Five hours. That's all the time Jennifer had to work Tijuana into her SoCal getaway. She emailed seeking advice on a game plan for a quick but as comprehensive as possible of an itinerary that she could do solo. Which got us thinking, if we had less than half a day to roam around on our own and had never been to Tijuana before, what would we do? Well, here it is. The only element we apparently forgot was some sort of Javier Plascenciance, which Jennifer duly took care of on her own.
Cross the border and hop in a cab to Centro Cultural Tijuana (Cecut), the city's main art museum. It's literally less than a mile away, so the fare should be no more than $3 (always negotiate the price before you get in by just asking how much they'd charge to such-and-such place; if it's too expensive jut walk over to another cab; the price includes their tip, too). There's a new Benjamin Serrano exhibit opening tomorrow in the newer wing, which looks a giant orange cube and is actually called, appropriately, The Cube (El Cubo). Serrano was a very influential Tijuana artist in the '70s and '80s, and El Cubo is the museum's beautiful 2008, $9 million annex.
Once you're done at the museum walk through the giant roundabout, past the McDonald's and down to the next block to the next traffic light at Sanchez Taboada, where you'll find a huge yellow building on the right. It's impossible to miss because it fills the entire block. That's Mercado Hidalgo, Tijuana's most iconic open-air market that's been around since the 1950s (in its current location since the '80s). Inside you'll find crazy amounts of produce, spices, candy, local cheeses, random Mexican housewares and toys, piñatas galore and plenty of places to get lunch. My fave is El Rincon del Oso (The Bear's Corner), which is in a corner by the cheese store. Amazing Mexican food. Real Mexican food. Handmade tortillas and everything. Order the birria (spiced goat meat); it's their specialty. Be sure to check out the little chapel in the middle of the parking lot, upstairs in the watchtower. The Our Lady of Guadalupe statue is pretty over the top.
If you're adventurous and open-minded, the sort of person who thinks of herself as more of a traveler than a tourist, you'll have an amazing day. Tijuana is astounding, there's no place like it anywhere, and it's really a shame that everyone is as terrified of it as they are. Hype and ignorance are to blame. If you have any interest in coming to see it for yourself, even if it were less than 50/50, I highly recommend going for it. Just be smart and respectful.
Just wanted to thank you for all the recommendations and information. It made the trip totally doable in the short time I had to plan and execute it. It was completely last minute, but everything worked out just fine.
The Serrano exhibit is wonderful, totally worth it. After the art, I found and ran through the market with no problems then took a cab to Erizo fish market for some of the best ceviche I've ever had (scallop/mango--it was perfect). The grilled octopus taco was also fabulous, as was the frozen margarita. The restaurant called a cab (cost was double the price, but I was pressed for time) and took me to the Arch. I did a quick run down Revolucion, turned at some point, saw an old church, then came back up Constitucion. I got to the line for the border around 3 and was back at my hotel by 5, just in time for my 6pm train to LA. It was a super quick trip, but worth the effort.
Thanks again, cheers, safe travels and all the best,