Watch our YOUTUBE video on the 4 Things You Didn’t Know About Tijuana! (Yes, we literally skipped our San Diego trip to spend more time in TJ).
Donkeys painted like zebras. A bustling craft beer and artisan coffee culture. Endless Chinese buffets and the home of the Caesar salad. Plastic surgeons and dentists on almost every block.
Sound intriguing? Then head to Tijuana, or TJ as it is often called. For a city that has been damaged severely by its international reputation of dangerous criminal organizations and violent crime, we found that there is a lot to love about this Pacific metropolis. Located literally on the U.S. border – you can reach through the fence and touch the ground of California – this city has developed an extremely unique blend of cultures.
Tijuana is more than just a border town. It is home to the busiest border crossing in the entire world, and it is the largest city in the Mexican state of Baja California. While Tijuana is not known as a safe place to visit, gang violence surrounding territorial disputes has largely decreased in recent years as local authorities have gotten a slightly better handle on the situation.
Tijuana is widely referred to as one of the most dangerous cities in Mexico (evidenced by it having the highest murder rate of any city in the world not in an active war zone in 2018 and 2019), but local media will tell you that this reputation is very misleading. We’ll get into more detail about that in the safety section, but I can sum it up like this: if Tijuana were truly that dangerous, would I really write a post highlighting the best things to do there?
In this post, I’ll list the top things to do in Tijuana, tell you how to get there and get around, and give you some safety tips specifically for this city. If all that sounds like your cup of tea, keep reading!
Best Things to Do in Tijuana
Tijuana is loaded with things to do, and most of them revolve around eating and drinking. There are restaurants of all kinds here, bars and taprooms of every vibe, and so much street food that you might not even wind up in a restaurant at all.
Outside of the realm of food and drink, there is also so much more to do. Tijuana has a very unique culture and history, and you can see that all around the city and in its museums. In this section I’ll highlight some of the top ways to spend your time in the wild capital of Baja California.
1. Check Out as Many Craft Breweries as Possible
It would be fair to summarize our trip as a constant (but responsible) darty. Unknown to many outside of the Southern California and Baja California areas, Tijuana has an absolutely incredible craft beer scene. I read that there are over 66 craft breweries within the city, and that is far and away the most of any city in Mexico other than Mexico City.
I don’t even know if Mexico City has that many; I just know that Mexico City is giant and has everything, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they had just as many craft breweries. If you search for “Cerveceria” on any map app on your phone, you will literally see results everywhere.
Three of our favorites were Mamut, Norte Brewing Co., and Insurgente. Insurgente and Mamut are both very easy to find using your maps app, but Norte Brewing Co. is a tricky one. For detailed directions on how to find this place, check the Our Tips section at the bottom of this post.
In Tijuana you’ll be able to find literally every variety of beer, and I promise you that they’re all pretty fantastic. Just remember to always drink responsibly, because in TJ a drunk person can very quickly become a person without a wallet.
2. Hit the Beaches at Playas de Tijuana
Tijuana is located a few miles off of the shore, but it has a zone that extends out to the Pacific Ocean, and it is called Playas. If you head out this way, you’ll come across some fantastic seafood, a lively crowd, and some nice beaches. It’s a pretty good way to spend your afternoon if you’re looking for some sun!
Additionally, you can check out the border wall here as the tourist area extends all the way to the U.S. border. In solidarity with all those affected by the migration crisis – migrants, their families, border patrol officers, etc. – the locals created a “Friendship Park” as well as several murals painted on the wall to offer words of positivity and love. Regardless of your stance on the border or the wall, this is a beautiful sign of humanity and love, and it is worth a visit if you’re out by Playas!
3. Visit the Tijuana Cultural Center
Sadly, this museum was closed during our visit because it still had not reopened from the pandemic. We were really looking forward to a visit here! The Tijuana Cultural Center houses a museum about the history of Baja California, several performing arts stages, an aquarium, an IMAX movie theater, art galleries, and a gorgeous garden.
There is a little bit of everything here, and it is located very close to a nice outdoor mall area as well. Most of the galleries are free to visit and tours can be arranged in either English or Spanish. Check out their website to see what their lineup of events is!
4. Walk Up the Avenida Revolución to Plaza Santa Cecilia.
The Avenida Revolución is the main drag through Tijuana. On this street you’ll get a good feel for what Tijuana is all about. It is lined with restaurants, bars, clubs, cafes, and stores. If you’re looking for something to do, you’re sure to find something by walking on this strip!
The Plaza Santa Cecilia is a cute area at the northern end of this main strip. Here you’ll find a bunch of markets, restaurants, artisans, and people selling what are probably knockoff Nike’s. This area was pretty busy when we went, and it felt nice to see so many people gathering!
We didn’t stop to grab any food, but the food and drink options looked promising, and the area is worth a visit. The cathedral is also very close to here, and it’s also worth a visit. You can see its yellow domes from all over the city!
Best Places to Eat in Tijuana
Tijuana has an awesome food scene, and you can find something to meet any craving or desire. European food, Asian food, American food; you name it and Tijuana has it. So instead of trying to list off some of the top-quality restaurants in Tijuana, I’m going to list a few of our favorites that we think are worth a visit, even though they’re all very different.
Also, it’s worth noting that Tijuana has more street food than almost any city we’ve been to in Mexico and everything we had on the street was great! While many restaurants will serve tacos, the best tacos are always found on the street.
1. Telefonica Gastro Park
This place is epic. It is a gourmet food court with both indoor and outdoor seating, and it is loaded with good food options. The outdoor portion is surrounded by food trucks of all different varieties and the inside portion is actually inside a large garage with several other options for food and drinks. The whole place has a young, hipster vibe to it.
You can sit anywhere and the workers will deliver your food from their stand. There is a café, a full bar, a line of taps from local craft breweries, Greek food, Mexican food, American BBQ, a vegetarian restaurant, and more! For breakfast, we’d recommend checking out Azarosa and for dinner, you can’t go wrong with any of the options. If you come on a weekend for dinner be prepared for a line outside.
This place is entirely different from the Gastro Park. This is a nice, refined Italian restaurant in the heart of the city. The reason we put it on this list, apart from the great food and awesome service, is that it is actually the original home of the Caesar salad!
An Italian immigrant opened this restaurant in the early 1900s and created his own house dressing, which of course is now what we call Caesar. You can go for a whole meal or you can do what we did, which was get a table, order a tableside-made Caesar salad, and leave. The servers are great and watching them make an authentic Caesar salad is really a cool experience!
Be prepared, as the dressing does contain raw eggs and anchovies. It’s best to make a reservation, as this place is extremely popular. We walked up without a reservation and only had to wait about 20 minutes, but I’ve heard that the waits can be much longer. Who knew that the Caesar salad was technically Mexican cuisine?
- DID YOU KNOW? - Real Caesar salad dressing contains raw eggs and anchovies.
This one is very niche. Angel is a bubble tea fiend, and after spending a summer in China, we are very picky with our bubble tea.
It’s located in a nice outdoor mall by the Tijuana Cultural Center, and it is always very busy – that’s how you know it’s good! We went here twice and really liked it. These were some of the best bubble teas we’ve had outside of China! If you like bubble tea, or if you’re interested in trying it, make a stop at Awiwis. We love sticking to basic milk tea, and the “Awiwis Milk Tea” was our choice both times.
4. The Park
Like Telefonica, The Park is also a food court, but this one is more of an open-air type of place. At The Park you check out the menus that are all over the wall, order at one of the registers or “cajas” and go grab a table while all your food comes out to you.
The prices here were pretty good, they had a decent craft beer selection, and the vibe is very cool. While Caesar’s and Telefonica Gastro Park are both located downtown, this is a great spot to grab food if you’re in the Zona Rio.
To enter, you’ll need to go up a tall escalator towards the Quartz Hotel. The Park is straight ahead and to the left once you get off the escalator.
How to Get to Tijuana
How to Get Around Tijuana
Unless you drove in from California, we’d advise against renting a car if you’re staying in Tijuana (It’s a whole different story if you plan on driving down the coast or heading to Valle de Guadalupe. If you’re thinking about doing that, be sure to check out my Valle de Guadalupe Travel Guide first). If you’re only going to be in Tijuana, stick to Uber. It’s completely reliable, the prices are fantastic, the wait times are short, and the drivers are very friendly.
If you’re still worried, I recommend you read my post about using Uber internationally.
If you are sticking mainly to the tourist areas and the city center, there will not be much need for transportation anyway. The downtown area of Tijuana is pretty walkable, and Ubers from one tourist area to another are very cheap. There is no metro system, and the official bus system is pretty limited for such a big city. Like any Mexican city, there are colectivos, but we chose to stay away from them in Tijuana.
If you’re wondering what a colectivo is, be sure to read my post about using colectivos in Mexico. Uber is cheap and definitely worth the few extra pesos for guaranteed safety. If you drove in from the United States, the roads are decent in Tijuana, but we’d recommend not driving at night and staying out of alleyways. Uber drivers know where the bad areas are, but you probably don’t.
Is Tijuana Safe to Visit?
Despite travel warnings from the U.S. State Department, Tijuana is a safe place. While it may not be as safe as popular tourist destinations like Playa del Carmen, Cabo San Lucas, and Puerto Vallarta, Tijuana is absolutely safe enough to visit. As a tourist, it is extremely unlikely that anything violent will ever happen to you as long as you are being responsible. I never put much stock into a travel advisory from the State Department anyway, and this is a prime example.
If you’re stumbling drunk, or you’re walking around the red-light district, or you’re trying to buy drugs, you’re intentionally choosing to put yourself in a very risky situation. In Mexico, they often say that if you don’t put your nose where it doesn’t belong, nothing will happen to you. It’s a lot like Las Vegas, to be honest, except that there are more serious consequences involved if you don’t behave.
The drug cartels don’t care about you (in fact they completely avoid you) until you show an interest in them via their products, like women and drugs. Safety in Tijuana as a tourist has little to do the cartels’ criminal activity, actually. The biggest threat in Tijuana is petty crime like pickpocketing, credit card scams, and mugging by random individuals. Police officers in this area are very hit or miss, and these crimes tend to go unsolved. Other than these petty crimes, things only tend to happen to American travelers if they are in the wrong place at the wrong time.
You can largely mitigate the risk of anything happening to you by keeping a constant eye on your belongings, never putting things in your back pockets (so much easier to steal back there), and avoiding walking around in dark areas and at night. The one exception is that sexual assault against women who are walking around alone at night is not unheard of, and women should take particular caution. If you follow that advice, you should have a very safe and fun time in Tijuana.
Tijuana’s murder rate is so high is only because of wars between different cartels. The vast, vast majority of those murders are gang members killing other gang members. The people who partake in organized crime are professionals that know the ramifications of harming tourists, and they do all that they can to keep tourists – especially U.S. citizens – out of it. While Tijuana is not one of the safest areas of Mexico, you can certainly visit it safely and have a nice time.
While in an Uber, we actually drove by a crime scene where two young men from one gang had been gunned down by a rival gang just 30 minutes earlier, and he confirmed to us that the gangs will literally sit and wait for all the civilians to be gone so that they have a clean kill with no collateral damage.
All of this is to say, if you’re worried about coming to Tijuana because of the cartels, don’t be. The ones that are a greater threat to you are just poor people looking to take your wallet or scammers looking to get a few extra bucks out of you.
The Best Time to Visit Tijuana
San Diego is located just a stone’s throw away from San Diego, California. San Diego is commonly referenced as having the best weather in the United States all year, and the sam story is true south of the border! Tijuana is a great place to visit year round, as the weather is comfortable each month of the year. It is always a good idea to check the weather for the month that you plan to visit, but generally speaking the weather in Tijuana is beautiful all year, and there really is no best time to visit the city.
Can You Visit Tijuana in One Day from California?
Due to its proximity to Pacific Coast cities like San Diego and Los Angeles, many people think about visiting Tijuana for a day from California. If you’re thinking about visiting Tijuana from San Diego, you should know that it is absolutely something you can do for a day. If you can visit Los Angeles for a day, you can absolutely visit Tijuana for a day.
The hiccup is that the border crossing can be pretty slow and tedious if you bring a car. If you are visiting Tijuana for a day from downtown San Diego, I recommend taking public transportation or an Uber to the border and crossing by foot. You will save a ton of time, and Uber in Tijuana is very cheap.
If you are taking a day trip from somewhere a bit further away, like Los Angeles, I recommend driving your car to the border, parking it safely and quickly in the United States, and crossing the border into Mexico by foot.
Our Final Tijuana Tips
That’s all we have for you about Tijuana! Hopefully this post is helpful as you start planning your journey to one of my favorite cities in Mexico.
If you’re planning a trip to Tijuana, let us know! We’d love to chat ahead of time and answer any questions you have. Otherwise, have a wonderful day and stay present!