While you may have an image in your mind of Tijuana, there are things you likely have all wrong about this city. Let’s face it the picture painted by the media and Hollywood of Tijuana can be grim. In many ways, this is simply inaccurate. Tijuana is no longer a place to visit only for its anything-goes atmosphere. Today, the city offers, fine dining, museums, beaches and even some kid-friendly attractions.
Tijuana is safe
Like any city, there are places you shouldn’t go. And there are times of day that are safer than others. But for the most part, you have nothing to worry about that you wouldn’t in any other place around the world or the US for that matter. Use common sense and caution like you would in any large city. Be aware of your surroundings and keep your valuables secured. These are just good practices.
You are mispronouncing the city’s name
I bet you have been saying “Tee-a-wa–na” your entire life. Why is that? Probably because that is how you typically hear it said. Would it surprise you if I told you the way you have been pronouncing the name of this city is wrong? Well, the correct pronunciation is “Tee-wa–na.” Yup, you’ve been adding an extra syllable. But you can just call it TJ if you like.
TJ has its own airport
Not only does Tijuana have an airport, it’s an international airport. You may not be aware of this because Gen. Abelardo L. Rodríguez International Airport, more commonly known as Tijuana International, does not accept direct flights from the US.
You can walk across the border from the US
This is kind of a cool experience. We jet off to countries but we rarely walk or drive into them. This is especially true of Americans. We are more accustom to driving state to state which is exciting when you are a kid but by mid-life it has lost its appeal. You want to do this at an official pedestrian border crossing of course with passport in hand.
TJ has beaches and a boardwalk
That’s right! Tijuana is a coastal town like San Diego. There is a boardwalk that runs along the ocean’s edge. In the morning, like in any other coastal community, you will find joggers out for their run.
Sadly, though, there is a huge steal divider that runs out into the ocean that separates Mexico from the US.
However, Tijuana has done a wonderful job making their side of the “wall” an appealing place. There is a park with art. Murals have been painted on the barrier. They have placed large painted hearts in the park. These colorful hearts dot the boardwalk as well.
There are so many reasons I encourage you to visit here. It may change the way you think about immigration. It may change your perception of our “open borders.” And it may remind you of your humanity. Just to name a few.
Medical tourism is a thing here
If you are not familiar with Medical tourism, it is the practice of going to another country for medical procedures. Of course, if you are going to do this you tack on some time to see more than the inside of a medical facility.
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According to bajahealthtourism.com, “Mexico has become the #1 choice for American and Canadian patients.” And this is for good reason. Besides all the wonderful places in and around Tijuana to spend your recovery time, the doctors speak English and you can save between 40% and 80%.
Tijuana has some first-rate gastronomy
Telefonica Gastro Park
If you are with a group that just can’t agree on what to eat, Telefonica Gastro Park located at Boulevard Agua Caliente 8860 in Centro, is the solution. Here you will find a collection of food trucks that offer up gourmet food that runs the gamut from fish tacos and ramen to steaks and octopus.
This is a great choice for families. The adults get the quality food they crave in a relaxed kid-friendly setting. And, with so many choices there is sure to be something to please everyone on a budget.
If you are not familiar with this, it is a stone vessel filled with steaming hot deliciousness.
We sampled this yumminess at La Tradicion located in the delightful setting of Plaza Santa Cecilia. They offer three types of Molcajete: Tradicional, Baja Tradicion, and Del Patron. We tried the Traditional and the Baja. The traditional is chicken, chorizo, tequila shrimp with pico de gallo and more. In the Baja, you’ll find delicacies from the sea including shrimp and octopus. Both are served with warm flour tortillas made on-site.
TIP: If the Mariachi bands come around, it is alright to have them play but be sure you have negotiated the price in advance. Some are crazy expensive but it’s also an enjoyable experience.
Over the past decade, food has been putting Tijuana on the map. They now have an established gastro district that extends from downtown to Zona Río on Avenida Sonora in the Chapultepec area.
Tijuana is home to several craft breweries. We visited Norte Brewing Co. While not the easiest place to find, located on the 5th floor of the Foreign Club parking garage on 4th Ave between Revolution and Constitution, the brew and the views are worth it.
A former strip joint, Norte has stayed true to its roots with beer names such as Escort Blonde Ale, Sugar Daddy Chocolate Oatmeal Stout, and Cougar Amber Ale. They even kept the pole in the center of the room. We were there in the afternoon so the place was rather sedate but perhaps that is not the case when in full swing (pun intended).
TJ has museums
Here are just two that you should check out!
This modern complex brings together, fine and performance art, cultural exhibits, education, botanical gardens and even an IMAX Theatre. With several galleries under one roof and a theatre, there are typically multiple events occurring at any given time.
When we visited, there was a ceramics exhibit in the main gallery and one of the small spaces had the works of an Iranian artist.
If you find you need to stretch your legs during a ballet or need some fresh air, step out to the botanical gardens. Here you will find florae and faunas common to the area and replicas of ancient Mayan artifacts. Be sure to look for the pond with the turtles.
Tijuana Museum of History
You can find the Tijuana Museum of History in Old Tijuana, the historic center of the city. The museum is located in the city’s former municipal building. As the name implies the museum is dedicated to the city’s history beginning with indigenous people on up to current pop culture.
The museum has regular installations. While we were there, the had an exhibition on the people of Tijuana and their relationship and reliance on the river.
Finally, in an adjacent building, you can research the archives. This is where you might go if you were trying to learn more about your ancestry.
The Caesar Salad originated here
If you are a Caesar Salad aficionado or want to be able to tell your friends that you had a Caesar salad where it originated, then Caesar’s (located at Revolución Avenue between 4th and 5th Street) is the place to go. With claims that they invented the Caesar salad, you will not find a more authentic dish.
Your salad is prepared at your table with whole, not shredded romaine leaves, fresh egg, chopped anchovies, freshly squeezed lime and crushed garlic by one of their friendly servers. The menu here extends far beyond salad but the Caesar salad makes them famous.
There are kid-friendly places in TJ
That’s right. Like I said previously, TJ is not all about debauchery.
This innovative space shows kids what it is like to work in a chosen career. As adults this may not sound like fun, after all, we are living it, but this is make-believe for the kids. It allows them to dress up as firefighters and doctors. They can perform “surgery.”
As an adult, I love that Mini City, in a fun kid-friendly way allows kids to experience some of the important jobs people do that maybe do not have the glamour and prestige. They can see that all careers have value and contribute to society as a whole. Through this, they can learn to respect the person who pumps their gas or harvests their vegetables as much as the surgeon.
Each floor of this three-story museum is dedicated to a different theme. The first floor is dedicated to collectibles. Here you will find all the promotional items and memorabilia from your youth, such as Pokémon cards, Pogs, Happy Meal toys, Bobbleheads, action figures, trains and more.
The second floor is dedicated to the history of Lucha Libre, which is more than a sport, it has become an integral part of the culture. The museum exhibits a massive collection of Lucha Libre masks and costumes, many of which have been worn in actual bouts. Some still carry the evidence of a brutal battle in the form of tears and even blood stains.
Finally, on the upper-level, you will find rotating installations. When I was there the installation was dedicated to Mexico’s history of Bullfighting. This was done through a collection of colorful paintings by the artist Jose Chavez who’s works capture the spectacle.
Now that I’ve set the record straight, I hope next time you are in San Diego, you will consider hopping the border for a visit to this interesting and dynamic city. Here are some additional things to do while there. Hopefully, you will love it so much you will want to extend your stay by vacationing in Baja California in Mexico.
What did I miss? Is there something wonderful you know about Tijuana that I did not include?? Tell me in the comments.