Once seen as a place for American college students to go and party and for older adults to get dental care, Tijuana has emerged as one of Mexico’s hottest cultural destinations. This Mexican border town has come a long way in shedding its old image. Today, you can find a wide range of attractions and activities for people of all ages. This is THE place to go if you love eating delicious food, enjoy spending time on beautiful beaches, and think of yourself as a bit of a culture vulture!
Best of all, it’s just a short hop across the border from San Diego on the Baja California Peninsula. This means that you can head to Tijuana in the morning, spend the day doing awesome things, and then be back in California in time for bed. However, if you have the time, we highly recommend spending the night there so you can experience some of the vibrant nightlife that the city has to offer.
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Mexico has so many amazing things to offer visitors that everyone else should take the time to explore this magnificent country! To learn more about the gorgeous colonial cities and the epic outdoor adventures, head over to the Let’s Roam Explorer blog where you find a long list of articles covering everything from ancient ruins to amazing cities. Next, download the Let’s Roam app to access all of our Mexico City scavenger hunts plus hundreds of hunts for destinations all over the world!
How to Spend the Day in Tijuana, Mexico
We love exploring all of the cities in Mexico. To help you get started on your planning, we have created the ultimate one-day itinerary for Tijuana. Although we’ve put everything in order, you can swap them around however you like!
If this is your first time in Mexico and you’re feeling a little nervous, you can also start the day with a walking tour. This will help you start feeling a bit more comfortable in your surroundings and give you the confidence to venture off on your own later on in the day. This gives you the best of both worlds!
You can also take a sightseeing day tour here with a tour guide from San Diego or Los Angeles if you don’t want to mess around with public transportation or drive your own car across of the border. These usually provide round-trip transportation and will give you a whirlwind experience of Mexican culture.
Cross the Mexico/US border.
The first step on any day trip to Tijuana is crossing the US border near San Diego. This is one of the busiest border crossings in the entire world with more than 100,000 people crossing the border every single day for work, school, or entertainment.
In order to cross the border, you must have a valid passport or an enhanced driver’s license. This is non-negotiable unless there are some really extenuating circumstances (which normally involve getting embassies involved).
Pedestrians entering Tijuana at the San Ysidro crossing need to complete a Mexico Visitor’s Permit (FMM) and present their valid passports. You can get the form at immigration or fill it out online. After you pass through immigration, you will find yourself in Tijuana’s Zone Norte just a short drive from Tijuana’s bustling downtown.
It’s also important to keep in mind that it’s usually pretty quick to enter Mexico, but you may end up getting caught in long customs lines on the way back into the United States. If you are traveling onward from San Diego and need to make a flight, bus, or train, make sure to plan accordingly and give yourself a little extra time.
Head to the Mercado El Popo or Mercado Hidalgo.
Virtually all Mexican cities and towns have a bustling market where you can pick up fresh fruits and vegetables. Tijuana is no different. The Mercado el Popo in the Zona Río is one of the biggest markets in the city. Located right in the heart of downtown, the market is the perfect place to start the day with a hearty breakfast or early lunch.
Wander along the Avenida Revolucion in downtown Tijuana.
Every large Mexican city has a main drag full of street vendors, cafes, shops, bars, and other attractions. In Tijuana, this doubles as the main tourist center of the city. Avenida Revolucion is the main thoroughfare through Tijuana’s historic downtown. It’s a great place to start getting a feel for the city. If you want to see the entire avenue, allow yourself around two to three hours starting from the St. Louis look-alike Tijuana Arch and working your way down.
Interestingly, it was Tijuana’s first concrete avenue back in the early 20th century and was also the birthplace of Caesar salad. And just like how underage Americans head to Mexico for cheap beer and tequila today, Americans of all ages did the same thing during prohibition.
As you explore downtown, keep an eye out for the El Foro Antiguo Palacio Jai Alai. This quirky event space originally opened as a stadium to watch the game of jai alai. It used to draw big crowds from both Mexico and the United States who wanted to see their favorite players whirl a ball around at breakneck speeds. The sport’s popularity declined and eventually, the building was converted into a concert hall. You may even be able to see a show while you are there!
Go on a Tijuana scavenger hunt.
Once you’ve gotten your bearings a bit, why not try our Tijuana Taco-Tastic Treasure Hunt? This app-based scavenger hunt has been expertly designed to show you the city’s best attractions and hidden gems that only the locals know. From solving trivia questions about ancient sculptures to taking photos of vibrant murals, this hunt is sure to leave you with plenty of awesome memories!
Go for a stroll down Pasaje Rodriguez.
This 550-foot-long alleyway in downtown Tijuana used to be considered a major tourist trap thanks to the plethora of cheap souvenirs, but it has transformed itself into a colorful alleyway full of coffee shops, Oaxacan food stalls, and craft stores. Pasaje Rodriguez provides an endless array of photo opportunities.
The vibrant murals give passersby a quick look into the political and human rights issues affecting not only Tijuana but also the world. If you want to take great photos (and we hope you do), try and get there early in the day before the crowds appear. This will not only give you the chance to get some pics without a ton of people in them, but it will also give you an opportunity to really absorb the work and what the artist is trying to tell you.
This is also a great opportunity to grab a pick-me-up mid-morning coffee or a happy hour cerveza if you need a little energy boost after a morning of non-stop traveling and sightseeing. Trust us, this is Mexico—no one will judge you for a pre-noon beer!
Hit up the museums.
Tijuana has an impressive selection of museums you can visit to escape the heat of the day. Below you will find a few of the most popular ones in the city. All of these museums are located outside of downtown Tijuana, so you may want to grab an Uber if you don’t have a car at your disposal.
Immerse yourself in Mexican culture at the Tijuana Cultural Center (CECUT).
Opened in 1982, the Tijuana Cultural Center has grown to be one of the most important cultural centers in northwestern Mexico. The complex offers a mixture of gallery spaces, performing arts stages, an aquarium, botanical gardens, and an IMAX theater. The theater is housed in an impressive dome-shaped building that is well worth making the trip there all by itself!
Inside the galleries, you’ll find paintings, photos, and sculptures that tell the story of Baja’s history from the indigenous tribes to today. The explanations are in both English and Spanish which also gives you a good way to freshen up your language skills for the rest of the day.
Learn more about the history of the area at the Museo de las Californias.
Located within the Tijuana Cultural Center, the Museo de las Californias has a collection of more than 1,000 artifacts showcasing regional and national history. There are separate rooms dedicated to the indigenous groups, early European explorers, the Spanish missionaries that settled here, and the Mexican Revolution. Some of the highlights of the museum include replica cave paintings, 16th-century ships, a freestone chapel, and several missions.
Let the kids run loose at the Museo del Trompo.
If you’re traveling with kids, you may be reaching the point where they are starting to get a little antsy. Rather than hearing them whine about being bored, take them to the Museo del Trompo. This interactive science museum is full of hands-on activities designed to help young minds get excited about art and science as well as a planetarium and movie theater.
As an added bonus, the museum is located in Parque Morelos. This sprawling green space offers a small zoo, a handful of historical exhibits, a lake where you can rent boats, and walking trails where you can enjoy the natural beauty of the area.
Eat a late lunch at Telefonica Gastro Park.
Mexican cuisine is loved around the world. There is no better place to try cutting-edge takes on traditional Mexican foods than at the Telefonica Gastro Park. This foodie wonderland lies just a few blocks south of downtown Tijuana. It features a mouthwatering variety of food trucks where you can try some of Tijuana’s delicious street food including the city’s best tacos, quesadillas, and margaritas!
Grab a refreshing craft beer.
Move over Corona, the craft beer scene has poured into Mexico over the past decade. Tijuana is home to several microbreweries, serving up delicious craft beers. Many of these beers have their own Mexican flare which makes them unique compared to many of the craft beers that you find north of the border. After you’ve been walking around in the sun all day, there’s no better time to saddle up to the bar for a craft beer. Not only will it give you the chance to give your feet a rest, but it will also replenish the vitamins and minerals that you have lost throughout the day.
Some of the most popular craft breweries include Bajer Brewing, Norte Brewing Co, and Cerveceria Insurgente. Border Psycho Brewery is another great choice, but their taproom has a few not-so-child-friendly decor items so you may want to skip this one if you’re traveling with kids. Their beer can be purchased in San Diego, though, which is pretty convenient if you happen to fall in love with it!
Vamos a la playa.
The Baja California coastline is fringed with beautiful beaches, and Tijuana gives you easy access to quite a few of them.
Playa de Tijuana is the most popular beach in Tijuana. Spanning the entire length of the city, the beach is lined by a wooden boardwalk that is popular for jogging and biking. Behind the boardwalk, there is an array of seafood restaurants selling mouthwatering fish tacos and laid-back shack bars where you can grab an ice-cold Dos Equis while watching the sunset.
While you’re hanging out at the beach, make sure to take some photos in front of the colorful Tijuana sign to post on social media. From there, head over to the Bullfighting Monumental Plaza. Built in the 1960s, this was one of the largest bullfighting rings in the world and one of the few to have the distinction of having been built on the sea. The bullfights have been replaced by musical performances by huge acts.
From this long stretch of beach, you can see the border wall that separates the United States and Mexico. The juxtaposition between the ugly concrete wall and the beautiful ocean seems somewhat symbolic of the relationship between the two countries.
Lying on the opposite end of the geopolitical spectrum, you can also visit the Binational Friendship Garden of Native Plants. The garden is located 100 yards away from Monument 258 covering both sides of the US-Mexico border. It was started in March 2007 by students from El Colegio de Tijuana and Kearny Mesa High School who joined forces to plan a garden that would promote native flora and friendship between Mexico and the United States.
Want to explore more?
If you’re thinking of traveling further south along the Baja Peninsula, you should definitely do it! This narrow peninsula offers charming small towns, oh-so-chic vacation destinations, and some spectacular opportunities for spotting whales, dolphins, and even whale sharks. Some of the most popular places to visit include the beach town of Rosarito and the Valle de Guadalupe in Ensenada where you can embark on a wine tasting extravaganza at the area’s many wineries and bodegas.
The Logistics of Traveling to Tijuana
Now that we’ve covered all of the fun stuff that you can do during your Tijuana day trip, it’s time to cover a few questions about getting there and what to do once you arrive.
How do you get to Tijuana?
There are a few different ways to get to Tijuana. The most common ways are to take San Diego’s Blue Line tram to the border and walk across. You can also drive your own car across the border or fly into Tijuana International Airport. Otherwise, you can take a day tour or private tour departing from San Diego or Los Angeles.
Is Mexico safe?
For decades, Mexico has had a bad reputation and is seen as being unsafe. In reality, outside of the border towns where drug violence is rife, violent crime is relatively low in Mexico. While it’s important that you follow the same safety precautions in Mexico that you would in the United States, the chances that you will encounter any type of violent crime in the centro historico is extremely rare as long as you avoid any illegal activity or drug use.
Do you need to speak Spanish to visit Tijuana?
While it’s nice to have some Spanish under your belt when traveling to Tijuana, you can get by speaking only English. In general, Mexicans are very kind and welcoming, and there will almost always be someone around that speaks a little bit of English.
If you’re worried about encountering a language barrier, practice a few sentences in Spanish before you go. You will likely be very surprised at how far a few words can take you in such a welcoming country!
What currency do they use in Mexico?
The main form of currency in Mexico is the Mexican peso. However, you may find places that accept US dollars. However, keep in mind that they may have a terrible exchange rate. It’s generally better to take pesos out of the ATM if you are planning on trying a lot of different Mexican food, going shopping, or consuming a lot of alcohol. The amount that you save in currency conversion is likely to offset any ATM fees that you have to pay. Besides, if you leave Mexico with any pesos left over, it just gives you an extra incentive to come back again in the future!
Is Tijuana a good place for kids?
There is an old saying that it takes a village to raise a child, and many Mexicans take this to heart, even if it’s not their kid! Once you cross the border, you are likely to find that Mexico is incredibly welcoming to young travelers and overwhelmingly kid-friendly. From doting abuelas to unfazed restaurant owners and fellow diners, no one will bat an eye if your kiddito needs some extra attention or loving care while you are out on the town.
Always remember that Mexico has a huge population. It’s one of the biggest countries in the world which means there are tons of ninos there. There is nothing to be worried about. Tijuana has a population of around 1.8 million people which means you have a lot of potential babysitters around!
Is Tijuana expensive?
If you go to Tijuana thinking that everything is going to be cheap, you are in for some major sticker shock. High-end places in Mexico rival the cost of comparable places in the US. Make sure to budget your day trip to Tijuana accordingly!
Ready to roam?
We hope this guide has shown you how much fun you can have on this side of the border! Great food, fascinating museums, beautiful beaches, and friendly people await when you visit Tijuana! As always, we would love to hear your feedback. Please let us know if there are any wonderful attractions or activities that we may have missed.
If you would like to read more about the awesome destinations in Mexico, head over to the Let’s Roam Explorer blog. Here, you’ll find a wide range of destination guides, must-see lists, and travel articles for destinations throughout Mexico and beyond. You can also download the Let’s Roam app to get access to all of our fun-filled scavenger hunts as well as user-generated travel tips for places across the United States.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you’re going to Tijuana, make sure to check out the Mercado Hidalgo, the Playas de Tijuana, and the Pasaje Rodriguez. These are all great places to visit in Tijuana.
Tijuana provides a wonderful day trip from San Diego or Los Angeles. Getting across the border is relatively straightforward, and most of the sights are located just a short walk away.
Tijuana is a great place to get a glimpse of modern Mexican culture. Craft beer bars, food trucks, vibrant murals, and eclectic alleyways all show Mexico’s colorful side.
The Playas de Tijuana beach offers sweeping golden sand, fun beach bars, and seafood restaurants. There’s a nice boardwalk you can walk along as well.
You can have a great day in Tijuana. Start off at one of the markets before taking a walk down Revolution Avenue and exploring downtown.