Tijuana is a large, modern, and colorful city. Its location in the top left corner of Mexico, right on the border of the United States south of San Diego, makes it a popular spot for day-trippers who just want to hop across the border to enjoy some Mexican color, eat some great food, and do a bit of shopping before heading back. But those who wish to spend more time will find that Tijuana has lots to offer beyond the main tourist drag. Here are some of our favorite activities to enjoy in and around Tijuana.
Discover the Phenomenon of Lucha Libre
Mexican wrestling matches, better known as Lucha Libre, are a cultural phenomenon and popular across the entire country. Wrestlers fight using acrobatic maneuvers and elaborate sequences, always while wearing the emblematic mask, one of the most important parts of the sport. Fans who visit Tijuana can opt for a totally immersive experience at the Museo de la Lucha Libre Mexicana (MULLME) museum, which includes nearly 7,000 objects from wrestling history including original masks, uniforms, photographs, and more. It's also a chance to learn more about the iconic sport, which includes historical elements dating back to the Aztec Empire.
Don't forget to check the event calendar for upcoming matches and talks with famous luchadores from the past and present.
Savor Some Street Food
Baja California is practically synonymous with fish tacos and Tijuana is one of the best places to try this regional classic. You'll see carts and taco stands all over the city selling tacos with fish (pescado) or shrimp (camarón). The seafood is either fried or grilled and comes with condiments like cabbage, Mexican crema, avocado, and jalapeño. But as hard as it may sound, don't limit yourself to just tacos. Grilled prawns are seasoned and doused in butter for a rich snack to enjoy on the beach. You'll also see ceviche stands near the water prepared with fish caught that very same day.
If you're unsure of where to eat at, joining a local food tour is one of the best ways to discover the most delicious street foods. Baja Test Kitchen and Border Tours both offer guided excursions around the city, so you can be sure you're snacking on the most authentic bites in Tijuana.
Dine on Gourmet Mexican Food
Apart from Tijuana's mouthwatering street food, the city has become a foodie destination with gourmet options from some of Mexico's top chefs.
Many claim the Caesar salad was invented in Tijuana by Italian chef Caesar Cardini, and Caesar's Restaurant Bar is where you can enjoy the original recipe, along with many other Mexican and international specialties. Or you can explore Tijuana's emerging food scene at some of the newer, innovative restaurants serving Baja-Med Cuisine, a combination of the ingredients and flavors of Baja California with those of the Mediterranean and Asia. Discover chef Javier Plascencia's take on Baja California cuisine at his restaurant Mision 19 in Zona Río, which was highlighted by Anthony Bourdain.
For a more casual gastronomical experience, a visit to Telefónica Gastro Park is in order. It's a food truck park where the street food atmosphere meets the luxury of upscale restaurants. Here you can sample local artisanal beer and gourmet meals but in a much more laidback setting.
Stroll Along Avenida Revolución
Revolution Avenue, known to locals as "La Revu," is Tijuana's main tourist drag and is within walking distance of the U.S. border crossing. If you want to do the stereotypical tourist thing, buy a big sombrero, and have your photo taken with a donkey that has zebra stripes painted on it, this is the place for it.
But after that, you should take the opportunity to discover some of the shops, restaurants, and galleries that you'll also find along this strip. There's more than just T-shirts, postcards, and drug stores selling cheap medicine. You'll also find silver jewelry, quality handicrafts from around the country, and boutique shops selling all manner of luxury items.
Visit a Traditional Market
Besides the modern shopping experience, you can also visit a traditional Mexican market. There are a few around Tijuana, but the Mercado Hidalgo is the most centrally located and one of the most popular. Here you'll find all types of goods that you can buy, such as clay kitchenware, silver from the mines of Taxco, colorful piñatas, and other souvenir items. However, the real highlight of the market is the food. Whether you're an aspiring chef or just passionate about Mexican cuisine, the Mercado Hidalgo is one of the best places to buy authentic ingredients from Baja California and the rest of Mexico.
Look for the woman who makes fresh tortillas to order and buy them in bulk to take home and freeze (you won't regret it). Peruse the creatively stacked produce and try any of the exotic-looking tropical fruits that catch your attention. For excellent gift ideas, there are boutiques selling artisan cheeses and vibrant dried spices coming from every type of chile you can imagine. At the candy stalls, fill up a bag with all the local treats that you can fit, just be warned that many of them have a spicy kick.
Explore the Centro Cultural Tijuana
You'll recognize the Centro Cultural Tijuana (CECUT) by the distinctive spherical building, which is appropriately nicknamed La Bola, or "The Ball," for its shape. The cultural center is home to an IMAX theater, an auditorium, and an exhibit space, and the adjacent Museo de las Californias is part of the same complex and houses a permanent exhibition detailing the history of the region from prehistoric times to the present day. There are a number of cultural events that take place in the cultural center's esplanade year-round, so it's worth checking it out to see what's on during your visit.
Check out Plaza Santa Cecilia
Plaza Santa Cecilia is one of the oldest squares in Tijuana and is located on Calle Primera and Avenida Revolución. The modern iconic arch that represents the city of Tijuana and symbolizes the connection between Mexico and the United States, contrasts with the traditional arches behind the plaza's stage. Walking around this area gives you a feel for traditional Mexico and what Tijuana may have been like way back when. The patron saint of music, Saint Cecilia, gives this plaza its name. There are frequent concerts and dance performances taking place here. If you're lucky, you'll come across some mariachis performing, or a Mexican folk dance troupe giving a show.
Hit the Beach
Tijuana has its own beaches if you want to spend a day in the water without leaving the city limits, where you can also see the fence separating the U.S.-Mexico border as it extends into the ocean. However, if you want to spend a day enjoying sun and sand, it's worth making the half-hour drive to Rosarito. This small beach town has a quaint feel, although this may not be the best place to go if you're looking for a quiet escape. It's a popular tourist destination and the beach is often crowded with visitors from the U.S. and Mexico, especially during summer weekends and spring break. But if you're looking to sip on a margarita at the beach or to stay at a charming boutique hotel, Rosarito is an excellent getaway.
Take a Day Trip to the Valle de Guadalupe
Mexico's wine region is not far from Tijuana and, if you have time, it's definitely worth a trip to the Valle de Guadalupe to check out some of the vineyards. The region's more than 150 wineries produce around 90 percent of Mexican wines and it's one of the fastest-growing wine regions in the world. Spend the day sampling the fantastic reds, admiring the rustic scenery, and snacking on fresh seafood and tacos.
If you have a car, the journey from Tijuana is about an hour and a half, but you can also book an organized wine tour so you don't need to worry about driving or planning an itinerary. Baja Test Kitchen organizes full-day tours and picks you up right from your hotel in Tijuana. In addition to trying some of the premier wines in the Valle de Guadalupe region, you'll also enjoy a gourmet lunch overlooking the vineyards.