We’ve been through Tijuana a few times for different reasons, but each time we go, we wonder why Americans are so timid about going to this city. Yes, like a lot of places in the world, it’s culturally different from the states. And yes, there are some shady things that go on in dark alleys in Tijuana. But as long as you stay away from the dark alleys and you don’t look for the shady stuff, it generally won’t come looking for you. Tijuana is a place where Americans can dip their toes into a very different culture without having to go very far away from home.
In my opinion, the main reason to go to Tijuana is not to see the tourist destinations, but to travel between them and see the city and a different culture. But that’s just me. That being said though, our family has sampled what Tijuana has to offer to make this list. It’s not entirely conventional because convention tourist lists tend to be boring, but be warned: if you go into Zona Norte looking for sex, drugs, or even alcohol you might end up in a Mexican jail. Rather, go there just to see it and don’t be stupid if you go to places like these. Travel smart and you can go see all kinds of things that everyone else is scared of.
The Tijuana Cultural Center brings in about a million visitors annually. There’s an IMAX at the center that’s known locally as La Bola (The Ball) because it looks like a giant ball. There’s art on display at the CECUT as well as a “Museum of the Californias” that displays the history of the Baja Peninsula and the state of California. Sculptures by different Mesoamerican cultures from southern Mexico are also on display in a sculpture garden there.
We visited the Tijuana Cultural Center during the Chinese New Year celebration and there were special events going on there at the time. This is common, actually. The cultural center often schedules fun events that would be worth seeing if you’re in the area.
- Playas de Tijuana –
We aren’t beach-y people, so our evaluation of the beaches in Tijuana isn’t probably going to yield a lot of meaty information. But we did stay for a week in a beach-front apartment that leaked so badly during a storm we almost had to evacuate. And we drove down to see Rosarito Beach, though we didn’t get out of the car (because we were tired and we don’t really care about beaches). Still, the Tijuana beaches rank high for a lot of people, so we didn’t want to leave them out.
Located in the Zona Centro, Avenida Revolución begins at Avenida Internacional and ends in Torre de Tijuana where the street intersects with Boulevard Fundadores and the name changes to Boulevard Agua Caliente. El Popo Market is one block of Avenida Revolución and the Catedral de Nuestra Señora is also in this area. The market is fun because it’s an opportunity to shop. We don’t care for shopping as a general rule (it usually just ends with having more to carry on our travels, which makes things decidedly less fun in the long-term), but a lot of people like it. The Catedral de Nuestra Señora is a cool thing to see because nearly every Mexican town has a church like this at its center.
John had to meet one of his business associates one night when we were in Tijuana, so they met at Plaza Rio which is located just across the street from the Tijuana Cultural Center (CECUT). If you like to shop, this is a great option, but it’s very American, or at least corporate in my opinion. One of the coolest things about many Mexican cities is that the Big American Corporation influence isn’t there. But in Tijuana it’s alive and well at the Plaza Rio. So you could skip it if you’re wanting to sample a culture that’s different than that in the states.
We drove through the red light district in Tijuana during the day. It’s just a few blocks away from Avenida Revolución. I don’t know what it’s like at night, but I can guess that’s it’s probably a little more “edgy”. There’s a lot that goes on here, what with Tijuana being one of the busiest border towns in the world and much of it is sad or scary. As such it’s a different culture, Mexican or otherwise. This area of the city and all its shady underpinnings belongs as much to the U.S. as it does to Mexico. In my opinion, it’s important for tourists to see places like these because otherwise, it’s hard to believe they really exist, or that our votes have an impact on real people leading real lives in these places.
Again, if you visit Tijuana without a guide, don’t be stupid. Follow the law and don’t go looking for trouble and you’ll be fine. Tijuana is a fascinating city for Americans looking for a quick escape from American culture.