These are not the wild, crazy, upside-down tequila and cerveza-swilling spots that are so often associated when visiting Tijuana, Mexico, a town just across the border from San Diego.
Rather, I’m highlighting six places that myself and other travel bloggers visited during a trip organized by the San Diego chapter of Travel Massive.
Turns out, there is much more to this destination than its famous Avenida Revolución, or Revolution Avenue. It’s fun and easy to roll down on the trolley from San Diego for day of culture, food and outstanding drinks that are way better than those tourist margaritas in the bars.
But first, here’s a few fun facts about Tijuana!
It is the busiest border city in the world. And while it’s known primarily for its debauchery, it is also one of the world’s leading centers for Stem Cell research. It also has a lot of quality dentistry with prices a lot lower than you often find in the States.
The town was born out of Prohibition when Americans close to the border – including many of Hollywood’s top celebrities at the time – went there to do what they could not do in America at the time: drink legally. Initially there was one bar, and then another, and then another and well, it soon became a drinking boom town.
Speaking of celebrities, Rita Heyworth was a dancer at the casino and the Caesar salad was created here. It’s not Roman; it was developed by local restaurant owner Cesar Cardini, whose kitchen was emptied on an especially busy Fourth of July weekend. With celebrities having just sat down for dinner, he had to come up with something fast so – quickly thinking on his feet – he rolled out a cart and began tossing together ingredients on the fly. It was an instant hit. And the restaurant is still in operation, Cesar’s.
The name Tijuana is somewhat of a mystery. Some think it comes from a nearby mountain that looks like a sleeping turtle.
Okay now onto this off-the-beaten-tourist path guide. Oh, and we ate a LOT!
The 1889 Museum
You could walk right by this place if you didn’t see a replica of a striped donkey (called a zonkie, or burrow, which is a donkey painted in Zebra stripes) in front of it. Located just half a block from where the city was created on Revolution Ave. – and squeezed between two pharmacies, tho the entire town is full of pharmacies – it provides a cool history of the city.
It packs a lot into its small area, so don’t just walk in and peek; take time to see everything. I enjoyed leaning against the dusty bar for a fun photo op.
Address: Av. Revolución #828, Zona Centro
The Mulme Museum
Those in San Diego ComicCon should take a day trip to this museum, for this place is a real trip. It is full of artifacts from comic books, Star Wars movies and even snacks like Cheetos and Coca-Cola. Be sure and look up at the ceiling from the main floor. True Comic Con fans can spend a good two hours slowly going around this room.
On the second floor is a shrine to Mexican wrestling and wrestlers (complete with a wresting mat, which is great for selfies and social media posts) and an entire wall of small ceramic objects painted to resemble hundreds of the wrestlers’ masks.
It open on weekends from 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Website: Inicio (mullme.com)
Food In Tijuana
• The Mercado Hidalgo and COTUCO Market
There’s more to this place than meets the eye when you arrive at it. It’s an indoor-outdoor fresh market featuring a cheese shop (cheeses in Mexico are excellent and are about half the price of cheeses in U.S.), a natural products store where where I picked something for my recently-diagnosed high BP and fresh fruits and vegetables you can consume on the spot.
We sampled yucca (a truly ugly prickly fruit that looks like a watermelon with spikes sticking out it that is, ahem, an acquired taste) plus super-fresh coconut water and coconut chopped up for us on the spot.
It is open every day from 6 a.m.-6 p.m.
• Traditional Restaurant In The Plaza Santa Cecilia
The name pretty much says it all. This excellent restaurant on a shopping side street near the Revolution Ave., arch is a small spot with big-flavored food. I and a fellow blogger opted for the Traditional, which came with carnitas, home-made sausages and incredible grilled shrimp; big enough for two or three. Three? Heck, the two of us easily disposed of it because it was so delicious we couldn’t stop eating it until the dish was wiped clean.
The corn tortillas, by the way, are made on the spot. Fantastic.
Hotel Lafayette Tijuana
If ever there we a hotel for Instagrammers, this is it.
Brand new, it is located on Revolution Ave., and has just 12 rooms – 10 suites and two masters. Each room is different. The history of the area is reflected in newspaper clippings on the walls in the rooms. The hotel is built of solid concrete it’s super quiet. Except for two rooms on Revelolution Ave., perhaps!
You know the phase “what’s one man’s trash is another’s treasure.” That’s kind of the philosophy of the owners. The rooms are decorated with old typewriters, TVs, even boat gas cans. And it all works.
This fall there will be a rooftop bar overlooking the action on the avenue.
Room rates start about $150/night.
Website: Hotel Lafayette – Tijuana B.C.
Telefonica Gastro Park Indoor-Outdoor Super Bar
This is a way-cool bar that’s an indoor-outdoor brewery, cocktail lounge, wine tasting location and food market. Just 10 minutes from the border and 10 from Revolution Ave., this is a highly-recommended first-stop spot in TJ.
The property is huge with a large indoor area where more than a dozen beer taps are located (I had an excellent blonde; very impressive) while outside has a big seating area surrounded by a food court and an elevated deck overlooking the whole thing.
The food is sensational and the fruit-infused margaritas are perfectly blended to the point you know there’s tequila in there but it doesn’t overwhelm the cocktails. They are soooo refreshing on a hot day.
Yes, all the wild bars are just down the street but you may be tempted to toss out the anchor at Telefonica Gastro Park and stay way longer than you originally intended when you first arrived at it.
It is open until 10 p.m.
Website: Telefonica Gastro Park