Travel Tijuana Mexico Maps Tijuana Crossing Border Info Tijuana Tourism

Avenida Revolucion is probably what most Americans think of when they hear the name Tijuana: a strip of souvenir stores, bars and arcades, where shoppers can find bargains on perfume, clothing and handicrafts, and others can get an early beer.

Mexico introduced tax free shopping in July 2006 but at least so far, it'll be available only to tourists who travel by air or cruise ship.

Tijuana's Tacky Side MarthaSteveson - This bawdy Tijuana of cheap souvenirs and touts is just what many people cross the border for. But the city of nearly two million people has a mellower, more cultured side, as our family discovered on a recent weekend visit from our home in San Diego. On my last trip to Tijuana, two years ago, having lunch and re-entering the United States took nearly a day, so it was an ambitious plan that my husband, Jinx, and I hatched: On Friday we would cross the border with our children, Allie, 10, and Katherine, 7; on Saturday Jinx would deliver them stateside to a friend, then return. We would have Saturday night alone, a rare treat. Tijuana Crossing Border Info

Driving in Tijuana is stressful, so we left our car in a parking lot on the United States side and walked across the border, a process that involves passing through two revolving gates separated by a walkway with a tourist information booth, money changers and travel agencies, an easy and uneventful process that takes about three minutes. (Although there are officials here who scrutinize people coming into Mexico, I have never had anyone ask me a question or request identification.)

A taxi on the other side took us for $8 to the Hacienda del Río, a hotel in the Zona Río, an upscale neighborhood on the south side of the Tijuana River. My initial impression was of a clean and modern city, which is the case in much of downtown, but the picture is patchy: Even the more prosperous areas are marred by failed commercial developments, empty littered lots and graffiti.

Tijuana Crossing Border InfoThe Hacienda del Río looked like a middle-of-the-road motel, with a small lobby and three stories of rooms opening to catwalks. The fellow who took our bags told us that, contrary to what we had been promised on the phone, the pool was not heated -- not yet. Maybe tomorrow. The temperature was near 90 so the girls swam anyway, emerging after 10 minutes with blue lips.

For dinner we walked two blocks to Carnitas Quiroga, with chunky wood tables and an enclosed patio, where we built our own tacos with carnitas (marinated roasted pork, sold by weight) and homemade tortillas, accompanied by slices of perfect avocado, salsa fresca, cilantro and creamy, smoky frijoles.

Tijuana Crossing Border InfoThen, as befit the family-oriented part of the weekend, we walked to Mundo Divertido (Fun World), an amusement park a few blocks away on the Avenida Paseo de los Héroes, the Zona Río's main thoroughfare. The avenue is punctuated by a series of statues celebrating Mexican history, with rough-and-tumble traffic circling each and pedestrians braving the perimeter.

As we approached Mundo Divertido, the streetlights failed, but it didn't seem to affect the park; the lighted rides and arcade games blinked and jangled. We played an intermittently amusing game of miniature golf on a course that needed a litter patrol, and the girls had fun on a little roller coaster and other rides, where, at 8 p.m., they were the only customers.

That night, the hotel electricity went out about 2 a.m., car alarms trilled their repertory of sirens, and the bathroom switches had to be choreographed to put the light on.

The next morning I called the Hotel Lucerna, which we had walked past the night before. With a nearly 50 percent discount provided by my AAA membership, a double would be less than we were paying at the Hacienda del Río. So we moved, into a small but airy room with a plush, well-maintained feeling; its tiny balcony looked toward the river over the stylish Rivoli restaurant and the hotel's pool, unheated but inviting in a sunny garden, a little footbridge spanning its middle. There were amenities like copious thick towels and a basket of fruit and chocolates.

Tijuana Crossing Border InfoHEADING by taxi to the Centro Cultural, several roundabouts down the Paseo de los Héroes, I bought tickets for that night's flamenco guitar concert by Daniel Navarro, a Sevillian dubbed Niño de Pura. The center, a scattering of modern cement buildings, open plazas and a sculpture garden, had many exhibits; the girls chose an interactive one focusing on whales. We considered the several IMAX movies available, including one about Maya mysteries, with an English-language showing at 2 p.m., but it was too late. Jinx needed to get the girls across the border and settled at their friend's house, and be back in Tijuana for dinner and our 8 p.m. concert.

Back at the hotel, with the girls packed and on their way, I thought about a nap, but opted instead to visit a winery, L.A. Cetto, a $6 taxi ride away on the old Tijuana-Ensenada highway, now just another city street. The affable woman there spoke excellent English, seated me at a table with generous tastings of four wines and lined up a videotape about the winery. An hour later, after a short tour of the cellars, I left with five bottles. Then I took that nap.

Tijuana Crossing Border InfoApparently my husband and I need to get out more; we waxed joyous at every little thing that evening. Cien Años, the restaurant across the street from Mundo Divertido where we went for dinner, had lovely paintings, a humorous staff and a meandering trio of good musicians who knew just how long to stay; it practically brought us to tears of appreciation. Or maybe it was the sauces, each one with a different lacing of chili flavors, so that when we left, with only minutes until the concert, our lips were tingling with capsicum.

We needn't have rushed to the concert; we arrived after 8 and still waited, admiring the stylish crowd. Finally, at about 8:20, Daniel Navarro came out and made the night his own, fingering the guitar's neck and slapping its body in a series of laments, prayers and exaltations; the crowd called him back for two encores.

The discos and bars we passed as we walked back to the hotel seemed full of cigarette smoke and lesser music. If I were seeking a night of gyrating revelry, I'd try the Baby Rock or Karma nightclubs, where we saw crowds of impeccably turned-out young people waiting outside, but we were content to end with a nightcap in the hotel bar.

The next morning we made the obligatory visit to Avenida Revolución, where we bought some pressed-tin Christmas tree ornaments and souvenirs for our girls (carved wooden turtles with bobble heads and a cunning toy of interlaced wood squares).

Finally, we headed down the stairs of a little shopping arcade to La Especial, a restaurant that, in its 50 years of business, has managed to decorate nearly every interior surface with painted flowers, scenes of old Mexico, small sculptures and other odds and ends. There I fed my craving for chicken in mole sauce.

When the taxi deposited us at the border crossing, the pedestrian line stretched out of sight. ''At least an hour,'' Jinx grumbled. But here was a young entrepreneur, offering us bicycles. ''No wait!'' he said. ''Seven dollars.'' We forked over $14, hopped onto the bikes and breezed to the immigration checkpoint for cyclists. We walked our bikes through and, at the United States side, someone collected them. We were in our car five minutes later.

To visit Mexico, walk this way Greyhound buses, $5 one way, link downtown San Diego to downtown Tijuana (about 50 minutes); (619) 239-8082. Or take the red trolley from San Diego to the San Ysidro crossing ($2.50), or park in one of the lots at the Plazas de Tijuana exit (the nearest one, to the right, is also cheapest at $7 for 24 hours), then walk across the border or take a Mexicoach bus (from the trolley stop or parking lot), which stops at the Avenida Revolución downtown ($1.50 each way) and leaves about every 15 minutes; (619) 428-9517.

United States citizens should have photo identification such as a driver's license or passport; adults with minors may be asked for notarized parental permission to travel outside the country.

It is wise to avoid isolated areas at night and not display valuables, and know the city's laws (driving while using a cellphone, public drunkenness, and buying or using illegal drugs are violations; punishment ranges from a $45 fine to imprisonment). The police are not allowed to collect fines at the scene. Many people go to Tijuana to buy reduced-price medications, but one needs a prescription. To guard tourists' rights, a judge is available 24 hours a day for disputes over fines.

Where to Stay Hotel Lucerna, Paseo de los Héroes 10902, Zona Río; (800) 582-3762; This six-story hotel has an outdoor pool and well-appointed, airy doubles for $141 a night; with AAA discount, $75, plus 12 percent tax.

Where to Eat Cien Años, Avenida José Maria 1407, Zona Río, telephone (52-664) 634-3039,  a Spanish Colonial-style restaurant, offers new and traditional Mexican dishes, such as crepas de huitlacoche, chili-tinged crepes wrapped around a black corn fungus. Dinner for two with beer or wine, about $70.

Carnitas Quiroga, Paseo de los Héroes 1535, Zona Río, (52-664) 634-6899; platters of carnitas and accompaniments, with beer, about $10 a person.

La Casa del Mole, Misión San Diego 1501 (corner Paseo de los Héroes), Zona Río, (52-664) 634-6920; three kinds of mole sauce over chicken, with other menu choices. A meal with beer, about $15 a person.

La Especial, in a below-ground arcade at Avenida Revolución 718; (52-664) 685-6654. This Tijuana version of an old-fashioned diner is 50 years old. Dishes run $5 to $10.

Sightseeing Centro Cultural
, Paseo de los Héroes and Avenida Independencia, (52-664) 687-9646; Omnimax movies, exhibits, concerts, theater and other events;

Mundo Divertido, Paseo de los Héroes at Calle Velasco, (52-664) 634-3213; admission free, rides $1.40. Weekdays noon to 9 p.m., weekends noon to 9:30 p.m.

L.A. Cetto Winery, Cañón Johnson 8151, (52-664) 685-3031 or (52-664) 685-1644. Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; tour and tasting, $2. MARTHA STEVENSON OLSON

There is no compulsory requirement for automobile insurance in Mexico. What is compulsory is that a driver involved in an automobile accident must be able to meet financial responsibility requirements in the event the driver is found responsible for the accident and occurring damages, bodily injury or death of another.

Coming Back - Crossing the border. Delays are the rule if crossing by car and the delays can be quite long if you choose to return at the end of a holiday weekened. Have a picture ID ready to show the agents.

Since Sept. 11th, even crossing on foot can be a lengthy process and wait times are even more unpredictable than ever. March 17, 2002 and May 18th, 2002, the wait was 50 minutes at 10 pm. The previous month, when we crossed on Feb. 16, there was literally no wait! We rarely cross the border during the day on weekends. 1/18/03 at 3:30 pm, we were reminded why. The line was worse than we had ever seen it; we really believed that the wait would exceed 3 hrs. We paid $1 each for the Mexicoach bus and made it across in 1 hour. The people on the trolley that walked across reported that they only waited 1 1/2 hrs.

A clever entrepreneur has opened a new business at the border, to ease your crossing pains. For $5, you can rent a bicycle for 5 minutes, pedal right up to the bicycle-only lane and cross the border efficiently. The company has drop-off point on the U.S. side of the border where you can return the bicycle.

Bringing things back. You must declare anything you bring back to the U.S. from Mexico. You are permitted only 1 liter of alcohol and $400. worth of goods purchased in Mexico duty-free. Animals and agricultural products are also strictly regulated and the rules can be a little mysterious. You can bring back many fruits, including bananas, cactus fruits, limes, melons, papayas, pineapples and strawberries.



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