Maybe not all of you know where Tijuana is or have visited it, but if you live in the USA, especially California, you probably perfectly know what I am talking about. If not, then it is time to get to know your neighbours and explore Mexico.
Let me tell you a little bit more about Tijuana and the region. It is located right at the border with the USA in the state of Baja California and it is the largest city in the region. It is mainly an industrial city, but in recent years the cultural side started its rapid growth. During the drug cartel wars in 2007 – 2008 the tourism industry in Tijuana was greatly affected, leaving cheap empty properties for growing creative scene. The creative people took the initiative to open up new galleries, designer shops, restaurants and food trucks (with famous Baja Med cuisine), brought good quality locally roasted coffee and craft beers into the city.
Someone might say that Tijuana is a dangerous place to go to, but all you need to be safe is to stay cautious at all times and avoid some of the neighbourhoods. I lived there for over 2 years and I can tell you that it is not as dangerous as some people might tell you. So if you are interested to see what is happening at the border, and explore a culture that combines Mexican traditions with California’s style then you should pay a visit to Tijuana. And while visiting Mexico, don’t forget to go further down South to Rosarito to surf the beaches of the Pacific, and of course, taste the local wines at Valle de Guadalupe.
As you can see from the map I included at the bottom of this post, most of the places of interest in Tijuana are situated in a line from the city centre towards Chapultepec and Agua Caliente neighbourhoods. Therefore it is quite convenient if you are starting to explore the city from the border crossing of San Ysidro.
You will come out straight into the centre of Tijuana, with Zona Norte on one side and the rest of the city centre on the other. I don’t recommend spending much of your time in Zona Norte area, unless you are interested to see the ‘red light district’ of Tijuana, with drugs and some odd businesses. However, one place I would recommend visiting in this area is the Independent School of Architecture, where you will find a beautiful design shop Object and local brewery Mecánica Cervecera.
While exploring the city centre, stay focused on the details, small passages and streets, as many good things might be slightly hidden from your sight. Pasaje Rodriguez and Pasaje Gomez are these kind of places, just off the main street Avenida Revolución. Pasaje Rodriguez nowadays is an arts passage with a few artists working and showcasing their pieces there, a few cafes, record shop and mini vegan restaurant. And at the top of the building (with the entrance from the street tercera) there is a nice brewery-restaurant Mamut, where you can have a tasty pizza in a terrace. Pasaje Gomez is a passage in front of Pasaje Rodriguez, still quite unoccupied, but with a very interesting character!
Continuing on the main street you will find another slightly hidden place – colectivo 9, a cozy food garden, one of my favourite places to eat in the centre of Tijuana. Almost in front of this place there is a shop that offers a wide selection of handmade products from the local designers and makers. And just a few blocks farther, located in the most charming tiny passageway, you will find more handmade goods: local fashion design brand Bosque Bonita (together with other designers’ handmade goods), Nueve – curated handmade goods, and jeans makers – Totem Denim Lab. And if you wish to grab a cup of coffee, just cross the street and you’ll find Intervalo Cafe.
Another interesting area to explore is La Cacho, located on the right side of Av. Andres Quintana Roo and Blvrd. Agua Caliente, just after you come out of the centre of town. This area is cozy and quiet with little cafes and shops in its small streets. Here all the cafes have great coffee, whether that would be Café LaStazione, La Antigua Nevería or any other cafe you find on the way. In La Cacho neighbourhood you can also find good quality tea, which is not so common in Tijuana. Enjoy your cup at Arte Casa Cacho or get some to take home at Tea Spot. And the last, but not the least, one of my favourite places to eat – Turkish food at El Turco. Last Sunday of each month they also do a breakfast buffet.
Zona Rio is also one of the neighbourhoods worth visiting in Tijuana. Even though it might not seem very attractive from the first sight, but there are some really great spots over here. One of them is the Cultural Centre of Tijuana, which not only curates a variety of exhibitions, but also plays an important role in growing culture in the city by hosting design markets, art fairs, concerts and other events. Another great place, especially for craft beer lovers, is Plaza Fiesta, where you can find all the local breweries next to one another. Here you can also try delicious street tacos from the stand just at the entrance to the plaza. Definitely the best spot for beer tasting!
A few more places not to miss in Tijuana
Food & Drinks:
BCB Tasting Room – Yet another great spot! Wide variety of local and world craft beers, tasty pizza and cozy atmosphere.
Food Garden (2 locations – Plaza Rio shopping centre and Sánchez Taboada street) and Bunker Food Crew are all great places to try a variety of food.
Kokopelli – not your usual tacos.
Isabelle’s Deli Market – French bakery, deli-shop.
Electric Coffee Roasters – my favourite coffee spot!
Das Cortez – another great cafe.
La Lonja Market, Estudio164, Mareri – all for your handmade shopping.
Mercado Hidalgo – local food market. Go here for local cheese, fruits and vegetables.
La Cava del Queso – Local cheese, salsas, dips and bread.
So I was talking here so much about Tijuana and didn’t mention the beach at all. That is because this city (very strangely) was established not by the ocean, but rather by the border with the US. Therefore, Playas de Tijuana (the beach) is more of a private houses’ neighbourhood, like a small town on its own. It is interesting to see the end of the border fence sunk in the ocean, dividing the two realities. To be honest, the beach is not the nicest or cleanest over here, so I would recommend to go down south for better views of the coastline.
Now let’s explore Rosarito, a small beach town not so far from Tijuana. At the moment it is slowly changing its face from a cheap tourist destination, to a more developed and attractive location. My favourite spot for coffee is Café Nerón, where you can enjoy a drink or a snack while flipping through their collection of books or choose a handmade gift, made by the local makers. Another great cafe, located in a very cozy plaza, a perfect place to enjoy a quiet moment, is called Balam Cafe. You should definitely visit it!
If you are looking for folk Mexican products Rosarito is the place for that. There is a market dedicated to just that. Check the location in the map below.
For organic food, tasty handmade cheese and craft beer visit Baja Produce. And for the best pizzas go to Betuccini’s.
From here you can start your surfing trip. Get a board in one of the rental surf shops, if you don’t have one with you, and head south of Rosarito for the best spots. Enjoy your time in Baja!
P.S. If you have more time, explore the wine region of Baja California in Valle de Guadalupe, you will like it!