TIJUANA, MEXICO - Viva la Mexico! The country's zest for life is legendary. Long known for margaritas and mariachis, today's Mexico offers much more - including one-of-a-kind shopping. In layman's lingo, Mexico is a destination where one with champagne taste can shop on a tequila pocketbook. Good deals abound. And the quality is there, if you know where to look.
As a San Diego resident, I cross the border into Tijuana on a regular basis. I have for years. Initially it was for the libations and the country's celebrated festivity. But in recent years shopping, really good shopping, has been the draw.
However, while 'deals' are found in and around Avenida Revolucion (the city's main drag), a Mexican deal may not always be just that. Beware of temptations. "Silver chains. Two da-lar, two da-lar," a street vendor may chant. My advice is to bypass sidewalk salesmen and head into a store (but not just any store) to eye and buy their wares . . . and for possible guidance.
Emporium (813 Ave. Revolucion) is a long time favorite. The 48-year-old store sells premium Mexican items like rare leather nativity sets (starting at $27) and Ken Edwards pottery (again rare) made from Tonala clay. Owner Jesus Manrique gladly directs visitors to other top quality merchants. Hand Art (1040-B Ave. Revolucion) is the city's only store specializing in hand-embroidered tablecloths, blouses and dresses.
El Campanario (952 Ave. Revolucion) features glassware, pottery and religious artifacts from Mexico's art regions including Puebla (pottery) and Mexico City (pewter).
Breaking my own rule, I frequently stop at El Sol Azteca (8207 Third Ave and Ave. Revolucion). It's not a storefront (rather an alcove) but sells silver from Taxco (Mexico's silver capital) at very good prices. Its best buy is an $82, 10-strand silver heart necklace (a copy of Tiffany's $400 piece).
Cubita's cigar bar (868-15 Ave. Revolucion) has a specially humidified room for its Cuban cigars ($3 - $37). Autographed photos of famous customers like Tom Selleck adorn the walls of this cozy haven
Traveling south (approximately 15 miles) into Rosarito Beach, I found Fausto Polanco, a home furnishings showroom on the town's main road (2400 Blvd. Benito Juarez). It's a designer's dream - top-quality furniture, four-foot tall carved candlestick ($750) and a brass doorknocker ($35).
Giorgio Santini (10 miles further on the Rosarito/Ensenada free road) showcases the work of Mexican artisans (their art may be found in California galleries for much larger price tags). Featured artists include Juvenal Alfaro (his black/white Marilyn Monroe portrait is $1,000) and Cristina Rendon (her crystal/copper jewelry begins at $39).
But good shopping deals are not exclusive to border towns.
Though Cabo San Lucas is primarily noted for T-shirts and beer, I unearthed some exceptional "finds." World renowned for his whimsical art, artist Sergio Bustamante's jewelry store (Plaza Bonita) features extraordinary silver pieces like a rectangular silver cuff bracelet ($300).
The work of a former designer for Cartier was my discovery at Diamonds International (Plaza Bonita) - pave diamond earrings with a heart drop ($400). Note that it's wise to heavy-duty bargain in this store (the initial price was $800).
The quest for my final purchase began at the five-diamond Las Ventanas al Paraiso resort. While dining there I began to covet their orange embroidered tablecloths. "If one of these tables is bare tomorrow, you may want to search my suitcase," I confessed to the maitre d.'
Told that they're sold at a store in San Jose Del Cabo, I headed to the quaint town. Upon emerging from Sol Dorado (33-A Blvd. Mijares) with my treasured table covering ($230), I bade my goodbyes."Hasta luego" so long (until my next shopping trip, that is).
*Quality merchandise is usually found in stores with fixed prices (an exception is my "Frida" scarf purchased on a Puerto Vallarta beach).
*Visit the area's finest store(s) first (the items may be surprisingly reasonable).
*Buy regional specialties (i.e. silver from Taxco, pottery made in Puebla).
*While bargaining is an expected (even fun) part of dealing in Mexico, it may be inappropriate in upscale shops.