Baja Skinny: How to Spend a Perfect Day in Tijuana
Spending a perfect day in Tijuana is problematic only due to the challenge in narrowing down a list from a seemingly endless amount of events, restaurants, markets, shops, galleries, museums and other possibilities from which to choose.
Baja California’s largest city, Tijuana has reinvented (and reinvigorated) itself since a tourism decline that began in 2001. Since then, “TJ” (as it’s often referred to by locals and visitors) has been steadily getting back on its feet…and then some. Its culinary resurgence and “Baja Med” cuisine have received international press and top rankings in Latin American restaurant circles.
Former tourist shop alleyways such as Pasajes Gomez and Rodriguez have been converted to house art galleries, restaurants, craft breweries and bookstores. Tijuana’s famous Cultural Center (CECUT) presents art, dance, music and theater and is host to events such as the annual Baja California Culinary Fest. And professional teams such as the Toros de Tijuana (baseball) and Xolos (soccer) are a big draw for sports fans from both sides of the border.
El Gringo reached out to some of his colleagues, friends and fellow bloggers to see how they would spend a perfect day in Tijuana. Not surprisingly, food was at the top of their minds, as were cultural experiences, sporting events and shopping. Coming from some of the folks who know best, any one of these itineraries (or a combination of stops from each) would make for a perfect day in Tijuana.
Bill Esparza, blogger at Street Gourmet LA and founder of Club Tengo Hambre. Bill starts the day off on the right foot…with a good meal. “Breakfast is the time for birria at places like Tacos Fito’s and whatever random stand I come across that looks good. Tacos Aaron is a sure bet for delicious tacos “varios” like eggs with machaca.” And for lunch, “It’s a great time of day to indulge in the local seafood…Erizo fish market, Tacos Kokopelli, Mariscos Ruben, and El Conchal are favorites — El Mazateno, too.”
After exploring Tijuana’s neighborhoods and shopping for cheese and other food at Mercado Hidalgo, Bill concludes his culinary day: “Dinner options can be formal like Mision 19, a little more casual at La Querencia or Verde y Crema, or a loud taqueria like El Franc for local adobada.” After dinner, perhaps a drink. “I enjoy the bottle service clubs like Classico when with friends, or going to BCB (Baja Craft Beer) for Mexican craft beers.”
Tijuana is ground zero for a number of fiestas and events, and Bill adds, “I always check the various calendars. It seems there’s a festival every weekend like the Expo Tequila, Caesar Salad Festival, the many events that are held out in Playas or even a Sushi Festival if you want to see what Mexican style sushi is like. Lots of cream cheese and pass the Sriracha, wey!”.
Additionally, Bill enjoys taking in shows at the Jai Alai Palace due to it’s intimate atmosphere, and on the other end of the spectrum, likes to join the fray of a Xolos soccer game, concluding, “That might have been one of the best Tijuana experiences I’ve encountered.”
Angela Gonzales, artist and owner of Gallery Atelier 109 in Plaza Revolucion. Angela spends her time enjoying food and culture in Tijuana’s Centro. “Since founding the gallery in October 2012, I’ve had the opportunity to visit different places to eat, like El Tucumano, an Argentinian restaurant, very affordable.” Angela also has high praise for eateries and breweries in the community in and around Plaza Revolucion and Pasaje Gomez. In addition to 6 more galleries, circus lessons and photography studios, there’s a place for vegetarian food, the Azteca Craft brewery, and Sabor y Arte specializing in Mexican pre-Hispanic food.
Fernando Gaxiola, owner of Baja Wine + Food. Fernando goes straight for TJ’s culinary heart, the taco, “I’d start with a street food tour in a quest for the best taco of each one of its kinds – “varios”, fish, birria, and asada. I’d try a taco de chicharrón or a taco de machaca con huevo with chicharrón salsa at Tacos Aaron (Alta Cocina Urbana) in Zona Rio. To make it more interesting, I might order a combinado of birria with tripa (tripe). For fish tacos I like Mazateño to try either a classic fish or shrimp taco, or a “Mazateño” taco, which is a enchilada shrimp taco with cheese. Or I’d go to Mariscos Ruben with Doña Mirta Rodríguez. Tacos Kokopelli is a must stop for me because they make alternative and contemporary tacos.”
As far as drinks, alcoholic or otherwise, “For local craft beer, making a stop for a taster at Tijuana Beer is a good option, or BCB. At this point, if feeling like a shot of caffeine, I’d go to Sospesso café. Then, a winery stop, why not? Casa Bayolán would be my first choice, then L.A. Cetto.”
Fernando’s perfect day then transforms into a perfect night, “I always check what’s going on at El Lugar del Nopal, a favorite venue of mine with tons of talented local performers. You can expect anything from tango, jazz, and bossa nova to rock and alternative music. Dandy del Sur is always open for a shot of tequila or La Mezcalera for one or two mezcal drinks. The party stops when you decide to.”
Rebekah Sager, journalist for UT-TV and owner of ShopLocalSD.com. Rebekah (aka the “Border Chic”) would visit Pasajes Gomez and Rodriguez and “…eat dinner at Tabule or El Taller. I’d also shop at designer/owner Jorge Sanchez’s Retro Boutique on Avenida Revolucion.” Jorge is just one of the city’s myriad “fashionistas” whose styles range from urban to classic. El Gringo likes MexicanFashion in Pasaje Rodriguez, who’s “Tijuas” line of tee shirts feature reinterpreted TJ and Mexican icons.
Antonio and Kristin Diaz de Sandi, bloggers at Life & Food and founders at Club Tengo Hambre. Antonio and Kristin enjoy visiting Tijuana with their toddler in tow. To kick the day off, “We’d have breakfast at Tortas del Wash, who have one of the most iconic carne asada tortas in the city. Then we’d have a coffee stop for the parents at Das Cortez in La Cacho.”
Tijuana has plenty for the kids to do as well. “The Museo el Trompo is a great interactive museum for the little ones. Each level is geared towards different age groups, and they have a 4D theater. Another great day time adventure is a visit to the aquarium at CECUT.” After these cultural stops, they head toward one of Tijuana’s myriad public plazas and parks, “Visiting Parque Teniente Guerrero in Tijuana’s downtown is always fun. You can’t pass up a refreshing paleta or delicious esquites. There are often live performances or music going on as well.”
Antonio and Kristin would finish their day with dinner and dessert. Kristin concluded, “One of Antonio’s family traditions is to have dinner with everyone in Tijuana at Giuseppis. We share a round of pizzas, and enjoy the ambiance surrounded by Tijuanense families. We would then finish up the evening with postres at Dolce Salato.”
As you can see, there are plenty of ways to spend a perfect day in Tijuana. Feel free to let El Gringo know what YOUR perfect day in TJ looks like in the comments section below, and DIVERTERSE (have fun)!
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