Prohibition was the best thing to ever happen to Tijuana. A small, dusty town best known for a modest cattle ranching industry, the city was considered little more than a place to stay before or after crossing the US - Mexico border. When the United States of America outlawed alcohol in 1919, the conveniently located Tijuana â€“ only 15 miles from San Diego â€“ cashed in. The city built casinos and bars, and attracted countless tourists, including many prominent Hollywood movie stars. The city boomed.
The city of Tijuana has never completely shed its image as a place where visitors go to cut loose and have a good time, and the night life is as legendary as ever. La Coahuila, Tijuanaâ€™s notorious red-light district, is still going strong. Although the Tequila still flows like water, and youâ€™re never far from a bar, the city has focused on adding activities that donâ€™t involve drinking.
Jai-Alai, a ballgame that involves heavy betting, is a favorite, as are bullfights, dog races, cabarets and water sports on the nearby coast. The city has also added an amusement park and golf courses in an attempt to lure a different class of tourist. The cuisine of Tijuana is also noteworthy: there are many good restaurants. Order a Caesar salad, if youâ€™re a fan: according to local legend, it was invented here (as was the Margarita, so they say). The September 16 festival that marks Mexican Independence is a highlight.
Tijuana is popular with shoppers: the city is a duty-free zone, so prices on many things are lower than they would be elsewhere. The city is also home to several artisan markets, where tourists pick through boxes and shelves of hand-painted ceramics, finely carved wood and bright blankets. Avenida RevoluciĂłn is famous for the number of tacky curio shops that line it: shopaholic tourists will love it, while non-shoppers might want to do something else. Bargaining is the norm: polish your negotiation skills before going.
Occasionally derided by visitors for not being â€śthe real Mexico,â€ť Tijuana has evolved a new, hybrid identity. With one foot in two worlds, Tijuanaâ€™s border personality is one of its greatest charms. It is a little known fact that many of Mexicoâ€™s best and most innovative artists and writers live and work in Tijuana. Their artistic energies are fed by the constant contact and motion of the border.
Prohibition was repealed in 1933, but Tijuana never looked back. More than just a place to get a cold drink, the city is now selling itself, the mixed-blood offspring of the USA and Mexico, alive and thriving on the busiest border in the world.
Tijuana is cheap by US standards but more expensive than other parts of Mexico. There are a wide variety of hotel rooms available, but be aware that many of the cheaper ones are somewhat seedy (which might not be a bad thing, depending on what you're looking for). Crime is still considered a concern in the city: take a little extra care.