see also Markets & Swap Meets
Only a Few Tips on Downtown Opportunities & Bargaining in General & Warning About Illegal Items & Sex.
The old "centro" (geography) or downtown, like any downtown zone, offers multiple (and layered) opportunities for window-shopping, street-stall looking, and people watching, not to mention actual bargaining and buying.
Mind you, we're not just talking about the traditional "wild" tourist strip of Revolution Avenue -- although those ten blocks uphill from the giant metal arch are replete with shops and vendors who will happily hawk you Everything from Tacky to Luxurious, ridiculous to sublime, cliché to unique.
Yes, there is much to see and buy just on la Revo. Fine silver, ceramic, leather and folk art shops sit cheek by jowl with curio piles and switchblade knives (illegal in the U.S., we think). There are, of course, plenty of places to eat and drink and party, too.
But the serious downtown shoppers -- looking for a real Mexican cultural experience -- will NOT limit themselves to that one street alone.
Nearby blocks of downtown are full of all kinds of traditional shops, from tiny hole-in-the walls up to big department stores.  Only one block west (not downhill) is the parallel non-identical twin sister avenue of Constitution (Constitución) which is loaded with stores whose character is much more Mexican in nature, practically not at all touristy, just very local, very real, very business.  Papelarias (stationery/giftwrap), clothing, housewares, jewelry, boots/shoes, glasses.
There is also the next avenue over beyond Constitución, se llama Niños Heroes, still mostly a commercial street up and down its blocks.  Down around the corner of 2nd and Niños, close by the cathedral church of Guadalupe, you'll find a swath of tipico Mexican open air markets.
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Diagonally across from the catedral (marked with red cross dead center on the aerial photo) the El Popo market tunnels deep into the block, away from the street, and has two entrances under archways partway up either side of the corner. This is a fulsome collection of open-air shops to visit, with things to satisfy almost everyone in your group, even (God forbid) a few touristy type things (but not many, truth be told) tucked into its regular world of herbs, food, cooking implements, piņatas, religious icons, etc, etc, AND On The Same Show: an old movie theater back in the corner showing wild Mexican movies mixed with dubbed Hollywood and Europe (but the sound is pretty bad and the moviehouse was rebuilt after a fire and now looks even older!!!)
A Public Restroom -- twenty-five or fifty cents or something (more about the bathrooms in Tijuana)-- sits tucked into the back corner near the movie theater.
The 2nd street entrance is surrounded by other open air shops groaning with sweet Mexican candies and dangling piñatas... this is an extremely crowded sidewalk. Notice the giant dead clock standing there in front of the taxis de ruta and newspaper stand....
God forbid you would want to go into a department store -- so world-class, so bourgeois -- but there it sits on that corner of 2nd & Niņos, across from the side of the cathedral, yes, the famous Dorian's big store with everything any fool could want to look really high class gente de razon good people yes. Heh heh we are only half-joking... you know sometimes the big store has incredible clearance prices on certain items. Look for a table or bin set out with multiple price tags crossing each other out. Recently our landlord told us they were selling shirts for four dollars. It was true. Marked down markdowns on top of markdowns. We bought three. Don't tell anyone (Connie Chung and Newt Gingrich's momma we won't tell no rhymes with skritch no, Hillary, no). We lied. Only bought two shirts. Apiece.
Back outside, another tipico market (with a lot of restaurant stalls and fresh flowers) sits down Niños from the church front door. It's called Mercado Municipal. Across the street on the corner of 1st (123) is the coffee store where you can buy Mexican bean by the pound or powder by the jar or fresh brewed by the cup (fifty cents a plain cup , more for flavors). Always a lot of local characters hanging out around there. Downhill from here is the old bbaaaaaaaaddddd part of town. Still is.
Well, back up into the center, along 3rd, 4th, 5th, when you're getting from Revolution to Constitution and Niños, don't forget to enjoy the cross-streets: from 2nd to 10th, they are all full of stores and restaurants.  We buy our Arqueologia Mexicana magazine copies at the bookstore Libreria el Día on 7th (no, 6th?) between Revo and Constitution. The poet Alfonso Garcia Cortes' father can be found there sometimes behind the counter -- he introduced himself recently when we were buying a copy of his son's verses.
HUNGRY? : Max's small restaurant on 4th beyond Niños is also our favorite -- Bibi's Fuente de Sodas. He usually has specialties for three or four dollars. He learned some dishes from his mother's cooking. Instant coffee, of course, and tipico food like taquitos (flautas) or enchiladas, too. Open late morning and afternoon. Usually closed on Sundays. You really should be prepared to speak Spanish here. The young waitress speaks some English, and so does everyone in Tijuana, a leetle beet, but... this ain't no tourist joint.
The real beauty about eating downtown is there are dozens -- even hundreds of little places like Max's around the downtown blocks: Chinese, Pizza, Tortas (those yummy sandwiches on a roll), Steakhouse, Roasted Chicken (pollo asado), Seafood, man, we cannot even begin to tell you. Maybe someone else like the "hungry hiker" can help you....
There are, of course, vendors everywhere on the sidewalks. Trust your nose and your stomach to tell you what to eat or not. Or pay a bit more and enjoy a sit-down restaurant. There are so many that except for our friend above, we can't even start saying where. They are everywhere. Even some of the touristy places on diagonal Plaza Santa Cecilia can be decent, and you get to sit out in the open air looking down the pedestrian street toward the big metal arch, while the Aztec dancers beat their drums and street musicians wander around with guitars, string basses, accordions and little drums.
There are hustlers everywhere, just like any big city, but especially around the cathedral doors.  Some are legitimate street vendors, selling secret potions, magical soaps, religious icons and other charming witcheries.  Others without tables or wares to show are malandrines bad-guys who want to pickpocket you or worse and give a bad name to the people who are actually working there or waiting for work.
Do not go down (north) more than one block beyond the church (to Articulo 123 aka First/Primera -- the borderline of the redlight zone).  The block beyond is called Coahuilla and between Revolution and Niņos it is lined with hundreds of bars and cheap hotels who rent rooms by the hour or half-hour etc. Don't go there unless you want to drink in a sleazy hole and get screwed, robbed, mugged and/or arrested.  Down there (it is literally downhill from Primera/First/123) sits la zona norte, la zona de tolerancia, whatever it's called red light zone they'll be happy to take your money and dump you in the street drunk where you belong stupid.  Do NOT let anyone lead you down there for any reason whatsoever except to lose your money all at once under uncomfortable circumstances.  There are, of course, people who favor such cruel delicias.  You can find details on other websites.  We're too chickenschmaltz to tell you more.  Besides, we promised all our grandmothers to be good little boys and girls... [PHIL: link to Juan's redlight on the word "other websites" OKAY?] [Nope... I put it in your note instead heh je.]
Still, we gotta say it: although downtown away from Revolución is (MOSTLY at least) a world apart from gringo-hustling, the touristic street of Revolution Avenue is definitely an experience to be savored, and is, in fact, one of the favorite "paseos" -- walking places -- for people in this city. It has good, wide sidewalks which are usually filled with people on the weekend afternoons and evenings. Weekend nightimes can be another madness altogether. But meanwhile in the daytime hours there are all those passages off the street, full of booths and shops who all promise you a special price. Exploring these "pasajes" is one of the favorite activities of visitors, especially those who are looking for souvenirs. Most of the little shops and stands and stalls back in the pasajes/passages shut down their shutters and go home around five or seven p.m. Some places closer to the busy avenue stay open later at night to catch the drinking crowd.
Window shopping (and worse, buying) on and around "La Revo" (or Revu) you can find everything from the cheap and tawdry to the suave and sophisticated. High-pressure souvenir hole-in-the-walls stand a few doors from smooth, more expensive stores with collector-quality items you would have to go far, far south into Mexico to find. But you are on your own telling the difference between one quality and another.
For example: Mexico is one of the world's leading sources of gold and silver, and its jewelers are among the world's finest, and quite of few of them make honest livings in Tijuana providing good jewelry. BUT We kid you not: cheap silver and weakest gold-plate are there, along with hand-made exquisite jewelry of true value. You Need to KNOW what you Want and HOW to judge quality. Do you know the difference between gold-wash, gold-filled, 10 karat, 14 karat, 18 and 23? Do you know what .925 silver is?
Mexico also produces some of the finest leather articles on this planet. You will find plenty of them here in Tijuana, especially on and off Revolution Avenue. Look carefully. Smell. Feel. Examine the stitching and workmanship. Do you know anything about curing or working leather? Do you know the difference between alligator, ostrich, snakeskin, deerskin, horsehide and cattleskin? WE DON'T!!!! But we see bbbeeeeeeaaauuuttttiiffuuullll things in the windows both on and off the avenue....
Of course there is that simple, basic rule: Don't Buy ANYTHING unless you Really Want It. And BARGAIN! They ain't going to sell it to you for a bad price -- they know what it's worth to them. You need to know EXACTLY THE SAME: how much is it worth to you? What are you are willing to pay, and stick to it. So maybe you won't get it? *Sniff sniff*
Who are we kidding? They'll sell it to you. You will come to an agreement. But if you want X and they say they don't like your price and offer you Y but you don't want Y, you want X, hey, say NO No no I want X and I won't pay your price. Make them come down. Then you go up. Haggle haggle haggle. Caveat emptor.
Of course, in some stores -- like Sanborn's at 8th & Revo, a big chain ruled by corporate types -- the prices are fixed. Oh well. But that means you can go there and check out some of the finer collectables, and have an idea of the kind of price you will want to beat in the galleries down the street.
Remember -- no one is going to sell you anything for a price they don't think is worthwhile, so no matter how hard you bargain, when you finally come to an agreement, it's good for both buyer and seller.
We repeat: One reasonable rule: Don't buy anything you don't want. Depend on your own desires, not anyone else's. Simple, but effective. Sellers can be quite pushy, but so can you, eh? It's all a game. They want to sell, you want to buy. Don't get upset. Search for that place where you strike a balance/bargain.
Always stay safe. Don't take money out until you have agreed on a price and it's been wrapped up or bagged. AND Keep your Eyes open during wrapping, yes, keep your eye on what you bought so it doesn't get switched, but never, ever imply that anyone would ever do such a thing. Just be "listo" (or "lista" lady) -- on top of it, ready for anything. For vendors to have made a sale to a cautious, careful, choosy buyer is very good for their self-esteem, eh?
But REMEMBER: ALWAYS Be Polite. Smile and say thank you, no, or thank you, yes.
OH, Yes, don't forget: some things ARE Illegal to take back to the States. Fireworks, Cuban Cigars, etc. Don't try to take them back. Smoke your cigar there.
If you are going to the Farmacias for drugs legal in Mexico, well, that's one thing. IF You Intend to take them back to the States, well, make sure about the legality and Take Your Prescription in case the U.S. customs asks. This web page has sanitized for your hygenic safety.
AND (as if anyone should need to be reminded) Cocaine and Marijuana and all their little dressed-up friends are Very VERY ILLEGAL in Mexico, too, and you WILL Get un-Righteously SCREWED every which-way and back again IF You Mess With THEM! Quite possibly the person who offers to sell you anything like that will quickly turn you over to the police in order to make his "living" and protect his own butt, too. Plus they get the drugs back to sell all over again.
However, to change the subject, prostitution and same-sex are not illegal in Mexico, BUT doing it with anyone under 18 IS not only Bad but Illegal. 'Nuff'sed. Don't forget condoms -- available at any farmacia. Hope you enjoy your disease and/or crablice....
Gringo : Touristic Information.