Tijuana Mexico more than a border town for bad decisions. It’s one of Mexico’s largest cities with over a million people and a thriving art and culture scene. What’s more, you can reach Tijuana from San Diego just by riding the trolley. It’s so close, but worlds away and full of fun and surprises. Without further ado, here’s what to do!
10 – Discover Public Art
When you think of Mexican art, you imagine bright bold colors. When you think of street art, you imagine bright colors and bold lines too. What do you think Mexican street art looks like? It’s bright, bold and beautiful. What’s more, it’s plentiful too. There are hundreds of murals throughout the city, but there is no bigger canvas than the big, “beautiful” border wall.
Tijuana runs right into the border wall and the locals have started telling stories in paint. From an angry Donald Trump to butterflies that know no boundaries to coffins representing the human toll of border crossing the stories are being etched and told to whoever cares to listen.
9 – Devour Street Tacos
When in Rome, do as the Romans. When in Mexico, eat tacos. The streets of Tijuana are filled with carts cooking authentic street tacos. I think every trip to Mexico should involve eating street tacos at some point in time. All the way up and down Avenida De Revolution, you can find taco stands but there is one out there you should really try – Tortas Wash Mobile.
No, your Spanish isn’t that bad, the name came from a car wash that has long since gone out of business. In 1964 the car wash and tortas stand were opened. Now the carwash is history and the stand is part of Tijuana lore and gastronomical legend.
8 – Play at Water Parks
Tijuana has a real hidden gem in Albercas El Vergel water park. Why cross into Mexico to go to a water park? Because the experience is completely different than what you would find in America. The park is made for families to visit over and over and hang out all day. Entry is about $10 and everything stays reasonable from there. You can get amazing Mexican food for under $10 that will rival the best street tacos you’ll find in America. You can even bring your grill and cooler in, but it’s hard to carry those across the border. For under $10 you can get a pina colada or a margarita. You might want to start drinking early to get up the courage to try their Slip and Fly.
7 – Experience Lucha Libre
You’ve seen the movie, now it’s time to experience it in real life. With all the flair of a comic book, the masked luchador fight for honor, glory, and the common man everywhere. It’s técnicos vs rudos. Hero vs villain, faces vs heels and all the action, drama, acrobatics and the occasional pyrotechnic you have been craving. Lucha Libre is live sports entertainment at its best and distantly Mexican.
6 – Visit a Cemetery
Even if it’s not Dia de Muerto (Day of the Dead), you can always visit the cemetery. Panteon Municipal #1 (first municipal cemetery) is home to two famous crypts – Juan Soldado (Juan the Soldier) and Familia Gil.
The story Juan unfolds like a soap opera. Juan was a poor local boy who was accused of raping and killing a young girl. Everybody believed that the true villain was a powerful general from a wealthy family. Juan’s trial was interrupted twice by riots at the courthouse steps. Eventually, injustice ran its course and he was executed by firing squad.
The cemetery is directly across from a pre-border wall crossing into America. People making the journey would visit the grave and take a single pebble. The pebble would bring them luck and prosperity. They would return back to Tijuana to fulfill their side of the promise that they made many years prior when the first took the pebble. During Day of the Dead, this was the most visited grave in the cemetery, filled with flowers and even a mariachi band.
The Gil family crypt has its share of tragedy too. Enriqueta Gil was a rich debutante who fell in love with a young boy from a poor family. Much like Romeo and Juliet, these star-crossed lovers met a tragic fate. Enriqueta was forbidden to meet her lover and she refused to eat.
Her father offered her anything she wanted if she would eat from trips to Europe to jewels, but all she wanted was her love. Finally, her father gave in and agreed to the wedding. She put on her wedding dress and waited for her love to arrive by taxi. She died in her dress before he could arrive.
To this day, taxi drivers claim they pick up a mysterious woman in white, who asks to be taken to the cemetery. These rides always happen in the middle of the night. When the driver looks back to collect the fare, they find their passenger has vanished.
Is it only me who imagines a movie producer someday combining these two stories together? Imagine Enriqueta’s poor lover is none other than Juan Soldado and he is executed as she dies in her wedding dress. It could be a real tear-jerker that’s so close to being true. Maybe you can even do a Titanic-style flashback where Enriqueta is telling the story from the back of a cab, only to disappear at the ending, leaving a pebble on the seat.
Hipsters everywhere should consider a walking tour of the cemetery a truly authentic Tijuana experience. The could even take the taxi, but they really should pay their driver, or they’ll be walking back.
5 – Soak in a Hot Springs
An hour outside of Tijuana is a magical canyon you have probably never heard about that is home to some of the finest soaking this side of the Rockies. Guadalupe Canyon is an hour drive across an empty salt bed that looks barren and lifeless. Once you reach the hill beyond, you’ll swear you are in paradise. Each campsite has a private soaking pool that is fed by the central hot spring. In camp, there is a massive warm pool and hot mud baths. This journey, like any Baja road trip, is not for the faint of heart, but the rewards will rejuvenate your soul with the spirit of adventure.
4 – Eat the Original Caesar Salad
Have you been to the grocery store and seen Caesar Cardini’s original salad dressing. Did you know that it originated in Tijuana? Caesar Hotel and Restaurant was a thriving prohibition era establishment. Why hide in a speakeasy when you can cross the border and drink in the open (more than a few 18-year-olds can understand this thinking). During the 30’s Tijuana brought throngs of high rollers from Los Angeles to eat, drink, and be merry. It was the place for top chefs everywhere.
All good things come to an end. Gambling was prohibited in Mexico and drinking was legalized in America. The demand for fine dining dwindled and Caesar Cardini returned to America and began selling his famous dressing. Caesar’s restaurant is still open in Tijuana and still makes a fine table side salad with THE original recipe.
3- Visit a Market
Sunday market in Mexico is as a cultural institution. For generations, families have been coming to the market to get their fresh produce, spices, and more than a little bit of entertainment. The Mercado Miguel Hidalgo is the oldest market in Tijuana and offers a unique look at Mexican culture and immersive shopping experience.
This isn’t the straw markets you find next to the border crossing. It’s where the locals eat and shop. You’ll find colorful piñatas, tasty mole, and an authentic experience every traveler craves and all the bright colors make it more than Instagramable. It’s a great place to devour a taco or two too.
2 – Graze at Food Trucks
You have street art tours and craft beer. You know the food trucks aren’t far behind. Tijuana boasts several quality cooking schools and the graduates can open food trucks easier than their own restaurant. Telephonico Gastropark provides a perfect location for permanent food trucks to operate at. You’ll find fresh seafood caught off the Baja Coast, amazing produce, local cheese, and some European imports as well. It’s like a little one-stop culinary journey to Mexico. What’s more, it’s right around the corner from Plaza Fiesta which makes a great one-two punch for a beer and food tour.
1 – Drink Craft Beer
People claim San Diego is the craft beer capital of America and with Stone, Ballast Point, and Green Flash it’s hard to argue. Tijuana has a craft beer scene that’s unique in its own right with more than 80 breweries. What’s more, the strong dollar and difference in legislation have created some unique craft beer venues.
There are at least five different craft beer festivals and a permanent quality circuit at Plaza Fiestas. Plaza Fiestas is like Diagon Alley for craft beer. It’s a converted shoe shopping area, but each little store has been replaced with a craft brewery. You weave in and out of little shops sampling remarkably inexpensive and delicious beer, all brewed locally in Mexico.
Bonus Things to do in Tijuana
Almost all of these tours, and many more are available from Turista Libre. With accolades from Thrillist, National Geographic, Frommer’s, The Washington Post, and Coleman Concierge, you know they have to be doing something right. If you’re unsure of where to go in Tijuana, or just want to make sure you have a great trip you should really look them up.