Meet the neighbors with Tijuana daytrip
One of the great benefits of living in San Diego is the proximity to our sister city of Tijuana. Named by The New York Times last year as one of the “52 Places to Visit in 2017,” Tijuana continues to offer San Diegans experiences that cannot be found on the northern half of our binational region.
Yes, there is the question of safety, and, yes, Tijuana had a record for homicides last year. However, these were primarily drug cartels versus drug cartels and of little concern to most citizens and visitors. If you are going to Tijuana for legitimate business or tourism, you should be as safe as you are in San Diego. Also, remember that Tijuana is the second largest city on the west coast of North America — after Los Angeles — with a population of almost 2 million. We will guide you to our personal choices for the city’s top 10 attractions, which give you a sense of the city and what makes Tijuana so special.
1. CECUT-Centro Cultural Tijuana: CECUT is the most important museum and entertainment complex in Northwest Mexico. With scores of exhibits, CECUT’s Museum of the Californias traces the history of Baja California, Mexico and the World from prehistoric times until the 1970s. The IMAX Dome theater shows the best widescreen films from all over the world, and CECUT’s Cineteca Tijuana screens some of the most important international films. The theater is the home of the Orchestra of Baja California as well as opera, dance, plays and musical theater.
The complex’s El Cubo, a fine arts gallery, brings great art and photography from Mexico and the world to Tijuana. If a half-day at CECUT makes you hungry, El Cubo Bistro, a relatively new addition to the center, specializes in Tijuana’s innovative Baja-Med cuisine and is a foodie destination on its own.
From CECUT follow Tijuana’s grand boulevard the Paseo de los Heroes, where traffic circles (glorietas) honor Mexican Independence, Aztec Emperor Cuauhtémoc, Abraham Lincoln and General Ignacio Zaragoza, hero of the Battle of Pueba (Cinco de Mayo). Further on is the landmark Minerete, an Arabic-Spanish monument that was never a minaret but part of a former casino.
2. Mercado Hidalgo: Just two blocks from CECUT is Tijuana’s grand central market. Stroll through the stalls overflowing with fresh fruits and vegetables, some of which are rarely seen north of the border. Stop in the market’s stores to shop for kitchen supplies. Dine with the locals at inexpensive restaurants. Buy cheese, nuts and chilies or a piñata for your next party. Just note that most produce and meats cannot enter the United States. If you have a question, check the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website, www.cbp.gov, before you go.
3. Avenida Revolución (La Revu): Downtown Tijuana’s main drag has had a metamorphosis in the last few years. Gone are most of the shops selling cheap souvenirs and bars with cheap but dubious drinks. The avenue is now the home of excellent restaurants, such as Caesar’s, the white-tablecloth home of original Caesar salad, La Justina Gastro Bar, Guissepi’s, a Tijuana tradition for Italian food, and the old Tijuana favorite Chiki Jai, which has temporarily moved to Calle 7 from its original location to make way for a condominium development.
The excellent Cine Tonala offers the latest foreign films for less than $3, as well as food, drink and live entertainment. The films are usually foreign with Spanish subtitles. Live concert entertainment is also the specialty of El Foro, the former Jai Alai Palace.
Tijuana claims to be the craft beer capital of Mexico, and the best places on La Revu to test that boast are at Azteca Craft Brewing, Teorema/Ludica, Border Psycho Cantina as well as Cine Tonala and La Justina. It’s not your dad’s Avenida Revolución anymore!
For a more pedestrian shopping experience where the locals shop, walk down Avenida Constitución one block west of Avenida Revolución. Two blocks west on Juarez (Calle Segunda) takes you to the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe. North of Calle Primera (1st) is the notorious Zona Norte “Red Light District,” which is definitely not a family destination.
4. Playas de Tijuana: Tijuana’s beach district is at the northwesternmost part of the country, where the border wall meets the Pacific. Stroll the pedestrians-only Malecón (boardwalk) from the border south along the Pacific. Directly on the border is Tijuana’s Plaza Monumental bullring as well as the international border monument. On the Malecon or Paseo Costera, you can dine in simple seafood restaurants overlooking the sea, or walk up to the border and gaze through the fence. Also at Playas is Universidad Iberoamericana, where there is a panoramic view to Point Loma and down the coast to the Coronado Islands. Take the toll road south to Real Del Mar and its golf course as well as the excellent Rincon San Ramon restaurant.
5. Caliente Complex: The Caliente center has something for everyone. Since the 1920s, there has been one form or another of gambling in Tijuana, centered on Caliente. Today there are multiple Caliente casinos in the city, but the best is the original Caliente Hipodromo on Ave. Tapachula near Blvd. Agua Caliente. You will find the usual games of chance and the excellent Divinas Mujeres restaurant and bar. Adjacent is the Agua Caliente Racetrack where greyhounds chase a mechanical rabbit and betting is lively. Also in the complex is Estadio Caliente, home of the Primera Division Xoloitzcuintles Football (soccer) team. Just outside the complex Galerias Hipodromo is a modern shopping mall with restaurants, bars, a Cinepolis movie theater (the latest U.S. films with Spanish subtitles are shown at about 50 percent less for tickets than in San Diego), and a Walmart.
6. El Trompo Museo Interactivo: Children love this museum that brings the concepts of science and technology to life with interactive exhibits. El Trompo makes learning easy and fun for Tijuana families and visitors. Next to El Trompo is Museo Ambar Interactivo with interactive exhibits and programs dedicated to the prevention of addictions in young people. Both museums are adjacent to Parque Morelos, one of the city’s largest wooded areas and green spaces. A small zoo, train, playground and lake with boats to rent can make this area a family-friendly day trip for San Diegans.
7. Francisco Villa: For the adventurous who want a different experience and can navigate the hills and canyons with the Waze (GPS) app, Francisco Villa is an almost self-contained Mexican village west of downtown Tijuana and east of the Libramiento Sur (ring road). Visit the center of the neighborhood, the beautiful church of Nuestro Señor de Misericordia. Then head one block south to Birrieria Guanajuato, a perfect place for quesadillas and a beer. On Sundays, there is a large open market just one block to the west. It’s a combination of farmers market and flea market. When you are in Francisco Villa, you feel as if you are 500 miles away in central Mexico, not just a few miles from the border. You may be the only San Diegans visiting, but you always have a warm welcome from the locals.
8. Chapultepec Hills: The wealthy of Tijuana live in the Chapultepec Hills, and a drive through the hills takes you to where homes are a study in diverse architecture. Many residences overlook the Club Campestre Tijuana (Tijuana Country Club), a verdant space in the heart of the city. The best route for a self-guided tour is to take Sonora south from Blvd. Agua Caliente past Plaza Paseo Chapultepec, home of excellent international restaurants. Then turn left on Caborca and left again on Buenaventura. Wander on the winding streets past the homes of Tijuana’s business and political leaders as well as the United States Consular Residence on Del Parral. It’s easy to get “temporarily disoriented,” but you are never lost. After exploring, just go downhill until you reach Agua Caliente Boulevard. While you are in the hills, stop at a neighborhood Soriana or Calimax supermarket and see how Tijuanans shop for groceries. Supermarkets are an easy way to pick up a liter of tequila or mescal (a liter of alcohol is the maximum per person allowed at the border).
9. Rancho La Puerta: The finest health and fitness spa in North America is just east of the Tijuana municipal limits on the far west side of Tecate. Founded in 1940, the Ranch, www.rancholapuerta.com, is the perfect place to escape from life’s stresses and the distractions of today’s news cycle for a healthy vacation. The Ranch encourages wellness for women and men of all ages and fitness levels, with energetic fitness options, organic cuisine, a variety of massages and pure fun and relaxation — all in a tranquil setting in the shadow of Baja California’s mystical Mount Kuchumaa. Most guests book a full week, but three- and four-night stays are also available.
Rancho La Puerta is not open to general visitors, but if you call in advance as a prospective guest, you may be able to make arrangement for a tour of the facility.
For those wanting an outstanding day-spa treatment, including facials, massage, botox treatments or dermabrasions, the DermaLife Med Spa is excellent. RejuviMed International Regenerative Medicine Center specializes in care for those suffering from diabetes, arthritis and osteoarthritis plus cosmetic treatments. Both are located at the SIMNSA hospital just across the border on Paseo Tijuana.
10. Xolos, Toros and Zonkeys: Tijuana is a sports-crazy city, and there is no better way to mix with Tijuanans of all classes and ages than at a sports event. Fans are loud, beer flows freely, and everyone is there to cheer the local teams and have fun.
The Xolos (Xoloitzcuintles de Caliente is the real name, but no one calls them anything but Xolos) play at Estadio Caliente. This team in Mexico’s premier league brings the world’s best soccer football to the San Diego/Tijuana region. Thousands fans from San Diego cross the border for games, which are usually held at 7 p.m. on Fridays.
The Toros Baseball team plays in Estadio Gasmart and is a perennial contender in the Northern Mexican League. Many future U.S. major league players get their start as Toros, and you can be sure that scouts from the San Diego Padres are often in the crowd. The baseball season is spring and summer.
Tijuana’s unofficial mascot is the Zonkey. These burros painted with zebra stripes on Avenida Revolución are where tourists delight in having their souvenir of Tijuana pictures taken with the docile animals. Serious basketball fans follow the Zonkeys professional basketball team at Auditorio Fausto Gutierrez Moreno on Blvd. Gustavo Diaz Ordaz — the eastward extension of Blvd. Agua Caliente. Many Zonkey players come from the United States, and they like to hear the cheers of their American compatriots.
What we have not covered is Tijuana’s famous gastronomy scene, featuring Baja-Med cuisine, a combination of the finest local ingredients prepared in the Mediterranean style. My favorite restaurants include Villa Saverios, Verde y Crema, Mision 19, La Querencia, Casa Plascencia, Moresco, Caesar’s, Cabanna, Café de la Flor, La Diferencia and two Spanish favorites — Lorca and Asador Pamplona. For the best shrimp tacos ever, a must-try is the very informal El Mazateño.
Clark is a San Diego-based travel writer.
Where to stay
Fortunately, San Diego’s proximity to Tijuana allows for frequent day trips to the city. However, for a long weekend, we suggest:
Grand Hotel: Blvd. Agua Caliente #4558, Col. Aviación, Tijuana. (855) 516-1090
Hyatt Place Tijuana: Blvd. Agua Caliente #10488, Col. Aviación, Tijuana 011 52 (664) 900-1234
Marriott Tijuana: Blvd. Agua Caliente #11553, Col. Aviación, Tijuana. 011 52 (664) 622-6600
Palacio Azteca: Boulevard Cuauhtémoc Sur #213, Col. Davila, Tijuana. (866) 238-4218
Real Inn: Paseo de los Héroes 9902, Zona Urbana Rio, Tijuana, (800) 291-9434
Before you go
Both Mexico and the United States require that you have a valid passport to enter or re-enter the country. In addition, Mexico requires that all foreign visitors who are not legal residents of Mexico have a tourist card or visa. You need to stop at the border and fill out the visa form. If your stay is seven days or less, there is no charge. If you are going to be in Mexico for more than seven days up to 180 days, there is a fee, which is about the equivalent of US$20.
All non-Mexican pedestrians crossing at San Ysidro will be stopped to obtain their visas. Those entering Mexico by car at San Ysidro/El Chaparral should stop at the immigration office before entering the crossing gates. Currently, Mexican Customs (Aduanas) is not checking auto traffic for proper documents, but should any incident occur, such as a traffic stop, you will be asked for your documentation.
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