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. Gaytj.com has details, along with photos of recent celebrations.
No need to drive here from San Diego, Americans can park on their side, then walk across the border for a wild, all-night 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. Staying within the “free zone” (the 20 kilometer border area) means you won't need to pay for a visa to enter Mexico, unless planning to stay longer than 7 consecutive days, but you still need to stop at the border to fill out the FMM paperwork. For those returning, US border patrol has been accepting state-issued IDs/ proof of citizenship for US citizens, but everyone is supposed to have a valid passport. By law American citizens cannot be denied entry, but in the current political climate having your passport could prevent delays. See DiscoverBaja concerning FMM Tourist permits. El Daily Post has news updates about the border region.
If you do drive, check with your insurance company first. If you need a rental car, do that on the Mexican side. 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 who lives 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 in population only to LA on the Pacific Coast.
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
For gay maps, bar lists, border crossing info and general updates, see BajaAdvisor/ GayTJ: "the English language source for gay and bisexual men who are interested in Mexico, with an emphasis on the State of Baja California."
See CuidadH for clubbing news and photos from clubs around town.
The Gay Mexico Map webpage also covers Tijuana.
COCUT is the LGBTQ cultural/community center in Tijuana, with monthly Cine Club film screenings and other events.
The Visit Mexico Tijuana website has tourism information, travel/border details, events listings and tips on things to see and do in this multifaceted city.
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, open Fridays through Sundays, late into the night. With dancing, karaoke, naked strippers, dark rooms, sex shows, this club is the most visited, and best known to Americans. Club Papi has occasional events with nude Papi go-go dancers, private lap dances, and live sex shows.
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 601), male stripper bar has a mixed, increasingly gay crowd, karaoke, with a darkroom in back.
A bit west of the Arch, El Taurino (corner Constiticion & Art. 123), the oldest gay bar in town, has a dance floor, a pool table. A local crowd of women sometimes outnumber the gay men for the stripper shows.
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 Sky Blue (Av Francisco Madero 737), aka Zky Blue, 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.
South of the Arch on Revolucion just before Benito Juarez (also called Segunda, or 2nd), find several gay bars with less of a male sex focus, including women, couples and straight friends among their patrons.
The most popular of these, Cameleon/ Colibri (Benito Juárez 2da 8208, at Revolución), are roomy, relaxed twin bars with dancing, drag shows and a mixed-age male crowd. Across Revolucion next to Hotel Nelson, Latinos, a mostly men locals' bar, has elaborate drag shows.
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), afternoon and evening cafe and art gallery gathering spot for a diverse cross-section of folks; coffees and iced fruit drinks/ frappes.
Rouge (Revolución 2020), a mixed live music performance venue, with dancing, shows and special events. El Cayote (Revolución 774-3-A), a small gay-friendly locals' pre/post clubbing bar nearby, has weekend shows.
CLOSED: Bobby's Bar (Avenida Madero 518), men's cruise bar, bears, cowboys, nude male strippers; Los Equipales (Galeana 8236), weekend drag shows and dancing; Mike's (Revolucion 1220), one of oldest Tijuana gay bars, replaced by La Sexta straight cantina/nightclub.
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 Nelson is on Revolución, near Latinos Bar.
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 when women aren't around.
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 8am to 8pm for Vica, and 9am to 9pm for La Toalla.