One of the first settlements founded in the Californias, Ensenada has emerged as a cruise ship destination, aerospace center, and there is a nearby region to the northeast where wine grapes are grown. It is said that the first Vitis vinifera made it to the region's San Ignacio Mission in 1703, when Jesuit Padre Juan de Ugarte planted the first vineyards there.
Situated on the coastline of Bahía de Todos Santos—an inlet of the Pacific Ocean on the peninsula's Gold Coast—the Port of Ensenada is an important commercial, fishing, and tourist port. The city is home to a navy base, army base, and Ensenada Airport, a military airfield which doubles as an airport of entry into Mexico.
Ensenada is the municipal seat and cultural and commercial center of Ensenada Municipality, one of five into which the state is divided. As of 2015, the city of Ensenada had a population of 519,813.
Ensenada is backed by small mountain ranges. Proximity to the Pacific and a warm Mediterranean latitude create mild year-round weather. The rainy season during the winter is short and the area is prone to prolonged droughts, which can threaten its grape harvests. The National Park Constitution of 1857 created the Sierra de Juarez and San Pedro Martir National Parks, which maintain one of the best astronomical observatories in the country.
When the first European explorers arrived in the region, the Yuman People inhabited the region, of which tribal groups such as the Kiliwa, Paipai and Kumeyaay still exist. These semi-nomadic indigenous people lived in the bay area and interior valleys of the Sierra de Juárez and San Pedro Mártir.
Bahia Todos Santos, on which Ensenada now stands, was first reached by sea by the Portuguese explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo on the vessels El Salvador and Victoria. The city was founded September 17, 1542 under the name San Mateo. In 1602, while mapping the coast of the Californias in search of safe harbors for returning Spanish galleons from Manila to Acapulco, the city was renamed Ensenada de Todos Santos by Sebastián Vizcaíno. Ensenada means 'bay' or 'cove'.
The first permanent settlement was established by the Jesuits during the seventeenth or eighteenth century. After the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1768, the Dominicans took over the representation of Europe in what is now Ensenada. In 1805, José Manuel Ruiz Carillo obtained permission to establish himself in Ensenada, being appointed governor of Baja California and building in Ensenada a house that survived until the final part of that century, despite being briefly taken by William Walker, the self-declared "president" of the Republic of Lower California, in 1853-54.
In 1882, Ensenada was designated the capital of Baja California, and attempts at developing the area were made by the English Mexican Land and Colonization Company. These were interrupted by the Mexican Revolution, which left the area devastated. In 1915, the capital was transferred to Mexicali, and in 1930 the population of Ensenada was only 5,000. During the early part of the twentieth century, the city's name was shortened from Ensenada de Todos Santos to Ensenada, a change made in order to avoid confusion with Todos Santos in Baja California Sur.
The twentieth-century development of Ensenada was assisted by prohibition, which sent Americans and Canadians south of their border in search of entertainment and alcohol, developing first Tijuana, then Rosarito, and finally Ensenada as tourist destinations. The Hotel Riviera del Pacífico was opened in 1930, briefly placing Ensenada on the international glamor map and was visited several times by President Miguel Aleman, international artists and political personalities; yet unlike the Hotel del Coronado, it was never a sustained success (despite giving rise to the claim that the Margarita was invented there). It really flourished only in the early 1950s, at which time Ensenada's population had risen to 20,000. The hotel finally closed in 1964. It was later reopened as a cultural center and museum. By this time, other hotels had opened, and the population and economy of Ensenada had grown and diversified towards their present status.
On January 26 of 2007 Pope Benedict XVI created the Diocese of Ensenada with territory taken from the Archdiocese of Tijuana and Mexicali Diocese, making it a suffragan of the Metropolitan Church of Tijuana.
Ensenada is predominantly a mid-rise building beach city. The only high-rise building within its city limits is the Villa Marina Hotel, though new buildings and resorts in northwestern Ensenada such as Entremar, La Costa, and Viento add to the city's skyline and form the majority of the city's highrise buildings. Emblematic sites representative of Ensenada such as the Civic Plaza (or Plaza of the Three Heads as commonly known to locals), containing sculptures of Mexican heroes Benito Juarez, Venustiano Carranza and Miguel Hidalgo, the enormous Mexican flag, and the Malecon boardwalk - and Naval cruise terminal are found on and near the coast of the bay. Several marinas including Ensenada Cruiseport Village, Hotel Coral & Marina, Punta Morro Resort are located on the city's coast. The Bajamar Oceanfront Golf Resort at Baja Mar is also located nearby to the north, and is a prominent seaside resort of Baja California.
Many of the terrestrial or marine species inhabiting the surrounding the Greater Ensenada area in the Baja California islands are unique. Guadalupe Island, off the coast of the city, is one of the best places in the world for observing the great white shark. The island has been a wildlife sanctuary since 1975.
The city's offshore is host to an array of aquatic mammals including the gray whale, the Guadalupe fur seal and California sea lion; terrestrial mammals include various squirrel species, otters, the ring-tailed cat, coyote, bobcat, puma, and ocelot.
Bird species include hawks, pelicans, roadrunners, and various waterfowl and oceangoing species.
Fish include tilapia, rainbow trout, leopard shark, and the great white shark.
The average rainfall is 280 millimetres (11 in) per year, falling mainly in the winter months. Ensenada has a mild semi-arid climate (Köppen BSk), much like the rest of northwestern Baja California. During the colder months from November to February, rainfall is scarce and temperatures average 13 °C (55 °F). On the other hand, the warmer months from June to September are the driest, and during this time maintain an average temperature of 21 °C (70 °F). For Ensenada's warm summer coastal location, the city's climate is greatly affected by the offshore cold California Current. Due to the current, the late summer and early fall seasons are typically the warmest periods for the city. Santa Ana winds – observed in much of Southern California as well – are responsible for temperature rises at any time of the year. During Santa Anas, wind direction changes and brings warm air from the interior to the coast. Snowfall is rare with the last recent one in January 2007, when the hills south of the city received small amounts of snowfall.
Similar to the rest of the Gold Coast and South Coast of California, Ensenada experiences the periodic May Gray and June Gloom marine layer effects.
The populace of Ensenada is cosmopolitan in composition. A reflection of the cultural dynamics involved in the city, many ethnic groups and nationalities are present. The city has developed, in part, as a retirement community for snowbirds from Canada and the United States. Young Californians seeking to escape higher costs of living, yet still be able to work in California, have obtained homes in the area.
Ensenada is the third largest city on the Baja California Peninsula, where most of the population lives in Ensenada, Mexicali and Tijuana.
The predominant language of the city is Spanish, though English is spoken to a degree in tourist areas and the center.
Ensenada is developing scientific research and natural science sectors, with special focus in the marine sciences sectors. Ensenada is claimed to be the city with the highest number of scientists per capita in Latin America. The Center of Scientific Research and Higher Education of Ensenada (CICESE) conducts research in Earth Sciences, Applied Physics, Oceanography, Communications and Experimental and Applied Biology. Further research is conducted on the campus of the Autonomous University of Baja California, Ensenada (UABC), mainly in Oceanography and education areas although there are groups in Physics, Biology, and other related sciences. Mexico's National Autonomous University (UNAM) has a research campus in the city. The campus hosts the Institute of Astronomy and the Centre for Nanosciences and Nanotechnology. The National Astronomical Observatory (Mexico) is located on the mountains south of the city.
The city is home to the largest cluster of bio-medical device companies in Mexico and is a developing center that is drawing a growing number of biotech researchers. Unique to the city is that its biotech cluster is near that of another, larger, cluster in San Diego. The proximity of these two biotech clusters fuels their interaction.
The city is not part of any rail transport grid with which it could use to transport cargo and other materials, although there are plans to build a rail line to the United States border in the short to mid-term future that would link it to San Diego–Tijuana. Unlike the larger cities to the north, Ensenada has only six major industrial parks, compared to 26 in Mexicali and 51 in Tijuana, as its economy is more focused on tourism and technology.
Ensenada is located some 108 kilometers south of the border with the United States, connected via a four-lane toll road MX-1D and a two lane free road, which makes it a natural destination for tourists on short vacations by car. Ensenada's proximity to California also makes it a destination for short cruise ship trips from Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach. As of 2005 four cruise lines maintained ships that docked in Ensenada weekly, though, one of these ships—the Monarch of the Seas, operated by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines—ceased operations in the Pacific in mid-October 2008. The world-renowned Baja 1000 off-road race is held in Ensenada every year in late November, while the Baja 500 race is held in early June. Off-road enthusiasts use Ensenada year-round as a starting point to explore Baja California.
Watersports and ocean proximity have formed an integral part of the structure of tourism and its relation to economics in the city. Ensenada and coastal beach towns of Greater Ensenada have several renowned surfing spots, such as San Miguel Beach, California Trailer Park, Stacks and 3 M's (Tres Emes in Spanish), which are located on the north coast of the city. Todos Santos Island is a small island located west of Ensenada (about two hours by boat) and a world-famous surfing spot. Known for natural beauty and consistency, surfing spots of the region have led surfing contests such as the Billabong XXL to be held at Todos Santos Island, part of the city, several times. Wave faces can reach above 60 feet on the island and in 2006 Brad Gerlach, 2006 winner of Big XXL, surfed a wave of 68 feet in December 2006. Tourists also stop in the city on their way to their destinations farther south in the municipality where spots famous for their excellent windsurfing are located. Maritime pleasure in the city also extends to the global Newport to Ensenada International Yacht Race, billed as the world's largest international sailing event, begins in Newport Beach and finishes in Ensenada. Racing is another yearly tourists attraction; where you can enjoy the Baja 1000 and Baja 500. Whale watching has also developed as a tourist draw in the city due to the gray whale's annual migration from Alaska to the lagoons of Baja California Sur. Between the months of December and March, and back in the months of April and May, whales can be seen from the coast of Ensenada.
The nearby historical mission town of Guadalupe, was revitalized from 1905 to 1910 with immigrant Spiritual Christians, mostly Pryguny from the Caucasus, South Russia. After WWII most moved to California to join more prosperous relatives, while many who remained intermarried with Mexicans and live in Ensenada and Tijuana. Two families remaining in the Guadalupe Valley opened museums, a cafe, and participate in wine tourism. The traditional economic activities in Guadalupe are olive and wine production. Currently, about 90% of wine production in Mexico originates in the valleys of Guadalupe and adjacent Calafia. Many local wine producers offer tours and tastings. Every year during the month of August, the beginning of wine harvest season is celebrated in the Guadalupe Valley and in the city of Ensenada with a two-week-long series of cultural and culinary events, all under the title banner of Fiestas de la Vendimia (Wine Harvest Festival). This event attracts people from all over the world.
There is a street in Ensenada called "La Calle Primera" or Adolfo Lopez Mateos ("1st Street"). It's a tourism spot in Ensenada due to its many "Curios" (short for "Curiosidades"—trinkets and souvenirs) shops, restaurants, hotels, bars, and popular clubs such as the Hussong's Cantina, Mini Bar, Shots Factory, Lutzenkirch The Nightclub and Papas & Beer. La Primera is a very busy street, filled with tourists and locals. La Primera is just one block away from Ventana al Mar ("Window to the Sea"), a boardwalk/seawall avenue where an enormous Mexican flag is located. The Ensenada Carnaval is one of the country's largest, as thousands of people gather in the streets for six days and nights. Just south of the city on Highway 1 is located the second-largest of three known major marine geysers in the world, colloquially known as La Bufadora ("The Blowhole"). La Bufadora attracts many tourists. The street leading to the viewpoint is a commercial area where a variety of authentic Mexican arts and crafts are for sale; bartering over prices with vendors is customary. There are also seafood restaurants and street vendors selling "churros" (fried pastry with cinnamon and sugar) and other delicacies.
The Port of Ensenada has a large influence on the civic economy. Ensenada is home to the only deep-water port in the state of Baja California and on the Baja California Peninsula. The port is part of standard shipping routes that directly link it with the Mexican cities of La Paz, Manzanillo, Mazatlán, Acapulco and Lázaro Cárdenas; the American cities of San Diego, Long Beach and Los Angeles; the Guatemalan city of Puerto Quetzal, the Chilean city of Valparaíso, the Japanese city of Yokohama, and the Chinese city of Hong Kong. Ensenada is where the Fender standard series guitars and basses are produced.
In addition to revenue generated by docking cruise ships, fishing accounts for a large part of the economy. More than 90 species of fish are commercially fished in Ensenada; the most important fisheries are tuna, shrimp, California spiny lobster, abalone, sea urchin, sardine, mackerel and seaweed. A large percentage of all catches are exported to East Asia. A tuna embargo imposed on Mexico during the 1990s caused most of the fishing fleet to relocate to the ports of Guaymas, and Mazatlán, further south. To survive, Ensenada's tuna industry has shifted its focus to tuna farming, exporting the highly valued meat almost exclusively to Japan. Ensenada has been known for sports fishing over 50 years. Each year hundreds of anglers head for Ensenada to go fishing and take advantage of the shorter distances needed to travel by sea to get to the big catch.
The municipality of Ensenada has three main agricultural zones: the Guadalupe-Calafia valleys to the north, the Ojos Negros valley to the east and the San Quintin valley to the south. The main crops are grapes, olives, tomato, wheat, alfalfa, asparagus, green onions and broccoli.
One of the earliest activities in the Ensenada region was gold and silver mining, and some of these mines remain in limited operation. In recent years, very large amounts of gravel have been extracted from creek beds in rural areas and exported for infrastructure works in California in the US. However, this has been a controversial activity, as environmentalists have argued that depleting the creekbeds will decrease the amount of water that is absorbed by the soil during the brief rainy season, negatively impacting the agriculture. As of November 2005, the extraction of gravel remains unchecked. Said extraction activities have been linked to former Governor Ernesto Ruffo.
The following higher education institutions are based in Ensenada.
With UNAM's research headquarters, the Marine Sciences Department of the UABC and the thriving CICESE scientific institute in town, Ensenada boasts the highest concentration of scientists and science students in all of Latin America, chiefly in the fields of astronomy, physics, biology, geology and oceanography. Fittingly, Ensenada has been coined the City Of Science. Ensenada's four main institutions have a dominant focus on marine and agricultural biotechnology, nanoscience and nanotechnology, information and communication technologies, oceanography and marine science, optics and applied physics, and economic development.
Ensenada's diversity as a city is in part attributed to Spanish, Russian, and American influences. Spanish missionaries and Russian settlers began the growth of the wine industry in the city. Reminiscent of this time period are Russian museums in the city.
The city is known for its festivities and laid-back atmosphere, the city hosts many events including the Wine Harvest Festival (Fiestas de la Vendimia) and Ensenada Carnaval. The Wine Harvest Festival celebrates the wine harvest season and in the city and nearby Guadalupe Valley, a series of events takes place.
Typical food in Ensenada consists of fish tacos, which originated in the city, shrimp tacos, and ceviche. These dishes are usually accompanied by avocado and salsa. Another dish characteristic of the port city is carpaccio. The city's Mediterranean climate allows for the cultivation of grapes and olives, which in turn make wine and olive oil, respectively. Development of such foods complement Spanish, Italian, French, and Mexico dishes in Ensenada.
Ensenada maintains no professional sports teams in association football, basketball, or baseball, but is known for its water sports. The city has sports fishing venues, and swells that are known for drawing professional surfers. In addition to its watersports scene, the city is known for a place of biking, both cycling and motorsport varieties. The 80 kilometres (50 mi) Rosarito-Ensenada bike race begins in the city. The Baja 500, which starts and ends in the city, and Baja 1000 – both races that take their names from their distance in miles – are motorsport races that begin in the city.
Ensenada is served by three major newspapers. These are , , and the Gringo Gazette North All of which cover local news, sports, business, jobs, and community events, though the Gringo Gazette is the dominant paper that publishes in the English-language. Since the 2013 .
The city is administered by a city council. Port lands are administered by the Port Authority of Ensenada. The city of Ensenada occupies the boroughs of Ensenada and Chapultepec and is the seat of government.
The Port of Ensenada is an international deepwater port and the city's major water port. It maintains commercial, industrial, and tourist terminals. In addition to the port, the coast around Bahia de Todos Santos is dotted with numerous marinas. In addition to the city's port, numerous marinas including Marina Baja Fiesta, Marina Cruiseport Village, Marina Coral, and Marina Baja Naval dock pleasure craft and commercial and sport fishing vessels. In order to comply with United States cabotage laws, many cruise ships operating between Pacific ports in the U.S. call at Ensenada en route.
The city lies at a crossroads of major federal highways on the Peninsula that lead to the northern centers of Los Angeles, San Diego, and Mexicali and south to Cabo San Lucas and La Paz. The junction occurs at the meeting of Federal Highway 1 and Federal Highway 3. The main roads of the city include Bahia de La Paz and Lazaro Cardenas, northwest bound, and southeast bound roads.