Things to do in Tecate, Mexico: From Day of the Dead celebrations to free Tecate beer

It is not often that a “Pueblo Magico” (or Magic City) is also a border town. The bucolic little town of Tecate collides with California, just 45 miles from San Diego, making it the closest Mexican city to the United States to have the special “magic” designation. With its narrow tree-lined streets, famous beer, and stunning scenery, it’s easy to see why Tecate draws tourists to desert roads.

Nestled in the valley below Mount Kuchumaa (also known as Tecate Peak), Tecate was first home to the Kumeyaay who lived in this region long before the border existed. Now the villages of Kumeyaay are scattered all over the Baja region, but you can see their old houses at Kumiai Community Museum. Here you’ll also find the history of Tecate’s old railroad system and a botanical garden that showcases native flora.

In recent years, Tecate has seen a booming craft cafe and restaurant scene. You can also take advantage of the free distributions of the city’s eponymous beer. And this year in particular, a decadent five-day celebration of Dia de los Muertos will more than make up for last year’s cancellation. Here is just a rundown of everything you can do while visiting Tecate.

Tecate Pueblo Mágico
Tecate Pueblo Mágico

The best way to get to Tecate? Take a road trip

Whether you’re passing through Southern California or flying to San Diego or Tijuana, you need to have a car, as Tecate is about an hour’s drive from both airports, with no direct public transportation available.

Fortunately, the ride not only takes you past epic eroded rock formations, but it also manages to escape the tourists who flock to the crowded Baja beaches. More, The less traveled border of Tecate allows drivers to avoid the sadly long waiting times at the San Ysidro border crossing. Just be sure to take note of its limited hours: 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends.

Whether you opt for a rental or drive your own car, you’ll need to purchase Mexican auto insurance—Baja bound is a simple online provider. National Guard officers tend to fine drivers (especially those who look like tourists) without coverage, as well as rolling stops, so be sure to obey traffic laws.

Rancho La Puerta

Paint yourself a skull face at the annual Dia de los Muertos celebrations

Although Tecate’s warm climate is ideal all year round, one of the best times to visit is during Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, celebrations in the fall. The Mexican holiday honors deceased loved ones by creating ofrendas, or altars, filled with their favorite photos and foods, including pan de muerto, a type of sweet bread often sprinkled with sugar or sesame seeds and milk. with eggs. La Catrina is the symbolic skeletal creature of the party, often outfitted in feathered hats, tiered dresses, and sugar skull makeup.

After taking a hiatus last year due to COVID, this year’s Day of the Dead festivities will last for five days, from October 29 to November 2, at Miguel Hidalgo Park Headquarters. The festivities include private themed dinners, a bread contest, an art contest, plays and performances. On Monday, don’t miss the Catrina Costumes Runway contest. The celebration culminates on Tuesday, with candles lit for loved ones, and complimentary pan de muerto and hot chocolate.

suck beer
Unsplash / Jakob Ownes

Drink Tecate beer like a local, for free, every day

Tecate‘S iconic lager was created in 1943, but remained local for many years. Mexican beer went international in 2017, but drinking Tecate beer in Tecate offers a distinct experience.

“Most of the quality Mexican beers are exported,” says Alberto Cortez, originally from Tecate and responsible for special events at Diegueño Sanctuary Hotel. “Tecate is the only place where you can drink local water-based Tecate beer straight from underground sources.”

Another advantage exclusive to Tecate? The local brewery offers one free can per day to everyone. Simply visit the brewery to receive your token, then sample in the Tecate beer garden or opt for a brewery tour.

El Mejor Pan de Tecate

Stock up on local bakery bread and coffee

Besides beer, Tecate is known for its light and sweet homemade breads. El Mejor Pan de Tecate, which literally translates to Tecate’s Best Bread, is the most popular option in town. The panaderia first gained notoriety for its pan dulce (sweet bread) when the city was little more than a break along longer bus lines. The runners insisted on stopping so often that the bakery decided to remain open 24/7 to accommodate night travelers.

Whether you come to El Mejor Pan for a hit strain or Cielo de Ti for a more gourmet experience, it is common to combine breads, pastries and cakes with coffee. And while regions like Guerrero and Chiapas are recognized as Mexico’s best coffee bean producers, Tecate is fast becoming the capital of artisanal coffees and roasters.

Led by local Ignacio Aguayo, who started roasting coffee beans as a hobby while studying architecture, Acento roasters has a floor-to-ceiling window where guests and passers-by can witness the coffee roasting process, though the floating smell of freshly ground beans is usually enough to draw them inside.

Amours Restaurant
Amours Restaurant

Treat yourself to fine cuisine and street food

Owned by husband and wife Marcelo Hisaki and Reyna Venegas, Amours Restaurant offers a multi-course experience at a fixed price. The menu changes daily based on local produce and is inspired by Hisaki’s Mexican-Japanese heritage.

Tecate’s many more casual and long-standing food and drink options are in high demand as well, and Cortes is quick to name La Guérita as the best place for tacos in town, especially for the carne asada. Cortes also greets Taqueria Los Amigos like “Best place for burrito in Tecate” and a solid option for tacos if the line at La Guerita turns out to be too long.

Rancho La Puerta
Rancho La Puerta

Where to stay in Tecate

While you are welcome find an Airbnb nearby, Tecate offers well-established accommodation options with a focus on restoration and healing. Opened in 1940, Rancho La Puerta is a luxurious family-friendly resort just 15 minutes from the city that has long attracted celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Kate Winslet and Jane Fonda. The Healing Haven has 4,000 acres of relaxing ranching landscapes and an organic farm. In addition to health and beauty spas, guests can relax with yoga, guided meditations, workshops, and nature hikes.

If you prefer to be closer to Tecate proper, Diegueño Sanctuary– named after the Spanish settlers to designate the Kumeyaay people – is a small boutique hotel located on a hill overlooking the surrounding valley. The hotel has a magnificent swimming pool that will transport you to the coast, a collection of regional Mexican art worthy of a museum and two on-site restaurants: ASAO for refined and more relaxed meals YIIMA, which translates to “feast” in the Kumeyaay language.

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Danielle Dorsey is the Los Angeles Editor-in-Chief at Thrillist.

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