"You don't want it ripping off!" began my fellow rider. “It” meant my face. These words only remind me that I’m completely out of my element here.
I’m preparing to drive from San Diego south to Mexico’s Baja California peninsula on my first motorcycle road trip. But first, I need helmet advice from fellow riders. The pleather jacket that I packed to “look the part” is immediately replaced with a sturdy EagleRider jacket that includes full padding to cover my elbows and spine. With each new piece of protection, I am reminded of the risk involved.
The time finally arrives to hop on the back of my Harley. I feel the smooth turns of the heavy bike along the untamed coastline. Any hesitations quickly fade as the open mode of transportation allows me to smell, see, and feel the allure of Baja California.
This coastal drive explores relaxed border cities with world-renowned food and wine, quaint towns, and a wide open road that sweeps past surfers and whales dotting the ocean. Weeks could be spent exploring the region, but here’s how to get started.
Whether on two wheels or four, this diverse weekend itinerary is the perfect gateway drug to this intoxicating region:
Reaching Mexico from San Diego is quick and painless. Make your way down the coast to Ensenada for world-class ceviche and tostadas at La Guerrense. After running the stand for three decades, owner Sabina Bandera just opened a restaurant down the block. Be sure to stop in if the cart runs out of food, or simply to see her portrait with an octopus wig. Don’t believe us? Just ask Anthony Bourdain. Rumor has it that the margarita was invented either at Bar Andaluz or Hussong’s Cantina, just a short walk from each other among Ensanada’s lively nightlife scene. Try both and decide the best for yourself. Bar Andaluz sits on a beautiful square with historic hidden alleyways. After your margarita there, stroll to Hussong’s Cantina to close out the night with live mariachi and a floor full of peanut shells. The high energy is infectious.
Wake up as early as possible to enjoy a quiet morning on a boat in All Saints Bay. During the right season (February through April), spot grey and humpback whales on the move. The Baja coast is a great place to whale watch without being flooded by an excess of tour boats, many of which are run by local fishermen. Then fuel up for the winding drive to wine country at Taqueria El Trailero just off of Highway 3 in El Sauzal, with the best al pastor tacos and tacos de cabeza, which are freshly carved from the skull of a cow. Just 20 miles away, Valle de Guadalupe is Mexico’s thriving wine country. Some wineries are well-known, while others do not export outside of the country and deserve a visit. Tour Baron Balche winery to soak up the process and purchase a few bottles to take back to home.
Driving back to San Diego can be more direct if you are in a hurry to return, but better to enjoy the relaxed route through Tecate just before you cross the border. Stop for a refreshing fresh-fruit popsicle break or if time allows, take the tour of Tecate’s namesake brewery. Crossing the border requires patience, but men selling beautiful Mexican tapestries and hats will keep you entertained.