It was not until I moved out of Los Angeles later in life,that I learned the only people who call Tijuana, “TJ”, are those who grew up in California. When people asked me if I had ever been to Mexico, I would say “Yeah, TJ”, and no one knew what I was saying. Not even my friends’ relatives who were from Mexico knew what I meant by “TJ”. For many Southern Californians, Tijuana was their first taste of Mexico, especially for those who grew up in the area last century.
Tijuana is a border town of San Diego and Baja California, Mexico, and it was easily accessible before 9/11. I remember the days that we parked in San Diego, and walked across to have fun in another country, Then we walked back over with just our California Drivers License. We did not need a passport, and it was that easy.
TJ was such a part of growing up in Southern California, that our parents also used to make the treks over the border. Once my parents drove their Mercedes over the border with myself, and some of their friends. They said they drove down into Ensenada, but I do not remember that.
I do know that I ran into a classmate from my elementary school in Tijuana, as I was looking at small leather purses; I was about ten years old and it was in the early 1980s. To this day, my friend asks “Do you remember when we saw each other in Mexico as kids?” My response was always “Yeah, dude that was weird!”
Being a border town that was more lenient on laws of gambling and alcohol from the get-go, Tijuana and other Baja California cities were very popular early last century. During the prohibition era in the 1920s, many U.S. Citizens would cross the border to drink, go to the casinos, or hit the race tracks. TJ was very popular with Old Hollywood and gangsters who would fly in to drink, and gamble at the resorts. Rita Hayworth was discovered at the Agua Caliente Hotel, and there were musical nightclub productions aired over the radio. At one time, Tijuana was the place to go.
Over the years, Tijuana had its decline. Even as a teen and young adult we heard terrible stories of corruption, theft, and major crime. I was fortunate enough to not have anything like that happen to me because I always played it low-key. I have known people who, or those who have known people that had less than desirable situations occur. If you do plan on going to Tijuana or any Baja California cities, please do not act stupid and think you can do anything you want because you can’t!
I make it sound like TJ is terrible, it really is not. Actually it can be quite fun, and interesting for a border town if you play your cards right. A day trip into TJ is fine, and you still can cross over from San Diego either by foot, bus, or your own car. I have done an overnight in Tijuana, which was fine because we were able to get up early, take a taxi to the border, and walk out before it got too crowded.
I do believe the only reason that I would go back into TJ, is to eat at Caesar’s Restaurant again, where the Caesar Salad was invented! See below.
–Avenida Revolucion —
The Avenida Revolucion is the city’s main tourist center, and here is where you will find restaurants, hotels, bars, pharmacies, and shopping. Mexico is known for purchasing lower priced pharmaceutical medications, that is why you will find many pharmacies throughout the city. More than likely this is where you will end up for whatever you came here for.
A lot of merchants have become better with non-hassling of the customers, which is something I hated when I would cross the border. A simple “No, Gracias” is fine because there will always be another customer behind you.
— Restaurante Caesar’s —
The Caesar Salad was invented here. I kid you not. I did not even realize that the first time I ate here, and now I have to come back to try it. Even if it were not for the invention of one of my favorite salads since my teen-years; I still would come back for their delicious Mexican food and luscious cocktails. I will travel for food.
Caesar’s Restaurant is approximately one hundred years old, and was opened during the 1920s prohibition era. Two Italian immigrants, Caesar Cardini and his brother, living in Southern California opened this old school restaurant on Avenida Revolucion to serve alcohol during America’s dry time. Many Old Hollywood celebrities have eaten and stayed here, and Caesar’s still remains the best restaurant in Tijuana.
My friend and I had lunch and cocktails here, and the food was fantastic. The service was phenomenal, and the servers were very classic, wearing crisp white shirts and black slacks. Caesar’s is a very classy old-school restaurant, and I would not mind traveling across the border to eat here again.
On the table- Tapenade and bread, martinis, Combonacion Mexicana Plate and a Guava Tart.
— Night Scene in TJ —
I cannot tell you which club that we walked into along Avenida Revolucion when I took these photos. It has been a couple years, and I am sure the place is still there. Since the beginning, crossing the border into TJ to party was what this city was known for. People did it during the Prohibition era, and even now their is a lit club scene on the main strip.
I do not party anymore, but came into this club with my friend for the evening of music and people watching. My friend did get out on the dance floor, but I enjoyed my time at the table with my food and a bucket of beer. Oh, and I am not a beer drinker so we gave the beer away to another table after I had a bottle of SOL.
I was glad that this club served food and like I mentioned, I was more than happy to sit with my chips, guacamole, and carne asada quesadilla. Food is my party! As for the Mexican dishes, there were pretty good although the carne asada quesadilla was the greasiest that I ever had. I thought that I would wake up with Montezuma’s Revenge, but I was fine. I must have a cast iron stomach, which works well with the amount of food that I eat.
The word “Tijuana” has mixed emotions from everyone that I talk to. Some people hate it and others enjoy it. I can tolerate it, but I know there is more to Mexico than this border town. The only reason you may see me in TJ again is to eat at Caesar’s, and other notable restaurants along Avenida Revolucion. I will travel for food!
— Photo Journal of TJ —
Let the good times roll…
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📸 All photos are taken by me and are my intellectual property – Trixie Navarre