Visiting Tijuana from San Diego

by wheretheroadforks

This guide outlines everything that you need to know to have a safe and exciting visit to Tijuana. In this guide, I explain how to get to and around the city, the visa, accommodation, safety, and things to do, restaurants, nightlife, and much more. This is the ultimate guide to visiting Tijuana.

At this point, I’ve been living in Tijuana for a bit over a year. In that time, I have absolutely fallen in love with the city and have gotten to know my way around pretty well. I have crossed the border hundreds of times, lived in multiple neighborhoods, seen all of the tourist sites, and visited countless bars and restaurants. 

Beautiful Tijuana, Baja California

Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico

Table of Contents- The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Tijuana

A Bit of Information About Tijuana

Tijuana is the 5th largest city in Mexico and one of the fastest-growing with a metro population of about 1.8 million people. The city is known as a cultural center of Mexico and is known as ‘the most visited city in the world.’

Unfortunately, Tijuana has a bit of a bad reputation. For many years during the 2000s tourism dried up and the city was quite depressing. The news of violent crime scared many Americans tourists away.

Over the past few years, Tijuana has been experiencing a revitalization. Now, the city is back and better than ever. Tijuana is no longer just a dusty border town. It is a modern metropolis full of culture. Even in the year that I have lived here, I have noticed huge changes. Now is an excellent time to visit Tijuana.

Things to do in Tijuana

I’ll start off by outlining a few of the main points of interest in Tijuana. Overall, there aren’t any major attractions. The biggest draw to the city, in my opinion, is the excellent food and drink scene. Trendy new bars, restaurants, microbreweries, cafes, and more have been popping up all over Tijuana over the past few years.

The city also has a lot to offer in terms of Mexican culture. There really isn’t anything like it in Southern California. Below, I outline a few of the top sites in Tijuana. For more things to do, check out my complete list of 29 things to do in Tijuana.

Visit the Tijuana Cultural Center (CECUT)

Tijuana is considered a cultural center in Mexico. This recognizable complex features a museum, event hall, and an IMAX cinema.  The permanent exhibit in the museum focuses on the early history of the Baja Peninsula.

Various festivals and events are always taking place at CECUT. Oftentimes, they have an art exhibit, live music, or other cultural event going on. I was really impressed with this place. It’s definitely a must-visit in Tijuana. Also, it’s free on Sundays! Check out their schedule on their website. 

CECUT Cultural Center of Tijuana

CECUT Cultural Center of Tijuana

Take a Walk Down Avenida Revolución

This is Tijuana’s famous tourist street. The city’s main landmark, the Monument Arch, lies at the end of this street. Along Avenida Revolucion, you will find some of the best bars, restaurants, and clubs in the city. If you’re looking to party, this is a great place to start. 

Here, you can also find supermarkets, souvenir shops, and many of your favorite American fast-food restaurants along this street.

Even though the area is incredibly touristy and kitschy, it’s well worth a visit. The area is busy at all hours of the day and night. Many tourists cross the border and only visit Avenida Revolucion.

A Tijuana Zebra or 'zonkey' on Avenida Revolucion.

A Tijuana Zebra or ‘zonkey’ on Avenida Revolucion.

Go Shopping in Tijuana

Tijuana has several large plazas and outdoor malls. They have shops, bars, restaurants, and movie theaters. Popular shopping centers include:

  • Plaza Rio- This is probably the largest plaza in the city. Here, you’ll find over 100 Mexican and American stores. Here’s a map of the plaza.
  • Mercado El Popo- This is a traditional Mexican market located in downtown Tijuana. It’s just a small street where you can buy fresh produce, candy, handicrafts, cheese, etc. 
  • Mercado Hidalgo- This traditional market is located in Zona Rio. Here, you can buy goods from all over Mexico. This place isn’t too touristy. You’ll see lots of locals shopping here.
  • Avenida Revolucion- Lots of souvenir shops and some specialty and niche shops.

Hang Out on The Beach in Playas de Tijuana

This is a nice, laid back neighborhood right on the beautiful Pacific Ocean. If the weather is nice, Playas de Tijuana a great place to take a walk down the boardwalk along the shore, grab a nice seafood lunch, or just lay out on the beach.

This is one of the more upscale parts of the city. It’s got a completely different atmosphere form busy downtown Tijuana. Playas de Tijuana offers a nice alternative to Southern California beach towns. 

The border fence separating the US from Playas de Tijuana

The border fence separating the US from Playas de Tijuana

Visit the Monumental Arch

This is Tijuana’s most recognizable landmark. It lies at the northern end of Avenida Revolucion. The Arch can be seen from all over the city. It makes for a good meeting point or starting point in your visit to Tijuana. The Arch is also called the Tijuana Arch, Millenial Arch, or Monumental Clock.

Visit La Catedral de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe

This is the big cathedral located in the center of downtown Tijuana. It’s nothing too spectacular but worth checking out if you are walking around. The cathedral is located just a few blocks from Avenida Revolución.

Gamble at Casino Caliente

If you’re feeling lucky, you don’t need to go all the way to Vegas. Hit the casino in Tijuana. They offer table games, slots, and even sports betting. Casino Caliente is probably the most popular. It’s located downtown on Avenida Revolución.

For more info, check out this guide to casinos in Mexico from the San Diego Tribune.

Go See a Movie

Movie tickets are a real steal in Tijuana. You can see a new release movie in a big, air-conditioned theater for 40-60 pesos (about $2-$3). That’s less than a quarter of the price of the US. For a bit more, you can buy a VIP ticket which includes a more comfortable reclining chair.

You can find movie theaters at most plazas. The biggest theaters in Tijuana are called Cinemex and Cinépolis. They both have multiple locations throughout the city.

Check out the Wax Museum

This is another popular tourist attraction downtown. Admission is 25 pesos or about $1.50. I haven’t been here yet but it’s a pretty well-known place. 

Go Watch a Xolos Game

Tijuana has a professional soccer team called Club Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles de Caliente or Xolos for short. They play at Estadio Caliente in Zona Rio. Tickets can be purchased through Stubhub or Viagogo.

Go See a Bullfight at the Plaza de Toros

This historic stadium is located in Playas de Tijuana. Bullfighting is less popular than it once was so the events aren’t held frequently anymore. If you’re looking for an exciting cultural experience, definitely consider timing your visit to Tijuana to attend a bullfight.

bullfight in Tijuana

To check the schedule, visit the Border Bullfights website.

Go watch Lucha Libre and visit Mullme

Lucha libre is freestyle Mexican wrestling. The sport is hugely popular all over Mexico. These events take place at several venues throughout the city.

Check out their Facebook Page for info on the schedule and tickets.

Lucha libre, Mexican wrestling

If you are a fan of Lucha Libre, you should definitely check out Mullme. It is a museum that holds a private collection of over 9000 Lucha libre related pieces of memorabilia including masks, belts, photos, merchandise, etc.

Visit Parque Morelos

Tijuana isn’t the greenest city. If you want to get away from the concrete jungle, head over to Parque Morelos. Here, you’ll find a small zoo, walking trails, children’s playground, and even a lake. They also have a small train which can transport you around the park. 

For info on park facilities and hours, visit their website here.

Visit Tijuana’s Red Light District

Just a couple of blocks South of downtown you’ll find Tijuana’s famous red-light district, Zona Norte. Here, you’ll find brothels, strip clubs, and dive bars. The neighborhood isn’t for everyone but it is a famous area that’s worth a walkthrough. 

Check out Tijuana’s Street Art and Architecture

You’ll see spectacular street art, sculptures, and architecture while out wandering around Tijuana. Some notable destinations for art include:

  • Pasaje Rodriguez- This walking street downtown is home to some of Tijuana’s most impressive street art.
  • Monument Arch- This landmark sculpture features a giant clock.
  • CECUT- The round building, often called la bola, is the most recognizable piece of architecture in Tijuana. 

The Best Places to Eat While Visiting Tijuana

Tijuana offers world-class cuisine. Including the best tacos in all of Mexico, in my opinion. The best restaurants in Tijuana are located in two zones: Downtown and Zona Río.

Downtown is generally more touristy. Many of the restaurants cater to tourists’ tastes. Zona Río is a bit more trendy and caters more to local tastes. You can enjoy an excellent meal in both zones.

Below, I’ll outline some of my favorite Tijuana restaurants as well as some of the most popular in the city. Share some of your favorites in the comments! I’m always looking for new places to try. 

Caesars

This is the most famous restaurant in the city. Their fame comes from their invention of the Caesar salad. That’s right, the Caesar salad was invented in Tijuana. This place is expensive but the food is excellent and it is part of Tijuana history. It’s well worth a visit.

They are located at Av. Revolución 1059, Zona Centro, 22000. You can find them on Google Maps.

Mision 19

Mision 19 is said to be the finest restaurant in Tijuana. I haven’t been as it’s just out of my price range but their menu sounds excellent. If you’re looking to splurge, this is the place to go. Compared to a similar fine dining experience in the US, this place is a bargain. They are located in Zona Río.

For a bit more info on the restaurant, check out this article from the New York Times.

You can check out their menu here.

Tijuana Street Tacos: The Best Tacos in Mexico

One thing that I recommend everyone eat when visiting Tijuana is the street tacos. Tijuana is famous for them. I have traveled pretty extensively in Mexico and can say that Tijuana definitely has the best tacos.

Taco stands can be found set up on the streets throughout the city. I recommend you try a few as you explore the city. You really can’t go wrong. Let me know about your favorite in the comments below! I’m on a quest to find the best in the city!

Some of the most popular places for tacos in Tijuana include:

  • Tacos el Franc- Many people agree that this is the best place for tacos in Tijuana. They are located in Zona Río.
  • Tacos Las 24 Horas- This place is located in Zona Norte just north of downtown. The neighborhood is a bit seedy, but this is my current favorite taco shop in Tijuana.
  • Tacos Kokopelli- This place is slightly higher priced. It’s more of a restaurant-style than street food but the tacos here are excellent. They are located in Zona Río.
  • Los Albañiles- Another popular Tijuana taco shop. Located just west of downtown.
  • Taconazo- This popular restaurant has 5 locations around the city. They serve a variety of dishes but are most well known for their tacos. 
  • La Mojaritta- This place offers some of the best fish tacos in the city.
  • Tijuana Jr.- Another excellent choice for fish tacos. For the best fish taco in Mexico, head 65 miles down the coast to Ensenada where they were invented.

A taco platter with rice and beans

Telefonica Gastro Park

This is a trendy little plaza full of food trucks, bars, and restaurants. It has a really hipster kind of vibe. They also have their own microbrewery. It’s a good place to go with friends, relax, and try some new foods. Prices are a bit high but it’s worth a visit. It’s located in Zona Río at Boulevard Agua Caliente 8860, Centro, 22000.

Chinese Food in Tijuana

I’m not exactly sure why, but Tijuana has a sizable Chinese population. Chinese restaurants are quite common. I haven’t tried any of these places but I have heard that they cook up some interesting Chinese/ Mexican fusion dishes. I’m looking forward to giving it a try.

Other Cuisines

If you’re not in the mood for Mexican food, you can find pretty much whatever you’re in the mood for in Tijuana. Everything from sushi to pizza is available. You can even visit your favorite American fast-food chain. They’re all here.

For more restaurant recommendations, check out TripAdvisor’s list of the best restaurants in Tijuana.

Bars and Nightlife in Tijuana

Tijuana offers excellent nightlife. Americans have been crossing the border to party for decades. After a night out in Tijuana, you’ll understand why. You can find everything from dive bars to craft breweries to strip clubs. There is really something for everyone. Some of the best places to go out in Tijuana include:

Going Out in Downtown Tijuana

Here you will find mainstream bars and clubs. Most are located along Avenida Revolución. I recommend you just take a walk down the street and barhop a bit. Here you can also find some of the best craft breweries in Tijuana. I will talk about those a bit more in the next section.

Plaza Fiesta in Zona Río

This three-story plaza is full of bars, clubs, and restaurants. What’s nice about this area is that you can easily walk from bar to bar without having to leave the plaza. This place is a lot of fun and has something for everyone. At the end of the night, you can find some incredible taco stands in the center of the plaza.

Zona Norte: Tijuana’s Famous Red Light District

This is a rougher, seedier part of town where you will find dive bars, strip clubs, and brothels. It’s a pretty famous area that’s worth taking a walk around just to experience it. If you want to visit one of the clubs, I recommend you check out Hong Kong. It’s an experience. I’ll leave it at that. 

The Best Craft Breweries in Tijuana

craft brewery in Tijuana

San Diego is known as being one of the greatest cities city in the US for craft beer. Now, it’s neighbor to the south is developing an amazing craft beer scene of its own. If you’re a beer person like me, you’ll love Tijuana. High-quality microbreweries have popped up all over the city. Here are some of the best:

Cervecería Insurgente

This is probably the most well-known craft brewery in Tijuana. Their beers have won several international competitions and are now distributed in the US. They are located in Zona Río at Juan Cordero 10021, Zona Urbana Río Tijuana, 22010.

You can check out their website here.

Mamut Brewery

This is one of the more popular craft breweries among tourists. I like this place because their prices are reasonable and they produce a great tasting beer. They are located downtown at Carrillo Puerto y o Tercera 8161, Zona Centro, 22000. You can check out their Facebook page here.

Border Psycho Brewery

This family-owned brewery opened in 2012 and has since become one of the most widely distributed craft breweries in Tijuana. Their beers are also distributed in the US. You can check out their website here.

These are my three favorite craft breweries in Tijuana. For my complete list, check out my guide: The Best Craft Breweries in Tijuana

The Best Cafes in Tijuana

Tijuana cafe

  • Malvia Coffee Bar- This is my favorite coffee shop in Tijuana. It’s just a tiny little shop located in the hallway of an old residential building that has been converted into retail space. They offer a variety of coffees and teas. I like the quirky atmosphere and appreciate the quiet and relaxing nature of the space. The location is also excellent. It’s located just off Avenida Revolución.
  • Container Coffee Roasters- This place serves high-quality coffee made from Mexican coffee beans. Container Coffee feels a bit more upscale and prices are slightly higher than the rest but they serve a quality brew.
  • Luwak Cafe- This is a nice little coffee shop on the beach in Playas de Tijuana. They have good coffee and really friendly staff. Prices are reasonable as well.
  • Starbucks- If you’re looking for something familiar, Starbucks now has several locations throughout the city.

For more Tijuana cafe recommendations, check out The Culture Trip’s list.

How to Get to Tijuana from San Diego

Tijuana is located about 20 miles (35 km) south of San Diego right across the border from San Ysidro. The Tijuana border crossing can seem a bit intimidating at first because it is literally the busiest border crossing in the world. According to the US Department of Transportation, 14 million vehicles and 33 million people crossed this border in 2015.

Not to worry. I have crossed the border over a hundred times during my time living in Tijuana. In this section, I outline 5 ways to get to Tijuana. I will walk you through the border crossing process step-by-step. 

Once you reach the border, there are two pedestrian crossings between San Ysidro and Tijuana. The newer eastern crossing, where the trolley lets off, is open 24/7. There is also a crossing to the west called Pedwest which is open from 6 am-10 pm. You can cross at whichever is more convenient for you. Sometimes one has a shorter line than the other. It is about a 5-minute walk from one crossing to the other.

Downtown San Diego

Downtown San Diego

Method 1: Take the Trolley to Tijuana and Walk Across the Border

From downtown San Diego, catch a blue line trolley headed south toward San Ysidro. The blue line begins in America Plaza and makes several in stops downtown San Diego. Ride the trolley all the way to the end of the line.

Trolleys leave about every 15 minutes during the day and less frequently at night. This ride takes about 40 minutes and costs $2.50 for a one-way ticket. Tickets can be purchased from the kiosks at the stations with cash or card.

The trolleys run every day and leave about every 15 minutes. They run less frequently at night. For a trolley map and schedule, check out the San Diego MTS website.

From where the trolley drops you off in San Ysidro, it is just a 2-minute walk to the border. A well-marked path will lead you toward Mexican immigration. Or, just follow the crowd. You will pass through a metal turnstile and enter the immigration building. I will talk about the visa process in the following section.

For my full step-by-step guide to crossing the border on foot, check out my guide: Walking Across the Border to Tijuana. It also includes step-by-step walking directions from the border to downtown. 

Method 2: Park and Walk Across the Border to Tijuana

Many people choose to drive to the border, park, and walk across. This way you don’t have to deal with public transport and you don’t have to drive in Mexico, which many people like to avoid.

From San Diego take the freeway 5 south and get off at East San Ysidro Blvd exit. Don’t miss it or you’ll end up driving to Mexico. There is no turnaround.

As you drive down San Ysidro Blvd you will see multiple parking lots on both sides of the road. They all cost about the same. The cheapest lot I have found is located behind Jack in the Box. I think they charge about $21 per day and a bit more on weekends and holidays.

Tip: For more info on Tijuana border parking, check out my guide: How to Park for Free at the Tijuana Border. All of the border parking lots are within easy walking distance of the border. Just follow the signs to the border.

line of cars waiting to cross back to the US at the Tijuana border

The line waiting to cross back to the US

Method 3: Drive to Tijuana

To get to Mexico, follow freeway 5 south and continue across the border. While driving into Mexico, you will not need to stop and will not need to show your passport unless you are chosen for a random inspection or you look suspicious. Usually, you’ll drive right in without stopping. 

Tip: Never drive a rental car into Mexico unless you have made sure that it is allowed by the rental car company. If you have an accident in a foreign country, you could be held liable by the rental company as their insurance won’t cover you in Mexico.

A Note About Mexican Auto Insurance When Visiting Tijuana

If you wish to drive to Tijuana, I recommend you stop in San Ysidro and purchase auto insurance by the day. This will protect you in the event of an accident as your US insurance will most likely not cover you while you are driving in Mexico.

You can also call your regular auto insurance company and inquire about coverage for driving in Mexico. I have heard that Geico has a decent rate.

Risks of driving in Tijuana:

Driving in Tijuana is a bit risky. Police are corrupt and traffic is a bit less organized than in the US. I have friends who have been pulled over by the police and solicited for bribes. This is a common problem and can be costly. 

Also, know that many minor accidents and fender benders are settled with cash in Mexico. Just be prepared and know that there are additional risks to driving in a foreign country, even if it is just a few miles from home.

For more info, check out my guide: How to Drive to Tijuana. Here, I discuss insurance, border crossings, vehicle importation, safety, and more. 

If you don’t want to drive, I recommend you take the bus. For more info, check out my step-by-step guide: How to Travel to Tijuana by Greyhound Bus.

Method 4: Ride Your Bike to Tijuana

Cycling is another option for traveling to and around Tijuana. You can simply take your bike on the trolley and walk it across the border. The nice thing about this is that you have transportation once you arrive in the city. For information on how to do this, I have written a step-by-step guide which you can check out here:

Traveling From San Diego to Tijuana by Bicycle

You can also check out my other Tijuana cycling guide here:

Cycling in Tijuana: A Guide for Bicycle Touring and Commuting

Method 5: Fly to Tijuana

There are two airports that provide easy access to Tijuana. If you decide to fly in, I recommend you use Skyscanner to find the cheapest flights.

  • Tijuana International Airport (TIJ)- This is the most convenient airport to access the city. From the airport, you can take a minibus, taxi, or Uber to your destination.
  • San Diego Airport (SAN)- To get to Tijuana from San Diego Airport, catch bus 992 and ride to the Broadway and Park Boulevard stop. Next, transfer to the blue line trolley headed south and continue to San Ysidro. The bus fare costs $2.25 and the trolley fare costs $2.50. From there, follow the directions above for walking across the border. After you cross the border, you can follow the directions below for transportation into the city.

The FMM Visitors Permit: How to Visit Tijuana Legally

To visit Tijuana legally, you need a passport. If you enter on foot, your passport will be checked by a Mexican immigration offical. If you drive across the border, your passport probably won’t be checked but you will need your passport to cross back to the US anyway. The book style or card style passports are both fine.

Once you reach immigration, the official checking your passport will hand you a tourist card to fill out. This document is called the Forma Migratoria Múltiple (FMM). As a tourist, you are allowed to stay in Tijuana for up to 7 days for free.

If you tell the immigration official that you plan to stay for longer than 7 days, you will be sent to another counter and charged 533 pesos (about $25). If you pay for the FMM the visitors permit, you are permitted to travel and stay anywhere in Mexico for up to 180 days. These are the official rules. Whether or not you want to pay for the FMM is up to you. I will explain in the next section. 

If you are driving into Tijuana and plan to stay for more than 7 days and pay for the FMM, you’ll have to park your vehicle on the Mexico side of the border, enter the building to pay for your FMM, then return to your vehicle.

Mexican Flag

Do I need to pay for the FMM Visitors Permit when Visiting Tijuana?

That depends. Mexico does not check your passport when you exit back into the United States so they don’t know how long you stayed in Tijuana. As long as you don’t leave Tijuana, you could get away without paying. There are a few reasons that you would want to pay:

  • If you plan to travel further into the country- You will run into passport checkpoints. The guards may not care but they could ask you for a bribe.
  • If you plan to stay in Tijuana long term- I have lived in Tijuana for about a year and purchasing the FMM has given me peace of mind though it has never been checked.
  • If you plan to stay longer than 7 days and plan to exit the country by air or at a different border- I lost my receipt and was forced to pay another 500 pesos when I exited Mexico in the south and entered Guatemala. When you purchase the FMM, save your receipt!
  • If you plan to take the ferry from La Paz to Mazatlan- They will check that you have a valid FMM. I have heard of a tourist being refused entry or being sent back if they didn’t pay upon entry.

Passing Through Customs when Entering Mexico

After you pass through immigration, you will pass through customs. You will place your bags on a belt and they will be sent through an x-ray machine to check for weapons or contraband. Usually, no one will even talk to you at customs. From there, you can exit the building. Congratulations! You’re in Tijuana.

For more info on the visa, check out my Mexico Visa Guide.

Money When Visiting Tijuana: Do I Need Pesos?

Yes! When visiting Tijuana, you will want to exchange some dollars for pesos. Dollars are accepted everywhere in Tijuana, but you almost always get a better deal when paying in pesos. I like to carry both.

There are ATMs and currency exchange booths on both sides of the border. You may want to shop around a bit for the best rate before exchanging currency. For card recommendations and ATM tips, check out my article: The Best Debit Card and Credit Card for International Travel.

US dollar and Mexican peso notes

Dollars and Pesos

How to Travel From the Border to Downtown Tijuana

After you exit the Mexican immigration building, just keep following the path. You will walk for about two blocks until you reach a street called Frontera. This is the first street you will come to after exiting the building. From here, you will most likely want to go downtown. A good place to start your visit is at the Tijuana Arch or Arco Monumental. You have four options to get there:

  1. Take a taxi- Taxis are no longer allowed to park by the border and wait for passengers so you’ll have to flag one down. Tell the driver that you want to go to el centro (the center) or el arco (the arch) and that you’ll pay $5. He’ll try to charge more, but $5 is the going rate.
  2. Take an Uber- It works just like back home. This is the most convenient and stress-free way to get around Tijuana. No need to negotiate and the drivers are pleasant and professional.
  3. Take a colectivo (shared minibus)- This is a cheap, convenient way to get downtown from the border. To catch the bus, look right when you make it to Frontera street. Minibusses will be lined up picking up passengers. Verify with the driver that you are going to el centro and hop in. The bus leaves when it’s full (probably less than 10 minutes). The cost is 10 pesos and you pay when you exit.
  4. Walk- The walk from the border to downtown is about one mile.

How to Walk From the Border to Downtown Tijuana

  • From Frontera street, turn right begin walking, staying on the right side of the street.
  • Continue walking. You will cross the bridge passing over the cars waiting to cross into the US and you will arrive at an intersection.
  • At the intersection, turn right and walk about 50 feet.
  • Look to your left and you will see a walking street on the other side. Cross the street
  • You are now on the walking street that will lead to the arch. Follow the path for about ¾ mile. You will cross a few streets on the way but this path will lead you directly into the hear of downtown.

I recommend you don’t make this walk at night. To read more about safety, check out my extensive guide: Is Tijuana Safe? Avoiding Common Scams and Crime. I will also talk more about safety later on in this guide.

How to Get Around While Visiting Tijuana Without a Car

The main tourist areas of Tijuana, downtown and Zona Río are easily walkable. They are fairly compact, and police presence is high which makes walking around safe. If you wish to travel somewhere else in the city, you may wish to use some other form of transportation. Here are your options:

  • Colectivo Minibus- These provide cheap, safe transport to anywhere in the city. Prices are usually about 10-20 pesos per trip. The rates are set and marked on the side of the bus. To catch the bus, you can flag them down or find them parked at stops located throughout the city.
  • Uber- Works just like back home. You can set the app so that you pay by card or cash. Ubers in Tijuana are safe, clean, and affordable. They are generally cheaper than taxis. For more info, check out my guide to using Uber in Tijuana.
  • Taxi-  This is probably the quickest because taxis are everywhere and you can usually flag one down almost immediately. When taking a cab in Tijuana, you must agree on the price with the driver first. Most don’t have a meter or won’t use it. If you can, try to choose a white ‘taxi libre.’ These are regulated by the city so they are less likely to try to rip you off.
The Tijuana River

The Tijuana River

Coming Back Home: How to Cross The Border from Tijuana Back to the US

Mexico does not check your passport when you leave Tijuana. I don’t know why. I guess they just feel that it’s not worth the effort. 

The border is open 24 hours. If you’re crossing on foot, the western crossing closes between 10 pm and 6 am. During these hours, you’ll have to use the eastern crossing which never closes.

If you’re traveling with a US or Canadian passport, you can use the ‘ready line.’ You’ll see this marked on signs above the pathway. It’s right next to the general entry line. The ready line is usually slightly shorter than the general entry lane. 

Getting back to the border from Tijuana is pretty easy. You can:

  • Take a taxi or Uber- Be sure to specify to your driver which crossing that you’d like them to drop you off at. Remember, the eastern crossing is where the trolley is. The other crossing, Ped West, is about a 5-minute walk away. Depending on where you start, the ride to the border should cost $5-$10
  • Take a Colectivo- They will drop you off at the eastern crossing, Ped East. Simply follow the path into the US immigration building. The ride will cost 10-15 pesos depending on where you start. 
  • Walk- You can cross at either Ped East or Ped West on foot. I have found that the line at the western crossing is generally a bit shorter.

The wait coming back to the US can be pretty long. It doesn’t matter if you are walking or driving. I have waited in line both on foot and in my car for almost two hours on occasion. The line can be particularly bad on weekends and during the holidays. Luckily, you can check the wait time on the   US Customs and Border website here before you make your way to the border.

Tips for Passing through US Immigration and Customs when Returning from Tijuana

Checks at this border crossing are fairly thorough but fast. When you reach the front of the line, simply present your passport to the US immigration official. After running your passport through their computer, they may just wave you through or they may ask you a couple of quick questions.

Common questions you may be asked and the correct answers include:

  • How long were you in Mexico?- Answer truthfully. 
  • What were you doing in Mexico?- Just say ‘Tourism.’ If the official wants you to elaborate, they’ll ask. 
  • Do you know anyone in Mexico?- You should probably answer no. If you answer yes, you’ll get more questions. 
  • Are you bringing anything back with you?- Answer truthfully. Don’t try to bring anything back illegally. It’s not worth the risk. This includes prescription medications without a prescription. You can bring up to $800 in purchases back to the US duty free. To read more about what you can and can’t bring back from Tijuana, check out this guide from USA Today.

When talking to immigration officials, you should be as brief as possible with your answers. One word answers are best. It speeds up the process and reduces the likelihood of follow up questions. If you appear suspicious for whatever reason, these guys can ruin your whole day by detaining you for questioning. 

Passing Through Customs When Re-entering the US

There is an x-ray machine where you will be asked to place your bags to be scanned. This process usually just takes a  minute or two. Sometimes the machine isn’t in use. In this case, you’ll just walk right on by and you’re back in the US. 

The Best Times To Cross the Tijuana Border

Unfortunately, the wait times are kind of unpredictable. I have found that the best time to cross back to the US is early in the morning or late at night. There is usually no line and you can cross in just a matter of minutes.

The worst times are during peak commuter hours. Weekends are also busier in general.  Sometimes, it’s backed up for no reason and sometimes you can slide right through.

Because the border is such a hassle to cross, I usually recommend people visiting Tijuana to stay at least one night. It works out because if you stay the night, you get a better feel for the city anyway. You can go out and enjoy the nightlife which Tijuana is famous for.

Where to Stay while Visiting Tijuana: The Best Hotels and Hostels

When visiting Tijuana, most tourists like to stay either downtown, Playas de Tijuana, or Zona Río. Where you stay really depends on your interests. If you are visiting Tijuana for a laid back beach vacation, stay in Playas de Tijuana. If you plan to go out and party or are interested in trying some of the best restaurants, stay downtown or in Zona Río. I prefer to stay downtown.

Zona Rio, Tijuana

Zona Rio, Tijuana

The Best Hotels in Tijuana

  • Hotel Ticuan- This is a historic mid-range hotel located right in the middle of the city center on Avenida Revolucion. The best thing about this hotel is the location.
  • Tijuana Marriott Hotel- Probably the most upscale hotel in Tijuana. The Marriott is located in Zona Río. 
  • Hotel Lucerna Tijuana- This is another more upscale option. Hotel Lucerna is located in Zona Río.
  • Hyatt Place Tijuana- Another higher-end hotel. The Hayatt is located in the heart of Zona Rio. 

The Best Budget Hotels in Tijuana

I am a budget traveler so I prefer lower-cost accommodation. In Tijuana, you have to be a bit careful with which budget hotel you stay at. It is not unheard of to have items stolen from your room, unfortunately. The following hotels are clean, safe, and the staff is friendly. Both cost less than $20 per night.

  1. Hotel Suiza- They are located at Calle Niños Heroes 924, Zona Centro, 22000 Tijuana. A basic room with TV and a bathroom costs about 300 pesos. AC rooms are available for a bit more.
  2. Hotel Colonial- They are located at Calle Sexta, 1812, Zona Centro, 22000 Tijuana. This is a bit nicer than Suiza but also a bit more expensive. Prices start at about 400 pesos for a basic room with bathroom and TV. AC rooms are also available.

I have stayed at both of these places on many occasions. Both of these places are conveniently located downtown just a short walk from Avenida Revolución and La Catedral de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe. A bank with an ATM is located just across the street and a supermarket is just half a block away.

You can find other hotels for less than $20 per night throughout the city but I haven’t stayed in any that I would recommend. They are either noisy, dirty, or felt unsafe. Let me know in the comments if you find know of any other budget hotels in this price range. I would be interested in trying them out.

The best Hostels in Tijuana

There are three hostels in Tijuana. I haven’t stayed at any of them because for about the same price I can get a private room in the places mentioned above. Really the only benefit to staying in a hostel in Tijuana would be to meet other travelers. Here are the best hostel options:

  • LifeStyle Hostel- This is the best-rated hostel in Tijuana. They are located in Playas de Tijuana. A bed in a dorm costs around $17. If you want to stay near the beach, this is a great choice. Otherwise, it’s kind of inconvenient. 
  • Hostel California- This one is located near the border but it is a dangerous walk away from the city center. I’m not sure why they chose that location. A bed in a dorm costs about $12.
  • Mi Casita de Colores- Another well-rated hostel. Unfortunately, the location isn’t great.

Hostel dorm room

Airbnb in Tijuana

This is another excellent option for accommodation in Tijuana. Particularly if you plan to stay for a longer duration. Many people offer rooms at a discount for long term stays on Airbnb. Sometimes up to 50% off if you stay a month or more. 

I stayed for about a month in a room in 5 y 10 which I really enjoyed. Decent rooms can be found all over the city from $10-$30 per night.

Staying Safe While Visiting Tijuana

When planning a trip to Tijuana, the biggest concern for most visitors is safety. While this is a valid concern, Tijuana is much safer than we are led to believe by the news. For years, the news media has been reporting horror stories about violence in Tijuana. For the most part, that is all exaggerated and sensationalized.

While all of the reported crimes do happen, the vast majority are not happening in tourist areas. They are happening in poor and working-class neighborhoods. With that being said, in the time that I have lived here, I have been inside a bar during an armed robbery and my phone was pickpocketed but luckily I was able to get it back.

In this section, I’ll share my top six tips to stay safe and avoid scams while visiting Tijuana. To read more about safety, check out my guide: Is Tijuana Safe? Avoiding Common Scams and Crime. It includes everything you need to know to have a safe trip to Tijuana including information on transportation, the police, and violent crime.

1. Don’t walk between the border and downtown after dark

 The walk is safe except for one section where you cross over the Tijuana River. Muggings are common on the bridge. The reason this section is dangerous at night is because it is a dark, winding path without any police presence.

To get around this, simply take the colectivo minibus, Uber, or a taxi between the border and downtown if you are traveling after dark. The walk is not worth the risk when you can just spend 10 pesos (50 cents) on the colectivo.

2. Be cautious of beggars and homeless

Occasionally you may be approached by a fast talker who was deported from the US. These guys speak perfect English and run scams or sell drugs. Be cautious when talking to these guys.

Tijuana also has a sizable homeless population. For the most part, these people are harmless but I recommend you steer clear. One day, while I was walking down the street minding my own business, a crazy woman walked by and punched me right in the stomach without provocation. I hadn’t even made eye contact with her.

3. Don’t break the law

Never buy drugs or do anything illegal in Tijuana. Many of the police are corrupt and will ask for a bribe. Depending on the nature of your crime, this could be incredibly expensive if you are caught. Of course, you could also end up in a Mexican jail. It’s not worth the risk. 

4. Don’t walk around too much when you have been drinking

Even though downtown and Zona Rio are fairly safe with all of the police around, people are more likely to take advantage of you if you’ve been drinking. For an example of this, you can read my story about how I was pickpocketed. Had I been sober, it probably wouldn’t have happened. 

5. Don’t walk around with large sums of cash or anything too valuable

In the unlikely event that you do get mugged or pickpocketed, you don’t want the criminal to profit too much. For extra security against pickpockets, it is a good idea to secure your wallet and phone in a pocket that can be closed with a zipper or button.

Police have also been known to shake down tourists for bribes but I believe this is far less common than it was in the past. You’d have to be breaking the law for the police to bother you. More on the police in the next section. 

Tip: Use a money belt to avoid losing cash, your passport, or your credit cards to muggers or pickpockets. Many travelers pair their money belt with a decoy wallet stocked with a few dollars and a couple of expired credit cards to hand over if they are robbed. I recommend the Eagle Creek Silk Undercover money belt. I’ve been using mine for the past 8 years and it has held up incredibly well. Check out my full review here. 

6. While walking around at night, stay within the tourist areas

For example, if you wish to travel from downtown to Zona Río at night, you should take a colectivo, Uber, or taxi just to be safe. I have made the walk dozens of times without any problems but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Again, this is just a briefing on safety in Tijuana. For more information, check out my full guide: Is Tijuana Safe? Avoiding Common Scams and Crime. This guide will outline everything that you need to know.

For more specific information on scams, check out my extensive article: 19 Common Travel Scams, How they Work, and How to Avoid Them.

A Note about the Tijuana Police

Tijuana police

The police in Tijuana have an incredibly dangerous and difficult job. They work hard to keep the city as safe as possible under the circumstances. They are understaffed and are outnumbered by the drug gangs operating in the region. To top it all off, the Tijuana police force is also very corrupt. For example, I have friends who were stopped by the police, both on foot and in a car, and asked for a bribe or threatened with arrest. Admittedly, in both cases, my friends were breaking the rules.

For the above reasons, the police in Tijuana are not known for being too helpful to tourists. They have more important things to deal with than a drunk tourist or searching for a lost phone or wallet. With that being said, if you need help with something, don’t be afraid to ask. They are there to keep you safe. If you do ask for their help, don’t be surprised if they ask for a bit of a bribe for their time. This, of course, depends on the officer.

Medical Tourism While Visiting Tijuana

Because healthcare costs have gotten so high in the US, medical tourism in Tijuana is booming. More and more Americans are crossing the border for healthcare each year. If you need dental work or cosmetic surgery, it is worth considering visiting a Tijuana doctor for a consultation.

You may also want to bring your prescriptions with you to Tijuana to have them filled by a local pharmacy while you are there. Pharmaceutical prices are generally lower in Mexico than in the US.

To read my full article on medical tourism, check out Healthcare in Mexico for Americans: Visiting a Clinic, Going to the Dentist, and Buying Prescriptions in Tijuana.

The guide explains, step-by-step how to go about finding a doctor or dentist and getting the best treatment in Tijuana. It also gives tips on purchasing prescriptions and choosing a doctor for your situation.

Chair in a dental office

Do you need to speak Spanish to visit Tijuana?

No, it is not necessary to speak any Spanish to visit Tijuana. Being so close to the border, most people have learned a decent amount of English. Particularly people who work with tourists such as bartenders, waiters, and salespeople. Immigration officials also speak English. Even 80% of Uber drivers that I have ridden with speak sufficient English.

With that being said, it is nice to know a bit of the local language and Spanish is fun to learn. It makes the trip a bit easier and the locals appreciate you putting in the effort, even if you’re Spanish isn’t very good. For help learning Spanish, check out two of my favorite language apps Duolingo and Memrise.

After living in Tijuana for a year, I still can’t say I speak Spanish fluently but what I do know makes day to day life much easier. I would say that I’m at an intermediate level of proficiency in the Spanish language.

Tijuana Tours from San Diego: If you don’t want to visit alone

If after all of this, you would prefer to visit Tijuana with an organized tour, that option is available. Here are some of the best-rated choices:

  • Tijuana Walking Tour- This 5 hour tour picks you up in San Ysidro and drops you off at the border at the end of the day. The tour shows you around downtown and gives you a chance to taste some Mexican beer and have a nice taco lunch. The tour costs $20. Private tours are also available. For more information, check out their website.
  • Tourista Libre- Similar to the above. They offer several different tours starting in San Ysidro. Private tours are also available. For more information, check out their website.
Tijuana, Mexico

Beautiful Tijuana

Travel Insurance for Visiting Tijuana

One thing to remember when traveling to Tijuana is that your US health insurance most likely won’t cover you while you’re in Mexico. For that reason, you may want to purchase travel insurance. I like World Nomads. I have used their insurance for pretty much all of my international trips and have had good luck with them. Even if you only plan to spend an afternoon in Tijuana, having insurance is worth it for the peace of mind. For more information and for a free quote, you can check out my travel insurance page.

Final Thoughts on Visiting Tijuana from San Diego

If you’re in the San Diego area, I would consider Tijuana to be a must-visit. Even for just a day trip. The city is growing and changing at such a rate that there is always something new and exciting to do. After living in Tijuana for over a year, I have fallen in love with the city

If you end up falling in love with Tijuana after your visit and want to move here, check out my guide: Moving to Tijuana as an American. It includes information on choosing a neighborhood to live, finding an apartment, moving your belongings, commuting tips, and more!

Have you visited Tijuana lately? Comment below with your experience and recommendations!

More Tijuana Guides from Where The Road Forks
Disclosure: Please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links, including links from the Amazon Serivices LLC Associates Program. At no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase through these links. I only recommend products and services that I use and know. Thank you for reading!

6 comments

Staci December 14, 2018 - 5:13 pm

Excellent, very thorough guide. How accessible is the city for wheelchair users?

Reply
wheretheroadforks December 15, 2018 - 12:50 am

Hi Staci, good question. Overall, Tijuana is not as wheelchair accessible as the US, unfortunately. Some sidewalks aren’t in great condition and many places don’t have ramps. With that being said, it is still possible to visit. You’ll just have to do a bit more research first. Your options will also be more limited. Most high range hotels and restaurants are designed for wheelchair access. Low to mid-range places, maybe not. For example, the budget hotels that I recommended in the guide have stairs and no elevator. The main tourist areas in downtown and Zona Rio are accessible for the most part.
Thanks for the question!

Reply
Kirsten October 30, 2019 - 1:40 pm

You forgot to mention the Xolos games! we live in SD and we love coming down for Xolos games. and my favorite tacos are from Taconazo..i know not a street taco but they are so good!!! Tijuana also has a super great children’s museum called Mini City at the Plaza Rio Mall. I’d also add the Hyatt Place on as a nicer hotel option. It’s not too far from the Caliente Stadium/Casino.

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wheretheroadforks October 30, 2019 - 4:06 pm

Great suggestions! I’ve been wanting to go to a Xolos game but haven’t been yet. I’ll add these places to the list.

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I C November 2, 2019 - 3:27 pm

The Tijuana dining options presented are truly exceptional. A favorite of ours for years has been “Restaurante Mexicano 24 horas” in the Cacho district. There’s not a bad plate on their menu, the service is great, and it’s open around the clock. Way better than a Denny’s and you can pay with dollars too.

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wheretheroadforks November 2, 2019 - 6:18 pm

I just looked it up and the food looks great! I can’t believe I haven’t heard of that place. I’ve probably walked right by it too. I’ll definitely have to try it out and add it to the list. Thanks for the recommendation!

Reply

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