Forty million people cross its border each year, it’s the birthplace of Caesar Salad, folks in California call it TJ and it has its own verb! It could only be Tijuana…
Like most people of my generation I associate Tijuana with Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass and their Greatest Hits.
Where is it?
Tijuana (pronounced Tee a wan aa) is on the border between the United States of America and Mexico. On the other side of the border is San Diego, California. Tijuana is the largest city in the Mexican State of Baja California.
What does ‘Tijuana’ mean?
Some say that it means ‘close to the sea’ and originates from the Yuman Indian language spoken by the original Kumeyaay inhabitants. Others say it was named by Spanish and Mexican soldiers. The most popular theory held by residents, regards an old Indian woman who gave travelers food and rest. Her name was Aunt Jane – ‘Tia Juana’ in Mexican.
Tijuana’s own verb…
Tijuana may be unique in having its own verb. Locals have created the verb ‘Tijuanear’ which means ‘to Tijuana’. The popular usage of it is in the legend “Yo Tijuaneo, y tu?” which means “I Tijuana…and you?” It relates to the frequent border crossings and the cosmopolitan ways of Tijuana city life.
First documented evidence
The explorer, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo traveled along the coastline of the area in 1542. It was mapped in 1602. The first documented evidence of ‘The Valley of Tijuana’ appears in 1769.
During Prohibition in the 1920’s, Americans crossed the border in droves so that they could drink and gamble legally. Most of this activity was centered on the Avenida Revolucion. The Foreign Club became a famous hang-out. Another one was Hotel Caesar.
The Birth of the Caesar Salad
Caesar Cardini, an Italian born Mexican, lived in San Diego but worked in Tijuana. On 4th July 1924, he created the Caesar Salad. The circumstances of the creation vary according to legend. Some say it was made for a group of Aviators who were in a hurry and that it was quickly thrown to together for them. Others say it was for a group of Hollywood stars.
The story changes again when we look at where he created it. Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t created at the Caesar Hotel. That came later. It happened on the ground floor of the Hotel Comercial which was on the corner of 2nd Street and Main in Tijuana. The Hotel Caesar wasn’t built until 1929 -1930 and when it was completed, Cardini moved his restaurant there. Although the Hotel Comercial is no longer a hotel, the building is still at the same place. Hotel Caesar is still in operation. The Cardini family trademarked the original recipe for Caesar Salad in 1948 and you can buy their bottled salad dressings in more than a dozen varieties.
There are conflicting stories about how and where Caesar Salad was created. However, this one has not only the family trademark but the provenance of Julia Child. Child (a highly respected American Chef, Author and TV personality) remembered eating a Caesar salad at Cardini’s restaurant. It happened when she was a child in the 1920’s and she wrote about it in her book ‘From Julia Child’s Kitchen’. Around 50 years later, she contacted Cardini’s daughter to ask for the original recipe.
Hollywood and The Mob come to Tijuana
Prohibition started one big party in Tijuana. The Agua Caliente (which means, rather fittingly, Hot Water) Touristic Complex opened in 1928. It offered an hotel, spa, dog track, golf course and casino for legal gambling. With its target audience in mind, it also included a private airport. A year later, a race track was added.
The stunning complex was open for the next eight years and Hollywood stars and gangsters flocked to the place. It is believed that Rita Hayworth was discovered at Agua Caliente. Productions from the nightclub could be heard by radio listeners. The place was deeply exotic and glamorous. It could also be dangerous. A young dancer was shot dead because of a love-triangle. Her ghost is called La Faraona (the Pharoah) and is said to be still seen today among the ruins of the Hollywood-style Bungalows which once housed Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin and many other stars.
In 1925, the city tired of being associated with Mobsters, hedonists and crime. It changed its name to Zaragoza but this didn’t stick and it was soon back to being Tijuana.
Life for the locals
Many Tijuanenses work in the 550 maquiladoras. These are huge industrial parks which were set up to take advantage of the North American Free Trade Agreement to allow products to be exported. They hold huge assembly plants for companies including Hyundai, Sony, Toyota, Samsun, Kodak, Matsushita/Panasonic, Nabisco, Philips, Pioneer, Sanyo and Volkswagen. Although these jobs are demanding and often tedious, they offer the highest pay in Tijuana.
Tijuana is one of the fastest growing cities in Mexico. An average of 80,000 people move there every year. Around 26,000 unregulated, substandard new homes are built every year to accommodate them. As with many cities divided by the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, these homes are sprawling into the hills behind Tijuana so that the downtown beach area is left for those with the money.
Still a huge draw for tourists
Tijuana is an entertaining place with a great atmosphere but those who live there and visitors who remember ‘the old days’ all agree that it has lost the ‘edge’ and the ‘anything goes’ tag which it once had. This is all to the good as the old ways were dangerous to visitors and to those who had to live there. It has also helped to encourage people to visit.
Legal differences attract…
Just as in the days of Prohibition, it is the differences in laws separated by a border that bring many people to Tijuana. In America, it is illegal for people under the age of 21 to drink alcohol. In Mexico, it is 18. This makes Tijuana the perfect weekend getaway for high school and college students. It’s also inexpensive to get to. The Greyhound bus from San Diego to Tijuana costs between $5 and $9. If you leave your car in the stateside car park and walk across the border, it’s from $6 to $10 for 24 hours. This may be the best option as the wait to get across in a vehicle can vary from a few minutes to an hour or more – especially if there’s a Mexican fiesta or public holiday.
Tijuana is also a place for people to buy pharmaceutical drugs without a prescription. They are also much cheaper than in America. Some drugs still need you to present a Mexican Doctor’s prescription but because there are many Doctor’s offices near the border, this isn’t a problem.
Schedule II and Schedule III drugs used to be easily accessible in Tijuana but things have been tightened up in an effort to ‘clean up’ the town. It is now more difficult to find drugs such as pseudoephedrine, which have now become restricted in both the USA and Tijuana.
People going to Tijuana for any drugs covered by the US Controlled Substances Act, now find that they need a prescription from the United States in order to be allowed to bring them back into the country from Tijuana.
When the nightlife declined in the 50’s, Tijuana concentrated on offering a family-friendly place to visit. Nowadays, most tourists head for the many and varied shopping malls, such as Plaza Rio and the still famous Avenida Revolucion. For shoes, don’t miss Plaza Zapato. This mall is two storey’s high and specializes in shoes and boots for both sexes. Even better, their prices are about half that of America.
There is also fishing (around the Coronado Islands nearby), whale watching, bullfighting, greyhound racing and rodeo. If you want to find a more authentic Mexican flavor, don’t miss Mercado Hidalgo – a wonderful market priced for the locals.
Something for everyone
Tijuana is so easily accessible if you’re already in the States. If you’re not, it is worth a visit if you’re ever out that way. It really does have so much to offer so make sure it’s on your itinerary.
And to help you plan your trip why not check out a hotel in Tijuana through Hotels.com.