A South of the Border Excursion to Tijuana


Tijuana is a mere 20 minutes from downtown San Diego. The border is open 24 hours a day, and U.S. citizens can enter Mexico for 72 hours or less with a valid passport. English is spoken in all of the restaurants and shops mentioned in this chapter. The shopping hours in Tijuana are generally 10 a.m.–8 p.m. daily, and most major American credit cards are accepted. Also most banks are open in Tijuana 9 a.m.–4 p.m. If you are in Mexico and want to make a local call, be sure to dial only the last seven digits of all Mexican phone numbers in the text.

U.S. Customs allows you to bring back $800 worth of incidental purchases for personal use duty-free, including one liter of alcohol per adult 21 or older. Get a receipt, when possible, to verify the value of your purchases. You can even bring back a 90-day supply of personal use medical drugs if you have a prescription from a licensed doctor in the U.S. For information and restrictions call the FDA (310-971-2280).

For general information about the State of Baja California, contact the State Secretariat of Tourism of Baja California (664-682-3367). You can also visit their Web site at [discoverbajacalifornia.com].

For information about Tijuana, be sure to call the Visitor’s Information Center (4) at (01152-664-684-0538). Their English-speaking staff can answer any questions you may have. They also support all conventions that come to Tijuana, help promote the city and offer a full assortment of maps and guides. For questions or assistance upon entering Mexico stop at the border information office, which is located on the right as you enter Mexico. Their office is open Mon.–Sat., 9 a.m.–6 p.m. and Sun. 9 a.m.–1 p.m.


San Ysidro


If you are planning to cross the border into Tijuana, your trip to Mexico should include shopping at the shops at the border. San Ysidro, in particular, is a haven for factory outlet stores. They are strategically located just west of the Tijuana border crossing on Camino de la Plaza (see map). They offer the shrewd shopper discount prices on designer and famous brand names. Just take the off-ramp that reads “Last U.S. Exit Parking.”

Here you’ll find a fabulous factory outlet shopping mecca. It’s Las Americas Premium Outlets® (3) at 4211 Camino de la Plaza in San Ysidro (619-934-8400). It’s home to an incredible collection of 125 designer and name-brand outlet stores that offer something for everyone.


How to Get to Tijuana


Getting to Tijuana is simple and easy. From downtown San Diego, or from any of the coastal suburbs, take Interstate 5 south to the border. The inland freeway to take is Interstate 805. See the San Diego County map. You should also call (619-690-8999) for border ­conditions.

After the short drive south from San Diego on Interstate 5 or Interstate 805, you will arrive at the Tijuana border crossing. Many people who are going to Tijuana for the day park their cars and walk across. Finding the parking lot area is simple. Just take the off-ramp that reads “Last U.S. Exit Parking.”

For the best and safest place to park your car, turn right at the stop light. Then immediately turn right again into Border Station Parking (1) (619-428-9477). This 24-hour attended parking lot is well lit at night and has surveillance cameras for your safety. They also have a 24-hour ATM. The parking rate is ($7) during the week and ($8) on the weekend. There is also a tourist information center and public telephones. Plus, it’s only a six minute walk to the border. However most people opt to take Mexicoach (1), which is a bus line that will take you directly to downtown Tijuana and back.

It leaves every hour on the hour 8 a.m.–6 p.m. The cost is only ($4) per person each way or ($6) round-trip. But there may be a slight increase in the near future. Even if you decide to walk to the border, it’s a positive alternative to catch a Mexicoach bus from their downtown Tijuana terminal (8) when you cross back into the U.S. with all of the items you have purchased.

Another means of transportation to and from the border is by trolley via the Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) Blue Line (5) (511). One-way fare is ($2.50) for adults (depending on the distance traveled).

A popular source of transportation for traveling to Tijuana and beyond is to rent a car and let them provide you with Mexican Insurance and a safe reliable car. International Car Rental (5) is at 710 East San Ysidro Blvd. Suite D, San Ysidro (619-428-5100) [intlcarrentals.com]. It’s open Mon.–Sat. 8 a.m.–7 p.m. and Sun. 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Their fleet of automobiles includes vans, mini size cars to full size cars with air ­conditioning.

If you decide to drive your car into Mexico, get Mexican automobile insurance. If you have a serious accident in Mexico, you and your car may be detained until it is determined who the guilty party is. The average policy for one day for liability is about ($17.60).

A convenient place to get Mexican insurance is located at the last freeway exit before crossing into Mexico. Baja-Mex Insurance (2) is at 4575 Camino de la Plaza (619-428-1616) and (800-300-6394). Credit cards: MC, VISA.

There are two distinct shopping and sightseeing regions in central Tijuana one is the historic Downtown District, which is about a mile long (see map). Along this thoroughfare are almost every item that you can ever imagine from souvenir items to French perfume and everything in between because Tijuana is a duty free zone.

The other shopping region is called Rio Tijuana, which literally means the Tijuana River. This is where the locals shop and dine and where savvy shoppers from the USA shop if they are not specifically searching for a traditional souvenir such as a sombrero, but then again you can find almost anything here as well. Mainly, a large department store and lots of clothing stores, bakeries and a huge grocery store.

While there is virtually no water in the river, a massive cement waterway was constructed a couple decades ago and here sitting on the edge of this cement waterway is the fabulous Plaza Rio Tijuana Shopping Center. Thus, the river acts as a landmark.

Downtown Tijuana

Bargain shoppers are once again flocking to Tijuana for both shopping and dining because Mexico recently experienced its fifth peso devaluation in the last 40 years. So smart shoppers looking for high quality goods can definitely find them here. People come for the reduced prices and to browse the many arcades; the dine in fine restaurants and to just to have a good time visiting a foreign country.

If you have pictured Tijuana as a little border town, you’re in for a big surprise. Tijuana is a full-fledged city of more than 1.5 million inhabitants with all the bustle and vibrancy of a true Latin metropolitan city, while still possessing special features that make it convenient for American visitors. For example, American money is gladly accepted, the merchants speak English, and you’ll find enough signs and directions in English to help you get around easily.

If you wish to tour downtown Tijuana via Mexicoach, your tour should start at the Mexicoach Terminal (8) at 1025 Avenida Revolucion.

If you arrive by car or taxi, your tour should begin at the Soriana Supermarket’s parking lot (6) at 868 Avenida Revolucion. If you plan to walk the half mile to downtown Tijuana, begin your tour on Revolucion Avenue.

If you decide to walk across the border and then take a cab see cab on map (7) ask to be let off at the corner of Third Street and Avenida Revolucion at the Soriana Supermarket (6). The cab ride should cost approximately ($5) but may vary, depending on the number of people in your party. Agree on the fare before getting into the cab, and do not tip. The same amount is what you should pay for a cab back to the border, the Cultural Center, the Rio Tijuana Shopping Center Colonia Aviación and nearby restaurants.

If you’re driving your own car into the downtown shopping district, take the Centro Commercial off-ramp, which winds around a cloverleaf, exiting on Third Street. The two lanes closest to the inside of the cloverleaf are marked “Centro 3a.” Follow Third Street to Avenida Revolucion; then turn right to enter the Soriana Supermarket’s parking lot (6) at the corner of Third and Revolucion. This parking lot is the easiest to find, and because it is centrally located, it’s a good a place to begin your exploration of downtown Tijuana (see map). Parking is ($10) maximum for the day.
Avenida Revolucion, “La Revu” to the locals, is the 11-block long main street that’s been here for over a century. It’ll be the street where most of the shops you’ll discover can be found. The cross-streets have names and are numbered 1 through 11 from north to south.


Rio Tijuana


Rio Tijuana is where Tijuana’s residents do their shopping. The main thoroughfare is Paseo de los Heroes. See map. Here you’ll find excellent restaurants, a modern shopping center and the beautiful Tijuana Cultural and Visitor Center.

If you are planning to visit Plaza Rio Tijuana in your own automobile before visiting downtown Tijuana, take the Paseo de los Heroes exit, which is the far right-hand lane as you cross the overpass that takes you into downtown Tijuana. To get from downtown Tijuana to Rio Tijuana, follow the pink line (see map). The cost by cab from the border or downtown Tijuana is about ($5).

A landmark that you’ll be able to identify is the large round building of the Tijuana Cultural Center (9) (01152-664-687-9650). It’s located at 9350 Paseo de los Heroes in Rio Tijuana. It’s a major attraction and an excellent way to learn about life in all regions of Mexico. Admission is ($2–$4).

You’ll be able to see the museum in about two hours, which is crammed with historical artifacts and an excellent historic dialogue of Mexico’s rich history. They also have a domed movie theatre worth seeing the short film about Mexico’s history.


Shopping in Rio Tijuana


Just across the street from the cultural center is the modern Plaza Rio Tijuana (10). See Tijuana map. This 792,000-sq. ft. open-air mall is the fourth largest in Mexico. It houses more than 125 specialty and department stores, restaurants and 2 large movie theaters. Whether it’s travel arrangements, electronics or clothing, this center has it all.

The premier pharmacy in Rio Tijuana for all of your medical and personal needs is Farmacia Gusher (10) (01152-664-684-0235) in the Plaza Rio Tijuana Shopping Center. They are open 24 hours a day. To receive 26 percent off all merchandise redeem their special client discount. For more savings, call (01152-664-684-0229). They sell Vivioptal multi-vitamin supplements here as well as Bedoyecta Tri. They also have a juice counter where you can get smoothies. For all of their locations, see their ad in this chapter. Also visit their Web site [gusher.com.mx] for bigger savings. While this location is where you’ll find the biggest Farmacia Gusher store, Gusher has additional locations throughout Tijuana and in Rosarito Beach to the south. Credit cards: MC, VISA.

Hard not to miss is the huge Commercial Mexicana (10), a gigantic supermarket. You’ll find great bargains on liquor and other goods here as well. Plus, you’ll get a good rush just experiencing the south-of-the-border shopping experience of how the locals do their shopping. And the selection of food both canned and fresh are great bargains not to miss.

Steps away is the must see Dorian’s Department Store, where you can find an amazing selection of French perfume at peso devaluation prices, so stock up. Like virtually every USA department store, this one has two floors filled with the latest fashions and loads of bargains as well. So don’t miss a visit to Dorian’s Department Store, of which this is the largest location but they have other locations including a huge one in the downtown area.

In stark contrast to the high vibe Plaza Rio Tijuana Shopping Center with it’s state of the art movie theatre and modern shops filled with well dressed cosmopolitan shoppers is the open air  native market  called Hidalgo Merado (29). This is where farmers from the interior of Baja California, Mexico bring their hand made wares and produce. Instead of fashion minded stores, these storefronts are open air markets filled with crates of produce and exotic spices, freshly  cut flowers and a fresh of the hough meat market. And unlike the fashionable shopping mall where shoppers park on the exterior of the shopping center. Many shoppers part in the center of the all as the stores and stalls surround the parking lot.

And being the hustling, bustling center of commerce, Rio Tijuana is also home to high class internationally know hotels such as Plaza Camino Real. It’s a popular, high rise, extravaganza not to miss. And nearby is the stunning Hotel Lucerna, which was inaugurated by the President of Mexico. With locations elsewhere in Baja California, the Hotel Lucerna is a perfect example is what class in Latin America is all about with its plush decor and sparking marble floors. Amenities include an eye-catching swimming pool and an excellent restaurant.

These impressive amenities are essential features not usually found at San Diego hotels, expect for high end establishments like the Westgate Hotel in Downtown San Diego. Travelers staying overnight here international travelers from Mexico City, Latin America, China and the orient and they expect the best of the best.

You may be surprised that hotel guests are coming from China, Japan, Korea and the orient. It is because Tijuana is home to hundreds of bustling assembly plants, called twin plants, some of which are  a quarter of a mile long. They are called twin plants because they assemble the goods produced elsewhere in the world in Tijuana for less.

And Tijuana being ideally located next to the USA goods stream from these plants directly into the  American economy. Thus, there are two huge ports of entry. For trucking it’s Otay Mesa (see map) and for visitors it’s at the Tijuana San Ysidro Border crossing. Both ports of entry accept visitor crossings.

Where to Dine

Downtown Tijuana Dining

Most visitors visit downtown Tijuana and shop along Tijuana’s downtown main street called Avenida Revolucion, which is where you’ll find many places to eat.

Caesar Restaurant in Hotel Caesar, (17)  between 4th and 5th avenues in downtown Tijuana (01152-664-685-1927) See map. You owe it yourself to become part of history and dine here because this where the world famous Caesar Salad was first invented.  The most famous of these dining establishments is Ceasar’s Restaurant in the Caesar’s Hotel, which is quite easy to find because it’s located near the corner of 5th Street and Avenida Revolucion, which is the main street. This hotel is also part of Tijuana’s glitzy past when it was a luxurious spa and gambling distination  back in the 1920’s and 1930’s. International cuisine is prepared by a gourmet chef and this restaurant is one of 8 other restaurants owned by the top restaurant family in Baja California. So expect to be treated like royalty yet the prices are down to earth. Credit cards: MC, VSA.

Los Arcos Seafood Restaurant and Bar (12), 1000 Salinas Blvd. at the corner of Escaudron 201 St. (01152-664-686-4757). This  restaurant is one of over 15 locations located throughout Mexico, which is a good recommendation to eat here. This seafood restaurant is a great ­discovery yet to get there you should definitely take a taxi cab. And agree on the price before getting into the cab. This is a local favorite is open daily. The tropical atmosphere is lively with people talking, laughing as rhythmic music often played in the seaside resort town of Mazatlan, Mexico plays in the background. And the decor is nautical. Over 50 memorable seafood entrees are offered. HIghly recommended is the Tequila shrimp. However, if you are a steak lover they offer a great steak and lobster extravaganza,  which is hard to beat. Credit cards: MC, VISA

Rio Tijuana

Dining in Rio Tijuana is special as it caters to the affluent Mexican travelers and to the affluent residents of Baja California, Mexico.

Cien Anos (32) 407 Jose Maria Velazco, Rio Tijuana (01152-664-634-3039) or call toll free (888-534-6088). Open  Mon.–Sat., 8 a.m.– 11  p.m.;Sun., 8 a.m.– 10 p.m. for breakfast, lunch an dinner.  The bar is open till 2 a.m. Cien Anos served over 100 tequilas so ask your server for his recommendation for the best tequila in rhe world. This award winning restaurant has a loyal following, who come here for the wonderful tasting traditional Mexican cuisine created from recipes the interior of Mexico. Be sure to order their award winning  tortilla soup an perhaps their wonderful chocolate mule smothered in a wonderful sauce. Also outstanding is their tender fillet of beef topped with melted cheese sauce. No less spectacular are their  award winning desserts. Banquet and catering for 20–350  people. Credit cards: AE, MC, VISA.

La Diferencia (33) , Ecellencia en Cocina Mexicana, 10611 Sanchez Toboada Blvd., Rio Tijuana (01152-664-634-3346). Open daily for lunch and dinner. La Diferencia would be a great restaurant in any city in the world. Featured is international cuisine with recipes dating back to the Spanish conquistadors. One recommendation is their beef tenderloin topped with cuitacoche and goat cheese. Every item from their stuffed crrepes to the fresh salmon will delight  you. And for dessert it has to be their tortilla cake. Valet Parking. Banquets and Catering. Credit cards: AE, MC, VISA.

Villa Saverio’s Sanchez Toboado Blvd. and Escuadron 201  (01152-664-686-6442) Rio Tijuana. Open daily. Incredible mouthwatering cuisine is prepared in a theatrical kitchen by attentive waiters who watch over you will you dine. Everything about this restaurant is first class. You won’t be disappointed that you dined here. Overseeing the  creation of the mediterranean inspired cuisine is Chef Javie Plascencia. Classical entrees include classic chicken cordon bleu, filet mignon in Chianti sauce and pan seared scampi with crab in a garlic lemon and caper cream sauce  Plus, while it’s the flagship of the Grupo Giuseppis family they have several other locations including Romesco Baja Med at 4346 Bonita Rd. (619-475-8627) in Bonita near Chula Vista and now one in Little Italy that rival this one for being the best of the best. Full Bar. Banquets and Catering. Credit cards: AE, MC, ISA.