Explore Tijuana for the First Time
We’ve rounded up everything you need to know about navigating Baja’s biggest city, from border waits and taxi rules to the best tacos and cervecerias. No more excuses—ándale!
Reloj Monumental on Avenida Revolución
1. Getting There
Guarded, paid parking lots dot the U.S. side of the San Ysidro and Otay crossings, but on weekends they’re often full and prices soar from midweek averages of $10 per day to $20 or more. Thankfully, the San Diego Trolley’s blue line runs regularly between downtown and the San Ysidro pedestrian border crossing. Or Uber it! The app now offers one-way rides from San Diego to anywhere in Tijuana, with fares averaging $100 from downtown. And note, evening rush hour traffic usually backs up for miles along the 5 and 805. Fridays are the worst, when weekenders toss themselves into the mess.
2. Crossing the border
As of August 2015, all foreigners, including Sentri and Global Entry participants, entering via the San Ysidro or Otay pedestrian crossings must present a current passport book or passport card and fill out a forma migratoria múltiple, or FMM, which is free for stays of less than seven days or 332 pesos (about $19) for seven days to six months. For now, there’s no check when crossing in private cars.
Upon crossing, be prepared to get swarmed by eager cabbies, but stick to the orange-and-white Taxi Libre cars. Tijuana taxis aren’t metered, so agree upon the fare, which includes the driver’s tip, before entering. Feel free to barter, and if the fare still seems high, walk to the next car in line. Uber now offers the option to request English-speaking drivers, too. Once your phone switches to a Mexican signal, open the app and switch from uberX to uberENGLISH.
4. BUT FIRST, COFFEE
Start with a cuppa in Colonia La Cacho, Tijuana’s would-be ground zero for quality caffeine fixes, where several cafés are within a few blocks of each other, including Das Cortez, Jacu, LaStazione, and 2269 Brew & Crew.
5. MARKET TO MARKET
Mercado Miguel Hidalgo
Walk 10 minutes or cab it to Mercado Miguel Hidalgo in Zona Rio for snacking and shopping. Open since 1955, Hidalgo is Tijuana’s oldest open-air market and offers a kaleidoscope of food and goods from each of Mexico’s 31 states, not to mention piñata nirvana.
6. CULTURE FIX
Walk to Centro Cultural Tijuana, known as Cecut, on Paseo de los Héroes in Zona Rio. The museum is one of northern Mexico’s top fine art institutions, with its iconic dome-shaped theater, “La Bola.”
7. HOLDING COURT
Foodgarden | Photo by Luis García
Head to the nearby Foodgarden in Plaza Rio, a gourmet food court of 12 eateries, spanning tacos, Thai, craft beer, and the seafood spot Erizo by famed Tijuana-born chef Javier Plascencia.
8. TACO TIME
If it’s after 4 p.m., walk about five minutes to the no-frills Taquería Franc for their famously juicy al pastor tacos. Remind yourself to return for a late-night bite; the eatery stays open until 1 a.m.
9. ALLEYWAY ART
Hail a cab for Avenida Revolución, but skip the touristy main drag and duck into the covered alleys known as pasajes—a portal to the city’s thriving bohemian scene. Along Pasaje Rodriguez—which connects avenidas Revolución and Constitución between Third and Fourth streets—you’ll find independent art galleries, cafés, eateries, boutiques, and breweries, like Mamut Brewery Co.
10. BORDER BOUND
Northbound pedestrian waits can range from 10 minutes to two hours—as a general rule, the queue dwindles later in the day—but rejoice! The line doubles as a street eats buffet (tacos! tamales! churros!). At the Otay Mesa crossing, lines are often shorter, but tend to move slower, too. Or head to Tecate, about an hour east of TJ, where the quieter border crossing connects with I-94.
Illustrations by Livi Gosling
Better known locally as “Las Tijeras” for its scissor-like form, the Monumento a México greets new arrivals to Tijuana at the first major traffic circle after crossing at San Ysidro. Designed by Mexico City artist Ángela Gurría, its two-toned blades are said to represent the union of European and Aztec cultures that make up the modern Mexican people.
Designed by Guerrero artist Alfonso Casarrubias, Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma, the 11th and final ruler of the Aztec empire, stands tall over the second traffic circle south of the border, gazing north toward the U.S.
Straddling the north end of Avenida Revolución just three blocks from the border fence, Tijuana’s cousin to St. Louis’s Gateway Arch—the Reloj Monumental
or Monumental Clock—was built to commemorate the arrival of the new millennium in 2001.
Tijuana Tercer Milenio, known as La Mona, was built to commemorate the city’s centennial by self-taught artist Armando Muñoz Garcia in 1989. The hollow concrete structure measures 50 feet high and weighs 18 tons. It’s appeared everywhere from Playboy to Japanese primetime TV, and is arguably Tijuana’s most iconic piece of public art.
A mix of Mexican Colonial, California Mission, and Neo-Islamic designs, the Agua Caliente Minaret was designed by 19-year-old architect Wayne McAllister and served as the chimney at the original Agua Caliente Hotel and Casino, which opened in 1928, making it one of the oldest structures in the city. It now stands on the grounds of Tijuana’s largest high school, Escuela Preparatoria Federal Lázaro Cárdenas.
One of the most defining sites of not just the city or country but all of Latin America is its northwesternmost corner, the point where the U.S. border fence trails some 100 feet into the Pacific in Playas de Tijuana. Views include the Coronado Bridge and the San Diego skyline.
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