Quite often it’s written that Mexican border towns are not Mexico!
They lack great museums, cultural charm, tasty regional cuisine and the all-inclusive mega resorts. They are dangerous, seedy, drug-infested places to be avoided at all costs!
Sure, some of the associations are not positive, yet there is, as in other parts of this great country, a sense of pride, deep history and a strong cultural identity. Tijuana is no exception! And, in this city of nearly 2 million which is home to the busiest border crossing in the world, there exists an abundance of sights and activities to engage in that stray far from the negative connotations it so dearly attempts to shed.
Starting out as a Spanish land grant to Santiago Argüello in 1827, but not officially founded as a city until 1889, Tijuana’s reputation was cemented early as a city to escape the constraints of U.S. Prohibition and seek out a good time in booze, sex and other illicit entertainment.
Good times can still be had here, but if you are looking for alternatives to the party district of Avenida Revolución and have a day to spend, look no further than a 5-minute cab ride from the border to the Zona Río. Running along the monument-lined Paseo de los Héroes, this area includes museums, a Mercado, top-tier hotels, shopping and even the Distrito Gastronómico (culinary district) further south of here.
In the center of the Zona Río is the Centro Cultural Tijuana or “CECUT” for short. This museum, known as “La Bola” (the ball) for its unique spherical shape, opened in 1982 and features an IMAX theatre. The adjacent building is also part of the museum and is known as “El Cubo” (the cube). This structure houses El Museo de las Californias which provides an interesting historical account of Baja California spanning a period from prehistoric times to the latter part of the twentieth century.
Next to La Bola, is Plaza Rio, an upscale Centro Comercial. It’s a popular shopping mall taking up a whole city block anchored by Sanborns, Sears and a Cinépolis. But, if you’re looking to satisfy your fix for more traditional Mexican shopping head over to Mercado Hidalgo, which lies two blocks west of Paseo de los Héroes on Avenida Francisco Mina. This market has an assortment of colorful fruits, vegetables, beans and spices. It also has a wide selection of Mexican ceramics, lotería board games and plenty of trinkets to take back home.
If you’re wrapping things up and want a sampling of international cuisine, head south on Paseo de los Héroes past monuments to Cuauhtémoc and Abraham Lincoln, yes Abraham Lincoln, until you arrive at Distrito Gastronómico (Tijuana’s Culinary district). This area stretches for multiple blocks and has eateries offering everything from Greek & Italian to Japanese and French.
So, for those curious travelers willing to peel away and explore underneath Tijuana’s tarnished veneer, an unexpected and richly rewarding experience awaits. The numerous offerings in Tijuana serve as a reminder that yes, we are still in Mexico, and in a very culturally rich and proud city along the border!
OTHER NOTABLE ATTRACTIONS:
L.A.Cetto’s Wines, Hipódromo de Agua Caliente, Cervecería Tijuana, Casa de la Cultura, Parque Morelos, Mercado Anáhuac
• 24-Hour parking on US side in San Ysidro charging $7US
• Mexicoach shuttle available for transfer into Mexico from San Ysidro, CA
• Visit any of the Visitors Information Centers (Modulos de Informacion Turistica) for helpful city tips. Located at airport, along Avenida Revolución or at the Pedestrian border crossing
• Cab ride from border crossing to Zona Río runs roughly $4-$7US. Confirm price with driver prior to boarding.
• US money accepted in most places
Written and submitted by Mark Mendiola Guerra