You’ve probably heard a lot of things – both good and bad – about Mexico’s westernmost city and infamous border town. But once you visit Tijuana, you’ll understand why it’s quickly becoming one of Mexico’s top destinations.
Tijuana, also known as TJ, is a sprawling Mexican metropolis of over 2 million people that’s located just on the other side of the double wall that separates it from San Diego, California.
It’s gone through many stages during the last few decades, from popular party destination for San Diego’s under 21 crowds (the legal drinking age is 18 in Mexico) to cartel battle zone for a short time in the late 1990s. Tijuana has come a long way since then – recently becoming one of the New York Times’ top places to visit.
Being from San Diego with family in Tijuana, I grew up spending plenty of time south of the border. To be honest, it’s definitely not the prettiest city in Mexico, but it has a certain “no sé qué” that keeps pulling you back for another visit.
In this post, we’re sharing some fun things to do in Tijuana, along with local favorites and insider tips (like where to see a Zonkey!).
- Things To Do in Tijuana
- Where To Eat
- What To See Nearby
- Planning A Trip To Tijuana
- How To Get There
- Where To Stay
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THINGS TO DO IN TIJUANA, MEXICO
Walk Down Avenida Revolución
Avenida Revolución is Tijuana’s most famous street and probably what it’s most well known for. The locals call it “La Revu” for short. It’s been the main tourist street for decades and starts at Santa Cecilia Plaza. Visit the plaza on weekends for traditional dances and concerts.
La Revu is lined with souvenir shops selling sombreros and sarapes, bars, restaurants, and zonkeys.
Yep, zonkeys! Zonkeys are donkeys, painted with black and white zebra stripes. They’re pretty much the iconic symbol for TJ (and also the name of the city’s professional basketball team. They haul little carts filled with sarapes and sombreros, which tourists pay to take a souvenir photo with.
If you’d rather take a guided tour of Tijuana departing from just across the border in San Diego, CA, then consider booking this 5-Hour Tijuana Sightseeing Tour through Get Your Guide. They offer free cancellations up to 24 hours before the activity starts and 24/7 customer support by phone in 5 languages.
Catch a Free Concert at CECUT
CECUT (Centro Cultural Tijuana) is Tijuana’s culture and arts hub. It has an aquarium, botanic garden, museum, art exhibits, movie theater, gift shop, cafes, and concert hall. It’s known as “La Bola” (The Ball) by locals, because of the giant dome which houses an IMAX theater.
The small Museo de las Californias (Museum of the Californias) has exhibits on the history and flora and fauna of the peninsula. The entrance fee is 27 pesos and it’s open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 am to 7 pm.
Try to time your visit during a weekend concert or show. Many of which are free to enjoy! Check out the CECUT’s calendar of events for exact dates and times.
Wander Around a Traditional Mexican Market
Head to Mercado Hidalgo to experience a traditional Mexican market. It’s a large, open-air marketplace selling everything from delicious local cheeses to colorful piñatas to beautiful hand-painted glassware. Mercado Hidalgo is where my grandmother likes to buy the freshest produce in Tijuana.
It’s also the perfect place to grab a bite to eat! They have tons of mouth-watering food stalls and comedores, but our favorite spot is La China Poblana. It serves up authentic dishes from Oaxaca, like tlayudas aka Mexican pizza.
If you’re planning on only walking around downtown Tijuana, then visit the smaller, but still interesting, Mercado El Popo.
Try the Original Caesar Salad
Bet you didn’t know that the Caesar salad was invented in Tijuana! Created by Cesar Cardini in 1927, the now world-famous salad is prepared table-side in big wooden bowls at Caesar’s Restaurant. This classic Tijuana restaurant has an old-school feel, with a long wooden bar, black and white photos on the walls, and plenty of tapas to try.
It’s located right in the heart of Tijuana on Avenida Revolucion. Look for the big sign that says, Hotel Caesar. The restaurant is on the first floor and has outdoor seating perfect for people watching on La Revu. If you really love caesar salads, make sure to visit during the annual Caesar Salad Festival in June.
Explore the Secret Alleys
There are several passageways between the buildings in El Centro (downtown) that’ll take you from one street to the next. But one of the best to explore is the hipster-filled Pasaje Rodriguez.
It’s a covered pasaje lined with colorful murals, shops, vendors, bookstores, galleries, cafes, and live music. Check out their event schedule here.
It’s also home to one of our favorite local breweries, Mamut. Where you can grab a beer and a pizza made in their mammoth-shaped oven and sit on the balcony overlooking the busy street below.
Check Out the Craft Beer Scene
San Diego is a mecca for craft beer, so it was only a matter of time until the love for craft beer trickled down south to Tijuana. The craft beer scene in Tijuana is booming, with more and more breweries opening up by the day.
The best spots to try local craft beers are along Revolución and in Plaza Fiesta. Plaza Fiesta is a pedestrian-only area right across from CECUT filled with craft beer tasting room and bars serving pulque and mezcal.
Some of the top Tijuana breweries to try are Insurgente, Border Psycho, Mamut, Norte, and Lúdica. Fauna (from Mexicali) and Agua Mala (from Ensenada) are also brewed in Baja California and are some of our favorites!
Experience Lucha Libre Mexican Wrestling
Take an Uber from the border to Auditorio Municipal Fausto Gutierrez to experience a live lucha libre (freestyle wrestling) match. Watch the masked luchadores in tights fly through the air in typical Mexican lucha libre style. Check upcoming Tijuana lucha libre dates here.
If you’re a true lucha libre fan, make sure to check out the Museo de la Lucha Libre Mexicana (Mexican Lucha Libre Museum) in downtown Tijuana.
Stroll Along the Boardwalk in Playas
Did you know there’s also a beach in Tijuana? The tranquil beach city of Playas de Tijuana – known simply as Playas (beaches) by locals – is just a 20-minute Uber ride away from the hustle and bustle of the Tijuana’s city center.
It’s a great spot to take a stroll down the malecón (boardwalk), have a bite to eat at one of the many ocean-front seafood restaurants, or grab a fresh-cut coconut, sit on the sand, and watch the sunset.
WHERE TO EAT IN TIJUANA
One of the best things to do in Tijuana is to EAT! There’s a fast-growing gastronomic scene in Tijuana and that’s why we’re dedicating an entire post to what and where to eat in Tijuana (coming soon!).
In the meantime, check out some of our top spots to eat:
- Tortas El Wash
- La Espadaña
- Las Ahumaderas (Taco Alley)
WHAT TO SEE NEAR TIJUANA
Rosarito is a beachside tourist town about an hour’s drive south of San Diego. The Rosarito Beach Hotel used to be a destination for old Hollywood celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra, but it’s now home to a large resort with beach-front pools.
Take a horseback-riding tour or rent an ATV to explore Rosarito’s long, sandy beach and cool off in the ocean breeze.
For an off the beaten path experience, head 15 minutes away to Popotla and enjoy fresh seafood and cold beers on plastic tables right on the beach.
Do you love lobster? Then head to Puerto Nuevo!
Known as “Lobster Village,” it’s a small town located on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean about 45 minutes south of Tijuana and just 20 minutes south of Rosarito.
Puerto Nuevo is filled with restaurants offering fried lobster with unlimited melted butter, beans, rice, salsa, and flour tortillas. You can eat until you’re in a food coma, sit and enjoy the ocean views while sipping on tequila, and then walk it all off by shopping for souvenirs and Mexican candy.
If you’d rather explore the area with a guided tour, check out this Grand Baja Tour which includes a stop to eat in Puerto Nuevo.
Valle de Guadalupe
Take a trip to the Napa Valley of Mexico! Valle de Guadalupe is home to some of Mexico’s best vineyards and farm-to-table restaurants and it’s only 90-minutes south of San Diego.
One of the best ways to visit is to do hire a driver for the day or take a tour. This wine and dine tour takes you on a 7 hour tour of the wine valley near Ensenada.
Tecate is a town located east of San Diego and just across the border. It’s designated by the government as a Pueblo Magico, or Magical Town. Mexico’s Secretary of Tourism reserves this prestigious title for places that offer tourists a magical experience due to their natural beauty, cultural heritage, historical significance, unique cuisine, and traditional arts and crafts.
You can park your car on the US side and walk to the cute town plaza in about 15 minutes to enjoy some authentic Mexican food. After eating, take a walk to the Tecate Brewery for a tour and sip beer in their recently renovated Beer Garden.
PLANNING A TRIP TO TIJUANA
Where is Tijuana?
Tijuana, Baja California is located about a 30-minute drive straight south from downtown San Diego, California, and across the border in Mexico. Its proximity to San Diego makes it a great day trip from Southern California.
Best Time to Visit Tijuana
Anytime! Tijuana has the same amazing weather southern California is known for. Pretty much the perfect temperature (75 degrees) year-round.
- Tequila Expo
- CECUT ferias
- Caesar Salad
Is It Safe in Tijuana?
Tijuana doesn’t have the best reputation, in fact, quite the opposite. And while it may not be the safest city in the world, it’s not nearly as dangerous as it’s made out to be.
Like any other major metropolis, you’ll want to watch out for pickpockets and walk along well-lit streets in the tourist areas. Don’t be flashy. Be discreet with your cash and cards, don’t ask around for drugs, or get extremely drunk.
BTW, in case you’re tempted to drink way too much tequila and craft beer you should know that there IS a border crossing drunk tank on the US side for those walking back across to San Diego.
Getting Around in Tijuana
Our favorite way to get around in Tijuana is a combination of walking and Ubers. Ubers are abundant in TJ and they’re super cheap. You can just take an Uber from one neighborhood to the next and walk around exploring.
Using Money in Tijuana
US dollars and credit cards are widely accepted in Tijuana. You don’t really need to exchange currencies before you cross the border. If you’d rather have some pesos in your pocket, visit one of the many currency exchange shops in San Ysidro before crossing to Mexico. Read our post on Using Money in Mexico for more tips.
HOW TO GET TO TIJUANA
By Foot (Recommended)
The easiest and fastest way to cross the border from San Diego to Tijuana is to walk across the US/Mexico border in San Ysidro. There are 3 ports of entry/border crossings, but the best (and newest) is the one located conveniently next to Las Americas Outlets. It’s called El Chaparral on Google Maps, but it’s also known as PedWest. It’s open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
If you’re driving, just park your car at one of the many pay per day parking lots (about $15-20 USD) on the US side. You can also take the San Diego Trolley (MTS) from downtown San Diego directly south to San Ysidro.
If you’re just visiting for the day, you’ll only need a valid passport. If you’re staying longer, you’ll probably need to stop at the border and get a tourist permit [link to Mexican Tourist Permit post].
Make sure to check border crossing times on your phone before heading back to the US. Depending on the day and time (avoid Sunday evenings), the wait can be as long as 2+ hours for pedestrians.
You can fly directly into the Tijuana International Airport (TIJ). Although, if you’re coming from the US it may be cheaper to fly into San Diego (SAN) and then walk across the border. We use Skyscanner to consistently find the cheapest airfares around.
We don’t recommend driving across the border simply because of the insane amount of time it takes to cross back into the US by car. You’ll usually have to wait at least 1 hour to cross the border by car, but it can sometimes take up to 3-4 hours.
The only exception to the no car rule is if you’re planning on driving to areas farther south of Tijuana like Puerto Nuevo or Rosarito. In that case, just plan your return time wisely (avoid weekends and mornings) by checking the border crossing times.
Get Your Guide offers tours and activities with free cancellations up to 24 hours before the activity starts and 24/7 customer support by phone in 5 languages.
WHERE TO STAY IN TIJUANA
We recommend staying in El Centro if you want the option of walking out of your hotel and right into the heart of it all.
Hotels in Tijuana, Mexico
There are plenty of hotels in Tijuana, but make sure to stay near the downtown area so everything is within walking distance.
We use and recommend Booking.com to find hotels because they offer free cancellation, a rewards program, and they price match.
Budget: Nook Hotel
This modern new hotel is located less than a block away from Avenida Revolucion in downtown Tijuana. It has everything you need for a comfortable budget stay in El Centro, including AC, room service, free WiFi, and a 24-hour front desk.
Mid-Range: Alou Hotel Boutique
Alou Hotel is on the southern side of the city center and is only a 14-minute walk to Tijuana’s Cultural Center and Mercado Hidalgo. This nicely decorated hotel features a restaurant, a 24-hour front desk and room service, free WiFi, and luggage storage.
Luxe: Quartz Hotel & Spa
This hotel has an outdoor pool, fitness center, and spa. It’s located east of downtown in a somewhat quieter area, but still close enough to take a 5-minute Uber ride to the action. Some of the rooms have city views and there is a restaurant on-site.
Another great option for accommodations in Tijuana is to stay in a VRBO near downtown or in the beach area of Tijuana (called Playas de Tijuana) and just take a cheap Uber when you want to explore the city.
MORE THINGS TO DO IN BAJA, MEXICO
Looking for other things to do in Baja, Mexico?
Check out these other posts: