The San Diego trolley is a fast, affordable, and convenient way to travel from San Diego to Tijuana. This light rail system runs around 17 miles from San Diego to the city of San Ysidro and the main border crossing, called PedEast. The trip takes around 45 minutes. In this guide, I’ll explain how to take the San Diego trolley to Tijuana, step-by-step. We’ll cover trolley ticket prices, station locations, the trolley schedule, crossing the border, returning to San Diego, and much more. Hopefully, this guide makes your trip to Tijuana a bit smoother and easier.
It’s important to note that the San Diego trolley does not take you across the border into Tijuana. It drops you off at the San Ysidro trolley station in the city of San Ysidro, California. From there, you’ll have to cross the border into Tijuana on foot. The trolley drops you off around 1 block from the main border crossing.
How to Take the San Diego Trolley to Tijuana
To take the San Diego trolley to the border, you’ll need to catch a Blue Line trolley running south. You can catch a southbound trolley at any Blue Line trolley station.
Ride the Blue Line trolley all the way to the end of the line and get off at the last stop. This is the San Ysidro Trolley Station. From there, you’re just steps away from the border crossing. This crossing is called PedEast. It is the main Tijuana border crossing. The trolley trip from downtown San Diego to the border takes about 40-50 minutes.
The Blue Line trolley starts at Westfield UTC, just west of the shopping center. It travels south through downtown San Diego and on to San Ysidro. There are several convenient Blue Line trolley stops in San Diego including UTC, UC San Diego, Balboa Avenue, Old Town, Little Italy, Santa Fe Depot, America Plaza, Civic Center, Fifth Avenue, Barrio Logan, and several more. You can also catch the Blue Line Trolley further south in the communities of National City, Chula Vista, and Imperial Beach.
You can view the map and check the schedule of the Blue line trolley here. Below is a map of the blue line trolley route.
If none of the Blue Line stops are convenient for you, you can catch an Orange Line or Green Line trolley and transfer to the Blue Line once you reach downtown. The transfer is free. You don’t have to buy another ticket. The Orange Line and Green Line connect many of San Diego’s suburbs including Mission Valley, La Mesa, Lemon Grove, El Cajon, and Santee.
If you take the Orange Line, you’ll transfer to the Blue Line south at the 12th and Imperial station. If you take the Green Line, you can transfer to the Blue Line south at a number of stations including Old Town and 12th and Imperial. You can view a map of the trolley system here to find your closest station.
San Diego’s public bus system is also connected to the trolley system. If you’re not located near a trolley station, you can catch a public bus headed downtown or to one of the many trolley stations then transfer to the trolley. You can view a complete list of San Diego bus routes here.
There are many stops where the buses and trolleys meet. The bus network is extensive. Transfers between the bus and trolley are free. You only need to buy one ticket to travel from your starting point to the border.
San Diego Trolley Ticket Prices
A one-way trolley ticket for an adult costs $2.50. You can also buy a day pass for $6.
Reduced fares are available for senior, disabled, medicare, and youth passengers. Reduced price tickets cost $1.25 one-way or $3 for a day pass.
San Diego city bus and trolley tickets are the same price. You can transfer from one trolley line to another or from a city bus to the trolley for free. The transfer is included in the price of the ticket. The tickets cost the same regardless of where you get on or off the trolley.
How to Buy San Diego Trolley Tickets
You can buy your trolley ticket at a ticket vending machine at the trolley station. Every station has ticket vending machines.
You can pay for your ticket with cash or a credit or debit card. If you pay with cash, it’s important to note that the machine can only distribute $5 in change. Carry small bills.
If you’re starting your journey on a bus, you can pay for your ticket at the farebox at the front of the bus next to the driver. You must pay for your bus ticket in exact change in cash. No change is given. Cards aren’t accepted on the bus.
Tip: Make sure you always have a valid ticket when riding the trolley. You may feel tempted to ride without a ticket. There is no turnstile. You could simply walk on if you wanted to. You shouldn’t do this because there is a $193 fine if you’re caught without a ticket. MTS staff regularly walk through the trolley and check tickets. Of course, it’s also dishonest to ride without a ticket.
The San Diego Trolley Schedule
The San Diego trolley runs every 15 minutes throughout most of the day. During peak commuter hours, it runs every 7 minutes. During off-peak hours, the train starts running every 30-45 minutes. It stops running completely at around 1:00 AM and doesn’t start up again until around 5:00 AM.
You don’t want to miss the last trolley. If you’re traveling late at night, check the trolley schedule here before you head to the station to make sure the trolley is running.
How Long Does It Take to Ride the Trolley from San Diego to Tijuana?
The travel time depends on where you start your journey. The trolley ride from downtown San Diego to the border takes around 40 minutes. During peak commuter hours, it’s a bit slower because it takes more time to load and unload passengers.
Is it Safe to Take the San Diego Trolley to Tijuana?
Yes. The San Diego trolley is safe to ride at all hours of the day and night. The trains and stations are well lit and are equipped with security cameras. The MTS (Metropolitan Transit System) has its own security staff that you’ll see on the trains and at the stations from time to time.
If you need help, for whatever reason, you can call the MTS security line at 619-595-4960. You can also text them at 619-318-1338. Of course, if there is an emergency, you can call 911.
While living in Tijuana, I have ridden the trolley between the border and San Diego hundreds of times. Once in a while, there is an annoying passenger who talks too loud or plays music on their phone. Someone may approach and try to sell you something. These are minor annoyances. I have never seen or heard of any theft or violence on the trolley or at the stations. Most people riding the trains are just normal commuters or tourists visiting the two cities. Crime isn’t a major problem.
Of course, you should keep an eye on your belongings while riding the trolley and waiting at the station. Petty theft and pickpocketing are not common but are a possibility. Don’t leave your belongings unattended.
For info on staying safe in Tijuana, check out my guide: Is Tijuana Safe? Avoiding Common Scams and Crime.
Free San Diego Trolley Station Parking
There is free parking at many of the San Diego trolley stations. You can drive to a conveniently located trolley station, park your vehicle, and ride the trolley to and from the border.
You can park in these lots for free for up to 24 hours. The parking lots are well lit and have security cameras to keep you and your vehicle safe. This is a convenient option for those who are just making a day trip to Tijuana. You can find a list of these free park and ride lots here.
If you plan to stay in Tijuana longer than 24 hours, it is also possible to find free street parking on residential streets near the trolley stations. After you park, you can walk a couple of blocks to the station. You can legally park on the street in San Diego for up to 72 hours.
If you do this, be sure to check the parking signs to make sure you don’t park illegally. You don’t want to get a parking ticket or get towed while you’re in Tijuana. It’s important to note that there is no security when you park on the street. Don’t leave any valuables in your vehicle.
The benefit of parking at a transit station and riding the San Diego trolley to the Tijuana border is that you avoid the expensive border parking lots. You only have to pay $5 for round-trip trolley tickets. Parking at the station is free.
If you pay for border parking in San Ysidro, you’ll pay $10-$20 for day parking or $20-$40 for overnight parking. This adds up fast. For more info, check out my guide to Tijuana border parking.
The San Diego trolley is equipped with ramps and lifts for those using wheelchairs, mobility scooters, etc. It is fully accessible. The Tijuana border crossing is also wheelchair accessible.
You may need to hire private transport once you arrive in Tijuana. Tijuana is not the most wheelchair-accessible city.
Bringing your Bicycle on the Trolley
You can bring your bicycle with you on the trolley at no extra charge. Simply roll your bike onto the trolley with you and store it out of the way of other passengers.
Bringing your bike gives you free transportation once you arrive in Tijuana. You can also bike to and from the trolley station.
When boarding the trolley with your bike, look for a car with a floor that is flush with the ground. This allows you to roll your bike straight on. Some of the older trolley cars have steps up into the car.
It can be difficult to find space for your bike during peak commuter hours. The trains fill up. Plan accordingly. Officially, only one bike is permitted per car. If the trolley is too full, you may have to wait for the next one.
For more info, check out my guide: How to travel from San Diego to Tijuana by Bicycle.
Bringing Pets on the Trolley
You can bring non-service animals on the trolley as long as they are contained in a carrier or kennel that is small enough to fit on your lap. For more info, check out my guide to traveling to Mexico with a dog.
How to Take the Trolley from San Deigo Airport to Tijuana
There is no trolley station at San Diego airport (SAN). To take the trolley to the border from the airport, you’ll have to catch a city bus then transfer to the Blue Line trolley once you reach downtown.
From San Diego international airport, catch MTS bus 992. The bus stops are located outside of the baggage claim at both Terminal 1 and Terminal 2. Bus fare costs $2.50. You must pay in exact change in cash. Bus 992 runs every 15 minutes for most of the day.
Ride the bus to the Broadway stop. This is at the corner of Kettner Blvd. and W. Broadway in downtown San Diego. From there, walk across the street to the America Plaza Trolley Station. There, you can catch a blue line trolley headed south to San Ysidro and the border.
You can find more info on taking the bus from the airport on the MTS website here. Below is a map of the route you’ll take.
If you don’t want to take the bus, you could take a taxi or Uber from the airport to a trolley station. The distance from the airport to the closest blue line trolley station is around 3 miles. This may be more convenient if you’re traveling with a lot of luggage or if you don’t want to deal with the transfer.
If you’re planning on transferring to Tijuana airport, check out my guide to the Cross Border Xpress.
Taking Luggage on the San Diego Trolley
You can take your luggage with you on the trolley. Ideally, your luggage should be carry-on sized so it can fit on your lap or on the floor between your legs. Officially, you are only permitted to bring two small carry-on-sized items. Large suitcases are permitted but you may have trouble finding space during peak commuter hours.
How to Get to the Border from San Ysidro Trolley Station
When you arrive at the end of the line, exit the trolley. This is the San Ysidro trolley station.
From there, walk toward the front of the trolley. You’ll see the end of the tracks. Turn to your left and continue walking next to the main San Ysidro trolley station building (the building with McDonald’s in it). The building should be on your left.
On your right, you’ll see a footpath that leads to the border. You’ll walk around 2 blocks down the path. At the end of the footpath, you’ll arrive at a large metal turnstile. Pass through the turnstile and enter the Mexican immigration building. There is no exit procedure for the United States. You walk straight to Mexican immigration.
From the trolley station, you’ll also see signs in both English and Spanish leading you toward Mexico. If you’re confused, just follow the crowd. Everyone is going to Tijuana. The path is well marked. You can’t really get lost here. The immigration building has a large sign that says ‘Mexico’ on it.
If you need anything before you cross, there is a little shopping area around the trolley station. You’ll find a currency exchange booth, convenience store, McDonald’s, vending machines, an ATM, and a couple of other various shops. Just across the street from the trolley station on San Ysidro Blvd, you’ll find a duty-free store, banks, several fast food restaurants, and more currency exchanges. If you need to use the restroom, you can go in McDonald’s at the trolley station. They do charge to use the restroom.
Money Saving Tip: During your trip to Tijuana, it’s a good idea to pay for everything with pesos, even though dollars are accepted everywhere. The reason is that you’ll get a much better exchange rate if you pay in pesos. This saves you money.
Before crossing the border, consider exchanging some dollars for pesos. You’ll find a currency exchange booth at the trolley station, near the end of the tracks. There aren’t any currency exchanges near the border on the Tijuana side. You’ll have to go downtown to find one.
If you prefer, you can withdraw pesos from an ATM with your debit card. If you plan to do this, be sure to notify your bank first so they don’t shut your card off. You can also pay for some things with a credit card. This also gives you a good exchange rate.
Passing Through Mexican Immigration and Customs
After you enter the Mexican immigration building, you’ll see two lines. One is for Mexican citizens and residents and the other is for foreign visitors. If you’re not a Mexican citizen or resident, wait in the visitor’s line. The signs are in English and Spanish.
The line at immigration is usually pretty short. Usually, there is no line at all. During busy periods, the wait is around 10-15 minutes.
When you get to the front of the line, hand your passport to the immigration official. Both book and card-style passports are accepted here. You do need a valid passport to enter Mexico. Driver’s licenses and birth certificates are no longer accepted.
At immigration, you will need to fill out an FMM form (Forma Migratoria Múltiple). You will get this form from the immigration official. I’ll explain what this form is in the following section.
At the Tijuana crossing, the immigration official will usually ask you some questions about your trip and fill the FMM form out for you. They may ask you how long you’re staying in Mexico, where you’re going, where you’re staying, and why you’re visiting. They’ll also copy your passport information such as your name, passport number, and date of birth onto the form. Sometimes you fill the form out yourself. It depends on the immigration official. It’s a good idea to bring a pen just in case.
If you plan to stay in Mexico for less than 7 days, the immigration official will stamp your passport and completed FMM form, and send you on to customs. If you plan to spend more than 7 days in Mexico, the immigration official will direct you to a bank window where you will pay an FMM fee. The current fee is 595 pesos (around $30). You can pay this fee in cash in pesos or dollars at the bank window. After paying, you’ll be handed a receipt.
Take the receipt back to the immigration official that checked your passport. They will stamp the receipt to validate it. They’ll also stamp your passport and FMM form. They will also write the number of days that you’re permitted to stay in Mexico. Usually, they’ll give you 180 days. Sometimes they will give less. Be sure to keep your receipt and FMM form somewhere safe. You may need them later.
Next, you can proceed to customs. To get there, simply continue walking through the building. If you need to declare something, you’ll see a window on your left. Otherwise, you can just get in line. There is usually a short line at customs.
When passing through customs, you must place your luggage on a belt, where it will pass through an x-ray machine. You’ll also have to walk through a metal detector. After you pass through customs, you can exit the immigration building. It usually takes less than 5 minutes to pass through customs.
A Note About the FMM Visitor’s Permit
The FMM is a visitor’s permit. This travel document allows citizens and residents of a number of countries to enter Mexico without having to apply for a visa in advance.
The FMM permit is available to those who hold a passport from the US, Canada, UK, EU, Australia, Japan, and a number of other countries. Check this list of countries to see if you’re eligible. You may also be eligible if you hold a residency permit from one of these countries. If you’re not eligible for an FMM permit, you’ll have to apply for a visa in advance from your nearest Mexican embassy or consulate.
The FMM visitor’s permit allows you to stay in Mexico for up to 180 days for tourism or business related travel. You have to fill out an FMM form even if you’re only taking the trolley to Tijuana for the day.
You can get an FMM permit on arrival by simply filling out the form. Alternatively, you can apply for an FMM online in advance. If you do this, you’ll need to print the approval email out and get it stamped and validated at the border.
For more in-depth info, check out my complete guide to the FMM visitor’s permit here.
How to Travel from The Border to Your Destination in Tijuana
The city of Tijuana sits right on the border. After you cross into Mexico, you’re in Tijuana. There isn’t really much to do or see in the area directly around the border. Chances are, you’ll want to travel to one of the touristy areas. These include Zona Centro (downtown), Zona Río (the business district), Zona Norte (the red light district), or Playas de Tijuana (the neighborhood by the beach).
After exiting the immigration building, you’ll follow a footpath for around 1-2 blocks. Simply follow the path and the crowd. You can’t get lost here. At the end of the path, you’ll end up at a street called Frontera. From there, you can easily travel to anywhere else in the city.
There are four ways to travel from the border to your destination in Tijuana
- Take a taxi de ruta (colectivo or shared minibus)- This is Tijuana’s public transportation system. These shared buses operate on set routes throughout the city. To catch a minibus from the border, look to your right when you arrive at Frontera street. You’ll see a couple of minibusses lined up picking up passengers. Most of these buses are going downtown (El Centro.) You can verify the destination with the attendant standing in front of the van. The minibusses leave when they’re full. This should take 10 minutes or less. The ride from the border to downtown costs 10 pesos (about $0.50) and takes around 5-10 minutes. You pay the driver in cash when you board the bus or when you exit. Try to have exact change or small bills. The drivers can’t break large bills. Once you reach downtown, you can walk to your destination or transfer to another minibus.
- Take a taxi- When you stand on Frontera street, you’ll see taxis pass by regularly. You may also see some parked waiting for passengers. Simply flag one down and tell the driver where you want to go. When you take a taxi in Tijuana, be sure to negotiate the fare before you accept the ride. If you don’t, you may get ripped off. The drivers like to overcharge tourists. The going rate for a ride from the border to downtown Tijuana is $5-$7. If possible, take a white ‘taxi libre’ instead of a yellow cab. They usually have better cars and offer a lower fare. The white taxis also have meters. If you can find a driver who will use the meter, you will save some money. Most drivers won’t use the meter. For more info, check out my guide to taking taxis in Tijuana.
- Take an Uber- Uber works the same way in Tijuana as it does back home. From Frontera street, you can order an Uber to anywhere in the city. You shouldn’t have to wait long. Sometimes Uber drivers sit by the border and wait for passengers. The ride from the border to downtown should cost $4-$5. In Mexico, you can set the app so you pay in cash if you prefer. Before you travel to Tijuana, make sure your phone plan will work in Mexico so you can order an Uber when you arrive.
- Walk- It’s about a 1 mile walk from the border to downtown Tijuana. To make the walk, you’ll take a right on Frontera street and walk around 2 blocks. You’ll cross a bridge over a line of cars that are waiting to cross into the US then continue walking down an incline next to a parking garage. You’ll reach a large intersection with a roundabout. This is the intersection of Frontera and Avenida de la Amistad. Cross Avenida de la Amistad and take a right. Around half a block down the street, you’ll see a walking street to your left. Follow this path to downtown. You’ll cross several streets and cross a bridge over the Tijuana River (Puente El Chaparral.) Check this map for walking directions. The walk takes about 20 minutes. You should only make this walk during the day. It’s not safe at night. Muggings are common on the bridge over the river. For more info, check out my guide to walking to Tijuana.
Tijuana does not have a trolley, underground, or light rail system. They only use buses for public transport.
How to Take the Trolley Back to San Diego from Tijuana
When you travel back to the border, make sure you go to the correct crossing. There are three crossings in Tijuana (PedEast, PedWest, and Otay Mesa). You want to go to the main crossing or eastern crossing. This is where the trolley station is located. The crossing is called PedEast.
Every taxi driver and Uber driver knows where this crossing is. You can also catch a taxi de ruta to the border from downtown. If you like, you can also walk there from downtown.
When you arrive at the border, you proceed straight to U.S. immigration. There is no exit procedure for Mexico. Nobody checks your FMM when you leave.
You’ll see three lines at the border. One is for the general public. One is a ‘Ready Lane.’ The other is a Sentri lane. If you have one of these documents you can use the ready lane. If you have a Sentri or Nexus card, you can use the Sentri lane. Otherwise, you’ll have to use the general public lane.
Unfortunately, there is usually a long wait at the border to cross back into the U.S. Usually, the crossing takes around 1-1.5 hours. During weekends and holidays, you may have to wait over 2 hours to cross. The wait is a bit shorter if you’re able to use the ready lane. To save time, you can cross late at night or early in the morning. The wait is much shorter at these times. Sometimes there is no wait at all. You can check the border wait times here on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.
If you’re crossing late at night, make sure you leave yourself enough time to cross the border and catch the last trolley. The last trolley departs from San Ysidro at 12:49 AM. If you miss it, you’ll have to wait until 4:34 AM or find another transport option such as a cab or Uber.
The border crossing procedure is pretty simple. When you reach the front of the line, hand the immigration official your passport. They may ask you some questions about your trip such as why you were visiting Mexico, how long you stayed, and if you’re bringing anything back with you. Answer honestly. Always declare if you’re bringing something back with you. You don’t want to get caught in a lie. Sometimes the immigration official may ask to inspect your luggage. This is normal. If you’re unsure about what you’re allowed to bring back with you, check this list.
After passing through immigration, you’ll proceed to customs. There, you’ll place your luggage on a belt and it will pass through an x-ray machine to check for contraband. You’ll also walk through a metal detector. After passing through customs, you can exit the building and you’re back in the U.S.
After you cross the border, continue down the walking path. This will lead you back to the San Ysidro trolley station. It’s a 1-2 block walk from the U.S. immigration building to the station. There is a kiosk at the station where you can buy your ticket with cash or a credit or debit card. If you have any leftover pesos, you can convert them back into dollars at the currency exchange booth.
Ride the blue line trolley back to your desired stop. You can catch any trolley because they’re all going in the same direction. This is the end of the line. You can also transfer to another trolley line or MTS bus once you reach downtown San Diego.
If your destination is San Diego airport, you’ll want to get off at the America Plaza station. From there, cross the street to the Broadway bus stop (On the corner of Kettner Blvd. and W. Broadway). Catch bus 992 or 993 to the airport. Bus fare costs $2.50.
Why Take The Trolley to Tijuana?
In my opinion, the trolley is the best way to travel from San Diego to Tijuana. Here’s why:
- It’s convenient- The trolley picks you up in San Diego and drops you off just steps from the main Tijuana border crossing. There are many conveniently located transit stations throughout San Diego and surrounding suburbs. If you’re in San Diego, it’s easy to find a bus stop or trolley station.
- It’s easy- Tickets are easy to buy and include transfers. There is a kiosk at every station. You can relax and enjoy the view during the ride. You don’t have to deal with the stress of driving in Tijuana when you take the trolley. In addition, you don’t have to deal with finding parking.
- You’ll save money- The trolley will cost you $5 round trip to travel from downtown San Diego to the border. Gas alone would probably cost you more than that. By taking the trolley, you also avoid expensive Tijuana border parking. This saves you at least $25 per day.
- The trolley is fast- When you take the trolley, you don’t have to wait in traffic. The ride usually takes around 45 minutes from downtown San Diego to the San Ysidro trolley station. During commuter hours when traffic is heavy, it could take you well over an hour to make the same drive. The trolley isn’t affected by traffic.
- Taking the trolley is fun- If you don’t ride public transportation often, riding a trolley once in a while can be a fun experience. San Diego trolleys are clean, safe, and in good condition. They rarely get overcrowded.
- It’s environmentally friendly- The San Diego trolley is powered by electricity. Taking the trolley to Tijuana is more energy-efficient than driving.
Final Thoughts About Taking the San Diego Trolley to Tijuana
While living in Tijuana, I used to take the trolley from the border to downtown San Diego several times per week for work. The trip always went smoothly. The trolley is safe. It runs on time. It also rarely gets overcrowded. I could almost always find a seat. The price is reasonable as well. Even though I owned a car, I preferred taking the trolley most days. Oftentimes I would bring my bike with me for transportation around San Diego when I arrived.
If you’re planning a short trip to Tijuana from San Diego, I highly recommend you take the trolley instead of driving. It’s the easiest and most convenient way to travel between the two cities.
Have you taken the San Diego trolley to Tijuana? Share your experience in the comments below!
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Tuesday 15th of November 2022
Thanks for posting this article! I am visiting a friend in Ensenada in a few weeks, and have been worried about how I am going to get from the San Diego Airport to the border crossing. My friend doesn't want to drive her car across the border to get me and I can't blame her, as it never takes her less than 2 hours to get through the customs inspections. She says she's fine with picking me up in Tijuana. This trolley sounds perfect! I grew up in San Francisco and know well the benefits of leaving your car at home and taking public transit; no parking worries, no worries about your car getting stolen or vandalized while you've left it parked somewhere, much less expensive travel now that gas is $5.50/gallon. I'll definitely go this way. And since I'm a Senior, it's only $1.25! What's not to like about that?
Saturday 19th of November 2022
The trolley will be perfect! Your friend can pick you up right after you cross the border. It's nice not having to drive. You can enjoy the scenery from the trolley.