How to Get Into Tijuana From San Diego
Crossing the U.S.-Mexico border to visit Tijuana doesn't have to be an experience. In fact, it's dead easy if know a few things before you go and take the right stuff with you.
Cross the US-Mexico border at San Ysidro
You have a choice of two border crossing stations and which one to choose depends on how you get to the border. The options are outlined below.
There is also another Tijuana crossing at Otay Mesa, but it's not close to the places in Tijuana you will want to go as a visitor.
If you're in a hurry, you should know that border wait times can range from less than two minutes to more than two hours, and there is essentially no way to predict how long it will take. The Customs and Border Patrol has a wait time app that may help you choose which crossing to take.
Know Before You Go
Be prepared. Before you take off toward the border, be sure you have identification with you.
In the past, you could enter Mexico from the U.S. without documentation, but at this time, Mexico requires every visitor to show a book-style passport when entering their country. You will also be asked to fill out a tourist permit. You can find some tips for doing that below.
U.S. citizens have always needed a passport and not just an ID or driver's license to re-enter the U.S. although that regulation hasn't always been enforced. Check the current requirements at the State Department travel website.
Tips for Filling out Your Tourist Permit
All visitors to Mexico must fill out a tourist permit. A few tips will help you do that with no worries:
- Fill out both the top and bottom sections of the form, even though some information is entered twice
- The tiny print makes it almost impossible to make this out, but your date of birth (box 4) and the current date should be entered in the format DAY-MONTH-YEAR
- If you are walking across the border, leave boxes 11 and blank
- In box 13, enter Tijuana
- If you are making a day trip, leave box 14 blank
Get There by Automobile
You may be going to another country when you visit Tijuana, but you won’t be going far from San Diego. In fact, it's only 15 miles from downtown San Diego to the border crossing. If you plan to go to Mexico by automobile, it's easier to use the Pedwest crossing which is a pedestrian-only crossing that has a paid parking area nearby.
Pedwest is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. for going south into Tijuana and 24 hours a day for crossing north into the U.S.
Driving to Pedwest
Pedwest is at 499 Virginia Ave. San Ysidro, CA. Very nearby you'll find the Border Station parking lot at 4570 Camino de La Plaza. The lot is fenced, well lighted and attended 24 hours a day. However, it sometimes fills up which could leave you scrambling to find another place to park. To avoid that, reserve a parking spot online using SpotHero. Employees at the lot aren't all well briefed about it, so be prepared to show the attendant not only your confirmation but also a receipt that includes how much you paid.
If you use a ridesharing service to go to Pedwest, use the address above and don't let your driver try to tell you that you should go to the trolley stop instead. Not only are waiting times often shorter at Pedwest but it has an area for drop off and pick up.
After you pass through immigration, you will walk down a long covered walkway that eventually leads to the street. Walk across the parking lot and cross the street, heading toward a small shopping center and a pedestrian bridge to join the walking route below.
Get There on the San Diego Trolley
If you take the San Diego Trolley to the US/Mexico border, you can walk across the border from the last trolley stop.
This picture shows the arrival location of the San Diego Trolley. The border is straight ahead, but you'll go slightly left to get to it.
Next to the trolley stop are a few shops and a McDonald's which is a good place for a quick toilet stop before crossing. They charge a small fee to use their facilities.
When you're ready to go to Tijuana, walk toward the blue building shown in this photo. If you're obsessive about being prepared, check one more time that you have your passport with you. See above for more about that.
Just past that blue building, you'll see a sign pointing toward the border. Follow the sign and walk up the ramp.
After you pass under the sign that says "Mexico," it's super easy. Just keep walking. It's nearly impossible to get lost.
You'll go through the building and walk under a covered walkway. The Mexican Immigration Department has a checkpoint inside the building where they will check your passport. They may also charge you for a visa depending on how long you plan to stay.
Eventually, you will exit onto the street. That's where things get a little trickier, but don't worry. Just keep reading to find out what to do.
If you're going to downtown Tijuana, the map above shows the route from the border which is mostly the same no matter which border crossing you use.
In words, here's what to do:
- After you get past the covered walkway and outside, look for an elevated crosswalk over the highway. It's very close and will be on your right.
- Use the crosswalk to get to the other side of the road. At the bottom of the crosswalk ramp, keep walking straight across Avenida de la Amistad.
- If you want to get a taxi, ignore the yellow ones you see first. They are unregulated and often cheat you — or worse. Instead, keep walking to find white-and-orange Taxi Libre which have regulated fares. Walk to Avenida de la Amistad and look for one.
Walk Toward the Tijuana River Bridge
If you're walking to Avenida de la Revolucion, keep going straight ahead across Avenida de la Amistad and look for the arch in the distance of this photo. It's the easiest-to-find landmark in Tijuana.
Walk toward the arch, cross Tijuana River bridge, and you'll be almost there.
Cross Avenida Negrete
From Avenida Negrete, it's only two blocks to Avenida Revolucion. Go straight ahead through the arch.
Tijuana Arch Landmark
Turn left when you reach the big arch, and you'll be on Avenida Revolucion, the city's main street. Remember what it looks like. It's the landmark to head back to if you get lost, or when you're ready to go home.