Tag Archives: shopping

Mercado Hidalgo a breath of fresh air in Tijuana


It’s easy to overlook Tijuana’s Mercado Hidalgo, which is hidden from outside view by thick, citrus-colored walls. But once you find the marketplace, it’s a pleasure to get lost in the smell of spices, the rows of fluttering pinatas, and the colors of tropical fruits. Nestled in the city’s Zona Rio area, not far from the San Ysidro border,  the market reminds me of those bustling village-style markets in Mexican pueblos deep in the country’s interior.

Mercado Hidalgo is comprised of  several generations of vendors with roots that go back to  the mid-1900s. Reflecting the region’s unique border identity, the market got its start when vendors brought produce from California and Arizona to Tijuana. That was before Mexico built better roads to connect Tijuana with the country’s interior. Now most all of the produce comes from Mexico and you will often find nostalgic Mexican-Americans stocking up on their favorite foods.

During my last year as a reporter at The San Diego Union-Tribune, I learned how to do multi-media presentations. Go here for a virtual visit of Mercado Hidalgo, which includes interviews with merchants, photos of the produce, a history of the market and a locator map.





‘Tis the season – for long waits at the Tijuana border


syportentry1This is the time of year when street vendors in Tijuana sell mini Santa hats that people stick on their car windshields. It’s also the time of year when border waits turn the city’s streets into a tangled pretzel of cars trying to get out of Mexico and into San Diego County so that Mexicans can do some holiday shopping.

The waits can suck the ho-ho-ho out of even the most seasoned border veteran. Heading back north from Tijuana this weekend, I realized belatedly that I was going to have to join the seasonal exodus. Oh, if only Rudolph could have guided my way! Instead, I got in the “fast track” SENTRI lanes along with hundreds of other cars and nosed my way slowly to the border. Waiting an hour in SENTRI is no fun, but I couldn’t help but feel grateful towards the other north-bound travelers willing to endure this long wait to spend money in our sputtering economy. So, instead of being glum I cranked up some Christmas carols on the radio and wondered how much of this money was going to end up in cash registers north of the border.

A figure that’s frequently quoted is that an estimated $1.6 billion in goods and services were purchased by Baja California residents in San Diego County in 2002. This is attributed to Kenn Morris of Crossborder Business Associates in the insightful Blurred Borders report put out by the International Community Foundation. Even though it’s unclear to me how much of that money is spent during the holiday season, it illustrates the ties that bind our cross-border communities.

Photo taken during normal traffic – not seasonal holiday traffic.

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Weekend shopping in new Tijuana center

ghandiaWhile living briefly in Mexico City, I visited palatial stores with names like Palacio de Hierro and Liverpool and regularly did my homework at a cafe-bookstore called Gandhi. This past weekend, feeling the shopping spirit,  I visited a newly-opened Gandhi and Liverpool in Tijuana that are part of a small commercial center near the San Ysidro border. 

The Liverpool here is not a full-blown department store like the ones I’ve visited in other parts of  Mexico. Instead, it is a “duty free” store and merchandise consists primarily of designer purses, watches and cosmetics/perfumes. An employee there told me that it’s part of a new concept in places like Cancun and Tijuana to attract tourists and, in particular, Mexican-Americans who are familiar with the Liverpool name. 


Tijuana, despite being a city of roughly 1.5 million people, is really a small-town kind of place when it comes to bumping into people. I had just read in the Tijuana weekly Zeta that the city’s former head of public security, Alberto Capella, was seen shopping at  Liverpool, where some watches go for about $3,000. The city’s mayor, Jorge Ramos, had also reportedly been spotted buying much-cheaper candy.

ghandisergioaI didn’t see anyone I knew at Liverpool, but I did run into Frontera reporter Sergio Ortiz at the Gandhi bookstore. He and a colleague were browsing through the CD racks with their camera gear slung over their shoulders, waiting for the radio call that would  take them to the next crime scene.

The Gandhi store is much smaller than the ones I’ve been to in other parts of Mexico but it seems to be drawing a crowd. My only gripe, which is apparently shared by some Mexicans, is that it doesn’t have a cafe.  I have fond memories of sipping tea and  savoring tres leches cake at the Gandhi bookstore-cafe in Mexico City’s Coayacan neighborhood. Nostalgia aside, the new stores have brought a shiny new sheen to the Tijuana commercial scene, though I don’t expect to be buying any $800 purses there anytime soon.

* Directions to commercial center: Enter Tijuana at San Ysidro port of entry. Take exit to Paseo de los Heroes/Zona Rio. The Pavilion Plaza Tijuana center is at the first intersection you hit, on your right and across from Costco. Underground parking is available.


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Tijuana Zona Rio mall gets a makeover



The Plaza Rio Tijuana is the city’s closest shopping mall to the border and it was starting to feel a little dated. Over the years, other malls popped up around the city  with fancier facades, mini-golf and even rollercoasters – but things seemed to stay the same at the Plaza Rio.

Now the Plaza Rio is getting a makeover with white, ornate trim that frames the shops nicely and makes everything seem more interesting and new. One of the mall’s best secrets has always been its Cinepolis “V.I.P” movie theater (separate from the main cinema)  that offers lounge-style seats and ample space for food trays. This luxurious experience costs about $5, which is a bargain as long as you don’t mind the subtitles in Spanish. A Starbucks  is now at the Plaza Rio and you can safely munch on yummy Sinaloan seafood at the courtyard here – or buy some live fish at the nearby pet store.

I don’t know for sure, but I’ve heard that Tijuana malls – despite their bells and whistles –  never quite reached the sophisticated shopper level found in other Mexican cities because there’s too much competition from San Diego County malls. The thinking is that Mexicans with money will do their serious shopping north of the border. Nonetheless, the malls in  Tijuana are worth checking out for the scene, even if you aren’t into cowboy boots made out of crocodile and other exotic animal skins.