The New York Times named Tijuana one of its “52 Places to Visit in 2017,” and with its unique culinary and craft beer scenes, it’s easy to see why. It is the second-largest city on the west coast of North America (second only to Los Angeles), and is home to a myriad of museums, markets, local artisans, delicious food, and a flourishing art scene.
To help give you a sense of the diversity of this border town and what makes Tijuana a must-do day trip from San Diego, here are just a few of my favorite things to do in Tijuana.
13 Fun Things to Do in Tijuana
MUCOTI & the Lucha Libre Museum
One of the newest and coolest attractions in Tijuana is the multilevel museum called MUCOTI.
MUCOTI is an acronym for Museo del Coleccionista de Tijuana (the Tijuana Collectors’ Museum). MUCOTI contains three museums in one, with the first floor serving as an event center and pop culture museum full of toys and collectibles from the last 70 years, and the third-floor containing art exhibits on bulls and the history of bullfighting.
The second floor is home to the world’s only Lucha Libre museum (Mullme). Lucha Libre is a form of freestyle wrestling that was brought to Mexico in the 1930s. The museum contains collectors’ items like masks, belts, and even hair ripped from the heads of defeated luchadores by the victors of matches past.
Extreme Lucha Libre, which originated in Tijuana, ups the ante of regular wrestling by making use of weapons including rope and barbed wire. Lucha libre literally translates to “free fighting” in English, but I was curious as to just how “free” it really was.
Are the wrestlers really fighting or is it all staged? According to the museum manager, there are lots of matches that are completely real and some that are acted out purely for entertainment. If you are interested in seeing a match, Tijuana has them once a week. You can buy tickets at TicketMovil.
Tijuana Cultural Center (CECUT)
The Tijuana Cultural Center is located in the Zona Urbana Rio district and serves more than a million patrons every year. It was built in 1982 and has become one of the most important museums in Baja California.
It has exhibits about the region that traces its history from the prehistoric age until the creation of the United States/Mexico border. It also has endless options for entertainment including an IMAX theater, an aquarium, art galleries, botanical gardens, concerts, and more.
Tijuana History Museum (Muhti – Museo de Historia de Tijuana)
El Museo de Historia de Tijuana (the Tijuana History Museum) is the purveyor and preserver of Tijuana’s rich history. It resides in the oldest building in Tijuana, the Old Municipal Palace, which was built in 1921 and was the seat of local government until 1986.
The Permanent Exhibition Hall tells the story of Tijuana and its people, documenting its natural and urban landscapes, sports, art, economics, and more.
Its current exhibit is about Rio Tijuana, the river that begins in the United States and ends in Mexico. The exhibit highlights Tijuana’s relationship with water and the river, as well as the idea that rivers have no borders.
No trip to Tijuana is complete without visiting Mercado Hidalgo. The market functions similarly to a farmers’ market with lots of local (and organic) fresh fruits and vegetables.
Its vendors also sell a plethora of piñatas, tamales, spices, and cooking utensils that you can buy for a fraction of the price you’d pay in the U.S. Make sure and get your hands on some homemade cajeta, a traditional Mexican caramel. There are also stands with tacos, fresh coconuts, candy, and ice creams (sample the corn husk flavor, if you dare).
El Popo Market
El Popo Market lies along Avenida Revolución, the main tourist street, but is by no means a tourist trap. It is both an indoor and an outdoor market with vendors selling fresh cheeses, herbs, produce, candy, and nuts. You can also find an eclectic assortment of crafts from handmade pottery to skeletons dressed as Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Plaza Santa Cecilia
Plaza Santa Cecilia is one of the oldest places in Tijuana. Located at Revolution Avenue and First Street it’s a plaza with shopping, restaurants, and bars. You can also find the remains of one of the original arches for the city. On weekends and special holidays, you can also find a variety of performances in the plaza.
Explore Tijuana’s Street Art
Tijuana is loaded with great street art! You’ll find it as you wander down Revolution Avenue, on the walls of tucked away shopping kiosk areas, and on the side of a restaurant. These go way beyond graffiti. Much of the art is incredible and very worthy of tracking down. Some is more hidden away, while other art is easily found on the main streets.
Shop for Souvenirs
You can find traditional Mexican made items everywhere in Tijuana. There are shops everywhere selling clothes, hats, shoes, jewlerly, art kitchen items and so much more. When shopping in Tijuana there is one thing you never want to forget: prices are flexible! Most vendors expect you to negotiate the price.
Enjoy the Craft Beer Scene
Tijuana’s craft beer scene is booming. There are over more breweries and tasting rooms popping up all the time in Tijuana. Plaza Fiesta has over 10 tasting rooms including Insurgente, Madueno, and Fauna.
If you are looking for great beer and a great view, check out Norte Brewing Company. They have seven beers on tap including Amber Ale, IPAs, Pale Ales, Porters and Blondes. They also offer samplers.
Fair warning: The taproom for Norte Brewery is a little hard to find. It’s a little off of Avenida de Revolucion and north of 4th street. You enter the parking garage and take the elevator to the fifth floor. Upon exiting the elevator, turn to the left and you’re at the entrance.
If you can’t make it to Valle de Guadalupe, G Salinas Enoteca wine bar in the next best option. This is an excellent wine bar with a good selection of hand-picked wines from Valle de Guadalupe. They offer a great rotating selection of wines by the glass as well as a fridge with some good Mexican bottles of beer as well as some light munchies such as cheese and charcuterie plates.
Tequila with a Twist
At El Museo Restaurante you can more than a regular shot of Tequila. They offer rattlesnake tequila. That deserves an explanation or at least a photo (see below).
The rattlesnake tequila sits in a large jug on the bar as you enter the restaurant. When ordered, the bartender fills a styrofoam cup with the liquid and then pours it into shot glasses. It is said that the tequila has medicinal properties that help with everything from cancer to kidneys and arthritis.
Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Tijuana
The church is located in the heart of downtown. The church is a historic monument and has yellow domes and a mural of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The building has its original architecture and painting on the ceiling a huge chandeliers and stained glass. The clock is functional and bells ring on the hour. Mass is held every day of the week.
Las Playas de Tijuana (the Beaches of Tijuana)
Visitors can walk beside the beaches of Tijuana on the boardwalk, perusing shops with goods made by local artisans, and see the stunning murals of Tijuana’s incredible street art scene. There are also nearby restaurants serving cold beers, fish tacos, oysters, shrimp cocktails, and the freshest ceviche you could ask for, all at a reasonable price. And of course, plenty of food vendors to choose from.
Although Playa de Tijuana is full of delicious food and beautiful art, it is also the site of incredible sadness.
If you go to the northernmost point of the beach, you will find Friendship Park (El Parque de la Amistad) and a fence extending 300ft (91m) into the ocean. Look closely at the photo below and you can see the second fence in the distance. That fence is the United States. It is here that families, friends, and lovers can reunite, grasping hands through the colorful fence separating the United States and Mexico.
4 of the Best Restaurants in Tijuana
I have to start by saying that there are so many fantastic restaurants in Tijuana today! Every day it seems like another amazing food truck, taco stand or restaurant is opening.
If you haven’t been to Tijuana, you may be surprised to find a lot of high-end food concepts, famous Baja-Med cuisine and a focus on sustainably sourced food.
There is a lot of debate about who officially created the Caesar salad. Most agree it was made in the 1920s by Caesar Cardini, an Italian restaurateur. Whether or not you agree it was Cardini who invented it, all agree it did originate in Tijuana, Mexico. To enjoy this quintessential Baja food, you must head to Caesar’s restaurant on the famous Avenida Revolución in Tijuana.
La Tradición: Casa de Molcajete
La Tradición makes the best molcajete in Tijuana. A molcajete is a tool used to grind spices, similar to a mortar and pestle. The dish of the same name consists of either carne asada, chicken, chorizo, or shrimp served sizzling hot in a molcajete and topped with veggies and cream, accompanied by handmade corn tortillas. This restaurant is located in Plaza Santa Cecilia.
Verde y Crema
Verde y Crema is located in the Neidhart neighborhood in the old bus union building and the name is based on the old green & white busses. The chef works with small, local producers to source the best ingredients for their Mexican fusion menu.
This is an upscale restaurant with a great ambiance. They cook with a wood oven, all the bread is freshly baked daily and the ice cream is homemade. Their signature dish is a pork shoulder marinated for two days and confit for three, and the tostada del día is must have. Actually, everything is a must!
Go with a group and order everything and share it! They also have an incredible selection of handmade wines and mescal.
Telefonica Gastro Park
Telefonica Gastro Park is Tijuana’s most popular culinary collective. The gastro park is a dining space encircled with food trucks. You’ll find everything from vegetarian tacos, to a cheesemonger and first-rate craft beer at this gastro park.
The food trucks include; seafood, tacos, ramen, Greek food, typical Mexican food, crepes, coffee and dessert. Telefonica Gastro Park offers a top notch foodie find in Tijuana.
TIJUANA TRAVEL TIPS:
These are great tips for not only Tijuana but Baja California Travel.
Money: American dollars are excepted everywhere in Tijuana. There’s no need to convert money unless you plan on taking local buses. Credit cards are widely accepted. The conversion rate is around 17 Mexican pesos for 1 American dollar.
Water: Tap water in Mexico is not potable. Most restaurants serve bottled water. Ask for agua mineral (mineral water) or agua natural (purified flat water) to be sure.
Getting Around: Walking in Tijuana is safe by day. Like any city anywhere, be alert and watch where you’re going. The sidewalks are full of cracks and there is no standard height for the curbs, so keep an eye out. At night, driving, Uber or taxis are recommended. General nighttime traffic is light and the streets in the Zona Río are well-marked. Taxis are safe and reasonably priced. Rather than find a taxi on the street, ask the restaurant or hotel to call a cab for you.
Car Insurance: Most American insurance policies do not cover your car once you leave the United States. Be sure to check your policy. Mexican Insurance can be purchased by the day from AAA, on-line or vendors a few miles north of the border off Interstate 5.
Passport: Passports are mandatory for crossing the border in and out of Mexico. Make sure that you have yours with you, even if you’re just going for the day.
Crossing the Border: With the proper documentation and insurance, traveling from the United States into Mexico is simple. Returning is a different story. Due to the enormous influx of people the delay can be as long as 4 hours. On weekends, if possible, try to leave Tijuana before 9 am or after 9 pm. I’ve also found crossin the border by foot in the late afternoon to be fairly quick.
WHEN TO VISIT TIJUANA
The weather in Tijuana is the same as San Diego, which means any time is great to visit. More than weather, you want to plan your trip around the border and when lines will be shorter. High season is considered to be summer, all U.S. holidays and weekends year-round.
If you enjoyed this article about the Top Things to Do in Tijuana, you’ll also love South of the border: The best cuisine and culture when you visit Tijuana.
Traveling To Tijuana Soon? Here are a few tips:
How to get there: There are two borders you can cross to arrive into Tijuana – San Ysidro and Otay Mesa. Otay Mesa is closer to the airport and San Ysidro is closer to the tourist areas. You can cross by foot or car. If you are flying, you can fly into San Diego International Airport, or Tijuana Airport.
Where to stay: There are many places to stay in Tijuana. There is a wide range of hotels, from budget to luxury. For a luxury hotel that won’t break the bank, I recommend the K Tower Boutique Hotel By Lucerna which is currently the #1 hotel on Tripadvisor. For a mid-level hotel, I suggest the Tijuana Marriott Hotel. Finally, for a budget hotel, try the Hotel Real del Rio Tijuana. You can also check HotelsCombined for the best Tijuana Hotel Rates.
What to pack: Average temperatures in Tijuana vary somewhat. For women, shorts aren’t commonly worn in Mexico but are nice to have at the beach. I’d recommend bringing a skirt and a pair of athletic shorts (for outdoors activities or as a beach cover-up). A maxi skirt will do, since you can wear it in cool weather, you can also tie a knot in it to turn it into a midi or mini skirt in warm weather.
Tijuana Trip Essentials
6 Indispensable Items to Pack for a Tijuana Vacation
- Get the Mexico for Tourist: See the Best Attractions, Save Money & Have Fun Top 10 Places to Visit.
- Bring a good quality mirrorless camera for getting those beautiful Tijuana, Mexico landscape shots. I use the Sony Alpha a6000 .
- Summers are hot in Tijuana, so make sure to bring Neutrogena Sunscreen, Broad Spectrum Spf 45
- A great cross body travel bag. Cross body bags prevent theft and are much easier to access.
- Don’t forget sunglasses for the beautiful sunny days. A.J. Morgan Unisex Sunglasses are a great choice and very affordable!
- A pair of strappy comfy sandals are great item to pack in a Mexico vacation you could wear it to nice restaurants, beach, and walking around town.
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Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.
Alexa Meisler is the editorial director of 52 Perfect Days. Born in Paris, France she has since lived in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon. She currently resides in San Diego with her husband and son where they enjoy exploring California and Mexico.
Travel has always been a part of her life; traveling to such places as Morocco, Tangiers and Spain as a young child as well as taking many road trips to Mexico with her grandparents as a young girl. Since then, she has traveled abroad to locations such as Russia, Taiwan and throughout Europe.
Prior to working at 52 Perfect Days she was a freelance travel writer; focusing on family and women’s adventure experiences.