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Just 20 minutes from downtown San Diego sits the United States-Mexico border, so why not check out this guide to spending a day in Tijuana? San Diego and Tijuana bleed into one another. Though they are two very distinct cities, Tijuana houses a large portion of the San Diego workforce, and Mexican culture has traveled past the border in the form of cuisine and neighborhoods like Barrio Logan. While San Diego boasts natural beauty, Tijuana boasts incomparable food. Don’t visit Tijuana for a photo-op or for the aesthetic. Truth be told, it’s an ugly city – but its history, culture and people make up for the buildings and roads in perpetual ruin.
Tijuana is a city of oxymorons. You’ll find ample evidence of its long history in art, museums and more, but you’ll also see unstoppable development. Each time you visit, something will have changed. Some will issue caveats to the dangers of the city, but, just like any big city (San Diego included), avoid tourist traps and sketchy areas and you’ll be fine. If you’re ready to step outside the boundaries of San Diego, read on for a guide to a day in Tijuana.
Crossing the border into Tijuana
Crossing at the San Ysidro point of entry is most common and the fastest way into Mexico. Finding parking along the border can be tricky and ridiculously expensive. If you want to leave your car behind, take the blue line on the San Diego trolley. The fare for adults totals US$2.50 for a one-way ticket and US$5 for an all-day ticket. Hop off at the last stop, San Ysidro Transit Center. Follow the signs and the horde of people to the pedestrian crossing. Before you cross, try to exchange some money. Though most vendors accept American currency, it’s best to have a stash of pesos at the recast. Plan on bringing around US$50 for a full day of eating, drinking, transit and shopping. If you plan on using your debit or credit card, make sure to alert your bank that you will be in Tijuana for the day. Clear signage points to money exchange beside the San Ysidro Transit Center.
When crossing the border on foot, follow the signs and be sure you have your passport handy. Customs usually inquire what you will be doing in Mexico. If you plan to stay longer than the day, they may ask for the address of your accommodations. The downsides to crossing on foot? Paying for transit and potentially unsafe walking routes due to traffic. If you want access to your car, drive across the border. You can simply zoom over to Mexico. On the way back you will need your insurance and your passport.
Things to do in Tijuana for the day
Find street art. Tijuana crawls with incredible graffiti and murals. You just have to keep an eye out. Recently, an unknown group has adorned the city with vinyl stickers of Yoshi eggs. Why, you ask? It’s a mystery to locals and tourists alike.
Visit the border at Playas. Follow the rolling hills and jagged cliffs along the border until you reach the end. Unlike the US’s highly militarized side of the border, the Mexican side of the border bursts with art and beauty. Decorated with names, words and images of solidarity, the border is a must-visit for everyone. Splash into the waves and watch the wall disappear into the ocean. Tip for those who didn’t know: the US-Mexico border already had a wall before a certain former president came along.
Eat a Caesar salad at its birthplace. Yes, the staple salad at most restaurants originated in Tijuana. Check out Caesar’s Restaurant on the bustling Main Street, Avenida Revolutión, for the best Caesar salad that will ever grace your mouth. Watch the servers toss together the salad before your eyes.
Devour food cart tacos. El Punto Food Trucks hosts a myriad beautiful and mouth watering meals in a cute collective of food trucks on Paseo del Rio. Munch on tacos from Carreta 22 under strings of fairy lights. Vegans and vegetarians will find plenty to eat. Snag a picnic bench and start small so you can make rounds to every food truck. Spare no expense and be sure to order drinks as well.
Visit CECUT, the cultural center of Tijuana, to ogle at the gigantic sphere and explore exhibits on history, art, anthropology and more. They even host performances from dance troupes and choirs.
Find the intersection between Mexican and Spanish food at Casa Cantábrico. Yes, more food. Seriously though, if you don’t eat your weight in Tijuana cuisine, then it’s a wasted day. This tapas bar will make you book a trip to Spain and come back to Tijuana solely for this restaurant.
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