Did you know that Tijuana, Mexico is only 35 minutes south of San Diego? And you can take a trolley from San Diego to the border and then walk over?! Today, lifelong Tijuana resident Nicté Trujillo is telling us about $24 hotels, $4 tlayuda (aka ‘Mexican pizza’), and free art exhibits!
Hey there, I’m Nicté Trujillo, a graphic arts nerd and photographer born and raised in one of the most visited borders of the world and I’m so happy to show you my beloved city! I love Tijuana and take any opportunity available to share the wonders it has to offer to the world.
Because we are so close to the United States, we’ve developed a cross-border culture you’d be amazed to see live, and although Tijuana is very young city we have internationally renowned dishes and landscapes, bespoke shoes, polka music, great weather all year long and so much more!
Cheap lodging in Tijuana
If you’ve ever wanted to give Couchsurfing a go, this is the city to do it! We have an awesome community and are always eager to show people around but if staying with strangers (potential best friends forever) is not your thing, these are some of the options you can try:
Gamma by Fiesta Inn – $35 / night
This is a very centric hotel, it was recently renewed and has all the accommodations necessary to make you feel happy and comfortable.
Hotel Pacific – $24 / night
It’s not fancy, but the location is perfect – close downtown and many coffee shops, restaurants and eateries. You’ll be glad you stayed there!
Hostel Pangea – $10 / night per bed
This is the only hostel in the city and it has a whole floor dedicated to art exhibitions, a restaurant featuring locally-grown ingredients, concerts on a constant basis, and it’s right in the heart of downtown.
Airbnb – $23 – 28 per night
There are plenty of affordable, highly-reviewed private room options in Tijuana, like this room that’s a 10-minute walk from the beach, this room in a stylishly minimalist home, or a tiny cottage with a sleeping loft for $28 a night!
And if you’ve never used Airbnb before, here’s a $40 credit towards your first booking!
Cheap food in Tijuana
We take food very seriously in the city and have our very own style where we mix the Mediterranean recipes with local flavors and even our tacos have a very unique touch. You can find taco stands almost every corner and delicious coffee shops are now abundant too, so even if you just take a stroll down the main streets you surely will find something delicious.
Caesar Restaurant & Bar – $7 for a caesar salad (home of the original Ceasar salad!)
You might not know this but the Caesar salad was invented in a hotel in Downtown and you can still visit the place where they created it. They will prepare right by your table and the flavor will amaze you!
Plaza Fiesta – $3 for a Craft Beer
In the last few years, lots of entrepreneurs have looked at craft beer as an opportunity to experiment and create amazing stuff, for and by the locals. Nowadays many breweries have established in Plaza Fiesta and offer a special (cheaper!) price on Tap Tuesdays so this an amazing opportunity for you to try different craft beers and even try some snacks.
La Oaxaqueña – $4 for a Tlayuda
The best way to explain this dish is to call it a Mexican pizza. This is a traditional Oaxaca, dish and it’s one of my favorite things to eat in town. It’s a huge tostada (toasted tortilla) with beans, meat and vegetables – perfect for sharing!
La Diferencia – $4 for a Cactus and pork grinds salad
This restaurant has amazing interpretations of Mexican dishes that mix flavors and textures so all the items on the menu are amazing! If you should only try one thing, try this salad; it mixes the traditional and the modern.
Mariscos El Mazateño – $5 for 2 spicy shrimp tacos
If you want to experience the warmth and flavor locals love, visit El Mazateño for their wide arrange of seafood tacos. My favorite is the “camarón enchilado;” it’s a spicy shrimp taco that comes in a crispy tortilla with melted cheese. Yum!
Humo – $5 for a bacon hot dog
Humo is part of one of the most popular food trucks park of the city and it probably has the best hot dogs of Tijuana. With a homemade sausage and bread and a corn cob on the side, you have got to give it a go if you are a meatlover.
Veggie Smalls – $5 for a lentil and Portobello hamburger
Tijuana also has some amazing dishes for vegetarians and vegans. Try their tacos and hamburgers with onion rings or sweet potato fries along their homemade ketchup.
Cheap things to do
Mercado Hidalgo – free
This market is an amazing sample of the colors, flavors, and tastes of Mexico. You can find spices, crafts, exotic fruit, piñatas, and so many chilies. Walk among the vendors, grab a cup of fruit with chili powder or drink from a fresh coconut and you’ll be in paradise in the middle of the city!
Picture with a Burro Zebra – $5
Take a picture with our traditional donkey dressed up as a zebra!
Since 1939, photographers have been decorating a wheelbarrow with Mexican paraphernalia, like sombreros, zarapes, etc., and visitors could pose with the donkey. Since the pictures were black and white back then, the donkey wouldn’t show much so someone decided to fix this by painting the animal!
Since has become a tradition and you will find these zebra/donkeys on different corners of Revolucion Avenue.
See the art exhibits at the CECUT, Tijuana Cultural Center – $3 – $5, free on Sundays
CECUT has a few different options if art and history are your thing. On the weekdays, you need to get a ticket (the price range is $3-$5) for most of their art exhibits but on Sundays, all the exhibitions are free. You can visit the contemporary art building, El Cubo, walk around their botanical garden or check any of their temporary art exhibits, where you can find both local, national or international artists creations.
Movie at the IMAX dome – $3
You feel that you are right inside the movie…just be careful if you get motion sick easily.
Tianguis – free
If you love treasure hunting, looking for antiques or second-hand trinkets you will love our “sobreruedas” or “tianguis.” These are open air markets, where you can find food, clothes, furniture, and many other things. They are very common around the city. You’ll find them on a weekly basis and some of the biggest ones are in La Villa or by the Border in Otay Mesa.
Ask a local to point you to the closest and have a walk among the fruit vendors and grab some hand-churned ice cream for less than a dollar!
Walk by Playas de Tijuana – free
Our sunsets are best viewed on the beach! If you’re lucky, you might even see some dolphins riding the waves along the surfers. You will also see our binational garden, which grows edible plants on both sides of the fence that divides Mexico and The United States.
Casa de las Ideas – free
This space and organization was created to promote creative thinking and aid in decreasing violence through workshops and events that promote collaboration and communication.
The building has won multiple architectural awards. Casa de la Ideas frequently hosts events that are free/cheap and open to the public, including reading by well-known actors and even yoga.
Walking tour Tijuana – free
A couple of couchsufing hosts host a free, weekly walking tour! You will be able to walk around the art corridors inside downtown, have a taste of locally brewed beers or even attend art exhibits, make great friends and just have a great time with locals.
As you can see, there is something for everyone in the city and if you have time to spare, you could drive south of the city to see more of our amazing state, like the new wine route, the Ensenada Pier or even see where the famous Tecate beer is made!
Thanks so much for sharing your insights, Nicté! Have any of you guys been to Tijuana? If you have, I’d love to hear your favorite cheap tips!