The fastest and easiest way to travel to Tijuana is to drive to the border, park your car in San Ysidro on the U.S. side, and walk across one of the pedestrian crossings. One of the most popular parking lots is called Border Station Parking. Unfortunately, the cost of San Ysidro border parking is high. Most lots have a minimum charge of around $10 for day parking. Overnight parking can cost $20-40. Prices increase significantly during weekends and holidays. This adds up quickly if you’re staying multiple days.
There are two free parking options. You can park for free at the trolley station parking lots for up to 24 hours. Many of the stations have free parking. You can also park for free on many residential streets. In San Diego County, you can legally park for up to 72 hours where parking time limits are not posted. You can park then take the trolley to the border. The round-trip trolley ride costs $6.
This guide explains all of the San Ysidro border parking options. I’ll explain how to avoid the expensive pay lots and park for free. I’ll also recommend a couple of the cheaper and secure paid lots for those who don’t mind paying for parking. Finally, I’ll share a few tips to help keep your car safe while you visit Tijuana. While living in Tijuana for the past 3 years, I regularly parked my truck on the U.S. side. In this guide, I’ll share my experience.
I’ve also made this YouTube video to outline the main points of the guide.
How to Park for Free at the Tijuana Border
There are two free border parking options. Both options involve taking the trolley. The best option depends on how long you plan to stay in Tijuana.
If You are Staying in Tijuana for Less than 24 Hours
If you’re just staying in Tijuana for the day, you can park your car at a San Diego trolley station or a Rapid Transit station parking lot and ride the trolley to the border. You can park in these lots for free for up to 24 hours. The trolley ride from Downtown San Diego to the border takes around 45 minutes.
There are a couple of dozen free park-and-ride lots in San Diego County. Check out this list to find the most convenient one for you. Not every station has a parking facility.
The only catch is that you will have to take the trolley to San Ysidro where you will walk across the border. Trolley tickets cost $5 round trip for a regular adult ticket. This is cheaper than parking in a paid lot.
For most travelers, I recommend parking at Palomar or Palm Trolley Station in Chula Vista. Both stations have big and secure lots that almost always have plenty of parking spaces available. These lots offer easy access from the I5 freeway as well.
You’ll want to make sure you don’t park for more than 24 hours in one of these free lots or you could end up with a parking ticket. Your car could also get towed. This would end up costing you much more than just paying for parking.
If You are Staying in Tijuana for More Than 24 Hours
If you plan to stay in Tijuana for more than 24 hours, the best free parking option is to park on a residential street near one of the trolley stations. Many of the stations are located within a few blocks of a residential neighborhood with free street parking.
You can park on the street in San Diego country for up to 72 hours without getting ticketed or towed as long as you’re parked legally. Most likely, you can park for longer. It is unlikely that the 72 hour limit will be strictly enforced.
To find free street parking, look at your nearest San Diego trolley station on Google Maps. Switch to satellite view and look for residential areas near the station. Drive around these areas and look for a secure and legal place to park. I have parked my car on the street for up to a week without any issues.
When searching for a parking space, you’ll want to be sure to check for parking signs. Some neighborhoods have street sweeping days when it’s illegal to park. Sometimes street parking is only permitted at certain times per day. You may have to drive around a bit before you find a suitable place to park. If you park illegally or leave your car too long, it will get ticketed or towed.
I have had good luck parking near the Palomar trolley station in Chula Vista. After exiting the freeway, you can take a right at the first light. This is Industrial Blvd. Take another right at the roundabout. You’ll drive down a residential street where you can park for free. From here it is just a short walk to the trolley station. You can also find free street parking on residential streets near the Palm trolley station. Keep in mind that you’ll still have to pay $5 round trip for the trolley to San Ysidro. This is a lot better than $20-30 per day paying for parking.
There are a couple of drawbacks to this. First, you may have to walk a few blocks to the trolley station. There is also a risk that your car gets broken into. San Diego country has a homeless problem. People will break into your car if you leave any valuables inside. There is no security when you park on the street. You’ll want to be careful about where you park and what you leave in your vehicle.
Parking in a Paid Tijuana Border Parking Lot
Within a couple of blocks of all of the pedestrian crossings, you’ll find a number of paid parking facilities. You’ll find paid lots in San Ysidro near the main pedestrian crossings (PedEast or PedWest) and in Otay Mesa.
To use one of these lots, you simply drive in, take a ticket at the gate, and park your car in an available spot. When you’re ready to leave, drive your car to the gate, hand the attendant the ticket, and pay your parking fee. These are simple outdoor parking lots, not parking garages. These lots are open 24/7. You can arrive and leave whenever you like. Valet service is typically not offered. Most Tijuana border parking lots offer 24 hour security to keep your car safe. They are also fenced and well-lit. This gives peace of mind.
Most of the parking lots are located within walking distance of the pedestrian crossings. A few of the lots are a bit further away. If you park in one of these lots, you might need to take a shuttle or taxi to the border. These lots typically offer cheap or free shuttle service between the parking lot and border.
To get to the Tijuana border parking lots in San Ysidro, take I5 or I805 south and get off at the Camino De La Plaza exit. This is the last exit before the border. Don’t miss this exit or you’ll end up driving into Mexico. There is no turnaround.
Once you’re on Camino De La Plaza, you can turn either left or right. If you take a right, you’ll find 3 border parking lots along Camino De La Plaza. These are a bit further from the border. You’ll likely want to take a shuttle or taxi to the pedestrian crossing if you park in one of these lots.
If you take a left from Camino De La Plaza, drive straight until you hit San Ysidro Blvd and take a right. You’ll find 4 more parking lots just across the street from the San Ysidro Trolley Station. These lots are within 1 block of the PedEast crossing. I’ll outline a few of the better lots in the next section.
If you plan to park and cross at the Otay border crossing, take freeway 905 or 125. Exit the freeway at the Siempre Viva Drive exit. If you don’t, you’ll end up driving into Mexico. You’ll find several border parking lots along this road.
Most people visiting Tijuana prefer parking in one of the San Ysidro lots because they put you closer to the main touristy areas of Tijuana. These include Zona Centro (downtown), Zona Norte (the red light district), Zona Rio (the business district), and Playas de Tijuana (the beach neighborhood).
After parking your car, you can walk or take a shuttle bus to the pedestrian crossing at PedEast or PedWest. After crossing into Mexico, you can take a taxi, taxi de ruta, or uber wherever you need to go. You can even walk from the border to downtown Tijuana if you like.
If you’re planning to fly out of Tijuana airport, you can also pay to park in one of the Cross Border Xpress parking lots. You can read more about this in my Cross Border Xpress guide. You can only park in one of these lots and use the Cross Border Xpress if you have a booked ticket out of Tijuana.
Why Park at the Tijuana Border?
Many visitors prefer to park their car on the U.S. side of the border and cross into Tijuana on foot rather than drive across the border. A few reasons for this include:
- Convenience- Your car is right across the border. You don’t have to deal with the hassle of taking the bus or trolley. You can walk from your car to Tijuana.
- Driving in Tijuana is stressful- In Tijuana, people tend to drive a bit faster and closer together than in California. Some drivers find this to be stressful. Driving in a foreign country where you don’t know the rules of the road isn’t fun.
- Road conditionsin Tijuana are poor- There are lots of potholes and speed bumps in Tijuana. These can damage your car.
- Police corruption- Tijuana police officers regularly stop tourists and solicit bribes. Many foreigners driving in Tijuana encounter this. If you’re not driving, you chance of getting stoped by the police decreases greatly. For more info, check out my guide to police corruption in Tijuana.
- Faster- Oftentimes it’s faster to cross back into the United States at the pedestrian crossing rather than driving back across. You can check border wait times for pedestrians and vehicles here.
- You don’t need to buy Mexican auto insurance- This saves you around $20 per day.
Tijuana Border Parking Pricing
Tijuana border parking prices vary depending on the day of the week. From Monday-Thursday prices are lower. On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, prices increase. Prices are higher on holidays as well. Overnight parking is also more expensive than day parking. Many lots only accept cash payments.
You can usually find parking for around $1 per hour during the weekdays. The catch is that most lots have a minimum charge of $7-$10.
Most lots offer a $7 -$10 for 8-10 hours deal on Mondays-Thursdays. On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, they often charge $18-$20 for 8-10 hours. On holidays, the parking rates go up. You’ll pay $25+ for 8-10 hours.
Overnight parking is a bit more expensive. During weekdays, expect to pay around $21-$25 for overnight parking. On Friday and Saturday nights, overnight parking costs $25-$40. Overnight parking on holidays can be even more expensive.
Parking in Otay Mesa is a bit cheaper than in San Ysidro. Most lots charge around $10-$12 per day during the week and around $15 per day during the weekends.
If you have a booked flight out of Tijuana airport, you can park in one of the Cross Border Xpress lots. Parking here costs from $15-$20 per day depending on which lot you use. Reserved parking is available for $25 per day and valet parking is available for $30 per day.
Tijuana Border Parking Lot Recommendations
There are around 7 border parking lots in San Ysidro and 5 in Otay Mesa. Most people visiting Tijuana A couple of the better pay lots include:
- Border Station Parking (San Ysidro)- This is one of the more expensive lots but they seem to offer the best security. Border station parking has a 24 hour attendant and security cameras. This lot also gets the best reviews. Prices are a bit higher here. They charge $9 for 10 hours Monday-Thursday and $18 for 10 hours Friday-Sunday. 24 hour parkig costs about $36. Prices are also higher during holidays. This lot is also located about 2 blocks from the PedWest crossing. They have a tourist information center on site that is open from 9 am-5 pm. From the lot, you can catch the Tourismo Express Shuttle Bus to Avenida Revolucion in Tijuana. Border Station Parking lot is located at 4570 Camino de la Plaza. Their phone number is 619-428-9477. Check out the Border Station Parking website for more info.
- International Parking (San Ysidro)- This is the cheapest lot. It’s located behind the Jack in the Box across the street from the Say Ysidro Trolley station. They charge $7 for 8 hours, $14 for 8-16 hours, and $21 for 16-24 hours. Unfortunately, this place gets pretty bad reviews. They seem to have problems with security issues.
- Tello’s Parking (Otay Mesa)- This lot is located about 4 blocks from the Otay Mesa crossing. The lot has security cameras and an attendant. They offer 24 hour parking for $10-$15 depending on the day of the week. This lot gets solid reviews as well.
I don’t have any affiliation with these lots. I have a couple of friends who drive to Tijuana regularly and recommended these lots to me. I’ve parked in each of them and didn’t have any issues. If you find a better deal on parking, comment below!
After Parking Your Car at the Tijuana Border
After parking your vehicle, walk to the pedestrian crossing. You will see signs indicating the way. From most parking lots, it’s about a 3 block walk to Mexico’s border area.
You’ll pass through Mexican immigration and customs at the border. You’ll have to show your passport and fill out an FMM form before you can cross. If you’re staying for more than 7 days, you’ll have to pay a $30 fee. For more info, check out my complete guide to walking across the border to Tijuana.
After crossing into Tijuana, you can catch a taxi, Uber, or taxi de ruta to your destination. From the San Ysidro crossings, you can also walk downtown. This is around a 1 mile walk. You should only make this walk during the day for safety reasons.
Returning to Your Vehicle
From Tijuana, you can catch a taxi, taxi de ruta, or Uber back to the border. You could also walk. Remember which crossing you used so you know where to tell your driver to drop you off. There are two crossings in San Ysidro (PedWest and PedEast) and one crossing in Otay Mesa.
Once you’re at the border, you’ll walk through U.S. immigration and customs. You’ll have to show your passport here. The line to cross back into the U.S. is often long. Expect to wait 1-2 hours depending on the time of day and day of the week.
After exiting the border area, you can walk directly back to your vehicle, pay the parking fee, and leave. From San Ysidro, you can easily get back on the I5 or I805 freeway heading north.
Shuttle Services to Tijuana
If you don’t feel like walking across the border, you can pay for a shuttle service to drive you across. The shuttle can take you from San Ysidro directly to downtown Tijuana or Rosarito.
When you’re ready to return to your vehicle, you can catch a shuttle back across the border. This saves a great deal of time because you don’t have to wait in line. On the return trip, the shuttle will stop at the border where a U.S. immigration official will check your passport.
There are a couple of shuttle services available. Probably the most affordable and convenient option is SDTJ Passport. They offer departures every half hour from 7 am-3 pm from San Ysidro Border Station. The shuttle drops you off on Avenida Revolucion in downtown Tijuana. There are return shuttles leaving downtown Tijuana every 2 hours from 11 am-7 pm. A one way ticket costs $6 and a round trip ticket costs $10.
Parking in Tijuana
One other inexpensive parking option is to drive across the border and park in Tijuana. These lots are slightly cheaper than the lots on the U.S. side of the border. This can be a good option for long term parking. You’ll find lots near the San Ysidro border crossing, downtown, and near the Otay Mesa crossing.
There are also airport parking lots near Tijuana International Airport. This can be a good option if you’re flying out of Tijuana to another part of Mexico.
If you park in Tijuana, you will want to get Mexican auto insurance. I recommend Baja Bound Mexican Insurance.
For more info on driving to and around Tijuana, check out my step-by-step guide: How to Drive to Tijuana. Here, I discuss Mexican auto insurance, the border crossing, driving in Tijuana, and more.
Risks of San Ysidro Border Parking
Probably the biggest risk of parking your vehicle in one of these border lots is damage to your vehicle. I have heard stories of people’s cars getting scratched while they’re parked. Some of these lots are cramped. They pack in as many cars as possible. Accidents aren’t common but do happen.
If you park on the street or in a park and ride lot, there is a possibility that your car could get broken into. This is uncommon but is a possibility. When parking your car, make sure no valuables are visible. Try to park in a safe and well-lit space.
Alternatives to San Ysidro Border Parking
If you want to avoid parking altogether you can take public transportation to the border. The San Diego trolley drops you off at the San Ysidro transit center. From here, you’re just a block from the PedEast crossing.
To travel to the border by public transport, you want to catch the blue line trolley headed south. Take the trolley all the way to the end of the line. If you’re not near a trolley station, you can catch a public bus and transfer to the trolley. You can catch a public bus from pretty much anywhere in San Diego country including San Diego airport. San Diego also offers public bus service to Otay Mesa if you prefer to cross there. To help you plan your trip, check out the MTS map here.
Another option is to take the Greyhound bus. The bus drops you off at the San Ysidro trolley station just steps from the PedEast border crossing. This is a great option if you’re coming from Los Angeles or somewhere outside of Southern California. For more info, check out my step-by-step guide: How to Travel to Tijuana by Greyhound Bus.
If you’re planning to fly out of Tijuana airport, you can take a shuttle service to the Cross Border Xpress gives you direct access to the airport via a sky bridge. Shuttle service can pick you up in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Ysidro, Fresno, Sacramento, Riverside, and a number of cities in between. For more info, check out my guide to the Cross Border Xpress.
One thing to remember when visiting Baja California is that your U.S. insurance most likely won’t cover you while you’re in Mexico. You may want to consider purchasing travel insurance for your trip. It can cover you in the event of theft, injury, or medical emergency.
Tijuana is a popular destination for day trip from San Diego. Parking on the U.S. side of the border and walking across is an excellent way to get to Tijuana. You don’t have to deal with the hassles of driving in Mexico and your vehicle stays much more secure. It’s convenient.
If you end up falling in love with Tijuana and want to move there like I did, check out my guide: Moving to Tijuana as an American.
Have you parked at the border? Share your experience in the comments below!
More Tijuana guides from Where The Road Forks
- Is Tijuana Safe? Avoiding Common Scams and Crime
- The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Tijuana
- Inside a Tijuana Bar During an Armed Robbery
- How to Travel from Tijuana to Ensenada by Bus
- 29 Incredible Things to do in Tijuana
- Using Uber in Tijuana
Zachary Friedman is an accomplished travel writer and professional blogger. Since 2011, he has traveled to 66 countries and 6 continents. He founded ‘Where The Road Forks’ in 2017 to provide readers with information and insights based on his travel and outdoor recreation experience and expertise. Zachary is also an avid cyclist and hiker. Living as a digital nomad, Zachary balances his professional life with his passions for hiking, camping, cycling, and worldwide exploration. For a deeper dive into his journey and background, visit the About page. For inquiries and collaborations, please reach out through the Contact page. You can also follow him on Facebook.