Tijuana has unexpectedly became one of our favorite cities. It’s got beautiful weather, an amazing culture and, of course, incredible margaritas. That’s why it’s so disappointing that Tijuana has gotten a reputation of being a dangerous and high risk city to travel to. We’ve heard many people refuse to visit Tijuana based on its reputation alone. They hear rumors of drugs and violence and immediately write it off as an undesirable city.
In reality, Tijuana has a rich culture with incredible restaurants, shopping and art. While there are some dangerous parts of Tijuana that tourists should probably avoid, there are far more areas that make a trip to Tijuana well worth your time. The city is currently experiencing a cultural and gastronomic renaissance and there are countless unique attractions to see and experience.
We absolutely love visiting Tijuana. A short 30 minute drive from where we live in San Diego, it’s always easy to drive down to the border, park, and walk across the border and take taxis everywhere. To get you started on planning your trip to Tijuana, here are 16 things that we recommend:
1. Walk Across Border If You’re Coming From the U.S.
If you’re heading to Tijuana from the U.S., it can be tempting to drive across for convenience. After all, Mexico doesn’t even check passports of drivers coming from the U.S. so there’s rarely a wait. We drove across the border once, and boy did we regret it. It can take hours of waiting to cross back into the U.S., time much better spent exploring Tijuana.
We’ve found that walking across the border is much easier, and taxis in Mexico are very inexpensive. To use the pedestrian border crossing, park at the San Ysidro border parking lot and then follow signs for Mexico. You’ll be asked to present your passport and fill out a customs form, but this usually only a takes a few minutes and then you’re on your way to Mexico.
2. Grab a Delicious Breakfast from Alma Verde
You’ll fall in love with Alma Verde the second you walk into this bright and modern breakfast cafe. With bright windows, tons of plants, and beautiful woodwork everywhere, the only thing better than the atmosphere at Alma Verde is the food.
We ordered the Chilaquiles for an authentic Mexican dish, and a Croque Madame (pictured above), which was served with mild peppers and a side of Chile Morita. While both were amazing, the Croque Madame was better than the Chilaquiles. Surprising, given that it’s in Mexico! Between the main course, two cups of the delicious coffee, and a side of seasoned potatoes cooked to perfection, it’s the perfect fuel for a day of adventure.
3. Slide Down the Slip ‘N Fly At Albercas El Vergel Waterpark
Albercas El Vergel, or “El Vergel” for short, is a waterpark in Tijuana that has been nicknamed “the waterpark with no rules” for a reason. While there are plenty of areas for kids to play, the main attractions at this crazy waterpark are the Anaconda tube slide that clocks in a 344 feet long and the 42 foot tall Slip N Fly which has become quite the social media sensation.
After seeing videos of people flying off the mega-sized slip and slide all over the internet, we decided we had to check it out for ourselves. Admission to the park is only about $8 USD, and it’s super easy to access via taxi since it’s only a few minutes outside of downtown Tijuana. The park has lockers to lock up your things, as well as a ton of slides, a lazy river, a rolling log, a wave pool, and a bunch of food and drink vendors.
We recommend you face your inner fears and try the Slip N Fly, which can be super scary when you’re standing over 40 feet above the ground at the top of the slide. The total run from top to launch covers about 100 feet, but it’s over crazy fast. Before you know it you’re in the pool at the base of the slide with a major adrenaline rush.
4. Have a drink suspended on a net at Telefonica Gastro Park
Telefonica Gastro Park is by far one of the coolest places you can visit in Tijuana. Located in a refurbished warehouse, this trendy spot has food trucks, a brewery, amazing interior design and a bunch of great places to sit and hang out. The second floor is the coolest part; you climb up a ladder and can lay in a net suspended over the brewery.
We recommend that you grab a beer (or Chilango Mule!) from the brewery downstairs and take it upstairs to enjoy it on the net. It’s nice and quiet, plus there are TV’s to watch.
5. Eat The Best Taco of Your Life From a Food Truck Outside Telefonica Gastro Park
The food trucks outside Telefonica Gastropark might just be the best part about this amazing spot, which is really saying something. They’re lined up around the perimeter of a large seating area, and there’s a ton of great food to choose from, everything from tacos to ramen to steak.
We picked up a Borrego taco and a Chile Relleno taco from one of the food trucks, and they didn’t disappoint. In fact, they were probably the best tacos of our lives. Plus, eating under the umbrellas was a great way to enjoy the beautiful day while still staying cool and happy.
6. Explore the Tijuana Cultural Center
The Tijuana Cultural Center opened its doors in 1982, and has been so popular that more than one million people pay it a visit each year. The two defining architectural pieces are the giant sphere known as La Bola and the massive cube known as El Cubo. La Bola is home to a 360-degree IMAX cinema which plays at least one film on its screen every day and El Cubo is a gorgeous museum space with a variety of artistic masterpieces on display.
Admission is around $3 USD per person which is an amazing deal considering the wealth of information about Mexican culture available to be absorbed. It’s a great place to spend a few hours learning about the history of Mexican and Baja California and on a hot day it’s a great way to cool off in air conditioning for a bit.
7. Walk along Playas de Tijuana
While Playas de Tijuana is about a 20 minute drive from the main downtown area, paying this incredible beach a visit is well worth your time. There’s a boardwalk along the beach that’s the perfect place to take a long walk and people watch. There’s also a ton of cool street art and sculptures to look at.
You can follow the boardwalk all the way to the border, where you can see the wall built into the ocean to keep people from crossing the border illegally. It’s a sad visual representation of U.S.-Mexican relations, but what we really loved was that Mexico commissioned huge heart sculptures along the boardwalk on their side of the border.
8. Grab a drink at a bar on the beach
The boardwalk along Playas de Tijuana is more than just a great place to walk, there are also tons of places to grab a drink or a bite to eat. There’s everything from quiet coffee shops and wine bars to hookah bars and a pirate-ship shaped restaurant.
We opted for a drink on the patio of a small wine bar, and sat along the boardwalk enjoying a drink with a view.
9. Experience the craft beer scene at Plaza Fiesta
When Americans think of Mexican beer, some of the first that come to mind are the popular and mass-produced beers such as Corona, Modelo, Pacifico, and Tecate. These are all amazing beers, but it’s also worth checking out the craft brewing scene that is emerging in Tijuana. There are two main zones the breweries are popping up in: Revolucion and Plaza Fiesta.
With so many new breweries, there are a ton of awesome options for trying a local beer or two. We had a great experience at Tres Fuegos Cervecería–it had a great atmosphere and even better beer.
10. Have An Authentic Mexican Seafood Meal at Negro Durazo
If you’re looking for a great Mexican seafood restaurant, then look no further than Negro Durazo. There’s a huge selection of seafood appetizers and entrees to choose from, and everything is super fresh. We also discovered that they also have a San Diego location!
This place is also super lively. There was a full Mariachi band playing at full volume when we were there, which definitely added to the experience. Overall, this is a great place to come for an authentic Mexican seafood meal.
11. Explore Avenida Revolución
Avenida Revolución is the tourist hub of Tijuana and while it can be very busy, it’s also a great place to walk around and get the feel of Tijuana. There’s great street food, local markets and vendors that make exploring this area of Tijuana a blast.
12. Watch A Free Performance on Avenida Revolución
On Avenida Revolución just west of The Arch, don’t miss the singers and dancers that perform for free on a public stage. The performances are a lot of fun to watch, even if only for a few minutes. The best part is that the stage is outside and right next to the sidewalk, so it’s very easy to access.
13. Admire the Incredible Statues of Mexico (and U.S.) History
There are a bunch of incredible statues that you can stumble across just walking around downtown Tijuana. One of our favorites (pictures above) is closeby the Tijuana Cultural Center and is surrounded by green grass and beautiful palm trees.
There is also a statue of Abraham Lincoln in Tijuana that we weren’t lucky enough to find. Many wonder why Mexico would have a statue of a U.S. President, and it is actually because he opposed the Mexican-American War and supported Mexico’s fight against European forces back in the 60s.
14. Wander Through Mercado Miguel Hidalgo
You can’t leave Tijuana without wandering through at least one local market. For us, that local market was Mercado Miguel Hidalgo, which we stumbled across on our way to the Tijuana Cultural Center. Located in Zona Rio, Mercado Miguel Hidalgo is a fantastic produce market teeming with activity.
Inside, there are vendors of all sorts with colorful foods and clothing. Expect to see just about everything under the sun. Produce, fried food, a pharmacy, giant tubs of dog food: Mercado Miguel Hidalgo has it all.
15. Visit the Tijuana Arch
Visiting the Tijuana Arch can be a little touristy, but it’s worth it to see this iconic arch in person. One of the most well-known attractions in Tijuana, the arch was constructed in 2000 as a symbol of binational cooperation and to give Tijuana a symbol it could be known for. Standing 200 feet tall, the Tijuana arch is visible from the San Diego side of the border and is the gateway to Avenida Revolución. Snap a picture of the arch and then enjoy a stroll through an area filled with energy and excitement.
16. Enjoy A Gourmet Mexican Dinner at La Espadaña
After a day jam-packed with activities and sightseeing, dinner at La Espadaña is just what we needed to relax and unwind. We knew we were going to love it from the moment we walked in and saw the delicious looking pastries and cakes sitting in the display fridge.
We ordered the Pollo En Mole and Caldillo Norteño Con Quesadillas. Both were absolutely incredible, and we really enjoyed eating authentic mexican dishes. The service is stellar, and our server was even nice enough to help us figure out how get back to the pedestrian border crossing
Tijuana is an incredible city to visit, whether you only have a day or you’re going for a longer trip. The people are incredibly kind and helpful, even when they don’t speak any English. Overall, Tijuana is an amazing cultural experience that we recommend to anyone looking to try something new.
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