Tijuana Mexico Aerial Panorama

Your Trip to Tijuana: The Complete Guide

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Tijuana is home to one of the busiest border crossings in the world. Often referred to as T.J., or "the Gateway to Mexico," this border city is full of contradictions. It's bustling, and yes, there's crime and a seedy side, but you’ll also find a vibrant cultural scene, a dazzling array of choices for locally produced wine and craft beer, as well as amazing food and great shopping. Tijuana also offers top-notch dental and medical care, so if you’re looking for treatments on a budget, this is a good place for it, and you’ll find you can stay in comfort and eat well while you’re recovering without breaking the bank. Whether you’re planning a quick day trip south of the border or a longer stay, here’s what you need to know to plan your trip to Tijuana.

Planning Your Trip

Best Time to Visit: From May through September, when temperatures are warm, there’s no rain, and you’ll find lots of cultural happenings taking place.

Language: Spanish is the most spoken language, but many people also speak English. 

Currency: The local currency is the Mexican peso (MXN). Dollars are widely accepted, but it’s best to have some pesos on hand, particularly for tips and shopping at markets and street-side stands. The peso symbol is the same as the dollar sign, so if there’s any doubt, ask what currency prices are listed in.

Getting Around: Taxis and Ubers are plentiful and economical. When taking a cab, ask the fare before getting in. Buses and shared cabs (colectivos) run from 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., a good option for budget travelers.

Travel Tip: Don’t forget your passport! While in the past, you could cross the border with just a driver’s license or simple ID, these days, you need a passport or other WHTI compliant government ID. Getting into Mexico will likely not be the issue, but rather crossing back to the U.S.

Tijuana Avenida Revolucion with the millennial arch
Denis Kabanov / Getty Images

Things to Do

Tijuana offers great opportunities for shopping, eating out, and there’s an active nightlife scene. There’s not that much to do in terms of sightseeing, but it’s definitely worth making a stop at the beach to see the border wall stretching into the ocean, which is covered in colorful murals. Here are some more fun activities in Tijuana: 

  • Visit the Centro Cultural de Tijuana and see what’s playing at the IMAX theater. 
  • The Museo El Trompo is an interactive science and technology museum for kids. 
  • See a Lucha Libre match. They're usually held on Fridays at the Auditorio Municipal Fausto Gutierrez Moreno.
  • Explore Tijuana beyond the usual tourist scene by taking a tour with Turista Libre.
  • Take a day trip to visit Mexico’s foremost wine-producing region, the Valle de Guadalupe, where you can visit some wineries and eat great food.
  • If the beach is more your scene, consider visiting Rosarito or Ensenada, which have more appealing beaches.

Explore more attractions with our full-length article on the top things to do in Tijuana.

What to Eat and Drink

Food is one of Tijuana’s main attractions. There are several restaurants and food trucks where you can sample Baja Med cuisine, which originated in this area. This farm-to-table cuisine brings together Mexican food with Asian and Mediterranean ingredients and influences and is based on fresh ingredients like local seafood, produce, and the local olive oil. Two local Tijuana chefs are at the forefront of this movement: Chef Miguel Angel Guerrero, who runs the upscale La Querencia as well as a more casual bistro, El Taller del Chef, and chef Javier Plascencia, who offers his take on Baja Med at Misión 19 and Caesar's. But it’s not all fine dining. You can also eat really well in some of Tijuana’s casual spots, such as Telefónica Gastro Park, which brings together more than 20 food trucks and offers delicious food, beer, and wine. There are also great tacos at Taquerias El Guero or Tacos El Franc, and you can satisfy a craving for fish tacos at Mariscos Rubén.

Wine lovers and beer aficionados alike will find something to love in Tijuana. Being so close to Mexico’s wine region means there are wonderful local wines to try, and Tijuana’s craft beer scene is flourishing. There are several breweries and tasting rooms where you can sample the local brews. See our article on Tijuana's nightlife.

Getting There

Tijuana is located in Mexico's northwesternmost corner, just 17 miles south of San Diego, California. Tijuana’s General Abelardo L. Rodriguez International Airport (TIJ) has flights to most destinations in Mexico. Also, it has an international bridge known as the Cross Border Xpress, which allows people flying in or out of the airport to cross the border on foot conveniently. If arriving in Tijuana on a day trip from San Diego, it’s best to park on the San Diego side and walk across the border to avoid wait times for crossing and the hassle of driving in Tijuana. However, if you’re planning a longer stay, driving across may be a good option.

Culture and Customs

Tijuana’s border location and unique history have created a cultural hybrid that is different than anywhere else. When it was founded in 1889, it was a tiny border crossing, but in the 1920s, U.S. nationals were attracted by the legal drinking and gambling they could find south of the border. Avenida Revolución became a tourist center, with casinos and Hotel Caesar's, birthplace of the Caesar salad. Starting in the 1960s, Tijuana became a manufacturing zone, with many U.S. companies choosing the location for its ample cheap labor. Many of its residents came with the idea of pursuing the American Dream but didn’t make it across the border. In recent years, Tijuana has reinvented itself, instead of a destination for hard-partying tourists, it now has cultural offerings for its own residents. 

Violent crime has been and continues to be an issue in Tijuana, though it is, for the most part, limited to Tijuana’s outlying areas and not concentrated in tourist zones. Downtown, Zona Rio, and Playas de Tijuana are safe, particularly during the day. At night, you should exercise caution and stick to well-lit areas where there are people around. Muggings are rare but do occur. Keeping your credit cards and most of your cash in a money belt and carrying a more easily accessible decoy wallet with a few dollars and a couple of old cards to hand over to thieves is a strategy used by some travelers. 

In bars and restaurants, tourists may be overcharged. To avoid this, check prices when you order, and verify your bill before paying. Request an itemized bill if you’re not given one. When ordering multiple rounds of drinks, it’s a good practice to pay after every two rounds to keep track. It’s customary to tip 10 to 20 percent, depending on the level of service. Tipping is customary in bars and restaurants but is not required in food stalls and markets (although it’s generally appreciated). It's also customary to tip bellhops and cleaning staff at your hotel. Read more about tipping practices in Mexico.

Money-Saving Tips

Tijuana is a very affordable destination in general. If you’re careful to guard against scams and theft, you’ll find it an economical destination overall. Remember that safety is the most important thing: it’s not worth putting yourself at risk to save a few pesos. 

Here are a few ways you can save money while you’re there. 

  • Although U.S. currency is widely accepted in Tijuana, shops and restaurants' exchange rate is usually not favorable, so change some dollars to pesos and pay in the local currency. 
  • If you’re planning on doing some shopping, have an idea of general prices for the item you're interested in so that you’re not overcharged. In many of the market and souvenir stalls, you can get a good deal if you’re willing to haggle. 
  • There are several well-known fine dining establishments in Tijuana, but you can also find excellent food at a fraction of the cost at food trucks and taco stands. 
  • Taxis and Uber are less expensive than they are north of the border, but if you’re really pinching pennies, take public transportation. It’s a little more complicated and takes longer, but you may end up saving quite a bit.
  • There are lots of things to do in Tijuana for free or very low cost. You can wander along Avenida Revolución, go into the markets, and do plenty of window shopping. You’ll see lots of interesting sights. Stop at the Plaza Santa Cecilia and listen to the mariachis. Go to the beach and see the murals on the border wall.
Article Sources
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  1. San Ysidro Land Port of Entry, U.S. General Services Administration

  2. Tijuana, Mexico. Britannica Encyclopedia

  3. Mexico 2020 Crime & Safety Report: Tijuana, U.S Department of State Overseas Security Advisory Council, 2020