Avenida RevoluciIón & Downtown
The Avenida Revolución of cheap drinks, discount pharmaceuticals, and a rootin'-tootin' gringo good time is as bygone as the days when tourists flooded its streets. Many of its loud and tacky storefronts are now boarded up (nearly half of its retail shops are now vacant), and with a few exceptions, you're not missing anything if you skip it. But the death of Avenida Revolución's tourist traps has given way to a rebirth of sorts of some of the downtown streets that cross it. Calle 6 (Sixth Street, known as la Sexta) is a hopping string of Tijuana's coolest bars, clubs, and cantinas. Pasaje Rodriguez (pasajerodriguez.blogspot.com), a narrow street between Revolución and Constitución at Calle 3, has been transformed from a gauntlet of souvenir shops into a new and vibrant arts district, with 24 storefronts made over into galleries, studios, cafes, and bookstores.
A few worthwhile old-school sites are still alive and kicking on "La Revo," however. Starting at the entry to the area from the San Ysidro border crossing and walking south, you'll arrive at Plaza Santa Cecilia, also known as Arguello Square, Tijuana's oldest plaza; it's at Calle 1 and Avenida Revolución, near the Tourist Assistance kiosk. Today it's home to some very touristy restaurants and bars, and a clutch of hard-luck mariachis eager to sell you a song (if you can't think of one, ask for "Cielito Lindo"). At the center of the plaza is a monument to Santa Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians.
On Avenida Revolución (at Calle 2) is the HSBC Bank Building. One of Tijuana's oldest private buildings, the structure was built in 1929 to resemble the French Nouveau style popular in the early 1900s. A few deserted, depressing blocks south is the original Caesar's, Av. Revolución 1059, at Calle 5 (tel. 664/685-1927), the birthplace of the Caesar salad, tossed into the limelight by Caesar Cardini in 1924. The restaurant has been recently revived by the city's top restaurateur family, and it's a Tijuana hot spot once more.
Although the lightning-paced indoor ballgame jai alai (pronounced "high ah-lye") is no longer played here, the Jai Alai Frontón Palacio, Avenida Revolución at Calle 8 (tel. 664/685-3687, 688-0125, or 619/231-1910 in San Diego) is still worth a visit for its exquisite neoclassical architecture. Built in 1925, the building, for years, was the site of jai alai matches, an ancient Basque tradition incorporating elements of tennis, hockey, and basketball. Now the arena is used just for cultural events or occasional boxing matches.
Most of the local action, however, isn't downtown at all, but in the Zona Río, Tijuana's upscale business district. This is where you'll find most of the city's best restaurants, hotels, and shopping, as well as its more mainstream cultural life. The main drag here is the wide, European-style Paseo de los Héroes, with gigantic glorietas (traffic circles), at the center of which stand monuments to leaders ranging from Aztec Emperor Cuauhtémoc to Abraham Lincoln. Admire them on your way to the Centro Cultural Tijuana (CECUT or Tijuana Cultural Center), Paseo de los Héroes at Mina (tel. 664/687-9600; www.cecut.gob.mx), the linchpin of Tijuana's burgeoning arts scene and the storehouse of the area's cultural history. You can easily spot the ultramodern complex, designed by Pedro Ramírez Vásquez, by its centerpiece gigantic sand-colored dome housing an OMNIMAX theater, which screens various 45-minute films (subjects range from science to space travel). The center also holds the Museo de las Californias (Museum of the Californias), with exhibits that trace the history of the Californias, dating back to prehistoric times. The center is open daily from 10am to 7pm. Admission is 25 pesos adults, 15 pesos children. Also check out the Baja California Cultural Institute, which has exhibits showcasing the culture of the region. It's at Av. Centenario 10151.
The oldest church in Tijuana is the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral), in front of City Hall, at Paseo Centenario 10150 and Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez, in Zona Río (tel. 664/607-3775). First inaugurated in 1902 as a parish church, it was appointed cathedral status in 1964. Expansion work began in 2001 and is still underway. (You can watch the progress at www.nuevacatedraldetijuana.org.) When finished, the renovated cathedral will seat 3,000, with standing room for 14,000. Its hallmark will be a brilliant white obelisk bell tower 25 stories high in front of a large statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico's patron saint. Mass is celebrated Monday through Friday at 8am and 7pm, Saturdays at 7pm, and Sundays at 9am, noon, and 6pm.
The fertile valleys of Northern Baja produce most of Mexico's wines; many high-quality vintages are exported to Europe but, despite NAFTA, most are not available in the U.S. For an in-town introduction to Baja's wines, stop into Cava de Vinos L.A. Cetto (L.A. Cetto Winery), Av. Cañón Johnson 2108, at Avenida Constitución Sur (tel. 664/685-3031 or 685-1644; www.cettowines.com) or make an appointment for a tasting. Shaped like a wine barrel, this building's striking facade was fashioned from old oak aging barrels in an inspired bit of recycling. The entrance has a couple of wine presses (ca. 1928) that Don Angel Cetto used back in the early days of production. Bottles of Petite Sirah, Nebbiolo, chardonnay, and cabernet sauvignon cost about $8; the special reserves are a little more than $15. The family-owned company also produces tequila and olive oil, for sale here. Wine tastings cost $2 for standard wines, $5 for reserves, for those 18 and older only; those under 18 are admitted free with an adult but cannot taste the wines. L.A. Cetto is open Monday through Saturday 10am to 5pm. Tours and tastings run Monday through Friday 10am to noon and 2 to 5pm.
If you're more of a beer person, don't despair -- you're in Tijuana, remember? The Cerveza Tijuana brewery, Fundadores 2951, Colonia Juárez about a mile south of CECUT (tel. 664/638-8662; www.tjbeer.com), offers guided tours (by prior appointment) that demonstrate the beer-making process the family of brewers learned in the Czech Republic. The lager, dark, and light beers are all available to sample in the adjoining European-style pub, which features karaoke on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. It's open Monday to Wednesday 1pm to midnight, Thursday to Saturday until 2am.