Tijuana Visitors Guide

TIJUANA colorful sign
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Tijuana is a vibrant border town with a rich culture. Located in the northern part of Baja California, Tijuana is just across the border from San Diego. Known as the gateway to Mexico, Tijuana has long been a popular destination for tourists from all over the world. With its rich culture, friendly people, and exciting attractions, there’s no wonder why Tijuana is one of the most visited cities in Mexico.

Please note: it is correctly pronounced TI-juana and not TIA-juana, a common gringo error that I have even seen on the news and television shows.

Getting to Tijuana

Tijuana is easily accessible from San Diego and the surrounding areas in Southern California. Because the border is located just 20 miles south of San Diego, the most popular way to get there is by car or public transit. For this reason, many visitors to Tijuana choose to drive or walk across the border. There are large parking lots on the San Ysidro side of the border where you can leave your car if you choose to cross on foot.

Getting to Tijuana by Bus

If you prefer not to drive into Mexico or leave your car at the border, you can take the San Diego Trolley to the border crossing and travel on foot. Walk into town or catch a taxi or Uber once you get through the border checkpoint. Note that there are some restrictions on what you can take across the border in either direction. Visit this link for more information on the border crossing into Mexico, and this link for crossing back to the USA. Please check our upcoming article too.

In addition to the San Diego Trolley, there are also several bus companies that offer service to and from Tijuana, including Greyhound and Mexicoach.

Driving Your Car to Tijuana

If you are driving further into Baja California or just wish to have your own wheels, you may be bringing your own vehicle to Tijuana. In that case you will want to carefully research the rules and restrictions – check the information here. Mexican auto insurance is required, and we also recommend bringing extra copies of your driver license, registration and valid US car insurance.

Border patrol and customs officials can search your vehicle so don’t bring any contraband. Also note the restrictions and limits on the value of certain new items. You don’t want to have to pay import taxes just because you forgot your new laptop or camera was in the trunk.

Is it safe to drive in Tijuana? If you are just visiting for the day or weekend, we’d recommend leaving your vehicle across the border. Why worry about your parked car or deal with getting stopped by a corrupt police officer when you can relax with a margarita in hand and walk or take a taxi? But if you are staying for a longer trip or wish to explore Baja California further then driving in Tijuana is safe if you are careful and take precautions.

The US State Department has recently recommended that travelers to some border areas in Mexico remain in tourist areas and only drive on the main highways. Visit their website for the latest travel advisories for Tijuana tourism.

Lastly, you might want to know how busy it is at the border so that you can attempt to avoid long wait times. Check this link for current border wait times.

Tijuana Airport (TIJ)

If you’re flying into the area, the Tijuana International Airport (TIJ) is located just a few miles from the city center, making it easy to get to. The airport serves airlines including KLM, AeroMexico, and Volaris for example. Therefore, if you are flying to other cities in Mexico, Tijuana is an excellent hub. You can even walk directly to the airport via a bridge (called the Cross Border XPress Terminal) from the US side.

Because it is so easy to access, many people use the Tijuana airport for cost savings for flying to Mexican destinations like Los Cabos, La Paz, Mexico City and Puerto Vallarta. Read more about TIJ in our article on the Tijuana Airport.

Get from the Tijuana airport to your lodgings with a private shuttle or taxi in less than 30 minutes. There are also buses such as ABC that will take you from the airport on to other cities in Baja including Ensenada, La Paz and even Los Cabos!

Tijuana street scene

Getting Around in Tijuana

Tijuana is a relatively compact city, and it’s easy to get around on foot or by public transportation. The city’s public transportation system includes buses and taxis, which are both inexpensive and convenient. Taxis are widely available throughout the city and are a great option for those who prefer to travel in comfort and style. In addition, Uber is also available within Tijuana and you can use it for day trips to Ensenada or Valle de Guadalupe as well.

Local city buses known as “calafias” can get you around town very inexpensively. And there are also shared taxis which follow specific routes.

Do you plan to drive across the border? Make sure you have the proper documents and Mexican car insurance. For example, you’ll need your passport, FMM form, and we also recommend bringing extra copies of your driver license, registration and valid US car insurance. If you happen to have your own vehicle in Tijuana, please be mindful to park it in safe areas and not leave any valuable possessions in the vehicle. If you must leave items in the car, do not leave them in plain sight as a temptation. Use the same common sense precautions you would use in any busy city.

sunset at Playa de Tijuana Baja in California Norte
Photo by Barbara Zandoval

Things to Do in Tijuana

Tijuana is a city with something for everyone. Whether you’re interested in food, history, art, craft beer or beaches you’re sure to find something to do in Tijuana.

  • The Avenida Revolucion is one of the most famous streets in Tijuana, and it’s a great place to shop, eat, and people-watch. The street is lined with shops selling everything from souvenirs and handicrafts to clothing and jewelry, as well as restaurants and cafes serving up delicious Mexican cuisine. However, it can be a bit touristy at times so we recommend continuing to explore off the beaten path.
  • Tijuana’s mercados are a great place to sample some of the local flavors of Tijuana. Check out Mercado Hildalgo or El Popo for vendors selling everything from fresh produce to piñatas to dried chiles. These markets are also the perfect place to try some of the local specialties.
  • Tijuana has a thriving craft beer scene! You can also take a guided beer tour with Baja Test Kitchen and taste some tacos along the way! Keep reading below for more ideas for drinking and eating in Tijuana.
  • Go searching for Tijuana street art and small contemporary galleries in the back alleys or “pasajes” of Tijuana, especially Pasaje Rodriguez. And if you are visiting in June check out FestiArte, a celebration of the arts in Tijuana.
  • The Cultural Center of Tijuana (CECUT) is one of the most popular places to visit in Tijuana, and it’s easy to see why. The center features a range of exhibits, including art, science, and history, as well as a planetarium and an IMAX theater. There’s also a beautiful botanical garden on the grounds, which is a great place to relax and enjoy the scenery.
  • The Tijuana Arch is one of the most iconic landmarks in the city, and it’s a great place to take photos and soak up the local atmosphere. The arch was built in the early 1900s and has become a symbol of the city’s rich history and culture.
  • Craving some sea and sand? Playas de Tijuana is one of the most popular beaches in the city, a great place to relax and soak up the sun. And you can also try some watersports such as surfing and kayaking or just lounge at a beachside bar drinking beer and eating seafood.
  • A side trip to Valle de Guadalupe is always a good idea. This wine region is located just a few hours from Tijuana, and it’s a great place to take a day trip and explore the local vineyards and wineries. The area is known for its delicious wines, beautiful scenery, and rustic gourmet restaurants.
  • Another short drive away is Ensenada, famous for fresh seafood. Head there on a day trip or take a guided adventure like this taco tour! Be sure to check out our Ensenada visitors guide here!
Airbnb view of ocean  in Tijuana

Where to Stay in Tijuana

Tijuana has a wide range of accommodation options to suit every budget and preference. Some of the most popular areas to stay in include the Zona Rio, which is the city’s commercial and business district, and the Playas de Tijuana, which is a popular beachfront area. Following are some lodging tips for your Tijuana vacation.

Some of the best hotels in Tijuana include the Grand Hotel Tijuana, which is located in the Zona Rio and offers luxurious amenities and a central location, and the Rosarito Beach Hotel, which is located in the Playas de Tijuana and offers beautiful views and a relaxed atmosphere.

There are many Airbnbs and VRBOs available in the Tijuana area if you prefer to stay in an apartment rather than a hotel room. For example, check out this fantastic condo overlooking the sea (pictured above). Or check out this large apartment near Zona Rio and downtown Tijuana.

Carnitas tacos- best foods in Baja

Where to Eat (and Drink) in Tijuana

Tijuana is known for its delicious food, and there are plenty of restaurants and street vendors to choose from. For example, some of the most popular local specialties include tacos, seafood, torta de lomo, and birria.

Some of the best restaurants in Tijuana include BajaMed serving up delicious fresh fusion flavors, KOOL modern Mexican inspired by traditional cuisine, and Mision 19 which offers upscale dining and a beautiful rooftop terrace. And if you are a fan of culinary history you might want to dine at Caesar’s where the eponymous salad was invented in the 1920s. The Park is one of several Tijuana food hall concepts that you might want to check out as well.

Tijuana Street Food

For a more casual and authentic experience, check out the many street vendors, small shacks and food trucks. But how do you know which places are tastiest and won’t make you sick? A good tip for finding the best street food is to look for crowds of locals. That way you know the food is fresh and delicious! Here are a few casual favorites in Tijuana:

  • Tacos San Diego: amazing seafood tacos
  • Birria El Sabroso: grab a quesabirria and some consomé
  • Mariscos El Paisa: if you are craving seafood, head here
  • Telefonica Gastro Park is a great place to go with a group as everyone can find what they like; choose from ceviche, burgers, tacos and craft beer for example

Best Bars in Tijuana

The craft beer scene in Tijuana has exploded in recent years. For this reason, there are too many great places to mention in this quick travel guide. Here are a few breweries that might whet your whistle:

Of course, you can’t go to Tijuana without enjoying a margarita or another creative cocktail. Here are some of the most popular bars and tasting rooms in Tijuana.

  • Dandy Del Sur Cantina: retro inspired dive bar
  • Tahona Mercado: sample mezcal or other artisanal liquors in this shop and tasting room
  • La Justina: pretty garden cocktails decorated with fresh flowers and herbs
  • Banger Rooftop: sip Italian inspired drinks in kitschy cups
  • Nortico: secret speakeasy behind Oryx Capital

You may have also heard that Tijuana is famous for its nightlife. Head to Avenida Revolucion or Calle Brasi for a fun night out. However, take care when walking in the city at night. Check out these safety tips below.

Practical Tips for Traveling to Tijuana

Tijuana is generally a safe city for tourists. But of course it’s always important to take precautions and be aware of your surroundings. Some tips for staying safe in Tijuana include:

  • Avoid walking alone at night, especially in isolated areas
  • Keep your valuables, including your passport and money, in a safe place
  • Be careful when using ATM machines and don’t accept “help” from bystanders
  • Avoid carrying large amounts of cash or wearing expensive jewelry or handbags
  • Please be respectful of the local culture and customs

Should I pay in pesos or US dollars in Tijuana? You’ll find that the US dollar is accepted in many border cities and tourist areas in Mexico. However we always recommend paying in Mexican pesos if possible. You can easily get cash out of an ATM machine in Tijuana.

Why pay in pesos? There are many reasons. First of all, you are likely to pay slightly more if you use dollars. Also the vendor often needs to make an extra trip to exchange dollars for pesos in order to pay their local bills. Some say that tips in dollars are appreciated in Mexico. Perhaps ask first which currency the person would prefer.

Tijuana Baja California Norte Mexico

As you can see, Tijuana is a vibrant and exciting city that is full of culture, history, and delicious food. Whether you’re interested in exploring the city’s historic sites, relaxing on the beach, or trying the local specialties, there is something for everyone in Tijuana.