American day-trippers have been coming to TIJUANA, the definitive booze-soaked border town, in significant numbers since the 1950s. Visits crashed ninety percent between 2005 and 2009 thanks to escalating drug-related violence and subsequent US travel warnings, but things are much improved since then, and the main commercial drag, Avenida Revolución, or La Revo, has recovered some of its former colour. Indeed, police crackdowns have left central Tijuana safer than ever before, and drug violence rarely affects tourist areas.
Founded in 1889, Tijuana now has a population of almost two million, and despite its often shabby appearance, the region’s duty-free status and its legion of maquiladores (assembly plants) have helped make it one of the richest cities in Mexico. The city has developed dynamic arts and culinary scenes, with institutions like Centro Cultural Tijuana (CECUT) emerging as a breeding ground for home-grown artistic and cultural movements. In the Zona Río, beyond the areas where most tourists venture, you’ll find sophisticated restaurants, clubs and modern concrete and glass buildings, offering the best glimpse of Tijuana’s other life – one that has more in common with San Diego than the adult-themed carnival atmosphere of La Revo. And the food is fabulous – Tijuana excels at tasty street snacks but also boasts some of the best restaurants in Mexico.