YAY! You are gonna have a GREAT TIME. So you’ve decided to enjoy some time exploring Baja California’s Valle de Guadalupe? I couldn’t be a bigger fan.
The Valle and surrounding communities of San Antonio de las Minas, El Porvenir and Franciso Zarco were once just small farming communities dotted with a few wineries. It has grown into a thriving destination for wine and food lovers in a very short time, attracting thousands of guests each week to the petite and delicious valley.
Where to Stay
Lodging in the valley region is sparse but growing. With each visit, I see more and more cabins, bungalows, boutique bed and breakfasts and Airbnb’s popping up., each with its own unique personality.
You can find bubble cabins, AirStream hotels, eco-friendly lodgings, traditional hotels, individual homes, glamping tents, luxury boutique hotels and more. It all just depends on what you are in the mood for and your budget, of course. As with all wine regions, you may find that staying in the valley can be a little pricey.
My personal favorites are Maglen Resort and Finca La Divina.
Maglen Resort is a property that has several options under one brand. They have a traditional boutique hotel with rooms in a tree-covered setting with a pool nearby or they have modern villas and bungalows set up on a hilltop overlooking the valley below with pools and porch hammocks, fire-pits and privacy. The restaurants and bar provide great gathering spaces for you and your friends so that after a long day of tasting room hopping, you can relax and enjoy the stars.
Finca La Divina is a stylish boutique bed and breakfast located just off the main road into the valley. The 3 bedroom home has a large common space to enjoy your friends and family and even a casita in the case you prefer a bit more privacy or need the extra space. There is a large private pool and jacuzzi along with a full outdoor kitchen complete with a Santa Maria Grill that will make any home cook, grill master jealous.
Each morning, staff arrives with fresh breads from the bakery at Finca Altozano ready to make breakfast for guests. Conchas de Piedra, a wine bar and oysters project by Chef Drew Deckman and Hugo D’Acosta is just across the dirt driveway while at the bottom of the driveway sits Chef Javier Plascencia’s newest project, La Central Valle, a Oaxacan-centric pop up restaurant.
How to Get Here
There are plenty of services but driving to Valle de Guadalupe is a breeze. Directions via Google Maps never fails.
***TIP*** Put in your destination. Click the 3 little dots for more options and click DOWNLOAD MAP. Cell reception is spotty in some areas of the valley so you’ll want this option to get you to where you’re going ultimately.
If you would like to hire a driver or are heading down with a group of friends, there are SEVERAL services to get you to Valle de Guadalupe. You can UBER or you can hire a taxi and it is pretty affordable.
Here’s what I do:
I usually drive. BUT whenever I need to get guests to Valle or I need to pick up several friends, I tell them to drive to the San Ysidro crossing PED WEST next to the outlet center. There are plenty of gated parking lots nearby that are safe and secure. I have my friends walk across the border and I pick them up with the Tours In Baja service that I hire and we are quickly on our way.
If you would like to hire them, tell owner, Fernando Cuevas that I sent you. 😉 He and his drivers speak perfect English and they are very knowledgeable about the area. He has all options you might need. He can pick up in SD if necessary but please note, this always take a little longer on the way home for the border crossing. He can pick up in busses, vans, cars or SUV’s. The service is secure, professional and clean.
When to Go
I love the fall in Baja California but especially in Valle de Guadalupe. The summers can be very hot and dry and filled with tourists. In the fall, the harvest is in full operation, the weather is amazing, the wineries are still vibrant and buzzing and the accommodations are not as packed. You are much more likely to have a moment to chat with a winemaker during this time.
BEWARE OF TUESDAYS
Many of the wineries and local restaurants are closed Tuesday because this is their slowest day of the week so you may end up disappointed if you had your heart set on a specific winery or eatery. Be prepared and know the days (and hours) of operation before planning your trip.
The hardest and most frustrating) part of your visit to Valle de Guadalupe may be the return across the border. Keep these things in mind:
- SUNDAY IS THE WORST DAY TO CROSS – If at all possible, do not cross on a Sunday if you don’t have a global entry /SENTRI card. Even if you do, you’re wait in a car or walking can be an hour or more. Without a Global Entry or SENTRI you can expect 4 – 6 hours in some cases. NO JOKE. Sundays are the worst days! #2 worst day is a Monday
- Before 10AM weekdays is commuter traffic. If you are lucky enough to have scheduled your visit to return Tuesday – Friday, keep in mind that AFTER 10AM you will beat the morning commuter traffic.
- Saturdays tend to be an okay day to cross. I like to cross before 1PM because that’s when many Tijuana residents finally get moving and start heading across the border if they want to go shopping or spend the day visiting family.
- NIGHT crossing after 9PM any day but SUNDAY tends to be okay. Keep your blood pressure down and have a nice dinner in Tijuana then head across the corder.
Where to Eat
I can’t even begin to list the many places that are invading the taste buds of every foodie that visits. The region is BURSTING with culinary talent and they owe it to the incredible abundance of local product available to the chefs in the area. Seafood is fresh, produce is grown locally by local farmers, and meat is grown right there on the land you are driving by.
Some of my favorites include ones I’m sure you’ve heard of:
- Finca Altozano – Part of Chef Javier Plascencia‘s Valle Collective, Family friendly, outdoor dining, animals, bakery, torta shop, coffee shop, wine shop, gelatería, garden. HAVE THE PULPO. It is the best I’ve ever had.
- Deckman’s – Chef Drew Deckman’s flagship Valle concept; an unforgettable, outdoor dining experience at the Badan family vineyard El Mogor. Everything is cooked over open fire, day and night, sun or shine. Best oysters in the Valle. Grab a dozen PaiPai oysters. Perfectly briny and plump.
- El Paraiso Restaurante – Make the trek to the top of San Antonio de las Minas for a view that will take your breath away. This quaint, little family run restaurant is atop a mountain with perhaps the best views of the valley. The food is modest but delicious. I suggest going there with a bottle of wine and enjoying the view.
- La Cocina de Doña Esthela – After a great night’s sleep, wake and meander to Doña Esthela’s for a traditional Mexican breakfast that will give you a base for all the wine you are planning to consume for the day. Esthela’s little place has grown from a cart to a restaurant built off her house on her farm after she was named the World’s Best Breakfast! Get the Pot Beans and the Lamb en it’s juices (borrego). Those two along with the handmade tortillas are like heaven.
Other Things NOT TO FORGET
- Hat, Shades & Sunscreen – The sun is strong in the valley. I cannot stress enough how important this is
- Wedges & Sandals – Dress to impress is the same in Valle as in Napa but be smart. You will be walking on dusty roads and sometimes pebbled walk ways. You really don’t want to twist your ankle while happily roaming after a glass of wine. It would be such a buzz kill.
- Layers – As I said, that sun is STRONG in the valley but once that sun goes down, the temperature can drop drastically. You will want a light sweater AT LEAST. And when that wind kicks up… it can freeze a gal’s legs. (personal experience)
- Bug Spray – All natural bug spray is a great idea! If you are like me, the mosquitoes will send out a memo to let the entire tribe in five square miles know that I have returned.
- Mexican Car Insurance – I mean… come on. DO NOT SKIMP HERE. At $25 – $30 per day, this is a steal in comparison to paying out the nose if you are in an accident. I use an affiliate insurance company from my regular US car insurance. that gives me a discounted rate. Call your car insurance and check about their policies. There are several other options, even ones on the ride to the border before crossing. I’ve heard Discover Baja is a good source for your Mexican Car Insurance needs.
- Vote with Your Dollars – Frequent places in Valle de Guadalupe that embrace the local community and sustainable practices. There is a very delicate balance between the limited resources and the lack of major infrastructure in the valley and abuses of this respect put the region at serious risk. Check out some of the concerns from local residents , farmers, winemakers and restaurateurs on my podcast episode of The Interview with Scott Koenig, a Gringo in Mexico about his in depth dive into the fight for the Valle.