An Off-the-Beaten-Path Guide to Eating, Drinking & Staying in Valle de Guadalupe

By / Photography By | May 10, 2019
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While the area has been referred to as the “Napa Valley of Mexico,” the comparison is a misrepresentation of the true character of the region. If anything, “El Valle,” as locals call it, is reminiscent of early Napa in the 1950s, drawing its rustic charm from bumpy dirt roads leading to family wineries, artisan small-batch craftsmanship, table-in-the-farm cuisine, and authentic “es su casa” hospitality.

Animalón; Credit: Olivia Hayo

Over the last 15 years a large number of boutique wineries have opened in Valle de Guadalupe, and while it was originally the premium wines that attracted visitors to the region, it’s the gastronomy that has recently made it world renowned.

The valley has become known for its Campestre-style dining, where locally sourced food is cooked over wood fires and patrons dine in open-air settings surrounded by breathtaking vineyard views.

Baja California chefs source hyper-local ingredients from surrounding farms, ranches, and fisheries for use in dishes featuring the flavors from the five Mexican gastronomic regions, the Mediterranean, and even Asia.

With over 150 wineries and dozens of eateries in the valley, it’s hard to know where to start. Rather than visiting the well-known spots, we suggest exploring some hidden gems for a true insider’s experience of the Valle de Guadalupe.

Where to Eat

Photo 1: Peninsula en el Valle
Photo 2: Peninsula en el Valle

Featuring the bounties of the Pacific Ocean, Peninsula en el Valle showcases the impressively fresh seafood through innovative takes on traditional dishes like ceviches and tiraditos. This casual outdoor eatery is located on the property of Wine Factory and is one of the few places in Valle de Guadalupe that also offers a full vegan menu.

Photo 1: Malva
Photo 2: Malva

Locals know that some of the most impressive food in Valle de Guadalupe is coming out of the kitchen at Malva. In a lush setting reminiscent of a tree house, Chef Roberto Alcocer prepares dishes that artfully combine unexpected local ingredients with refined flavors and intricate plating. Diners can pick from a three-, six-, or nine-course tasting menu with the offerings that change seasonally.

Photo 1: Animalón
Photo 2: Animalón

While most people visiting Valle de Guadalupe will head to the popular Finca Altozano to eat, on the same property you can find Chef Javier Plascencia’s lesser-known and more exclusive seasonal pop-up, Animalón. Diners eat under a 200-year-old oak tree, with executive chef Oscar Torres presenting a multi-course tasting menu that includes items like grilled octopus so tender you can cut it with a fork, and poached lobster with chileatole. A vegetarian tasting menu is also available.

Xató Cocina de II

All the hip locals are raving about the innovative modern-Mexican cuisine coming out of Valle newcomer, Xató Cocina de II. Put your trust in their kitchen and let these talented young chefs take you on a gastronomic journey through Baja California’s best culinary delights with dishes like braised pulpo (octopus), ahi tuna tostadas stacked so high you have to use a fork, and salads so fresh you may never have known the intended taste of vegetables picked right from the garden until dining here.

Although you wouldn’t normally think of having Italian in Mexico, don’t let that keep you from eating at Tre Galline. Aside from the Parmesan cheese wheels he imports from back home, Italian-born chef Angelo Dal Bon sources all his ingredients locally, with most of the produce coming from his own garden. His dishes are meticulously crafted to create some of the best Italian food outside of Italy.

Where to Drink

For some of the most sophisticated wines in the region, head to Vinícola Torres Alegre y Familia. Dr. Victor Torres, who heads up this family operation, is known worldwide as a pioneer in the winemaking industry and is producing some especially impressive white wines. The winery boasts a beautiful new tasting room with 360-degree bird’s eye views of Valle de Guadalupe. True wine aficionados will want to try the premium wines from the Cru Garage line.

Photo 1: Bodegas F. Rubio
Photo 2: Vinícola Torres Alegre y Familia

The expansive patio at Bodegas F. Rubio is the perfect place to spend a late afternoon enjoying a bottle of wine overlooking the vineyards. Their rosé is an excellent choice, as is their Montepulciano—a rare varietal for the valley. The family winery also has bistro Parcela 70 on property, which offers an extensive menu of well-crafted dishes from octopus ceviche to adobo ribs. This is one of the few wineries in Valle de Guadalupe that stays open later into the evening and also one of the few establishments with air conditioning, a nice reprieve in the dog days of summer.

You’ll feel right at home at intimate family winery Vinos Pijoan, where visitors enjoy relaxing on the patio overlooking the peaceful landscapes of the valley. You won’t be surprised to find that their handcrafted wines draw inspiration from Spain, as the owner/winemaker is of Castilian heritage. Ask to take a peek at their unique subterranean wine cave, which was dug out around enormous granite boulders. There’s a tapas menu available on the weekends.

Beer drinkers can still enjoy a trip to Valle de Guadalupe thanks to microbrewery El Chivo Gruñon. Located on the property of Ochentos—a beloved locals’ pizzeria—their clandestine “speakeasy” beer cave features a comfortable and retro clubhouse setting with delicious craft beers on tap. Go in the afternoon to enjoy a beer and then head upstairs to the restaurant to enjoy a family-style pizza while watching the sunset over the valley.

Where to Stay

Photo 1: Casa Mayoral
Photo 2: Terra del Valle
Photo 3: Quinta Maria

Rustic meets luxury with the airy cabins at Casa Mayoral. The 25-acre property is perfect for enjoying an afternoon of hiking or biking. This is one of the few properties in Valle de Guadalupe that is pet and kid friendly.

The intimate Terra del Valle, is a self-sustained property featuring five rooms that are nicely appointed. Breakfast is included in your stay and features freshly-squeezed orange juice that comes from the orange trees on the property. Book in advance to secure a room on weekends and during peak summer months.

For a truly remote getaway, stay at the charming Quinta Maria bed and breakfast. Hosts Teresa and Richard have been fixtures in the valley for years and have opened up their custom house and tranquil property to share with travelers seeking an authentic Valle de Guadalupe experience. Guests can enjoy breakfast on the outdoor patio while listening to the sound of the birds chirping and taking in views of the natural valley chaparral.

Travel Tips

Valle de Guadalupe is easily accessed from either Tijuana or Tecate, two U.S./Mexico border towns adjoining San Diego County. You’ll experience easy highway driving from either entry. The drive from Tijuana boasts grand coastal views, but also comes with a few toll road fees, not to mention negotiating Tijuana’s urban streets. The drive from Tecate is less daunting, doesn’t require any tolls, and will wind you through vast inland ranch areas. (Don’t forget to get Mexican auto insurance, as it’s required by law in Mexico.)

Once you arrive in Valle de Guadalupe, there are only a handful of paved roads, so be prepared to drive on bumpy dirt roads in order to reach most establishments. Street addresses in Valle de Guadalupe are notoriously unreliable, so you’ll find that the easiest way to find wineries, restaurants, and hotels is by using GPS coordinates. In some instances, where establishments are located on one of the main paved roads, kilometer markings can be useful. 

U.S. dollars are accepted everywhere (however change may be made in pesos), but if you plan to get pesos, do so in Tijuana, Rosarito, or Tecate, as there are no ATMs in the Valle. Many establishments accept credit cards.

Summer is peak season for Valle de Guadalupe and thus the busiest time of year to visit, despite daytime temperatures that can reach over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. If you want to avoid the crowds and the heat, visit late fall through spring. Spring boasts wildflowers and budding vines, while visitors coming in the fall may catch part of the grape harvest or wine production.

No matter what the season, hotel reservations should always be made in advance if you plan to spend the night.

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