A lower drinking age, and a greater tolerance for pleasures of the flesh south of the border, long ago made Tijuana a magnet for those from the north. Young military men in particular, but other Americans of all ages and orientations have been coming in droves, especially since the days of Prohibition in the US.
Many Americans come here to shop and Tijuana has no shortage of retail establishments from sidewalk entrepreneurs to the big shopping malls. Plaza Río is the largest of the lot, just a few minutes from the border between Paseo de los Heroes and the Tijuana River. Other malls are at Plaza Monarca, Plaza Carrousel, Centro Comercial Playas/Plaza Coronado, and the Galerias Hipodromo.
Parque Guerrero, at Tercera and Cinco de Mayo, often has local art, blankets, jewelry and such for sale among the park benches. It's easy to find a partner for chess hereabouts - and sometimes partners for other games too, if you're courteous (and careful).
Crossing this border one cannot avoid the stark reality of the wall, or the political complexities and passions behind it's existence. La Casa del Túnel: Art Center is both a consequence, and a response to the wall. Built by a locally renowned renaissance man in the 50's, the house later became famous for the tunnel, dug under the US border from here; discovered and shut down in 2004. It is now an international center for the arts, soon to have gallery and presentation spaces for art, music and spoken word, and international artist-in-residency programs for visiting artists, writers and other creative people. A rooftop border observation deck and cafe, and surrounding gardens are anticipated. Walking from the US side, look for the building with the words "El arte tumbara este muro."
The Baja peninsular is also a destination for surfers and extreme sports enthusiasts. Tijuana is the gateway to areas to the south that have many opportunities for fishing, diving or just getting away from it all.
The annual Tijuana Pride festivities take place on third Saturdays in June, with a parade beginning on Second Street near Avenida de los Ninos at 5pm, ending at Plaza Santa Cecilia. Lots of events follow at the bars. BajaAdvisor.com has all the details, and photos of recent celebrations.
No need to drive here from San Diego, American can park on their side, then walk across the border for a wild and all-night Mexican party. The San Diego Trolly also goes all the way to the San Ysidro Transit Center at the border. From here you can walk across. Within the border zone there is no Mexican visa requirement - only if you go further south (then a simple procedure and small fee). Like everyone else, Americans are supposed to need a passport to get back into the States -- see Across the Border for the latest on that subject.
If you do drive, check with your insurance company first. For those flyng into the city, Tijuana Airport is a modern facility with connections to all parts of Mexico. There are also direct shuttle buses (that take priority bus lanes) between here and downtown San Diego for under $20.
Going solo too daunting? Get help from Turista Libre (Free Tourist) for an atypical day tour of Tijuana with an American expat living here. His caravan trounces around the city in search of things overlooked and underrated - sidestepping the stereotypes, and tourist traps. Each tour has a different theme, with lots to see -- after all, Tijuana is second only to LA in size, among West Coast cities.
Once in Mexico, taxis are easy to find, and inexpensive for getting around town; but agree the price upfront before getting into the cab, and travel with companions whenever possible.
You're far less likely to to be violently robbed than to "lose" your wallet or iPhone in a darkroom or during a private lap dance session, so leave what you won't need on the other side of the border if possible. Getting falling-down drunk on tequilla isn't a good idea either, on this side of the fence or anywhere. Stay out of the street - drivers here don't always stop for pedestrians the way they do in California.
Also, with laxer attitudes about sex and partying, it's hard to remember that even soft drugs like marijuana, though prevalent, are as illegal in Mexico as up north. Attracting official attention can do more than ruin an evening. Follow the example of locals, and avoid trouble.
Media & Resources
See CuidadH for clubbing news and photos from clubs around town.
For map locations and website links to the businesses below, and more, see our gay Tijuana listings pages.
Bars & clubs Tijuana
Extasis/ Fusion (Calle Larroque 213), an easy five minutes walk from the border gate, is open Fridays through Sundays, late into the night. With dancing, naked strippers, dark rooms, and drag shows, this club is the most visited, and best known to Americans. The Club Papi group, with club nights all over California, also present nude Papi go-go dancers, private lap dances, and live sex shows here.
The heart of gay Tijuana is still to be found going south from the border into Zona Centro, where you can't miss Friendship Arch on Avenida Revolucion, from which you can take your bearings.
Just before the Arch, on the right walking south on Revolucion, Premier (Av Revolucion), male stripper bar has a mixed but increasingly gay crowd, karaoke, and a darkroom in back.
At the Arch, Tenapa (Art. 123 just off Revolucion), has a casual, mostly gay local crowd, just to the left of Hotel Santa Cecilia. A bit further west, Taurino (corner Constiticion & Art. 123), the oldest gay bar in town, has a dance floor, a pool table, and a mostly local crowd.
El Ranchero (Plaza Santa Cecilia 769, on Arguello off Revolucion), on two levels, has a mix of both locals and Americans, where those of many ages and varied means hook up. It's "where languages and cultural differences are forgotten" as they say.
Villa Garcia (Plaza Santa Cecilia 751, on Arguella off Revolucion), next door, is a similar but smaller, edgier bar, drag-friendly, with shows.
Bar DF (Plaza Santa Cecilia 1910) bar is frequented by older locals and young hustler machos.
Hawaii (Plaza Santa Cecilia 768, on Arguello near El Ranchero), with male stripper shows their specialty, and drag shows too. Dance all night and come by anytime -they're open 24 hours, 365 days a year. There's never a cover here and they have private rooms too.
Walking back to the Arch take Calle Articulo east and turn right on Madero for Zky Blue (Av Francisco Madero 737), a Wednesday through Saturday dance club set back from the street behind the parking lot. They have male and female go-go dancers, theme parties including foam nights, and a popular and spacious dark room. Men and women mix with older and younger guys from both sides of the border.
Boy's Bar (Avenida Madero 158), the former Boby's is across the street from Zky, a men's cruise bar, popular with bears, cowboys, and featuring nude male strippers.
South of the Arch on Revolucion just before Benito Juarez (also called Segunda, or 2nd), find two gay bars with less male sex focus, that include women, couples and straight friends among their patrons. Two more gay bars recently opened in this block.
The most popular of these, Cameleon/ Colibri (Calle 2/Calle Segundo, enter from Revolucion), is roomy, relaxed and friendly with drag shows and a mixed-age male crowd. Across Revolucion next to Hotel Nelson, Latinos, a mostly men locals' bar, has elaborate drag shows. A new gay dance club opened in 2014, across from Latinos, Rouge Tijuana (Revolución 2020), with go-go dancers and theme parties. Machos Cantina is a new bear bar, just around the corner, on Benito Juárez.
Further down Revolucion, between 6th and 7th, Mike's (Revolucion 1220), one of the oldest gay bars in Tijuana, is gayest in later hours, with strip shows that are popular with straight women, and drag shows after midnight into the wee hours.
Los Equipales (Galeana 8236 at Mutualismo -aka 7th) across from the Jai Alai fronton, has weekend drag shows and dancing after 2am.
Yadiras cantina on Madero, between 7th & 8th, the bottom end of the gay neighborhood, attracts mainly women and has a pool table; open from 10am.
D'Luna Cafe (8th #8380, between Madero & Negrete) is an afternoon and evening gathering spot for a diverse coss-section of the rainbow tribe.
There are several decent and inexpensive hotel options in the area of Tijuana's gay nightlife. On Avenida Madero near Zky are the Economico, the San Nicolas, and the San Diego hotels. The Hotel Santa Cecelia is on Calle Articulo by the Arch, at the top of the gay block and Hotel Nelson is down Revolucion next to Latinos.
Reviews of these and others - plus advice on places to avoid - can be found at BajaAdvisor.com.
A half dozen bathhouses dot the local landscrape, most not entirely gay, and a lot less fancy than most such facilities in the US or Canada. Men who enjoyed the good old days cruising "straight" guys can rise to the challenge at most any of them. Follow your instincts, be discreet enough to avoid embarrassing anyone, and many are the pleasures to be enjoyed among Mexican men without women about.
That said, Americans will probably feel most at home at one of these two listed below. For another 8 saunas see the Baja Advisor gay map.
Banos Vica (Blvd Gustavo Díaz Ordaz 1535), to the south of the center near Mercado de Todos, is clean but not over-spiffy, with a piping hot steamroom. Sunday afternoons are especially busy, but any day could be lucky as fewer people around can make guys less cautious.
Banos La Toalla (Av Pinos Suarez 11665) is the only openly gay bath, clean and well-lighted, with busy afternoons and Sundays. Check out their website in our listings. Opening times here differ from what's typical up north, from 7am to 9pm for Vica, and 9am to 10pm for La Toalla.