Top 15 Things to Do in Tijuana

A new generation of adventurous chefs, artists, and innovators are turning TJ into a city for the locals, by the locals

Alex Zaragoza, Stephanie Granada
1 /15 Dave Lauridsen

Pasaje Rodriguez

In 2010, this downtown alleyway was sketchy. Today, it’s home to clothing boutiques, book and music shops, and the Nodo Galería, where TJ’s best young artists show their stuff. Runs from Av. Revolución to Av. Constitución between Calles 3era and 4ta in Zona Centro.

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Centro Cultural Tijuana (CECUT)

Locals call this Zona Río institution La Bola for its large ball-shaped structure. The center plays host to dance companies, classical music concerts, fine-art exhibits, and an Imax theater. Paseo de los Héroes 9350; cecut.gob.mx.

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La Stazione Café

“Coffee is hope” is the motto at this bright cafe in the La Cacho neighborhood. Yes, the brew is squeezed from fair-trade beans. Yes, the vanilla latte is made with house syrup and topped with foam art. Yes, there is hope! Calle Ensenada 2266-1; facebook.com/lastazionecafe.

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Misión 19

Thanks to local sourcing and a flair for experimentation, chef Javier Plascen­cia turned TJ into a destination with his glittery restaurant. Try the parfait de callo de hacha (scallop parfait)—the starter tastes better than
it sounds. $$ U.S.; Misión de San Javier 1064; mision19.com.

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The Culinary Art School pumps out fresh talent whose inventive approaches are seen in places like the taqueria Tras/Horizonte (+011 52 664/622-5062) and the Telefónica Gastro Park (+011 52 664/684-8782) food hall.

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Verde y Crema

This restaurant is gaining a cult following on both sides of the border for its wood fire–cooked traditional dishes with creative twists (yes, that is a birria grilled cheese sandwich you’re eating) and its all-star selection of Mexican craft beers. $$ U.S.; Orizaba 3034; verdeycrema.com.

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La Mezcalera

Thirty-somethings flock to this monument to mescal for the relaxed postwork vibe and the chapulines, a snack of salted grasshoppers. In back, DJs spin electro jams till the wee hours. Calle 6ta between Av. Revolución and Francisco Madero; +52-664-688-0384.

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Food Garden

The TJ dilemma: too much great street food, not enough time. To get a broad sample in one shot, head for Food Garden in Zona Río (pictured). The tightly curated lineup of vendors hock everything from artisanal aguas
to octopus tacos. Blvd. Sánchez Taboada 10650; foodgarden.mx.

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Club Tengo Hambre

Club Tengo Hambre is a roving supper club that exposes small groups to TJ’s food scene. From $75 U.S.; clubtengohambre.com.

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Started by brothers Damian and Iván Morales in their mother’s kitchen, this TJ superstar now distributes as far as Denmark. If it's on top during your visit, sip on Juan Cordero, a hoppy pale ale named after the street the brewery is on, and make your way down to the other dozen or so craft cerveza tasting rooms in Plaza Río.

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Mercado Hidalgo

Go behind the scenes, head to where the chefs shop: Mercado Hidalgo (+011 52 664/684-0485), a dreamland of rare fruits and color-coded vegetables, plus cheeses, homemade candies, and piñatas.

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Two nano-breweries teamed up to create one great spot for day drinking along Avenida Revolución. The beer’s solid, but you’ll also love the raspberry-infused Valkiria Frambuesa cider. Zona Cacho’s traditional Mexican restaurants and numerous boutiques are also nearby.

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Turista Libre

You can certainly get around on your own, but it helps to have the connections of a local (business hours are finicky, for starters). Turista Libre, founded in 2009 by a journalist, organizes excursions that cover everything from immigration and cartel history to more lighthearted market hops—where you might come across candied honeycomb—and even water park trips. From $36.

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New Arts Scene

What Tijuana lacks in natural scenery, it makes up for in imagination, thanks to the artists and designers who have flocked here for the affordable studio space. These days, Arturo Rodríguez of La Caja Galería promotes his band of progressive artists through both public installations and hush-hush events. Want to take some of the action home with you? Object (pictured) specializes in modern pieces from Mexican designers, and Casa Duhagón is an overstuffed palace of glazed ceramics and intricate chip-carved tables.

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Start your morning amid gorgeous reclaimed wood at ­Bresca (+011 (52) 664/656-7920). Order a café de olla—coffee amped up with piloncillo (unrefined cane sugar) and spices like cloves and cinnamon.