The City of Tijuana is one of the most misunderstood parts of Mexico. Many of the most vocal sensationalists who theorize about violent crime have never actually been to Tijuana. It is the largest municipality in Mexico, larger than Iztapalapa, the largest burrow in Mexico City, with more ethnic diversity. Tijuana has an excellent job market and has some of the best food in all of Mexico with a distinct regional style. It is a popular destination for medical tourism, entertainment, and even surfing because of its close proximity to Southern California. But, “Is Tijuana Safe?”
The next 5,000 words will be spent exploring the safety issues that exist in Tijuana, Baja California, addressing some misconceptions, and teaching you how to travel safely in Tijuana, Baja California.
I have lived in Mexico since 2009 and my accent constantly prompts people to ask where I am from. I always say, “You know Tijuana, right? I come from a ranch 30 minutes away.” 30 minutes to the north but that’s with no traffic.
I have been exploring Tijuana since I was 15 years old. A nun from my high school would bring us along to help carry supplies to a Catholic orphanage. In the 1990s there was no passport requirement to cross the border and Avenida Revolución was a very different place.
Is Tijuana Safe To Visit?
No, Tijuana is not safe by any measure. Tijuana is consistently ranked as the most dangerous city in Mexico and one of the most violent cities in the world with a rate of 105 intentional homicides per 100,000 residents in 2022 (SESNSP). The homicide rate, human trafficking, cheap drugs, armed robbery, and organized car theft all contribute to the overall poor perception of safety.
But that doesn’t mean you should not go. With a little bit of research and preparation, it is possible to avoid drug-related violence and have a safe trip. Taking some basic precautions will help travelers explore this fun city.
Taking a little time to familiarize yourself with the most common criminal activity in Tijuana could save you from losing a cell phone, having your car broken into, or falling for common scams. Prevention is the most important factor when it comes to safety.
According to security experts, safety is about avoiding risks. It is 5% luck, 5% reaction, and 90% prevention. More than anything else, it is about identifying safe places and safe activities.
México, Tan lejos de Dios y tan cerca de Estados Unidos.Porfirio Díaz
Mexico, So far from God and so close to the United States.
The quote by Porfirio Díaz is about Mexico as a whole but there is no better place to observe the ramifications of being next door to the United States than Tijuana. Being a border town is at the root of many challenges facing this Mexican city.
Why Is Tijuana So Dangerous?
Tijuana is one stop along the most important smuggling corridor into the United States with three multinational criminal organizations fighting a turf war over the lucrative routes.
Not all the drugs make it over the border. Tijuana has developed a local market for both meth and fentanyl. I had a neighbor that went from working in a hospital in San Diego and stealing pills to dying of an overdose in a Tijuana hotel room in less than a year.
Every month we see pictures in the Baja expat forums of US citizens living in the Tijuana River wastewater system who are obviously chemically dependent. Lots of people come to Tijuana to do drugs.
The United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement has deported people from dozens of different countries to Tijuana, occasionally deporting some US citizens by mistake.
There are tent cities of migrants applying for US immigration documents. The level of desperation in Tijuana is something that most of us will never comprehend.
Tourism in Tijuana is rooted in vice. During prohibition in the US, Tijuana became a favorite hangout for Hollywood and those who enjoyed a party. Today, Tijuana has the largest red light district in North America. The Zona Norte neighborhood is known to be dangerous and full of junkies.
President Abelardo Rodríguez, the namesake of the Tijuana Airport and founder of the Agua Caliente Casino, was a mafia boss. He was associated with Al Capone and Meyer Lansky controlling the flow of alcohol across the border.
Leading presidential candidate, Luis Donaldo Colosio Murrieta, a reformer within the PRI political party, was assassinated in 1994 right behind the Tijuana Airport. That left a black cloud hanging over the city for a long time the same way JFK’s assassination stained Dallas’ reputation.
Tijuana is a huge city with close to 2 million residents. Much of the violence that makes the international press happens outside of the Libremiento Sur, far from the city center. Neighborhoods like Sánchez Taboada, Camino Verde, Tres de Octubre, and Urbivilla Del Prado 2 should be avoided.
Downtown Tijuana and Zona Río may not have as many murders as the suburbs, but there is still plenty of theft. Car theft, petty crime, cell phone theft, muggings, burglaries, and small business robberies.
According to a survey of Tijuana residents in 2022, 83% of the people who live in Tijuana perceive the city as unsafe.
Is it safe to walk across the US border to Tijuana?
The San Ysidro (northbound) and El Chaparral (southbound) are considered to be the busiest land border crossing in the world in terms of individual crossers and vehicles. Over 100 million people cross the border every year.
For the vast majority of people walking across the border, it is perfectly safe to walk across the border. However, if you don’t know your way around Tijuana or San Ysidro, I recommend taking a taxi after crossing the border.
Pedestrians can choose between three different crossings: San Ysidro (PedEast), El Chaparral (PedWest), and Otay Mesa.
San Ysidro (PedEast) is the main Tijuana border crossing. The San Diego Trolley is just steps from the crossing and there are a number of parking lots within a few blocks.
San Ysidro is the busiest crossing with the longest wait times. El Chaparral was opened to alleviate some of that traffic.
El Chaparral (PedWest) is the newest crossing opened in 2016. It is located next to the La Americas Outlet Mall on Camino de la Plaza and a large public parking lot.
The Pedestrian West border crossing was closed during the pandemic and closed again in September 2023. It isn’t reliably open. Check the CBP border wait times website before making plans to cross there.
Otay Mesa is my favorite border crossing because the line is usually substantially shorter than San Ysidro. The only problem with Otay Mesa is that there are fewer public transportation options nearby. Otay is out in the sticks.
The Cross Border Xpress pedestrian bridge is only available for those arriving through the airport.
Is Uber Safe In Tijuana?
Yes, Uber is the safest form of transportation in Tijuana. Additionally, the taxis in Tijuana can smell a newbie a mile away. If you don’t know where you are going and what it should cost to get there, the taxi drivers will make that ride as expensive as possible. Uber doesn’t play those games. You know that the app is setting a fair price for the consumer.
When taking a taxi you have to negotiate with the taxi driver and agree on a price before getting into the vehicle. It is rare for taxi drivers to actually use the taxi meter. They will quote you a price after the fact based on what they think you are willing to pay.
Is It Safe To Walk In Tijuana At Night?
While I have walked all over Tijuana for 25 years, today I prefer to drive or take a taxi even during the day.
Avenida Revolución has a strong police presence day and night. It is safe to walk around on that street at night but the instant you leave the police-patrolled and well-lit areas you are putting yourself in danger.
If you are going to walk around in Tijuana you need to have an acute sense of situational awareness. Don’t get distracted on your phone. Walk like you know where you are going even if you are lost.
I do not recommend walking all the way from the San Ysidro border crossing over the Tijuana River to Downtown. Especially at night. Take a taxi.
Is Tijuana Safe For American Tourists?
Yes, Mexico is safe for American (United States) tourists. The United States and Mexico have a great relationship. There is a massive amount of US tourism going to Tijuana as well as Mexican tourism going to San Diego.
There is no reason to try and blend in. Mexicans can pick tourists out of a crowd even before they open their mouths.
Because Tijuana gets such a bad rep in the international media, there is almost a level of appreciation for the tourists who can see through the sensationalism and actually do visit.
Is Tijuana Safe For Solo Female Travellers?
I do not recommend Tijuana for solo female travelers. The solo female travelers who are Googling, “Is Tijuana safe?” are not going to feel comfortable exploring Tijuana by themselves.
Solo female travelers who have already been around the world visiting rough big cities will no doubt find their way around Tijuana. Suburbanites with little international travel experience are not going to enjoy what Tijuana has to offer.
The border region is complicated. Tijuana is much more enjoyable to experience with friends so that you can look out for each other and let your guard down a little bit.
I just want to add that Ensenada is a whole different story. Solo female travelers are much more common in Baja California once you leave Tijuana.
Tijuana Crime Rate vs. Los Angeles Crime Rate
The homicide rate in Tijuana is much higher than the rate in Los Angeles. However, many of those crimes take place in parts of Tijuana that even the locals will never visit.
When you talk to someone in Los Angeles about Palmdale or Skid Row they roll their eyes because normal people don’t go there. It is the same thing in Tijuana. Middle-class Tijuanenses don’t hang out in the red-light district or Sánchez Taboada.
According to Numbeo, an aggregator of survey data in English, the crime index of Tijuana is significantly higher than it is in Los Angeles. The overall level of crime is twenty points higher in Tijuana than it is in Los Angeles.
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Just remember that Downtown Tijuana is right next to the red light district so having some drinks at the iconic Dandy del Sur or going dancing at Las Pulgas you may be seated next to a table full of prostitutes on their day off.
Where Should You Stay In Tijuana?
Over the course of twenty years, I have stayed at a lot of different hotels in Tijuana. Your money goes a lot further in Tijuana than it does in San Diego.
The music scene in Tijuana is particularly interesting. A lot of times I would stay in Tijuana after going to a concert so I could get breakfast the next morning.
The Aviación neighborhood is where I fell in love with the Tijuana food scene. The first time I ate at Los Arcos I was hooked.
The neighborhood is next to the Tijuana Country Club and is considered to be a wealthy part of the city. It’s evident by the large number of excellent restaurants and trendy coffee shops along Blvd Salinas and Blvd Sánchez Taboada. I am going to get into my favorite restaurants a little bit later in this article but many of them are located in the Aviación neighborhood.
✅ Downtown Tijuana Zona Centro
There are a lot of music venues in Downtown Tijuana. Avenida Revolución feels a little run down these days but there are a number of development projects looking to revitalize the area.
The old Jai Alai area was converted into a concert venue. The ancient Cine Bujazán was taken over by squatters after it burnt down and turned into an underground concert venue. Today, It is a state-run cultural center called Observatorio. It is a really cool place to see a concert. I saw Maldidta Vecendad here back in 2012.
I recommend the Ticuán. It is around the corner from the Jai Alai Palace and three blocks from Caesar’s Restaurant. The hotel is a great deal and makes for a really fun weekend of music and food.
📍Budget Option – Don’t stay at budget hotels in Downtown Tijuana
📍 Mid-Range Option – Hotel Ticuán
✅ Zona Río
The Zona Río Neighborhood is adjacent to the Aviación neighborhood and has a ton of great restaurants as well. Plaza Zapato is a favorite local bar district. The Area around Mercado Hidalgo is famous for tacos. The Plaza Río mall is a nice, middle-class shopping center.
The Centro Cultural Tijuana (CECUT) is the most famous draw in the neighborhood. I have gone to Tijuana plenty of times just to attend an event at the CECUT.
✅ Pueblo Amigo
Plaza Pueblo Amigo is less than 500 meters from the San Ysidro Border crossing. There has been a lot of turnover in the Pueblo Amigo Plaza but I have always had a lot of fun here when I stayed here.
In recent years, the biggest draw is the neighboring medical plaza or the casino. There are some great restaurants, tacos, event spaces, nightclubs, and casual bars very close by.
📍 Mid-Range Option – Hotel Pueblo Amigo Plaza & Casino
What Areas Should You Avoid In Tijuana?
Tijuana isn’t a great place to go exploring without a set destination. That goes for walking as well as driving. I recommend always having a destination.
I remember driving back from Papas and Beer in Rosarito Beach when my cousin had to use the bathroom really badly. We pulled over somewhere off of the Libremiento Sur near the Camino Verde neighborhood and I am thankful we made it out of there. It was quickly apparent that we didn’t belong in that part of Tijuana.
Touristy Areas vs Non-Tourist Areas Of Tijuana
There is a big difference between American tourists and Mexican tourists when it comes to this question. The red-light district is one of the busiest tourist areas in Tijuana. It is like Las Vegas bringing in international tourism 24 hours a day 7 days a week. The other major tourist zone is the medical tourism market which isn’t as much fun as dinner and drinks.
Mexican tourism is more focused on the restaurant scene, sporting events, and business.
❌ Zona Norte
The red light district in Tijuana is the area between Downtown and the US border fence. It is a high-crime area full of brothels, junkies, and street-walking prostitutes. Many of the prostitutes are also junkies.
There are a number of nightclub brothels that maintain security in front of their establishments. However, walking just a few blocks in either direction is dangerous.
Nothing is hidden in this area. Just open Google Maps Street View for a look at this place. It is ground zero for human trafficking and rampant drug use.
❌ Camino Verde
Tourists have no business coming out here. This is the southeast side of the Libremiento Sur. It is a poor neighborhood with a reputation for gang violence and a high crime rate. Many of the houses are put together with scraps. It is built on a hill and the retaining wall material of choice is old tires. The heavy rains in 2023 were devastating to these slums.
Coming out here without an invitation or a local guide is a good way to get in trouble.
❌ Sánchez Taboada
Much like Camino Verde, Sánchez Taboada is an underdeveloped neighborhood made up of mostly slums. There are some middle-class houses but many of the residences have been put together with scrap wood.
Sánchez Taboada is famous for drug-related crime. Local street gangs sell drugs and fight over the corners they are sold on. I’m kind of surprised that Google sent drivers out here to take photos for Street View.
Some of the streets are so steep that it looks like the houses are built at an angle. You don’t want to be out here when It is raining heavily.
❌ Parque Morelos
Parque Morelos isn’t dangerous or anything but really depressing. I read all the articles about the best things to do in Tijuana and everyone that recommends visiting Parque Morelos hasn’t actually been there.
The zoo at Parque Morelos is horrible. The animals are kept in horrific conditions and that isn’t something that I want to support.
I saw a video by Arturo Islas Allende a while back but didn’t remember it until I visited the park. Do yourself a favor and avoid Parque Morelos.
Safety Tips For Visiting Tijuana
Tijuana is a major metropolitan region that requires some planning. There are safe activities located close to dangerous areas. With a little bit of advanced planning, it is possible to have a great time.
✔️Make A Plan
Decide where you are going, how you are going to get there, and how you are going to get home before you leave. Trying to get a taxi after a concert or a sporting event can take a while. Make a plan.
✔️Don’t Take Your Cellphone Out On The Street
Distracted cell phone users are a prime target for thieves. Don’t walk down the street TikToking, oblivious of your surroundings. It is common for motorcycle thieves to rip cell phones out of the hands of unsuspecting tourists.
✔️Set Up Good Security On Your Phone
It is amazing how much information we keep on our phones these days. If a criminal steals your phone and can gain access, they have a ton of scams they can run. They know how all digital payment and banking platforms work. They will try to scam your contacts on social media with stories that you are in trouble with the law.
Make sure that it is as difficult as possible for a thief to gain access to your phone.
Know how to brick your phone with the manufacturer. If your phone is stolen there is a zero percent chance that you will get it back. You want to make sure that your personal information doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
✔️Use Extreme Caution At The ATM
There are several different ways to lose money while using an ATM in Mexico.
Do not under any circumstances accept help from strangers at the ATM. Scam artists use magician-level sleight-of-hand techniques to swap out cards.
Use the official ATMs at banks and avoid independent ATMs that are on the street. It is a lot less likely that criminals can attach a card skimmer that will go unnoticed to an official ATM in a bank.
I like using Banamex because they usually have safe parking and the ATMs are indoors.
Always look at the ATM to make sure there is no additional equipment or parts attached to the ATM. Most people would be surprised by how clean and almost invisible some of the card skimmers can be.
✔️Selective Street Food Consumption
Tijuana is famous for its delicious food. Choose street food stalls that are busy. It is easy to get sick with food that has been sitting around for too long or that is collecting dust from the roadside.
Watch Mark Wien’s epic tour of the Tijuana street food scene for top-notch recommendations. There is too much excellent food in Tijuana to settle for average or below average.
✔️Don’t Share Personal Information With Strangers
You want to be really selective with whom you share personal information. Bartenders, taxi drivers, that pretty girl you just met at the bar, they don’t need to know what you do for a living, where you work, or where you live.
It is a good idea to be more reserved until you get a better sense of the situation, preferably when not under the influence of alcohol.
✔️Don’t Park On The Street
Use off-street, private parking lots. That homeless guy saying he will watch your car for 20 pesos is not a reliable parking lot attendant.
Make it a point to leave your car in a safe place with professional valets that have insurance or parking garages with security. There are a lot of stolen cars in Tijuana.
The free zones near the US-Mexico border do not require vehicle importation permits so stolen vehicles go undetected by Mexican authorities.
✔️Be Prepared For The Border Line Before Getting In The Car
There are a lot of different approaches that drivers can use to access the borderline. Make sure you know where the Ready Lane line starts along Avenida Alfonso Bustamante Labastida. U.S. Citizens and visa holders with RFID-enabled identification documents can save a lot of time using the Ready Lane from the east as opposed to the general traffic lanes from Downtown.
This recommendation also includes going to the bathroom before getting in the car. Once you are in the line, there is no turning back. It is going to take a few hours until you can get out of the car. Know that holidays can make the wait much longer.
✔️Don’t Drink The Tap Water
Drink bottled water or filtered water from a 5-gallon jug. Busy restaurants are not going to serve their customers tap water. Locals don’t drink tap water and neither should you.
Best Things To Do In Tijuana
I have spent too much time talking about what not to do. Let’s start talking about the best things to do in Tijuana that won’t get you into trouble.
See Live Music
I remember when Pearl Jam played at the Iguanas nightclub in Tijuana in 1992. I was only 12 years old but 91X promoted all the concerts at Iguanas on the radio. My parents told me they weren’t going to drive me to Tijuana but promised to take me when Pearl Jam played in San Diego.
Iguanas had an absolutely insane lineup of alternative music shows from the late 80s to the early 90s.
Or maybe watch Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass do Lonely Bull in the old bull ring on Blvd Agua Caliente.
I have seen some of the best concerts of my life in Tijuana. I heard Manu Chao sing Bienvenida a Tijuana in the Playas de Tijuana bullring. I saw Celso Piño play the Tijuana Art Festival (TIJUANARTE) completely blocking off Paseo de los Heroes in front of the Centro Cultural Tijuana. I’ve seen flamenco shows at Centro Cultural Tijuana Performing Arts Theater and Maldita Vecindad at the Observatorio.
The Observatorio is the ancient Cine Bujazán that burnt down a long time ago. The lobby is a historic luxury theater entrance with huge columns and dramatic staircases. The actual theater is open-air because it burnt down. I thought it was one of the coolest places to see a concert I have ever been to. Tijuana has an amazing music scene.
La Ciruela Electrica on Calle Flores Magón in Downtown Tijuana is a record shop that has information on all the upcoming concerts.
Centro Cultural Tijuana (CECUT) or La Bola
The Centro Cultural Tijuana needs to be at the top of your list of things to do in Tijuana. It is a major tourist destination with an IMAX movie theater, a stage performance theater, a contemporary art museum, the Museum of the Californias, a botanical garden, and an aquarium. They throw really cool parties like the Tijuana Art Festival.
Explore El Trompo Interactive Museum
By far, the best and safest activity for kids in Tijuana is the Trompo Interactive Museum. There are a number of these museums throughout Mexico and everyone that I have been to is exceptional.
The idea behind the museum is science and imagination. Everything is built for kids at their size. The exhibits are meant to be touched and manipulated so kids understand how things work.
My kids are still little, but it is way more than most kids can see in one day. You could easily plan a Tijuana vacation around this museum. There are courses and tons of activities during summer break.
The museum is located on the back side of Parque Morelos. Don’t bother with the park and come straight to El Trompo.
Go To A Xolos Soccer Game
The Club Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles de Caliente (Xolos) is a first-division Mexican soccer team that has a loyal following in the Tijuana/San Diego metro region. They play on the Caliente Casino grounds in one of the smallest stadiums in first-division Mexican soccer. It is a very intimate stadium, especially when compared to the monumental stadiums in Mexico City, Monterrey, and Guadalajara. They play every major soccer team once a year and lots of people drive down from Los Angeles to see Chivas or America play against Tijuana.
I might be partial, but I think the Xoloitzcuintles jerseys are the best-looking jerseys in soccer. There is an official store in the Plaza Río Mall but the jerseys are sold everywhere including the borderline and the airport.
Visit the Santuario de la Virgen de Guadalupe
The Santuario de la Virgen de Guadalupe was the Tijuana Cathedral for decades. While there is a new Cathedral under construction in a much nicer part of town, the old Cathedral still has a lot of character.
The Cathedrals in Mexico are the seat of the bishop and regional dioceses.
Most tourists will spend at least a little bit of time in Downtown Tijuana. It is worth heading over to the historic church to see an often-overlooked side of the city.
Get a Car Wash
Getting the car washed is one of those things that will make you happy all week. It costs a small fraction of what it costs in the United States to get a car wash and they do a way better job.
My mechanic gave me a recommendation for a car wash behind the Chevron station on Blvd Gustavo Díaz Ordaz.
I love Sharky’s Carwash. I had a customer loyalty card for years before I moved to Guadalajara. They are a little more expensive but they are just one block away from Los Arcos, one of my favorite restaurants in Tijuana.
The basic car wash costs less than ten dollars and the detail services are still very inexpensive.
There is a nice tree to sit underneath with a snack bar while they are finishing your car.
Get a car wash in Tijuana. You will enjoy it all week.
Place a Bet at Caliente Casino
Caliente Casino is one of the largest casinos in Mexico. They sponsor tons of professional sports teams and have small casinos everywhere.
The headquarters is in Tijuana and it is a massive property. There is a racetrack, soccer stadium, and shopping mall.
You can place a bet anywhere nowadays but I recommend coming to the original Caliente Casino. the place is way nicer than the smaller location on Avenida Revolución.
Every time that I go to Tijuana my Mom asks me to stop at the supermarket and pick up some things that she can’t get in San Diego. My cousin who lives in Chula Vista prefers the Costco in Tijuana to the Costco in San Diego.
I don’t think it is any surprise that so many people love to go shopping in Mexico.
Mercado Hidalgo is the large, traditional wholesale market that is surrounded by amazing restaurants. Get your kids a piñata for their next birthday. They will love it.
Many travelers may be surprised to see the luxury side of Mexico. Plaza Río is a great mall but Galerías Hipódromo is much more upscale. Between the restaurants and shopping options, you will see why so many people prefer Tijuana.
Find A Good Mechanic
The Toyota dealerships in California charge US$175 an hour to work on your car. I find that price to be abusive.
I have been taking my cars to Tijuana to get basic service for some time. Obviously, if the car is broken, it isn’t worth towing it across the border but when it comes to preventative maintenance, Tijuana is awesome.
Many of the autoparts are more expensive in Tijuana but San Diego is right next door. Buy the parts in San Diego and get them installed in Tijuana.
Tijuana is famous for its great auto mechanics.
Go To The Beach
The first beach that everyone always talks about is Playas de Tijuana. The north end of the beach goes all the way up to the U.S. border fence. Friendship park is a place where people who are not allowed to cross borders can talk to each other from opposite sides of the fence. The U.S. border patrol doesn’t let a lot of people in that area of the Border Field State Park much anymore but it did occur in the past.
Playas de Tijuana is a cool beach community with a wooden boardwalk and a unique geography.
My favorite beach in the area is Baja Malibú. It is technically outside of the Tijuana city limits but it’s only 10 minutes south of Playas de Tijuana. Baja Malibú is one of the best surfing waves in Mexico with consistent barreling waves during the winter time. Most visitors will find the water cold year round.
Is Tijuana Safe to Attend Lucha Libre?
Tijuana is famamous not only for lucha libre shows but the first lucha libre museum in Meixco. In Downtown Tijuana on Calle Hermenegildo Galeana (7th Street) the Museo De La Lucha Libre Mexicana has an exceptional collection of lucha libre memorabilia.
Live lucha libra shows are held at the Auditoria Municipal Fausto Gutierrez Moreno which is one block over from Caliente Stadium and Casino.
Craft Beer Pub Crawl
There are a staggering number of excellent microbreweries in Tijuana, particularly in Downtown Tijuana. The craft beer renaissance is a part of the reason that Avenida Revolución is coming back into style.
San Diego is regarded as having one of the best craft beer scenes in the world and brewers in Tijuana can buy all the same equipment and ingredients 30 minutes from home. A craft beer in San Diego costs more than US$10 a pint. In Tijuana, it is less than half of that.
On Avenida Revolución there is Teorema Brewing right next door to Bajer Brewing and across the street from Del Norte Restaurant and Bar. Just an FYI, the lucha libre museum is around the corner like 100 meters away. Mexica Cervecería Artesanal is on Calle Salvador Díz (4th Street), and Madueño Brewing is on Flores Magón (6th Street).
Cervecería Insurgente is one of the most popular craft beer breweries on a national level. Their La Lupulosa IPA is a spectacular brew. They have a brewery in the Zona Río neighborhoods and a tap room in Downtown Tijuana on Avenida Revolución and Calle Salvador Díaz Mirón (4th Street).
Telefónico Gastro Park is another microbrew concept that grew into a super popular food court. They have safe parking, half a dozen food truck food concepts, and Licra Cervecería. Several of the chefs got so popular working out of the food trucks they were able to open stand-alone, brink and mortar locations on their own.
Take a Tijuana Taco Tour
Tijuana has a reputation for some of the best tacos in Mexico. One thing that the residents of Tijuana know, that visitors may not, is that Tijuana is more diverse than any other part of Mexico except Mexico City.
You can find tacos from all across Mexico but that northern-style, guacamole stuffed carne asada is incredible.
Taco tours of Tijuana will keep you coming back for more. There is no way you can visit all the best tacos on your first trip. I guarantee that you will fall in love with the taco scene in Tijuana. I sure did.
Is Tijuana Safe To Go Out To Dinner? Yes!
Have you ever heard someone say, “Lo bonito de Tijuana es San Diego?” Well, I think the food scene in Tijuana proves that old saying wrong. Anthony Bourdain was asked where to eat in San Diego at ComicCon one year and he replied that he would rather drive down to Tijuana to eat at one of Javier Plascencia’s restaurants.
Going out to eat is one of the best things to do in Tijuana. San Diego has a lot of good food but Tijuana is more exciting and much more exciting and affordable. These are some of my favorite places to eat in Tijuana, from fancy restaurants to tacos on the street.
Los Arcos Restaurant Tijuana
Los Arcos is one of the most important restaurant chains in all of Mexico. They are originally from Culiacán, Sinaloa but the Tijuana location was one of their first restaurants in another state. It is still one of the busiest restaurants in its portfolio for good reason.
I fell in love with Los Arcos in about 2008. A whole fish is one of my favorite dishes to try at new seafood restaurants and I always use Los Arcos as a reference. I used to work at a restaurant in La Jolla that served a whole roasted fish that cost three times as much as Los Arcos for a smaller fish.
Over the years I have eaten at a number of Los Arcos restaurants in different cities. The Tijuana location is, and always will be, my favorite.
La Diferencia Restaurant Tijuana
My mom has been one of my favorite partners to explore Tijuana with. La Diferencia is her favorite restaurant in Tijuana because of the mole poblano, chiles en nogada, and the talavera fountain in the patio. After seeing that fountain in La Diferencia she bought a very similar one at a tile shop just down the road.
La Diferencia is a classy and upscale restaurant with dishes from central Mexico.
The chef and owner of La Querencia is a big personality in Baja. Miguel Angel Guerrero lives the life of an adventurer by fishing, hunting, and preparing food with the traditional ingredients in the region.
The Baja Med cooking style incorporates elements of Mexican immigration from all corners of the country. 95% of Mexican wine production comes from Baja California but olive oils, spices, and Mediterranean-style gardens are prolific in the region. And there is an Asian influence. The Chinese have been in Baja for over a hundred years and introduced a lot of new flavors to the regional cuisine.
The lamb tatemado is excellent. The wine selection is not huge but there are a lot of solid bottles that I really enjoy like the Emeve Syrah that I can’t recommend enough.
Caesar’s Restaurant is iconic, to say the least. Up until about 2009, the place was a tourist trap with a strip club in the back. In 2010 the Plascencia family bought the restaurant and gave it a glamorous remodel to evoke the feeling of the golden age. Even Julia Child’s said she ate there in 1925.
Today, the Caesar Salad is just the beginning. They have one of the most exciting menus in California. Try the duck and the bacon-wrapped shrimp.
Widely recognized as one of the best breakfasts in the area. Their chilaquiles are always a good idea.
The gold standard for Tijuana-style beef birria tacos. This is a humble street cart across the street from Mercado Hidalgo and a must-visit Tijuana institution.
Kokopelli and Tras/Horizonte
Hipster tacos with a mezcal cocktail program and an eclectic setting. For years Kokopelli sold crazy tacos out of a trailer in Downtown Tijuana. These cult-favorite fancy tacos that got to be so popular they had to move into a larger space.
At Kokopelli they were mixing crazy ingredients like octopus with basil pesto in tacos. I love the “Gringo en tuxedo en vacaciones” which is a chile relleno taco filled with shrimp. The place is young, irreverent, and decisively Tijuana.
This is my favorite place to eat in Tijuana. I love the neighborhood, I love the food, and I love Javier Plascencia’s vision of Baja. Sea urchin (erizo in Spanish) is one of the delicacies harvested in the cold waters off of northern Baja that is shipped across Mexico. If I were to order sea urchin in Guadalajara, it would originate from this area. I don’t order sea urchin that far from the source. Once you taste it fresh, the week-old variety just won’t cut it.
Make sure to order the sea urchin shot with a quail egg. The raw seafood; clams, oysters, and scallops are of exceptional quality. All of the tacos are excellent. This is where I first got into trying tripe. If you are into it, try the Taco Goloso with fish, beef, and tripe. It is over the top.
Tijuana Travel FAQ
Can you visit Tijuana in one day?
Yes, you can visit Tijuana in one day. If you pay attention to the traffic, it is very easy to take a one-day trip to Tijuana. Rush-hour traffic on a Friday afternoon is going to make the drive from Downtown San Diego to Tijuana miserable in some circumstances and unrealistic in others.
The border usually takes a few hours to get back to San Diego. Try to avoid rush hour to save some time.
Do They Accept Dollars In Tijuana?
Yes, nearly every establishment accepts dollars in Tijuana. You might not get the best exchange rate but you will almost always be able to pay in dollars. I have never had a problem paying in dollars nor have I heard about anybody ever having a problem paying in dollars. You may not receive change in dollars but most business owners will happily accept them.
Just remember, this is Mexico. There may be some circumstances where you need to pay in pesos that I have not encountered yet.
Is It Safe To Drive In Tijuana?
The traffic rules in Tijuana are a little more complex than they are in San Diego but yes, it is safe to drive in Tijuana. After walking into Tijuana for many years I now find it more comfortable to drive than to walk.
Buy Mexican automobile insurance before crossing the border. If you get into even a minor accident without insurance it is likely that you will be spending some time in a Tijuana jail while the authorities establish responsibility and levy damages.
Make sure to park your car in a safe, off-street parking lot. Car theft is very common on the Tijuana city streets.
The most difficult part of driving in Tijuana is navigating the borderline. It takes a little training to find the entrance to the line especially when the line is really long. Every person that you allow to cut in front of you makes the line 5 minutes longer. People drive just inches from the car in front of them so nobody can change lanes and cut in front of them.
One important rule to remember is not to aggressively honk at people. Road rage is real. You never know who is behind the wheel in that other car.
Is Tijuana Safe For Families?
This is a very subjective question. I know lots of families that regularly spend time in Tijuana to get braces and go shopping. Most of them speak Spanish and know their way around.
Personally, I would not want to walk across the border with my young kids. We drive all the time but walking the San Ysidro crossing is eye-opening for sure. If you are crossing with little kids I would recommend driving rather than walking. If you are going to walk across the border with kids, the Otay Mesa border crossing less hectic than the San Ysidro border crossing.
Is Tijuana Dangerous At Night?
Yes, Tijuana is dangerous at night. There are many parts of Tijuana that are dangerous at night as well as during the day. There are also parts of Tijuana that are safe at night. Make a plan. Know where you are going and what you are going to do. Safety is 90% preparation.
Conclusion: Is Tijuana Safe In 2023?
I am really hungry writing this article. I have been going through my old photos and watching YouTube videos about Tijuana for a few weeks now. I love Tijuana and I hate that it has such a bad reputation.
Everybody knows that Tijuana as a whole is dangerous. However, there are a lot of safe activities that are a lot of fun. Make a plan, don’t do drugs, and eat some of the best food in Mexico.