Located a mere 16 mi/26 km south of San Diego, California, Tijuana can easily be seen as a day trip (a trolley goes from downtown San Diego to the border). It offers a quick taste of Mexico's many delights, as well as some of its defects.

To get to downtown Tijuana, you can either catch a bus at the border or simply walk across the bridge and take a cab. (The cabs are expensive, so it's better if you can share them.) Tijuana has a wealth of shopping opportunities (everything from arcades displaying tacky souvenirs to fine folk-art shops to knock-offs from famous designers), two rarely used bullrings, and all categories of hotels, restaurants and good nightlife.

The Tijuana Cultural Center, a multimillion-dollar showcase displaying exhibits about Mexico's people, events and culture, is well worth a visit. The center's Museum of the Californias provides a great overview of the Baja California Peninsula and includes interactive exhibits, replicas of Baja's most important missions, and dioramas of desert flora and fauna.

Families can spend some time at the Mundo Divertido, an amusement park with rides, children's activities, and frequent entertainment by Mexican bands and dance troupes. In addition to the shopping, there's an active restaurant-and-bar scene on Avenida Revolucion that caters to U.S. college students and other young revelers.

As a hub for Volaris and Aeromexico, Tijuana is also an air gateway to or from the rest of the country.

Watch where you go at night—some areas and certain bars take an ugly turn after dark. Also, like other spots in Mexico, drug-related violence has increased, so stick to well-traveled, touristy areas. Unless you have a good reason to spend the night here, this city is better suited to day trips and transit.

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