Tijuana, Mexico
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Tijuana, Mexico

Tijuana is a Mexican border town located just 15 miles south of San Diego, California. It is a popular destination for day excursions and weekend visits by both tourists and southern California residents. Tijuana was previously known as a rather seedy border town with relaxed moral restrictions on sex, drugs and alcohol. Today, it is trying to shed that image and become a major manufacturing center and popular tourist destination.

US-Mexico border crossing with long traffic wait © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
Cars lined up at US-Mexico border crossing.

The most popular tourist attraction in Tijuana is shopping for hand-made Native American crafts and bargain-priced merchandise. Spectator sports such as jai alai, dog racing and bullfights plus casinos and golf courses also attract many tourists. On weekends, Tijuana draws thousands of young revelers to its numerous nightclubs, dancehalls and bars offering inexpensive drinks and wild all-night parties.

Going to Tijuana

You can easily go to Tijuana by taking the trolley from downtown San Diego to the little border town of San Ysidro. The trolley stops right at the US-Mexican border crossing control point. From there, you can take a bus, a taxi or walk about a mile (two km) into downtown Tijuana. The Mexican authorities seldom question anyone entering their country, but US border agents are much more stringent on the return. Be sure to carry your passport or approved identification papers. If in doubt, ask the US border agents, before you leave the USA.

You can also drive to Tijuana by taking Route 5 (I-5) south directly to the border. It is wise to park your car in one of the convenient parking facilities on the US side of the border, then walk or ride a shuttle bus into Tijuana. You are not permitted to operate a vehicle in Mexico without Mexican automobile insurance. You can purchase that insurance in nearby San Ysidro, but the traffic re-entering the US often backs up so much, that you may be forced to wait many hours to return.

Shopping in Tijuana Mexico © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
Shopping Tijuana for glass artwork, crafts and clothing.

Shopping in Tijuana

The downtown area around Avenida Revolucion is the most popular shopping area for tourists. Nearly a thousand shops and stalls feature silver jewelry, handmade leather goods, pottery, glass, artwork and Native American crafts. Remember: most prices are flexible and bargaining is an art to most vendors. Offer them half what they ask for, and haggle vigorously for the best prices.

The downtown area also features numerous farmacia selling brand-name and generic pharmaceuticals. Many retired US citizens come here to purchase their prescription medications at bargain prices. The liquor stores sell local wines and Mexican tequila at very attractive prices. The better shops offer cosmetics, perfumes and collectable items at attractive but fixed-no-haggling prices. There are a number of markets and malls in other parts of Tijuana such as the Zona Rio that feature less tourist-oriented shopping.

Restaurants and accommodations

Nearly all of the bars, dancehalls and nightclubs offer food as well as drink. It is typically "border-Mexican" cuisine featuring nachos, tacos, burritos and enchiladas. Some of it is quite good. There are also a number of finer restaurants scattered about the city featuring a variety of cuisine. Most taxi drivers can direct you to the best. Street vendors offer tacos and burritos with freshly made tortillas, hot home-made tamales, and sweet churros. Some of them can be wonderful, but avoid any raw or undercooked foods, any non-bottled beverage or ice from the street vendors, as the sanitation conditions may not be very good.

There are a limited number of decent hotels in Tijuana. Most are located around the commercial and financial district in Zona Rio. The prices are typically less expensive than the prices charged for similar accommodations in San Diego.

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Tijuana night life

On weekends, Tijuana attracts a large crowd of young people. Many 18 to 21 year olds from Southern California come to Tijuana where they can legally drink alcohol. The nightclubs and dancehalls on the verandas overlooking Avenida Revolucion throb with salsa music, rock and roll and pop beats. Tens of thousands of young folks party all night long as they guzzle one-dollar beers and throw back "tequila shooters". The Plaza Fiesta in the Zona Rio is another center for music and dance. Tijuana is, by far, one of the biggest party towns in the Western Hemisphere.

The seedier side of Tijuana can still be found in the strip bars along Avenida Revolucion and in the nearby "red-light district" of "La Coahuila" or more casually known as "Zona Norte". Full nudity and intimate contact with the dancers is permitted. Prostitution is legal. Drugs and disease are also prevalent, so one should exercise extreme caution.

Although Tijuana has a relaxed atmosphere concerning alcohol and sex, the Mexican authorities deal swiftly and decisively with disruptive behavior, with drug use and with drinking and driving. A single infraction of their stringent laws can result in immediate incarceration in the infamous Tijuana Jail where release is likely to come only after the payment of a hefty fine.

Other attractions

Tijuana has two bullfight rings with fights scheduled at various times from spring though autumn. Since bullfighting is illegal in the USA, this is a good place to see this unique Spanish cultural sporting event. It also has a greyhound race track and a jai alai fronton as well as sports book parlors for betting on sporting events. There is a golf course in the city and another near the Pacific Ocean beaches.

Tijuana offers a cultural center and several amusement parks. The beaches along the coast of Baja California from Tijuana south to Rosarita offer surf and sand but are somewhat polluted with sewage discharged from nearby communities. The beach communities of Rosarita and Ensenada provide a variety of restaurants, lively entertainment and opportunities for deep sea fishing, boating and whale watching.

Written by: Mike Leco
Top Photo Credit: © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
Photo Description: Busy street corner in Tijuana, Mexico