Tijuana is one of Mexico's fastest growing cities, with booming industrial, financial, and cultural centers. Many multi-national businesses are located in Tijuana, and it manufactures more medical devices than any other city in North America. Culture has expanded as well, and Tijuana boasts a country club and many luxury hotels in addition to a cultural center for the arts.

Located on the border between San Diego County and Mexico, the city of Tijuana has long been a weekend destination for the locals as well as a focal destination point for out-of-town visitors, making it the most visited border city in the world. The border crossing at San Ysidro's port of entry sees more than 300,000 daily crossings.

Tijuana History

Originally home to the Kumeyaay tribe, in 1542 Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo began the influx of Europeans who would settle the area. Sebastian Vizcaino mapped the area in 1602, which eventually led to Father Junipero Serra establishing the first mission, located in what is now San Diego.

In 1829, Governor Jose Maria de Echeandia awarded a 40-square-mile tract of land to Santiago Arguello, who named it Rancho Tia Juana, which means the Aunt Jane Ranch.

Subsequently, Mexico lost all of Alta California to the United States as a result of the Mexican-American War, and although some families moved back to Mexico, most remained and became involved in farming and ranching. The area also became a stop for prospectors and travelers.

Map of the Mexican-American War

© Kaidor - Map of the Mexican-American War

Descendants of Augustin Olvera and Santiago Arguello began to develop the area, which was called Tijuana; July 11, 1889 is considered as the official founding date of Tijuana. From the start, Tijuana was a destination for tourists, due in part to the California land boom in the late 1800's. Tourists were called excursionists and they were seeking entertainment and trade.

During the Mexican Revolution, soldiers seized the city and remained for about a month before the arrival of Mexican federal troops. The revolutionaries fled north only to find the U.S. Army troops waiting for them. They were arrested and tried, and many were executed.

In 1925, the city was renamed Zaragosa because it was thought that Tijuana had developed a negative reputation for lawlessness and debauchery. However, the name didn't last and soon it reverted to Tijuana. The 50s saw a restructuring of the entertainment venues in order to attract more tourist families and today, the city is on its way to becoming a cultural mecca.

View of Tijuana

© Nina Robinson - View of Tijuana

Tijuana Attractions

Although Mexico is often associated with tequila and margaritas, there are a myriad of activities and attractions that don't involve either of these.

Playas de Tijuana is both a borough and Spanish for beaches of Tijuana, and is host to the Arts & Culture House and a small bull-and-rodeo ring called the Cortijo San Jose. The independence day celebration is held here on September 15.

Beaches, Playas de Tijuana

© Cbjorquez - Playas de Tijuana Beach

The two exits for Playas de Tijuana will also head the traveler to Rosarito Beach and/or Ensenada. Rosarito Beach Hotel is famous for its succulent grilled lobster and frosty margaritas as well as romantic sunsets over the water.

Rosarito Beach, Tijuana

© Liliana Saeb - Rosarito Beach, Tijuana

Plaza Coronado offers water sports such as body boarding, kayaking, and surfing, depending on water quality, which can turn bad very suddenly if it rains. The Monumental bull ring is located at Plaza Coronado and it's a favorite gathering spot for young people.

Avenida Revolucion, located in the heart of Tijuana, offers fantastic restaurants and shopping as well as night clubs and people watching. Since traffic can be difficult, the best suggestion is to walk or take a taxi.

Tijuana Avenida Revolucion

© Lin Mei - Tijuana, Avenida Revolucion

Visitors to El Popo Market can find almost anything they seek. Described as a big bazaar, El Popo offers clothing, groceries, medicine, souvenirs, tortilla makers, religious items, and more. With a local flavor rather than a commercial one, El Popo offers tourists a feel for how the locals live.

El Popo Market, Tijuana

© Irma García - El Popo Market, Tijuana

Other attractionsin Tijuana include:

  • Tijuana Cultural Center
  • Sightseeing Tours
  • Food Tours
  • Plaza Rio Tijuana
  • Catedral de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe
  • Casino Caliente
  • Parque Morelos
  • Museo de Cera
  • Parque de la Amistad
Cultural Center, Tijuana

© Willem van Bergen - Cultural Center Tijuana

Travel in Tijuana

Travelling to Tijuana is best accomplished during the week through the San Ysidro port of entry, known as the busiest port in the world. Weekend crossings here can take hours. Both Otay Mesa and Tecate have border crossings that are sometimes less congested, but both are more difficult to get to and sometimes to get through.

If walking isn't an issue, it might be prudent to walk across the border and then catch a ride with Uber. Visitors will need a passport, a ready lane card, a U.S. birth certificate, or a U.S. green card in order to enter Mexico and return to the U.S. A San Diego trolley station is right across the border on the Mexico side and will transport passengers to the airport or downtown.

Yellow Cab drivers sometimes receive a commission for transporting passengers to particular destinations. Taxi Libre drivers do not receive commissions and therefore might be a better choice.


Taxi in Tijuana

© Darren Riley - Taxi in Tijuana


Driving laws in Tijuana aren't always the same as in the U.S. and for those who don't speak Spanish, navigating the streets can be difficult. In addition, traffic violations can result in interaction with the local police, which could result in misunderstandings.

Uber also offers trips from Tijuana to San Diego, which can further enhance the vacation experience. Cabs of other colors have specific routes they must take, almost like a bus route, so travel with them might be more limited in destination.

Tijuana Border from San Diego

© Michael Sean Terretta - San Diego-Tijuana Border

For those who decide to drive, be sure to obtain Mexican insurance with legal defense coverage and be sure to keep the policy on your person.

Flights can enter the Tijuana International Airport, the Tijuana-General Abelardo L. Rodriguez International Airport, or the San Diego International Airport. These airlines serve Tijuana:

  • Aeromexico
  • Aeromexico Connect
  • Aero Calafia
  • Interjet
  • Volaris
International Airport, Tijuana

© Martha Silva - Tijuana International Airport

Ground travel to the traveler's destination is via taxicab or van at the airport, or by public buses, which are available outside the airport. Buses labeled Centro or Plaza Rio will go to the center of town. Several commercial buses operate from the airport bus station and can transport the visitor to other destinations, such as Ensenada, Mexicali, Tecate, and so forth.

Tijuana Beaches

Travelers interested in the beach experience combined with excellent food might want to try the highly rated Popotla Beach. La Reyna and other restaurants offer seafood freshly caught and prepared to order. This is local food that is locally prepared, rather than a fine dining experience but the quality of the meal is unsurpassed.

Popotla Beach Fishing

© Rebeca Anchondo - Popotla Beach Fishing

In addition to lobster, Rosarito Beach is famous for its Papas and Beer as well as the street tacos. The tostilocos are definitely a must-try as is the coconut shrimp enjoyed in the beautiful setting sun.

Highly rated Malecon de Playas offers visitors fantastic ocean views as well as excellent seafood, Mexican food, and coffee shops. Live music is usually available and Malecon de Playas is usually open throughout the year.

Border Field State Park is on the San Ysidro-Tijuana border and provides access to Friendship Park and the Border Monument. Dogs may not be allowed but horses are. For those who didn't bring a horse, they are available to rent.

Tijuana, Border Field State Park

© Tony Webster - View of Tijuana from Border Field State Park

Tijuana Hotels

Highly ranked Hotel Lucerna offers visitors a beautiful courtyard and rooms with balconies. The hotel staff is bilingual and the recently renovated accommodations are luxurious. Located in a safe part of the city, Hotel Lucerna has many repeat customers and prides itself on its attentiveness to its visitors.

Ranked 1 out of 45, Hotel Real del Rio Tijuana prides itself on its customer service and its great value for the money. It's within walking distance of restaurants and shops and offers Uber service to other destinations.

Hotel La Mesa offers travelers a more local flavor but with large rooms, in-room coffee maker, and free Wi-Fi. Although it's not in the middle of town, transportation is available.

Other Tijuana hotels include:

  • Hyatt Place Tijuana
  • Grand Hotel Tijuana
  • Holiday Inn Tijuana Zona Rio
  • City Express Tijuana Rio
  • Caesar's
  • Hotel Real del Rio Tijuana

Tijuana Off the Beaten Path

Tijuana has several wineries that produce world-renowned wine and are definitely worth exploring. GSalinas Negociante en Vinos has a beautiful ambiance, great food, and an assortment of excellent wine. Cava LA Cetto is another excellent winery well worth visiting.

The Tijuana Cultural Center features a performance theater, an Imax theater, and a museum. The history of Alta and Baja Californias, from the first inhabitants to now, are shown in the museum, as are art and exhibits. The Center is highly rated and a must see for visitors.

Ceart Tijuana offers foreign films and other artistic activities in a 4D theater as well as art classes for tourists of all ages.

Tijuana, CEArt

© Josué Caraveo - CEArt Exhibit

The Tren Turistico Tijuana Tecate takes visitors across the desert to Tecate where tours of the Tecate Brewery, the Kumeyaay Museum, and more are available. Train tours run on a limited schedule, depart promptly at the listed time, and last from about 9:00 AM to 6:30 PM.

Other activities include:

  • Casa del Tunel
  • Swap Meet Siglo XXI
  • Albercas El Vergel
  • Plaza de la Unidad y la Esperanza
  • Estadio Gasmart
  • Amigos del Artes
Tijuana, Tecate

© Zappingzone - Main Street, Tecate

Facts About Tijuana

  • Tijuana is home to the world's only seaside bull ring, seating 22,000 people.
  • The Cosmopolitan Tower has the highest sustainability score in the northwest.
  • Tijuana assembles more televisions than almost any other city in the world.
  • Tijuana makes more than three-fourths of digital thermometers worldwide.
  • The Mexico-U.S. border is the largest and busiest in the world.