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The Comeback: Tijuana

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Colorful flags strung up across downtown Tijuana. (Photograph by Valentin Kunicky, Your Shot)

Until recently Tijuana, Mexico, was best left to kids looking for trouble. But a blossoming cultural scene is helping the busy borderland 17 miles south of San Diego turn a sophisticated corner.

La Casa del Túnel — named for an illicit tunnel that was once underneath — now traffics in contemporary art, and galleries along the subterranean Pasaje Gómez beckon visitors off main drag Avenida Revolución.

“TJ” still breaks a few rules — at sizzling restaurants innovating “Baja-Med” fusion, such as Misión 19 (an Anthony Bourdain pick), El Taller, and La Querencia, with specials like seared beef tongue with chipotle cream. Then there are octopus tacos at the Kokopelli street stand and 30-plus Mexican brews at BCB Tasting Room (just don’t ask for a Corona).

On a Turista Libre tour aboard a school bus departing from the Mexican side of the border, day-trippers discover many layers of “beautifully bizarre” Tijuana (in the words of guide Derrik Chinn). At Playas, the U.S.-Mexico fence plunges into the Pacific — a photo op as well as a reminder of the constant exchange of people and ideas in this land where cultures meet.

This piece, written by David Swanson, appeared in the May 2013 issue of Traveler magazine. There’s a lot you can’t get online. Subscribe to have the print edition delivered to your door.

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