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 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.
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). 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 about $15.
Going solo too intimidating? Get help from Turista Libre (Free Tourist) for an atypical day tour of Tijuana with an American expat living here. The caravan trounces around the city in search of the overlooked and underrated - sidestepping stereotypes, and tourist traps. Each tour has a different theme, with lots to see -- 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 and travel with companions when possible.
Bars & clubs Tijuana
Extasis/ Fusion (Calle Larroque 213) an easy few minutes walk from the border gate, is open Wednesdays, and Fridays through Sundays, late into the night. With dancing, naked strippers, and sexual dark rooms, this is the club most visited by, and best known to Americans. They combined recently with the club next door to add drag shows to the mix in a larger complex.
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) is a male stripper bar with a mixed but increasingly gay crowd.
To the west of the Arch, Taurino (corner Constiticion & Art. 123) is the oldest gay bar in town with dance floor, pool table and a mostly locals crowd. Four gay bars sit alongside Plaza Santa Cecilia on Santiago Arguello, off Revolucion just south of the Arch.
El Ranchero (Plaza Santa Cecilia 769, on Arguello off Revolucion) is on two levels, popular with a good 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.
DF (Plaza Santa Cecilia 1910) bar is frequented by older locals and young hustler machos.
At Hawaii (Plaza Santa Cecilia 768, Arguello near El Ranchero) male stripper shows are their specialty, and they have 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.
Continue walking and turn right on Madero for Zky Blue (Ave Francisco Madero 735), a dance club set back from the street behind the parking lot. They get a varied mix of older and younger guys, local and from the US, and a popular long and spacious dark room.
Boy's Bar (Avenida Madero 158), the former Boby's is a men's cruise bar, popular with bears, cowboys, and with nude male strip shows.
South of the Arch find two gay bars on Revolucion just before Benito Juarez (also called Segunda, or 2nd), with less male sex focus, that include women, couples and straight friends among their patrons. The most popular of these, Cameleon/ Colibri (Calle 2/Calle Segundo, enter from Revolucion), is roomy, relaxed and friendly and they have shows. Right by that club is Club 41, an upscale video bar with a small stage/ dance floor and live DJs. Across the street Club 45 is a straight strip bar with drag shows for a mixed crowd.
Further down Revolucion, between 6th and 7th, Mike's (Revolucion 1220) is one of the oldest gay bars in Tijuana, gayest in later hours, with strip shows that are popular with straight women, and drag shows after midnight and 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 on Madero, between 7th & 8th is a mostly women crowd cantina - open from 10am. At the bottom end of the downtown gay neighborhood, D'Luna Cafe (8th #8380, between Madero & Negrete) is an afternoon and evening gathering spot for a diverse coss-section of the rainbow tribe.
XS Nights Tijuana at Vivo Club (Paseo de los Heroes 10958) is a new dance club at the corner of Mision de Mulege.
With all the sex and partying it's hard to remember that drugs, even soft ones like Marijuana, though prevalent, are just as illegal in Mexico as up north. Attracting official attention can do more than ruin an evening, so follow the example of the locals, and avoid trouble.
There are several decent and inexpensive hotel options in the area of Tijuana's gay nightlife. On Avenida Madero near Bobi's and Zky bars are the Economico, the San Nicolas, and the San Diego hotels. Motel Diaz is on Revolucion, just north of the Arch. Hotel America is on 4th between Negrete & Ocampo, and Hotel Caesar's at Revolucion 1079, at Zapata. 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 feel most at home at two of these. 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. For another 8 gay saunas see the Baja Advisor gay map.
The annual Tijuana Pride festivities take place third Saturdays of 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 this past year's celebrations.
More in Baja California
To the east, bordering Calexico California, Mexicali has a long and interesting history of many immigrants. By far the most dynamic center for some miles on either side of the border, this city has several gay night clubs.
The largest of these, Disco Mirage (Avenida Lerdo 430; Discomiragemexicali.com) is open Wednesday through Sunday in the central zone with karaoke, weekend dancing and go-go dancers, plus Saturday and Sunday night drag shows. Also at the center are Sugar's Place (Altamariano 480), a drag show venue; and Pride Antro (Lopez Mateos 1655; Myspace.com/prideantro) dance club. A branch store of the nation-wide chain Erotika Sex Shop (Blvd. Lazaro Cardenas 1731, #54F; Erotikasexshop.com) in the Villafontana Commercial Center, has adult entertainment and accesories, both straight and gay.
More "baja" in Baja, about 70 miles south of Tijuana, this is is an important commercial and fishing port, and cruise ship port of call. It sits in sits at the heart of what's regarded as the best wine country in Mexico, and has several surfing beaches popular with Americans. Windsurfing, yachting and whale-watching are other sporting and tourist attractions, as is the Carnaval de Ensenada which takes place before Lent.
There are several gay nightspots here. Disco Bar Iguanas (Costera 265; Iguanas-bar.com) has a mix of men and women, karaoke on Thursdays and strip and drag shows and dancing on weekends. The Sublime Club (First Street at Alvarado, 3rd fl; Clubsublime.com) is a gay video lounge showing everything from the Oscar Awards to boxing matches and soccer games, as well as music videos. They also have male fashion shows among their many ongoing events. The Poker Face Sports Bar (Blvd Costero 263) is open every night until 3am with drag shows and male strippers.
La Paz & Cabo, Baja California Sur
La Paz is the capital city of Baja California Sur and an important regional commercial center on the Sea of Cortez side, far down the peninsula. A comfortable place to stay here is the Hotel Mediterrane in La Paz (Hotelmed.com), an intimate Inn near the shore, with a rooftop terrace overlooking the Malecon and waterfront promenade. Their restaurant fare is influenced by Swiss, Italian, French and Thai cuisines. Undersea Expeditions is planning a gay diving trip to this area that will coincide with Day of the Dead. From October 30 to November 6, 2010 they offer 5 days of diving and 7 nights at La Concha Beach Club (Laconcha.com).
Cabo, at the southern tip of the peninsula, is known for pristine white sandy beaches, diving locations, and the sea arch El Arco de Cabo San Lucas. The area has become a high-end vacation destination with resorts and timeshare condos on the coastal corridor between San Lucas and San José del Cabo.
The website GayInCabo has details on Cabo Gay Pride celebrations that took place his past June 19th. The site isn't looking as well maintained since the end of July, but the personals section is still alive. They also list Scoop Hotel & Supper Club (Leona Vicario Street) as a center for gay life here, open for drinks Fridays and Saturdays, with go-go boys and special events on Saturdays, late into the night. Well maybe -- but as tourist season kicks in things will pick up either way.
For a general guide to the whole south region see the website Bajatravel.com
Comment has successfully been submitted.
Are you sure you would like to report this comment? It will be flagged for Guide moderators to take action.
Thank you. This comment has been flagged for moderator attention.