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.
Continue reading to find out more about...
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.
Once not much more than a dusty roadside settlement between Rosarito and Ensenada at Hwy-1 km 44, Puerto Nuevo is nowadays known the length of the peninsula for its near-fanatical devotion to the local speciality that bears its name: Puerto Nuevo-style grilled Pacific lobster. Found off the coast and throughout the rest of the Pacific Rim, these lobsters don’t grow as large as their Atlantic counterparts (actually, they’re giant langoustines more closely related to shrimps) and they don’t have claws, but they’re just as delicious.
Choosing where to sample the revered dish is made easy enough by the town’s one-way street plan, which juts to the west from Hwy-1; almost every one of the more than thirty restaurants here serves lobsters the same way, grilled and split in half with beans, rice and warm flour tortillas (M$150–300 depending on the size of the lobster). Most restaurants open 10am to 8pm on weekdays, with some open until 11pm Friday and Saturday. Cash only.
Baja Legends: Halfway House and La Fonda
Some 25km south of Rosarito, the legendary Halfway House (“halfway” between Tijuana and Ensenada, at Hwy-1 km 53; 661 614 0372), opened as a cantina in 1922 on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Today the old-fashioned dining room may have changed little since the 1920s, but the menu certainly has: think quality seafood and the infamous “golden cadillac” margaritas.
A little further south, at km 59.5 in La Misión, La Fonda Hotel (646 155 0308) was established in 1962 by Eve Stocker. The ageing, rustic Mexican inn comes with ocean views, great Sunday brunches and easy access to the beach (one of the best surf breaks in Baja). Eclectic decor, handmade furniture, a breezy deck and decent Bloody Marys at the bar (all-you-can drink on Sun) enhance the experience.