26km (16 miles) S of San Diego
Like many burgeoning cities in developing nations, Tijuana is a mixture of new and old, rich and poor, modern and traditional. But Tijuana is increasingly an important city in Mexico; the population has swelled to nearly two million, making it the second-largest city on the Pacific coast of North America (after Los Angeles). Despite obvious signs of widespread poverty, the town claims one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, and high-rise office buildings testify to increased prosperity, as does the emergence of a white-collar middle class that shops at modern shopping centers away from the tourist zone.
Tijuana is a city that has seen its share of booms and busts. Its reputation for having a hustling, carnival-like atmosphere and easily accessible decadence stems from its early notoriety as a playground of illicit pleasures during the U.S. Prohibition, when scores of visitors flocked here to the site of the world's largest saloon bar, the Whale. Not long after, the $10-million Hotel Casino de Agua Caliente -- the first "megaresort" in Mexico -- attracted Hollywood stars and other celebrities with its casino, greyhound racing, and hot-springs spa. From the 1970s through the 1990s, TJ (as it's affectionately called by many American visitors) became known as a party mecca for vacationing college students and a must-see curiosity for international travelers.
Most recently, Tijuana has been hit hard by Mexico's drug violence, and unfortunately tourism here has suffered. Nowadays you're most likely going to visit either on your way to another destination or for a short jaunt. However, vineyards associated with the expanding wine industry are nearby, and an increasing number of cultural offerings have joined the traditional sporting attractions that have drawn visitors for decades. Tijuana has an urban culture and a profusion of U.S.-inspired goods and services, and its collection of world-class restaurants still warrants at least a day trip for the adventurous.