It’s early in the morning and the cruise ship bus has just dropped you off on Blvd Lopez Mateos, the main tourist street in Ensenada. Or maybe it’s late in the afternoon and you’ve just returned from an afternoon visiting the wineries of the Guadalupe Valley. Whatever the reason, you are standing in the center of the city and you want to sit down and have a cup of coffee.
The question you’re asking yourself is where should you go.
In the more than 20 years I’ve been traveling around Ensenada, I think I’ve been to almost every iteration of the local coffee house. So here, as a sort of public service, are my five favorite places to honor Kaldi, the man who discovered coffee, in Ensenada.
Here’s my disclaimer, these are not necessarily the best, just my favs…
Starbuck’s… yep, they’re here. Their first location in the city and the one you’re most likely to see is literally at the entrance to this port city. Why is it on my list? 2 reasons… first, it’s consistent. Let’s face it, sometimes you just want something familiar, and for better or worse, Starbuck’s is it. In short, you know what you’re gonna be getting when you order. Second, and for me this is the important one, the place is spectacular. It’s a coffee house destination. Tons of tables, an outdoor patio so you can smell the sea air and people watch, and a great indoor/outdoor fireplace. If the US based stores looked like this, people would go nuts.
Spirit Café… located on the main tourist street, known to locals as Calle Primera or Lopez Mateos, this is by far the funkiest coffee house in the city. With numerous tables spread across a huge second floor space, most seem like they are totally isolated from the others, giving you tons of privacy. It’s also a Hookah Lounge, so if that’s your thing, this is the place for you. By far, the best coffee in the city is available here. You pick the origin, they’ll grind it and make a pour over right in front of you.
Café Arábiga… one block from the main tourist drag, Arabiga is at the corner of 2nd and Blancarte, this place is a favorite of locals. Part art gallery, part home decor store, part jazz cafe, you’ll love owner Luis Arriaga, and his staff. With an upstairs terrace, an outdoor patio and three other rooms where you can enjoy your cup of joe, you’ll never feel as crowded as the place may be. I love how quiet it can be in the afternoon. With the art surrounding you, it’s a perfect place to relax and get some work done. Here’s an interview with Luis who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and talking with many times. Closed Mondays.
Zu Taza… also located on Lopez Mateos, Zu Taza is part restaurant, part coffee house. The best thing going here is the outdoor semi enclosed patio. You can drink your coffee and people watch all at once in a very relaxed setting. If you’re hungry, they’ve got some great sandwiches and desserts too. Try the profiteroles. When some folks want a snack and others just a jolt of caffeine, this is the place.
Café Tomas… One of the original coffee houses in Ensenada, Café Tomas still makes the best lattes and smoothies in the city. The crowd trends young at what has become their main store at 10th and Moctezuma, and as such, sometimes can be a little loud, but well worth a visit. If you are in Ensenada on foot, have no worries, there’s a smaller shop located in the Museum of Art, located at Costero and Floresta.
Let’s me finish this up by saying this. If you like your coffee black so you can taste the nuances of the beans, your best bet is Spirit Café. If you want familiar and easy, go to Starbuck’s, food with your coffee, Zu Taza, local art and zest, Café Arabiga is your place. And if you want to experience an Ensenada classic, check out Café Tomas.
Every place I’ve listed has free WiFi and will take dollars in case your wallet is short on pesos. As for prices, you can expect to pay just about the same for your half caf, mocha caramel latte with three Splendas as you would in the states.