Among all the world's border cities, Tijuana is one of the busiest. Anyone inclined to drive on through Tijuana would be remiss to miss its rich gastronomy, vibrant arts scene, and historic venues that pepper its oceanside and streets. Though just minutes away from San Diego and close to Los Angeles, this cultural mecca is a vibrant destination on its own.
As a border city, Tijuana's gastronomy scene is a fusion of cultures that brings out a variety of urban and traditional cuisine. Foodies will be treated to artisanal beers, tempura fish tacos, green ceviche, carne asada burritos, and much more. Conveniently, you can try out these dishes anywhere from street food stands to high-end restaurants. Make time to stop and have this native and quintessential Tijuana dish: the Caesar salad. Invented in the 1920s, this world-famous dish was first made here, at Caesar’s Restaurant and Bar.
Brace yourself to get in the ring and learn about the history of one of Mexico’s most beloved sports. The Mullme Museum—short for Museum of Mexican Lucha Libre—is home to one of the largest private collections of objects pertaining to the lucha libre world. Masks, belts, action figures, newspaper articles, photographs make up the 6,800 objects featured here, including the belongings of international stars like El Santo and Blue Demon.
Once you see the ball, you’ll know you’re there. The Tijuana Cultural Center— CECUT—is one of the most important hubs of arts and culture in the northwest region of Mexico. The museum was founded in 1982 in an attempt to strengthen national identity and promote tourism at the Mexican–American border. CECUT features exhibits on the region’s history, spaces for performances, an aquarium, gardens, and, of course, “La Bola”—CECUT’s dome-shaped IMAX theater, which has been affectionately named ‘The Ball’ and it’s the only one of its kind in Tijuana.
What better way to experience Mexico’s gastronomy and traditions than visiting Mercado Hidalgo, a bustling open-air market made up of dozens of stalls selling everything from fresh produce, spices, and Mexican candy to handcrafts such as piñatas. Even better, you’ll get the opportunity to taste some world-renowned street food. It’s open all week from 8 to 6, excluding Sundays. To get the most out of your visit to Mercado Hidalgo, arrive early for breakfast, and then spend the rest of the day wandering through the inviting smells and colors of the market.
It would be a shame to miss the oldest building in Tijuana while you're visiting. The Casa de la Cultura — the House of Culture — was a primary school in the 1930s before it became home to the arts and a state heritage building in 2014. Check out the many collections by local artists housed in this neoclassical, red-bricked structure; then, browse the library before stopping for a snack at the cafe, where you’ll find good food and literary performances.
Kick off your shoes and explore the seaside of Tijuana. Also known as Malecon de Playas, the Tijuana pier is a 2.5-mile stretch of beach that features a boardwalk full of vendors and murals that represent Tijuana’s art scene. If you keep walking further north, you will see the 12-feet high border fence that separates Mexico from the States, and runs 50 yards into the ocean. Walk its length to admire local artwork that depicts what would be possible in a world without borders.
Lively music will lead you to the oldest corner in Tijuana. Santa Cecilia Plaza has great historical and architectural value as the site where Tijuana was first established. The plaza quickly became an important corner for musicians and was named after the patroness of music, Santa Cecilia. Stroll through the many locally-owned restaurants and handcraft boutiques, and enjoy music from the mariachis and bandas that often play in the square.\
Get to know the art scene of Tijuana by visiting this corner hidden in plain sight. Part of a restoration project for the city’s historic center, Pasaje Rodriguez is an alleyway for arts and culture in Tijuana. Walk by its eyecatching murals to find bookshops, a microbrewery, and even a vegan restaurant. Pasaje Rodriguez often hosts many arts and literary performances by local artists.
Less than two hours from Tijuana lies a haven for wine aficionados and foodies. The Valle de Guadalupe is one of Mexico’s most famous wine regions and is often referred to as the country’s own Napa Valley. The best time to visit is during the fall, as the weather is mild enough to walk to and fro in the vineyards. A wine tour will take you to dozens of wineries, most of which feature food trucks with gourmet food pairings for your wine. To get here is easy; you only need to book a bus, taxi, or, if you’re feeling adventurous — and sober — you can drive yourself.
Back in 1947, the Fronton Palacio Jai Alai was the proud venue of this sport, which involves bouncing a ball at high speed off a wall with a wicker racquet. Jai alai was very popular in Tijuana before enthusiasm waned, leading to the closure of the venue. Efforts to maintain and reconstruct this historic building led to its reopening as a music and performance venue in 2005.