I’ve lived in California for almost my entire life but it’s been several decades since I’ve visited Tijuana. So it was to my great surprise how much TJ Mexico has changed since I had last been there. And how much I enjoyed it.
With a legal drinking age of 18 years old, visiting Tijuana is a rite of passage for some young adults living in and vacationing in San Diego. But the coastal city is more than a playground for new adults to get their drink on.
As one of the top five largest cities in Mexico, there’s so much to do whether you visit as a day trip from San Diego or spend several days. Here are the best things to do in Tijuana.
Pro-tip: Flights from the Tijuana Airport to cities in Mexico like Cancun and Puerto Vallarta, Central America, and South America are cheaper than flying from San Diego or Los Angeles. Save time by using the Cross Border Xpress for your Tijuana flights.
What to Bring to Tijuana
US citizens have to bring proof of citizenship to cross the border when visiting Tijuana Mexico. A birth certificate and government-issued ID or a passport are acceptable forms of citizenship proof.
Permanent US residents can bring their green card and passport. Citizens of other countries need valid passports and an I-94 form. You should check to see if there are other requirements before you visit Tijuana BC.
Visas aren’t required for citizens of the US, Canada, Japan, the UK, and the Schengen Area if you’re visiting for less than 180 days.
Phone With International Plan
If you’re going to Uber, take a Tijuana taxi, make calls, use Google Maps, and/or go on social media while in Tijuana, you’ll want to bring a phone with an international plan. You can add a Verizon TravelPass for Mexico for $5 a day. T-Mobile plans include free coverage in Mexico.
Pro-tip: If you don’t want to purchase a plan or don’t have T-Mobile, put your phone in airplane mode.
You should bring cash if you’re planning a visit to Mercado Hildago Farmers Market, want better prices on souvenirs and other items, or will frequent small shops. Most places will accept US dollars. For the ones that don’t, you can get cash from an ATM.
Pro-tip: Use the Charles Schwab debit card to avoid ATM and foreign transaction fees.
Comfortable Walking Shoes
When exploring Tijuana downtown, you should wear comfortable walking shoes. Your feet will thank you. I like these casual, comfy slip-on sneakers. No laces mean you don’t have to stop and tie your shoes.
Tijuana’s gotten a bad rap as a dangerous border town. It is safe to travel to Tijuana with a group or solo. . As with all cities, there is some crime. I don’t know of any cities that are 100% crime-free except those in a Hallmark movie.
How To Get To Tijuana
Only 20 miles from San Diego, it’s easy to get to Tijuana.
San Diego Trolley
The most convenient and easiest way to go to Tijuana is to take the San Diego Trolley. From downtown San Diego you’ll take the UC San Diego Blue Line to the America Plaza – San Ysidro stop. From there it’s a short walk to the Tijuana border crossing.
Tickets are $2.50 and can be purchased at any of the trolley ticket machines with cash or credit card.
You can save money during special promotions, weekends, and holidays:
- Saturdays and Sundays one child age 12 and under rides free with one paying adult (maximum 2 free child tickets)
- BOGO tickets on New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and December 25
Pro-tip: The last trolley from San Ysidro to San Diego leaves at 11:48 pm.
You can drive to Tijuana. Driving offers the most flexibility and allows you to discover and explore Tijuana at your own pace. But plan to spend hours in line waiting to cross the border.
Whether you’re driving your personal vehicle or a rental car, make sure your car insurance coverage for Mexico.
A better way is to drive to the border, park at one of the parking lots on the US side, and walk across the border.
Pro-tip: The Las Americas Premium Outlets (a Simon Mall 😉 ) closes at 8 pm and isn’t a secure lot. I’d only park here if you’re making a very quick trip to TJ (going across to buy something from a pharmacy) and coming right back.
If driving or taking the trolley is inconvenient you can book a bus tour to Tijuana through one of several tour operators. If you want the most flexibility and to discover and explore Tijuana at your own pace, this is not the option for you.
Pro-tip: With a bus tour, you’re limited to the tour itinerary and times.
From shop merchants beckoning you to come into their store to the roving mariachi bands, shopping in Tijuana is an adventure.
A must for any visit to Tijuana is a stop at Plaza Santa Cecilia. The historic square is reminiscent of old Mexico. It’s a great place to pick up souvenirs. Combine people watching with al fresco dining at La Tradicion. The restaurant offers an expansive traditional Mexican menu, generous portions, and wonderful food.
If you’re looking for inexpensive prescription (and non-prescription) medications, leather goods, and cigars you’ll find it on Avenida Revolucion in downtown Tijuana.
Mercado Hidalgo is Tijuana’s largest market. Located in Zona Ria, the farmer’s market is mostly visited by locals. You’ll find fresh fruits and vegetables, more chiles than you can imagine, an organic pharmacy (Botanica Mendoza), the best carnitas (Carnitas El Jerezano), and a turophiles dream store (La Cava del Queso).
If you prefer a more modern shopping experience, head to Galeria Hipodromo. Non-shopping companions can spend their time roller skating, bowling, or watching a movie while their friends shop till they drop.
Pro-tip: Currently, the US dollar is worth 20 Mexican Pesos.
Street tacos are the first thing that comes to mind when most people think about what to eat in Tijuana. While excellent Tijuana tacos at places like Mariscos el Mazateno are a thing, don’t limit yourself to just tacos.
For the best carnitas and gorditas, save room for a bite or two, maybe even three at Carnitas El Jerezano in Mercado Hidalgo de Tijuana.
The birthplace of the Caesar Salad, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Tijuana’s culinary scene offers something for everyone including gluten-free and vegan options.
You’ll find the most delectable mushroom ceviche at Telefonica Gastro Park along with a variety of other mouthwatering dishes like rabbit tacos. No worries, Bambi wasn’t harmed in the making of these tacos. Although, the ugly stepsister might have…
What trip to Tijuana is complete without a stop for a beer aka cerveza? None.
With such close proximity to San Diego, it’s only natural for an emerging craft brewery scene in Tijuana. If you only had time to visit one brewery, make it the award-winning Cerveceria Lirica at the Telefonica Gastro Park.
The beer is equally good to any on tap at a San Diego craft brewery. They use only natural ingredients, the majority of which come from Baja California. The names of the beers such as Brown Eyed Girl (English Brown Ale), Mexa Haze (Hazy IPA), Brown Sugar (Toasted Marshmallow Stout), and Rocket Man (Imperial Porter) are sure to envoke a smile and a fond memory or two.
If you want to do a craft brewery crawl, Border Psycho, Mamut, Norte Brewing Co, Insurgente, and Teorema/Ludica are within walking distance of each other. Although after a pint or two at every brewery, you may just want to walk over and get a room at Hotel Lafayette.
If you prefer wine, you can go wine tasting in Guadalupe Valley (Valle de Guadalupe). Will over 100 wineries in the region, you can spend several days in the valley searching for that perfect bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Food, beer, wine, Tijuana has it all including culture. You can spend the day visiting the local museums. Popular cultural activities include a visit to the Tijuana Cultural Center and El Trompo.
Don’t leave TJ without a stop at Mullme Museum and the 1889 TJ Museum. The second floor of the Mullme Museum is dedicated to Luche Libre Mexican Wresting. You could spend hours in the Mullme Museum and not see everything.
The 1889 TJ Museum is a history buff’s treasure trove. You’ll learn why Tijuana donkeys are painted with stripes, how and why the Caesar salad was created, and more.
Built to welcome visitors to Tijuana the Tijuana Monumental Arch (Arco de Tijuana) also known as Arco del Milenio (Millennium Arch) and Reloj Monumental de Tijuana (Tijuana Monumental Clock) was modeled after the St Louis Gateway Arch. Unlike the St Louis Arch, you can’t go inside the Tijuana Arch. From Avenida Revolucion in downtown Tijuana, you can walk to the arch.
If you’ve dreamed of horse riding on the beach, you can do so at Playas de Tijuana (beaches of Tijuana). While it’s not white sand beaches, riding a horse on the beach in Tijuana will cross off that bucket list item without costing a fortune.
Pro-tip: Check the travel advisories before you swim or go in the water. Raw sewage can contaminate the water, especially after heavy rains.
Where to Stay in Tijuana
If after visiting for a few hours you realize you want to spend more time in this delightful city, here’s where to stay in Tijuana. There are a variety of accommodations to choose from in Tijuana. From luxury hotels like the Quartz Hotel & Spa to hostels such as the Paris Hostel and everything in between.
My favorite is the Hotel Lafayette. A new boutique hotel in the heart of Avenida Revolucion. This 12 room hotel offers casual sophistication and luxury comforts.
Pro-tip: You can travel hack Tijuana and stay for free at Hyatt Place Tijuana, Hampton Inn by Hilton Tijuana, Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Tijuana, and the Tijuana Marriott Hotel.
What are your favorite Tijuana Mexico tourist attractions?
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