Day trips to Mexico from San Diego 

I live in San Diego, California, which you probably already know if you’ve been following my blog for any amount of time. San Diego is a great city with beautiful beaches, awesome hiking trails, good restaurants, and plenty of things to do. We’re a tourist town in our own right and I sometimes get asked by people who live in other places, “why would you ever want to leave?”

Fair question, but I believe that variety is the spice of life and there is nothing I love more than getting out there and exploring the world around me. I love seeing things that are different and new.

Thankfully, I don’t have to go too far to get something different, because 30 minutes to the South of San Diego is an entirely different country!

Day and weekend trips to Mexico are a time honored tradition for San Diegans. We love going South of the border to shop, eat, explore, and have wonderful beach weekend trips. Rosarito and Ensenada are especially popular with the surfing community.

If you’re going to be in the area, you might want to add a little excitement to your trip with a side-trip to Mexico. You can go to Ensenada for the weekend if you want to spend some time really relaxing and getting to know the place, but if you only have one day, it’s still definitely worthwhile to head down to Mexico.

Things you’ll want to know….

Crossing the border.

Recent political…ummm…tensions….between our two countries have had a noticeable impact on the lines at the border, I’ve found, so you’ll want to get there early and don’t forget your passport. The lines to go into Mexico used to take no time at all, but now they are more strict about it and there can be waits. If you’re heading down for the day, you can always drive your car into Tijuana (if it’s a rental, check with your rental company before you go), but I recommend just parking on the U.S. side of the border and walking over. Do NOT drive into Mexico without first purchasing Mexican car insurance. If you head down the 5 freeway you’ll see signs that say “Last U.S. Exit”. This is where you’ll want to get off. Once you’re off the freeway, you’ll see parking lots all around where you can pay to park your car from the day and then walk over to the border crossing. You can also hop on the San Diego trolley, which has a line that stops right next to the border crossing if you’re without a car or would rather leave the car at home.

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Adiós los Estados Unidos!

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The earlier you get there, the better shape you’ll be in, but the lines to cross the border can sometimes be pretty quick and sometimes take a really long time. Last time I crossed, it took two hours to get through the line, but even the border guards themselves said that was unusual. In general, weekends are busier at the border as people are crossing to visit relatives or enjoy Mexico for the day or for the weekend, so if you’ve got some flexibility on when you go, you might want to try going mid-week so you’ll get shorter lines at the crossing.

At the time of writing this, U.S. citizens do NOT have to obtain a visa prior to traveling to Mexico, though you do need your passport. If you’re not a U.S. citizen, you’ll want to check before you go to find about your nationality’s visa requirements.  At the border, you’ll be asked the standard questions about purpose in Mexico, how long you’re visiting, etc. They may give you a immigration card as well. Hang on to this as you might need it when you come back (sometimes they have asked me for it, sometimes they haven’t. Best to save the card just in case).

Arriving in Tijuana

Once you’re in Mexico, you’ll continue walking until you emerge outside where you’ll immediately be greeted by about a million taxi drivers who would love to have your business. My suggestion is to have some cash ready (they generally accept either Mexican pesos or U.S. dollars, but it’s always nice to have some pesos ready before you head into the country). A cab ride down to Tijuana’s Revolution Street (a sort of main drag with shops and restaurants, touristy area), will run you around $5.00 or 100 pesos (give or take) and will be pretty quick. You can walk around as much as you like and when you’re ready to head back to the border, just hail another cab and they will take you back. Easy peasy.

If you want to go to Rosarito, the cab fare will be somewhere around $25 or $30 and you can easily catch a cab back to Tijuana or the border when you’re ready to come back. Rosarito is Tijuana’s beach community, so it’s a great place to go if you want to explore a nearby coastal area. There are also plenty of shops and restaurants there for you to explore.

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Tijuana Zebras

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If you’ve got a little more time on your hands, I would suggest heading to Ensenada for a couple days. It’s a little bit farther away, but there is a bus that leaves out of Tijuana (at the ABC station) that will take you straight there. Check bus schedules before you go, but it’s a fairly simple process to get there. You’ll want to book any accommodations ahead of time, but there are plenty of hotels, Airbnbs, and resorts around town for you to choose from. It’s a beautiful little resort town with plenty of activities for you to do as well as shopping and dining, and will definitely be worth the visit.

Returning to the U.S.

The one bummer about the whole thing is that the return trip to the U.S. will see you waiting in some often epically long lines. If you’re a member of the SENTRI program, your lines will be a little more tolerable. If you’re not, my advice is to have several hours of line waiting activities ready for you. I recommend an audiobook with headphones, a sketchbook, etc. You might also want some water and snacks to tide you over while you wait. There will be people walking up and down the line selling drinks and snacks as well as entertaining you for tips as well, so you might want to save a few pesos for that as well.

Have you ever done day trips or quick weekend trips across the border from San Diego? Any tips, favorite places in the region, favorite restaurants, etc.? Would love to read all about it!


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