01 of 08
What You Need to Know About Tijuana
Tijuana is an easy trip from San Diego. It takes about an hour to get there.
What Is Tijuana Like?
Tijuana is a busy border town, about the same size as San Diego. It has a Mexican flair but is also distinctively different from cities further inland. That makes it a unique place to visit. The area most tourists visit is close to the border, within walking distance.
Before the unfortunate crime wave that erupted in 2008, Tijuana was super-touristy. You only had to go a few steps, and you'd find a dozen places selling cheap tourist trinkets. Everything seemed to be decked out in a way that was calculated to please the gringo tourists.
During the tourism lull after 2008, Tijuana had a chance to re-make itself. Today, you can still find souvenir stands and corny zebra-striped donkeys, but you can also find world-class cuisine and exciting local art - if you know where to look.
Is It Worth My Time?
Some people can't resist the idea of crossing an international border if they're close. If... you're one of them, then it's easy enough to do that.
Whether it's worth the time for everyone else depends on what you expect and what you enjoy. If all you want to do is the tired old tourist stereotypes, go right ahead - buy a giant sombrero, a colorful pinata and get your photo taken with a donkey painted in zebra stripes. It will be fun.
If you're more of a curious traveler than a casual tourist and want to find out more about what other places are really like, you can do that in Tijuana. Skip to the Things You Didn't Know You Could Do in Tijuana to find out more.
U. S. Department of State Travel Alert
The State Department has issued traveler alerts for Tijuana and other locations in Mexico since 2008. These days, they are less troubling than they were a few years ago. Everyone has their level of tolerance, but I started to go back to Tijuana in 2015, enjoyed it and never felt unsafe. Read the State Department's most recent travel alert and decide for yourself whether you want to go.Continue to 2 of 8 below.
02 of 08
Do It Yourself Day Trip to Tijuana
This day trip starts at the U. S./Mexico border and assumes that you will walk from there into town. It's the trip that most Tijuana visitors make.
Getting to the Border
You can drive and park in a border parking lot or do what I do: Take the San Diego Trolley.
Getting Into Tijuana
Take a look at the pictorial, step-by-step guide that shows you how to reach Avenida de la Revolucion, Tijuana's main tourist street.
On Revolucion Avenue, there are ample opportunities to get your photograph taken with a Tijuana zebra (a donkey with black stripes) and cart, a tradition for more than 100 years. You can also do some shopping, and it's a great place for people-watching, too.
Most people walk up the main street and also explore some of the side streets.
Other Transportation Options
If you don't want to walk, continue through this guide to check options for transportation.Continue to 3 of 8 below.
03 of 08
Things You Didn't Know You Could Do in Tijuana
Best Way to Really Get to Know Tijuana
If you have read much of my writing, you'll know that I am seriously not a fan of the guided tour, but I'm making an exception for the super-interesting tours given by Turista Libre. Run by a friendly gringo who lives in Tijuana; the company offers a wide variety of exciting tours that could keep you coming back for more.
With Turista Libre, you'll get a look at the unique and fascinating place that Tijuana has become. You may go to a local market where people buy sugar, cheese, chocolate, and candles - or out to the beach to see the border wall plunging into the ocean. They offer lots of specialty tours that may include food tours, "Lucha Libre" Mexican wrestling, a brewery tour or an artists' tour. Find out what they've got coming up.
Things You Can Do On Your Own
Dine Fine. Foodies are flocking to Tijuana these days to try "Baja Med" cuisine, which combines traditional Mexican recipes with ingredients like olive oil, abalone, and arugula... that flourish in the coastal, Mediterranean-like climate. Hot chefs of early 2015 include Javier Plascencia of Mision 19 (who you may have seen on ABC TV's The Taste) and Miguel Angel Guerrero of La Querencia.
Catch Some Culture: Centro Cultural Tijuana (Tijuana Cultural Center) is a fine museum that chronicles Baja peninsula history from ancient cave paintings to modern times. Exhibits are explained in English. In Zona Rio at Paseo de Los Heroes and Mina.
PRAD: Short for Pasaje Rodriguez Arte y Diseño (Rodríguez Passage Art and Design), it's a narrow alleyway between Avenida Revolucion and Avenida Constitucion, with its entrance between Third and Fourth streets. Once filled with shops selling tourist souvenirs, it's now occupied by more than 20 small artists' spaces.Continue to 4 of 8 below.
04 of 08
Ways to Get to Tijuana from San Diego
These are the ways you can get to Tijuana from downtown San Diego. Most visitors go to the San Ysidro border crossing.
San Diego Trolley
The easiest way to get to Tijuana from San Diego is on the San Diego Trolley (which is also sometimes called the Tijuana Trolley), which takes you directly to the border crossing.
Bus tours also leave San Diego daily. They offer an easy way to get across the border, but you can't go home early or stay late, and they won't take you to some of the lesser-known sights.
The Go San Diego Card also offers Tijuana tours along with a lot of attractions at a very reasonable price. Use this handy guide to find out all you need to know about it.
You can also drive south on I-5 to the big border parking lots on the U. S. side of the border from Tijuana. If you rented a car in San Diego, you would have to leave it here. Pay attention and take the "Last U.S. Exit, Camino de la Plaza" off-ramp, or you will end up driving across the border... when you didn't intend to, which can be a big hassle and on a busy day, it can take hours to correct your mistake.Continue to 5 of 8 below.
05 of 08
Crossing the Border and Getting Back Into the U.S. from Tijuana
Crossing the Border into Tijuana
Crossing into Tijuana is easy. Use the pictorial, step-by-step guide. It shows you what to do every step of the way.
Bus services go from some of the border parking lots directly to the center of town. Check our tips for getting around Tijuana to learn about them and other ways to get around.
Getting Back to San Diego from Tijuana
To get back to the border from Avenida Revolucion on foot, just look for the big arch. Walk to it, turn right, go across the bridge and through the small shopping plaza.
The U.S.-bound border crossing is on the opposite side of the highway. Take the pedestrian bridge and get in the line.
Once inside the building, get in any line and have your documentation ready. Starting January 31, 2008, U.S. and Canadian citizens must present either a passport or a government-issued photo ID plus proof of citizenship. Visit the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative website for more details. If you don't have a passport, Rushmypassport.com can... help you get or renew your passport without having to run around and stand in line to get it done.
You can bring back up to $800 in purchases duty-free from Tijuana, including up to one liter of alcohol per adult more than 21 years old, 100 cigars and 200 cigarettes. If you're traveling on one of the border buses, you can bring back extra bottles of wine, but you may have to pay taxes on it at the border.
You may also be able to bring back medicines purchased for your personal use.
Once you're back on the United States side, the San Diego Trolley will be straight ahead.Continue to 6 of 8 below.
06 of 08
Getting Around Tijuana, Mexico by Bus, Taxi, and On Foot
Don't wait until you're standing in Tijuana beset by confusion and choices to decided how you're going to get around. Read up now, and you can move around like a pro.
Border Crossing Buses
These buses do just one thing: carry you across the border. You will get out of the bus and walk through customs and immigration. They are sometimes a faster way to get back, and even if the bus wait is as long as the pedestrian one, you can sit down and relax.
Mexicoach (Red Bus): This bus picks up from the San Diego Trolley stop and at Border Station Parking. It goes to the Tourist Terminal on Avenida Revolucion, Rosarito Beach, and the Tijuana Bullring.
Tijuana taxis come in three kinds, and you need to know which one you're working with before you get in. Tipping is not expected but is appreciated if someone is extra helpful.
- Yellow Taxis: These taxis do not have meters, so you have to negotiate your price before you get in. They're the most expensive type of taxi, and the drivers... can be very aggressive when trying to get your business. I'd skip them.
- Taxi Libre: These taxis are easy to recognize. Most are white with a big, orange stripe and "Taxi Libre" written on the door. These taxis have meters and cost about half of what the yellow ones do. The downside is that the drivers speak less English. If you don't speak Spanish and are going somewhere other than the standard destinations, you'll have better luck if you bring a map or written address with you. To avoid any trouble, check to be sure the driver starts the meter when he takes off.
- Taxi Vans: You may also see mini-van-sized vehicles in Tijuana that are marked as taxis. They cover defined routes from the city center to the suburbs and are not for the casual visitor.
- Uber: The app-based ride service operates in Tijuana - but beware that you might have to pay international data roaming fees to use it.
Tijuana City Buses
Local buses are the least expensive option other than walking. The fare is less than a dollar. If you choose this option, you should know that bus numbers are meaningless here. Look for the destination written on the front of the bus instead. Downtown is "Centro." To get to Cultural Center, look for "Zona Rio."Continue to 7 of 8 below.
07 of 08
Tips for Getting the Most Out of Tijuana
These tips will help you have the most fun in Tijuana with the least trouble. In other places, these tips may seem more like the things your mother tells you that you mostly ignore - but for Tijuana, there are a few things you need to know - so listen up and pay attention.
Before You Go to Tijuana
- Bring documentation
- U. S. citizens can visit Mexico for 72 hours or less without visas, but they need proof of citizenship when they return, A passport or government-issued photo ID and birth certificate are most common. If you don't have a passport, Rushmypassport.com can help you get or renew your passport without having to run around or stand in line around to get it done.
- Permanent Residents should bring their green cards and passports.
- Citizens of other countries need valid passports and a valid I-94, multi-entry visa or visa waiver. Visit the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative website for more details.
- Take cash: You'll get better prices in the shops. U. S. dollars are fine.... Traveler's checks are not widely accepted in Tijuana. Use ATMs only for emergencies; they'll give pesos that you'll have to figure out what to do with if you don't spend them all - and may incur foreign transaction fees.
- Know how you're going to get around Tijuana: Read the Tijuana transportation page of this guide and plan ahead.
- Time your trip: It can take more than three hours to get back into the U. S. from Tijuana on Saturday evening. Leave by mid-afternoon, or go on a less-busy day.
- Wear comfortable walking shoes. Walking is the best way to see Tijuana.The last time I went, I walked 8 miles. That's probably more than you will do, but you get the idea.
- Leave expensive jewelry and designer clothing behind. You may get better prices from Tijuana shopkeepers if they think you don't have much money, and there's no point in inviting thieves.
While You're in Tijuana
Continue to 8 of 8 below.
- Cell Phone Roaming: As soon as you get to the border crossing, put your phone on Airplane mode to avoid international roaming charge.
- Beggars: Baja Mexico's tourism department says giving beggars money won't help the problem. They suggest that you contribute to a charity that helps needy people instead.
- Young Girls Selling Flowers. Pickpockets may try to distract you by trying to sell you something while at the same time lifting your wallet. Cute kids are even easier to give into but stay alerted.
- Say no: Tijuana shopkeepers want your attention, and they all have a way of getting it. Some resort to stereotypes (serape and sombrero), others to politeness ("just let me show you something") and yet others to humor: "Give me a chance to rip you off." A firm "no" works with all but the most persistent.
- When you've gotta "go": Some Tijuana shops have restrooms and so do some shopping complexes. There may be a small charge to use them.
Food and drink. It's still true that you need to be careful about eating and drinking in Tijuana. Stick to bottled water and drinks, avoid drinks with ice, skip the street snacks and eat only well-cooked food, just to be safe.
- Bring documentation
08 of 08
Shopping in Tijuana: How to Bargain With a Tijuana Shopkeeper
You can find much merchandise in Tijuana: leather goods, cigars, fine Mexican handicrafts and cheap souvenirs.
Know what things cost. Some are more expensive in Tijuana than in the U. S., including designer clothing and perfumes.
Bargaining for a better price is a way of life in Tijuana. If you're unsure how to do it, follow these steps to save some money.
- Know the price of the item. If you haven't shopped for it at home, look around at several shops to get an idea of the going price.
- Bring cash. You will pay more if you use a credit card.
- Don’t carry an expensive purse or wear high-end designer clothing or jewelry. You might look nice in it, but shopkeepers will notice and aren't likely to give you the best bargains.
- Compare quality and price at several shops before making a purchase. Pay attention to the location of a shop you like, or you may not be able to find it again!
- Shops that actively solicit your presence are most open to bargaining. Some of the nicer shops that... don't have anyone standing on the sidewalk trying to drag you in are more likely to have fixed prices.
- When you're ready to buy, don't express a keen interest in the item. It weakens your negotiating position.
- Ask the price, but unless it's marked firm don't settle for it. Currency marked with a $ sign can be pesos or dollars. If it doesn't say, ask.
- Wait until the shopkeeper makes several rounds of reductions before you counter with a lower price than he is quoting.
- When the shopkeeper reaches a price close to what you want to pay, counter with your price and be firm.
- If you're unsure about the item, or can't get the price you want, turn away and start to leave the shop. The shopkeeper will either come down further, or you'll know where the rock-bottom price lies.
- If you don't like to haggle, shop in a store that has fixed prices. They're fair, and you don't have to negotiate.
- If someone else who's with you likes to bargain, let them make your purchase for you.
- Keep expensive jewelry out of sight. Flaunting your bling just weakens your bargaining position. If you have a fancy diamond, turn your ring inside your palm, so only the band shows. Keep expensive watches pushed up your sleeve out of sight.