SAN DIEGO TO ENSENADA
WHY Gringos have been beating a path from southern California to northern Baja ever since Prohibition days, and the area is still known for its legendary nightlife. Take a two-day jaunt from San Diego down to Ensenada—the route covers about 80 miles' worth of fish tacos, margaritas, sandy beaches, and excellent surf. Since U.S. auto insurance is not valid in Mexico, it's wise to stop by one of the insurance shops at the border (coverage costs about $20 for 24 hours, $30 for a weekend). ITINERARY U.S. I-5 to Mexico's Highway 1D. HEAT FACTOR Mild winter days top out in the mid sixties. MUST-DO The entire 800-mile Pacific coast of Baja is lined with gnarly surfing spots, including the famous right break at Playa San Miguel, at Km 101 on the toll road just north of Ensenada. Rent a board at K38 Surf & Skate (2225 Huitzilac, Col. Morelos, Tijuana; 52-664/685-0717; from $20 per day). PIT STOPS Lobster is a major local industry, and you'll get a great one at the convivial Ortega's Patio (Puerto Nuevo; 52-661/614-0345; dinner for two $30), where a marimba duo serenades you on the bougainvillea-covered deck. Raise a glass or two at Hussong's Cantina (113 Avda. Ruiz, Ensenada; 52-646/178-3210), one of the liveliest in all of Baja, with sawdust on the floor, nonstop mariachi music, and a storied past starring such Hollywood luminaries as Marilyn Monroe and Steve McQueen. WHERE TO STAY At Las Rocas Resort & Spa (Km 38.5, Carretera Libre Tijuana, Ensenada, Playas de Rosarito; 888/527-7622 or 52-661/614-0354; doubles from $74), all the rooms have private balconies overlooking the ocean; treat yourself to a heated basalt rock massage or relax in the infinity pool. ON-LINE INFO www.northbaja.com; www.enjoyensenada.com.