When I suggested a day trip South of the border to Tijuana, I could see the confusion on Kevin’s face. Tijuana?? Ignore all the bad publicity. Tijuana is becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination for foodies – along with nearby Mexican wine region Valle De Guadalupe. Go with an open mind, a sense of adventure and Tijuana will be your place. A lot has changed since Kevin first visited more than a decade ago. There is an impressive cultural institution featuring world-class artists (both from Mexico and abroad), a growing number of trendy shops and an awesome food and craft beer scene.
Below is our 1 day itinerary to help plan your next trip. But best of all — we’ll share a tip that will get you back across the US border in less than 20 minutes. I’m sold!
CROSSING THE BORDER BY FOOT (RECOMMENDED)
Ditch the car and walk over the border. You don’t want to wait in that traffic (where we once waited nearly 3 hours to cross… Or as I like to call it, 3 hours of testing how long we could hold our bladders!).
- 9:00 AM, leave downtown San Diego by car and drive to Tijuana
- 9:30 AM, in less than 30 minutes you’ll reach the last U.S. exit (Exit 1 A for “Camino De La Plaza,” don’t miss it!)
- At the top of the exit, turn right and park the car at one of the public lots ($7 a day). Ignore the private lots that charge over $20 a day! Rip off. You will be closest to the new “PedWest Gate” when you get back.
- After parking, follow the crowds towards the “Pedestrian Gate into Mexico” (as of writing, you can’t cross at the PedWest gate into Mexico). It’s about a 10 minute walk to border control.
- Get ready to wait. We didn’t expect this at all. The line wasn’t long but was going incredibly slow. Make sure you have your passports. And if you want to save some time, fill out the paperwork online and print it. Otherwise, they’ll make you fill out the forms on the spot (wasting your precious Tijuana time!)
ACROSS THE BORDER – NOW WHAT?
It can be overwhelming when crossing the border. You’ll see some rough conditions, possibly amputees and will likely deal with some pretty aggressive cab drivers. To top it off, none of the cabs seemed to have meters. But none of the stops on this itinerary will cost over $5 USD. It’s fairly cheap to travel within Mexico – so just keep this in mind.
- 10:30 AM, factor at least an hour to cross the border even if wait times are less. Take a cab at the border to your first stop, Tijuana Cultural Center (open 9 AM – 9 PM)
- 11:00 AM -12:30 PM, peruse artwork and Tijuana history at the Tijuana Cultural Center (aka CECUT)
– Address: Paseo de los Héroes 9350, Esquina con Francisco Javier Mina,Col. Zona Urbana Río
– Cost? There are 3 different museums here (very confusing!). But the art museum ($3 USD a ticket) and history museum ($1.50 each) are well worth your time. We’d pass on the aquarium ($2.25 USD) where I’ve seen more impressive fish tanks at my dentist office!
- 12:30 PM, head across the street to Plaza Rio Tijuana, a massive shopping mall to see where the locals hang out. We loved the Starbucks. Okay, so not very authentic (we know!), but a relaxing spot to hangout and access free Wifi! If you’re looking for a local coffee shop, try Container Coffee located on the main tourist hub of Avenida Revolucion. And stop judging us because we love Starbucks!
– Address: Plaza Rio Tijuana, Paseo de los Héroes 95-5E, Local 19, Zona Urbana Río Tijuana
EATING AND SHOPPING:
Tijuana has an incredible food and craft beer scene that is gaining major traction. This is pretty much the main reason we headed south of the border. Here are our favorites where we sampled a little food at each to try as many places as possible!
- 1-2 PM, lunch at Telefónica Gastro Park. You will have a hard time deciding whether to get fish tacos, pulled pork barbecue or the locally-made cheese. So why not try them all?
- 2-2:30 PM, it’s an easy walk to the main tourist strip located on Avenida Revolucion. Walking will help build up your hunger for the next food stop.
- 2:30-3:30 PM, head directly to Caesar’s, Tijuana’s longest running restaurant. They claim to have invented the Caesar salad here and it’s quite the show. They make it table side and with great flair. Our recommendation, sit outside on the terrace to watch the action.
- 3:30 PM, walk 5 minutes North on Avenida Revolution to Pasaje Rodríguez, a blink-and-you-miss-it alley entrance with trendy shopping. You’ll find craft breweries, vintage stores, books and lots of hipsters!
- 4:00 PM, finish off your time visiting tourist hub Plaza Santa Cecilia and the tiny (and free!) “Museo De Historia De Tijuana” (or also called Instituto Municipal de Arte y Cultura).
BACK TO THE USA – CROSSING BACK NORTH
We were so surprised at how fast the border return took. The longest part was actually walking to the “PedWest Gate.” It’s very easy to do, especially if you plan your trip in the order above. Just follow the giant signs for “USA.”
- 4-4:30 PM, from Plaza Santa Cecilia (just under the famous Tijuana metal arch), follow the signs for USA. Be sure to pick up some water if it’s a hot and dry day. The walkway is easy to follow. There are some bathrooms along the way but you’re better off using the restrooms at the museums or restaurants than the public bathrooms!
- 5-5:30 PM, cross back into the US at PedWest. This crossing was so simple and fast. We couldn’t believe it. And best of all, our car was just minutes away and we were back in San Diego by 6 PM for dinner.