaritas on the sand, shop for some amazing pottery or leather goods, it’s an all -around great time. The first stop on the list is always Victor’s Tacos. Victor’s started as a little taco cart on the side of the road 20+ years ago and since then, he has gone from his little cart to a tiny window (which he served his tacos out of) to a small restaurant that he still runs with his wife. Victor’s has some of the best tacos in Baja and it’s so nice to see how much they have grown over the years. Victor and his wife are both so kind and hospitable and always send you on your way with a fully belly and a cold beer.
About 5 minutes down the road from Victor’s is the famous, Rosarito Beach Hotel. I say famous because it really is one of the most iconic hotels in Baja California. It is central to everything, which means you can walk to all of the restaurants, bars, clubs, and shopping areas in Rosartio’s main downtown area and it is right on the beach. For breakfast, there is a wonderful restaurant called Pancake Republic that shares the same parking lot as Rosarito Beach Hotel. They have traditional American and Mexican breakfasts and every kind of pancake you can think of – all of which are fluffy and so good!
My absolute favorite spot for breakfast though is a restaurant called El Nido. El Nido is a steakhouse, traditionally, however their breakfast is hard to beat. I always opt to eat in their patio area at the back of the restaurant. The patio is an outside area that encompasses you in a garden full of plants and little waterfalls; think of dining in the middle of a magical greenhouse. If the setting wasn’t enough, the food is absolutely delicious, and the flour tortillas are fresh and handmade by the “tortilla ladies” who are always there – our table was right next to the tortilla lady last time and it was dangerously beneficial for us. Because this restaurant is loved by many, there tends to be a bit of a wait, however it is right next door to the little alley ways that house the best little shops and markets. I love stocking up on leather hats, sandals and glass/ kitchenware.
I would suggest staying in Rosarito for a night or 2 on your way to the Valle to fuel up on tacos and enjoy the beach and the delicious, local restaurants, but if time is limited, you could just continue going straight to The Valle. *Travel Tip for the border coming back: When checking out of Rosarito Beach Hotel, make sure you ask the front desk for the fast pass for the border. This is a pass that literally skips 90% of the border line and saves hours, if it is crowded. They will hand you a pass along with detailed directions from the Hotel on how to get to that specific (Medical/Federal) lane; it is truly a life saver and worth staying the night just to get the pass. If you opt out of braving the foreign roads by car, you can always fly in to the Tijuana International airport and taxi/uber to The Valle or fly in to the Ensenada airport (closer and smaller), both solid options and in close enough to Taxi, Uber or shuttle to the Valle.
Driving east, through the winding mountain roads and into The Valle is, like the drive into Rosarito, a breathtaking drive of open land- instead of ocean- and of course, vineyards. The Valle de Guadalupe (most people call it The Valle) is not new, however has just recently been growing in popularity and has been drawing people in from all over the world. What I love the most, is that it still seems like a new place that was just discovered and hasn’t been inundated with crowds, tourists and massive hotels- it’s like a sacred secret that you are lucky to be a part of.
Spontaneity brings the magic out of the Valle. Right when you start coming into the vineyards, there are signs everywhere leading you to all of the different wineries and small hotels. I like to start my journey with one of the first wineries I see, typically this is Montefiori Winery. The long dirt road is lined with vineyards that leads to a small, but beautiful winery with a stellar view. The tasting room is open to the elements and has a huge deck outside overlooking the grape vines; I like to do my tasting on the deck. This is a great place to start, as it is fairly small but definitely gets you excited and ready to take on the rest of the day.
Because The Valle is still in its growing stages, a lot of the hotels and places to stay are “boutique”, meaning they are independently owned and typically only have a few rooms to reserve (the larger ones have about 30). Some of the options for stays include climate controlled bubbles that let you sleep under the stars, glamping in luxurious tents on the vineyard, or 5-star decadent hotels. All of the hotels do their due diligence to be carbon neutral/negative and sustainable and take pride in their eco-friendly designs and architecture.
The first time I went to The Valle, I stayed at El Cielo. El Cielo is one of the biggest “resorts” in The Valle, offering 33 suites, 1 spa, 3 restaurants and 2 bars. Their suites are more like 2-story homes. Everything about this hotel is 5 star. Upon check-in, we were greeted with full glasses of their chilled, delicious white wine and cold hand towels (we went in August and it was about 90 degrees outside). We were led to our suite, which had a driveway to park our vehicle. Our suite was on the second level of the “house” and came with 2 queen sized beds, a large bathroom, and patio overlooking the vineyard. When staying at the hotel, you have your personal “concierge” who is accessible via text message through the app ‘whatsapp’. This was extremely helpful for navigating The Valle. We texted throughout the day to ask which restaurants and wineries were recommended and how close/far they were. When we came back from our long day, our toiletries were perfectly cleaned, organized (a huge improvement from the mess my 3 girlfriends and I left), and laid out in the restroom. We also were surprised to find a little dessert tray on our table, chocolates for each of us and chocolate frosting that spelled out “Buenas Noches”- good night. This resort is truly 5-star service all around and makes you feel like royalty.
Along with the most delicious wines, The Valle is known for their fine cuisine from world renowned chefs that have settled there, opening up their dream restaurants. My favorite (as well as most of the friends and family I’ve invited), Tre Galline. Tre Galline (which translates to three chickens) was founded by a wonderful husband and wife from Italy. When a fire burned down their restaurant years ago in Italy, they were left with nothing but an opportunity for a new beginning. Hand in hand, they decided to move to Mexico and opened their first restaurant in Todos Santos (close to Cabo San Lucas). Upon their arrival, as they looked out at and stood on the land that would soon blossom into their new chapter, they noticed there was nothing there but 3 chickens. In that moment, Tre Galline was born. After some time in Todos Santos, the couple decided to open a second (seasonal) restaurant in The Valle. Tre Galline is a farm to table, Italian restaurant that has open air seating and the most delicious and authentic Italian cuisine. Angelo, the owner and chef is a beautiful soul who regularly sits and converses with the patrons at his restaurant. The atmosphere is comforting and home-y; it makes you feel as though you are visiting your friends and eating at the dinner table in their home- which, in a way, you are. The favorites…? I always start with their caprese which is as beautiful as it is delicious -presentation is huge at this restaurant. Their Rib Eye Steak is incredible and is baked in coarse salt and brushed off -at your table- with a rosemary sprig and olive oil. The steak is then cut and served and is tender and beyond delectable. Another favorite is their mac and cheese style pasta which consists of home-made pasta noodles that are dumped -at your table- in a big wheel of cheese. The cheese wheel is scraped and tossed with the pasta to make the most wonderful thick and cheesy entrée. Their arugula salads, their desserts, their wines, everything is out of this world. I love doing family style while eating here, as the food is so good it’s important to try a bit of everything. Tre Galline isn’t just going out to eat dinner, it is truly a whole and bountiful experience that will leave you entranced in every way.
Another delicious and very popular restaurant is Deckman’s, which also has the most beautiful vineyard view and open-air seating. Their food and ingredients are also sustainably and ethically sourced for their farm or from local farms or communities. Deckmans menu is designed to honor natural elements such as sky, sea, and earth. Dinner at sunset that leads late into the night is an experience that will leave you spellbound. The oysters, bone marrow, muscles…all a delicious treat.
Now, onto the wine! There are obviously so many wineries throughout the Valle and I haven’t been to all of them yet, but as of now, some of my favorites are Frida winery, El Cielo, and Cuatro Cuatros. Frida Winery is a popular favorite due to its rich, bold wines and encompassing, colorful art. The Frida Winery was meant to pay tribute to and emulate Frida’s Mexico City home. Frida Winery also has an Airbnb onsite that is nothing short of amazing. There is The Diego Suite which has 2 King Beds, a bathroom and a full kitchen. The suite is beautifully decorated and has a very large, shared outside area. The second suite is The Frida suite, which is a large 3-bedroom suite that has 2 living rooms, 2 bathrooms, a kitchen and the shared outside space. The Airbnb is perfectly convenient, as Friday Winery is pretty central to everything and is the only winery in the Valle with a nightlife. Their new terrace is above the tasting room and is the perfect place to dance the night away on the weekends.
El Cielo winery, like the hotel, is lux, lux, lux! They have a wide range of delicious wines named after astronomers and constellations, such as Galileo and Orion. You can either have a tasting in the general area or, go on the wine tour which consists of a tour of their underground cellar and a tasting. During the tour you will be able to taste 3-5 of their wines (depending of which package you buy). The wine tour is about $20USD-$25USD and needs to be booked by reservation. During the wine harvest festival in August, the winery has small events that go on, including stomping grapes in the barrels, always messy fun!
Cuatro Cuatros’ Bar Bruja has the most spectacular ocean view. It is situated right on a cliff overlooking the ocean and has outdoor seating and a full bar. It’s a great spot to enjoy the ocean and is excellent for events, I honestly couldn’t imagine a more beautiful spot. Down below, is the winery, vineyard and hotel of Cuatro Cuatros. The hotel consists of 19 luxurious “cabins” that are surrounded by nature and the outdoors. Spectacular all around.
As a lot of restaurants and wineries are seasonal, the best time to visit would be spring and summer. The Annual Wine Harvest Festival is in August and many restaurants and wineries contribute with different events; August would be peek time in the Valle and so fun! At every hotel, restaurant and winery, you can feel the passion and creative spirit that went in to creating that space. It is something very special to be able to sit in and be a part of that dream come to life. Valle de Guadalupe is truly a magical and sacred place that I hope you all get to experience one day.