Tijuana actually was originally on our itinerary - it got cut mainly due to scheduling concerns but also partly due to a growing reluctance to cross another international border. A few minutes with the chap who dealt with us at the car rental place changed that; not only was he from Tijuana, but he commuted from there every day. The way he pitched it Tijuana was extremely accessible and it would have been a crime not to make a visit. So we decided there and then to give it a bash. And he wasn't wrong: less than 30 minutes driving and we were in Mexico. It was so easy that we didn't even have to stop our car at the border; so no stamps, no customs, nothing. I guess the USA don't really care about those leaving the country, but it did make us wonder if we'd have any trouble getting back in. So no, we didn't have a plan - just a car and a tank full of gas - so we did one of my most favourite things to do on holiday: we winged it.
Our first stop was on encountering a local street market. This is as close as you can get to hitting the bullseye really: we were pretty much the only non residents there and so got a great insight to Tijuanan life.
And of course... we stumbled across a mosque while we were exploring.
Unfortunately it appeared to only open during salaat time, so we didn't get a chance to meet any local Muslims. Boo. After chilling out beach side in a cafe we backtracked back north by foot to the border as it hit the Pacific. Like all borders it was a little jarring as there really didn't appear to be any difference in soil between here and there.
We then headed into the central part of Tijuana, mainly to fulfil the shopping needs of those in the party. A couple of us did manage to absorb some of the locality by randomly walking around, including a brief visit ot a mostly closed Tijuana Cultural Center. It might just have been the inevitable naivety that comes with being a tourist... but we really never felt at all unsafe, even after dark. Well until we hit Zona Centro that is.
Our final stop before aiming to head out, Zona Centro, or downtown, was where we were advised to go to pick up souvenirs (in my case the bane of my travels: fridge magnets). It might just have been the time of day (ie late), but the place did feel pretty seedy and intimidating. We even got stopped by the police on our way out which was less fun than it sounds (especially since it was my driving licence that he took away albeit temporarily). The long story short is that we were glad to finally be heading back to California. Of course what we didn't realise was that although it was easy getting out of the States, getting back in was always going to be a little more difficult.
All in all, the border crossing took three hours, 2:55 of which was us waiting in a car queue. In hindsight we should have aimed to have gotten back before rush hour, but I guess it's not every day one gets to check out Tijuana.
Oh and as a side note don't bother ever trying to order a fish burger from McDonald's past 11pm - apparently they would have long turned their fryers off by that point. Sheesh.