Planning a day trip to Tijuana? This guide outlines how to visit Tijuana from San Diego. I’ll explain how to travel from San Deigo to Tijuana and how to cross the border. I’ll list some of the best things to do in Tijuana and share some bar, restaurant, hotel, and nightlife recommendations. Finally, I’ll share some helpful safety tips. This is the complete guide to visiting Tijuana from San Diego.
Table of Contents
- How to Travel To Tijuana from San Diego
- Immigration and the FMM Visitors Permit
- How to Get Around While Visiting Tijuana
- The Best Things to do While Visiting Tijuana
- Restaurants in Tijuana
- Bars and Nightlife in Tijuana
- Where to Stay while Visiting Tijuana
- Tijuana Tours
- How to Return to San Diego from Tijuana
- Staying Safe While Visiting Tijuana
- Frequently Asked Questions About Visiting Tijuana
At this point, I’ve been living in Tijuana for a bit over a year. During that time, I have fallen in love with the city and have gotten to know my way around pretty well. I have crossed the border hundreds of times, lived in multiple neighborhoods, seen all of the tourist sites, and visited countless bars and restaurants. In this guide, I’m going to share my knowledge and help you plan a perfect visit to Tijuana.
A Bit of Information About Tijuana
Tijuana is the 5th largest city in Mexico and one of the fastest-growing with a metro population of about 1.8 million people. The city is considered a cultural center of Mexico. Tijuana is sometimes called ‘the most visited city in the world’ because over 50 million people cross between San Diego and Tijuana per year.
Unfortunately, Tijuana has earned itself a bit of a bad reputation due to the high crime rate that the city has experienced in the past. For many years during the 2000s tourism dried up and the city was quite depressing. The news of violent crime scared many American tourists away.
Over the past few years, Tijuana has been experiencing a revitalization. Now, the city is back and better than ever. Tijuana is no longer a lawless border town. It is a modern city full of culture. Restaurants, bars, clubs, cafes, and food stands are popping up all over the city. Even in the year that I have lived here, I have noticed huge changes. Now is an excellent time to visit Tijuana.
How to Travel to Tijuana from San Diego
Tijuana is located about 18 miles (29 km) south of San Diego. The city of sits directly on the border. After you cross into Mexico, you’re less than a mile from downtown Tijuana.
The city that sits on the U.S. side of the border is called San Ysidro. This is where the U.S-Mexico border crossing is located. This crossing is called the San Ysidro Port of Entry. It’s also known as El Chaparral.
It takes around 45 minutes to an hour to travel from downtown San Diego to the border. The exact travel time depends on your mode of transport and traffic. In the following section, I’ll outline how to travel to the border by public transport and by car.
This border crossing can seem a bit intimidating at first because it is one of the busiest border crossings in the world. Not to worry. I’ve crossed this border over 100 times while living in Tijuana. I’ll explain, step-by-step how to cross the border on foot and by car.
After you cross the border into Tijuana, it takes just a few minutes to travel to any of the touristy areas of the city including downtown, Zona Norte, Zona Rio, or Playas de Tijuana.
How to Take the San Diego Trolley to the San Ysidro Border Crossing
The most convenient way to travel from San Diego to Tijuana is to take the Trolley. This light rail system runs from San Diego all the way to the San Ysidro border. The trolley lets you off about 1 block from the PedEast border crossing.
From San Diego, catch a Blue Line trolley headed south toward San Ysidro. The Blue Line makes several in stops downtown San Diego including the Santa Fe Depot, America Plaza, and 12th and Imperial. Ride the Blue Line trolley all the way to the end of the line. You’ll get off at the San Ysidro trolley station.
If you’re not starting in downtown San Diego, you can catch the Green Line or Orange Line trolley from other neighborhoods and transfer to the Blue Line downtown. Alternatively, you can catch a city bus and transfer to the Blue Line trolley. You can also catch the Blue Line trolley further south in National City, Chula Vista, and Imperial Beach.
Trolleys leave about every 15 minutes during the day and less frequently at night. This ride takes about 40 minutes and costs $2.50 for a one-way ticket. The fare includes transfers. You can ride the bus and trolley with the same ticket. You can purchase tickets from the kiosks at the stations with cash or a card. For a trolley map and schedule, check out the San Diego MTS website.
From the San Ysidro trolley station, it is just a 2-minute walk to the border. A well-marked path leads you toward Mexican immigration. You will pass through a metal turnstile and enter the immigration building. I will talk about the visa process in the following section.
If you don’t feel like taking the trolley, you can also take an Uber, Lift, or taxi from San Diego to the border. The ride will cost $30-$40.
There is free parking at many of the trolley stations. You can park in these lots for up to 24 hours and ride the trolley to and from the border. This is a convenient option for those who are making a day trip to Tijuana. You can find a list of free park and ride lots here.
You can also bring your bike with you on the trolley for free. Having your bike gives you a free and convenient mode of transportation in Tijuana. For more info, check out my guide to riding a bike to Tijuana.
How to Travel from San Diego Airport to Tijuana by Public Transport
From San Diego International Airport, catch MTS bus 992. The bus stop is located outside of the baggage claim at both Terminal 1 and Terminal 2. Bus fare costs $2.50.
Ride the bus to the Broadway stop (the corner of Kettner Blvd. and W. Broadway). 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.
You can find more info on taking the bus from the airport on the MTS website here.
How to Park and Walk Across the Border to Tijuana
Another option is to drive to the border, park, and walk across. The benefit of this is that you don’t have to deal with public transportation and you don’t have to drive in Mexico.
From San Diego take the I5 or I805 south and get off at the Camino de la Plaza exit. Don’t miss the exit or you’ll end up driving to Mexico. There is no turnaround.
Along Camino de la Plaza, you will see multiple parking lots on both sides of the road. These are simple outdoor lots. They have cameras, lighting, and security. Simply pull into a lot, take a ticket, and park your car in an available spot.
Parking prices vary depending on the day of the week. Expect to pay around $10 for 8-10 hours or $25 per 24 hours during the week and around $20 for 8-10 hours or $40 for 24 hours on weekends.
All of the border parking lots are within walking distance of the pedestrian crossings (PedEast and PedWest). Just follow the signs to the border. It’s about a 1-2 block walk depending on the lot you choose.
Tip: For more in-depth info, check out my complete guide to Tijuana border parking.
Should you Drive Across the Border to Tijuana?
If you’re only visiting Tijuana during your trip, you’re probably better off leaving your vehicle on the U.S. side of the border and walking across. This way, you don’t have to deal with parking, insurance, or the hassles of driving in a foreign country.
If you’re planning to visit other areas such as Rosarito, Ensenada, Tecate, Valle de Guadalupe, or other parts of Baja, you may be better off driving across the border. Having your own transportation is convenient.
Before driving to Tijuana, buy temporary Mexican auto insurance. You can purchase this from a kiosk in San Ysidro or online before your trip. Insurance will cover you in the event of an accident. This is important because your foreign auto insurance will most likely not cover you while you are driving in Mexico.
To drive to Tijuana, get on freeway 5 or 805 south and continue across the border. You will need to pull over and park at the border to get an FMM visitor’s permit and enter legally. More on this in the next section.
If you don’t want to drive your own vehicle across the border, you could rent a car in Tijuana. This way, you won’t have to deal with insurance or parking at the border.
If you’re driving a rental car from a U.S. agency, make sure that you are permitted to drive it to Mexico. Most rental agencies prohibit you from driving their car outside of the country.
There are risks to driving in Tijuana. Police corruption can be a problem. Traffic is a bit less organized in Mexico than in the US. Parking can also be a challenge. For more info, check out my guide: How to Drive to Tijuana.
Traveling from outside of San Diego to Tijuana
If you’re traveling to Tijuana from outside of the San Diego area, you have two options.
You can take the greyhound bus to the border then walk across. The bus lets you off next to the San Ysidro trolley station, steps from the pedestrian crossing.
There are also two airports that provide easy access to Tijuana. Tijuana International Airport (TIJ) is the most convenient option. From the airport, you can take a taxi to the city. The airport is just a couple of miles from downtown. From San Diego Airport (SAN), you can catch the bus to downtown then transfer to the trolley, as outlined above.
How to Walk Across the Border to Tijuana
Once you arrive at the border, simply follow the signs or the crowd toward Mexican immigration. There are two border crossings in San Ysidro, PedEast and PedWest. If you took the trolley, you’ll cross at the main crossing, PedEast. The two crossings are just a 15 minute walk apart from one another.
You’ll walk down a path and through a metal turnstile and into the immigration building. There is no exit procedure for the U.S. You proceed straight to Mexican immigration.
There are two lines in the building. One for Mexican citizens and residents and one for visitors. Wait in the visitor’s line. Usually, the wait to enter Mexico is less than 10 minutes. Sometimes there is no wait at all.
For step-by-step instructions, check out my guide: How to Walk Across the Border to Tijuana.
Entering Tijuana Legally: Do you Need a Passport, the FMM Permit, Immigration, and Customs
To visit Tijuana, you need a valid passport. Book and card style passports are accepted. When you enter Mexico on foot, your passport will be checked by an immigration official.
At immigration, you will need to fill out a tourist card. This document is called the Forma Migratoria Múltiple (FMM). The form asks for your personal information such as your name, date of birth, and passport number as well as information about your trip such as how long you’re staying in Mexico. Sometimes the official will ask you about your trip and fill the card out for you.
The FMM is a tourist permit that allows you to stay in Mexico for up to 180 days. You are allowed to stay for up to 7 days for free. If you plan to stay for more than 7 days, you’ll be charged an FMM fee of 595 pesos (about $30.) You pay this fee at a bank window in the immigration building. The fee is legitimate. You will receive a receipt and official stamp proving you paid.
When you drive into Mexico, nobody stops you to check your passport. To enter legally, you’ll have to park your vehicle on the Mexican side of the border, enter the immigration building to get for your passport checked and apply for your FMM, then return to your vehicle.
To do this, follow the signs to the customs declaration area. Here, you’ll find a parking lot. From there, you can walk into immigration and walk into the immigration building and go through the entry procedure.
You could drive to Tijuana without stopping at immigration or getting an FMM. Many people do this. I recommend against it because it is against the law. If you were stopped by the police without a FMM, you could be fined or deported. Your insurance may also be invalid if you enter the country illegally.
After you pass through immigration, you will pass through customs. You will place your bags on a belt and they will be sent through an x-ray machine to check for contraband. From there, you can exit the building. Congratulations! You’re in Tijuana.
For more info, check out my complete guide to the FMM visitor’s permit.
How to Get Around While Visiting Tijuana
To get to Tijuana from the border, keep following the footpath after you exit the Mexican immigration building. If you crossed at the PedEast crossing, you will walk for about two blocks until you reach a street called Frontera. If you crossed at the PedWest crossing, you’ll arrive at a street called José María Larroque.
From there, you’ll want to travel to one of the touristy areas. The main tourist areas of Tijuana include El Centro (downtown), Zona Norte (the red light district), Zona Río (the business district), and Playas de Tijuana (the beach neighborhood).
Most visitors choose to visit El Centro first. This is where most of the tourist attractions are located. Some visitors only visit downtown. If you’re only visiting downtown, you can simply walk. If you plan to visit another neighborhood, you’ll probably want to take a taxi, Uber, or taxi de ruta (colectivo). In this section, I’ll outline four ways to get around Tijuana.
- Walk-The walk from the border to downtown is about one mile. Check this map for walking directions. The walk takes about 20 minutes. I recommend you only make this walk during the day. It’s not safe at night. Tijuana’s touristy areas are fairly compact and walkable. You can walk up and down Avenida Revolucion in Zona Centro, Calle Coahuila in Zona Norte, and Paseo de los Heroes in Zona Rio. It is also possible to walk between Zona Centro, Zona Notre, and Zona Rio. At night, you should avoid walking in Tijuana for security reasons.
- Taxi de Ruta (Colectivo Minibus)- These shared minibuses provide cheap, safe transport all over the city. Prices are usually about 10-20 pesos per trip. The route is set. You can hop on or off anywhere along the route. To catch the taxi, you can flag them down or find them parked at stops located throughout the city. From the PedEast crossing, look to your right when you arrive at Frontera street. You’ll see minibusses will be lined up picking up passengers. These are going downtown. The bus leaves when it’s full. The cost is 10 pesos (around $0.50).
- Uber- Ubers in Tijuana are safe, clean, and affordable. They are generally cheaper than taxis. Uber in Tijuana works just like it does back home. You can also set the app so you pay in cash if you choose. The ride from the border to downtown costs $4-$5. For more info, check out my guide to using Uber in Tijuana.
- Take a Taxi- Taxis are everywhere in Tijuana. You’ll see them drive by regularly. Particularly near the border and in touristy neighborhoods. When taking a cab in Tijuana, you must agree on the price with the driver first. Some drivers will use the meter ifyou ask. If you can, try to choose a white ‘taxi libre’ instead of a yellow cab. The price is usually lower and the cars are better. The going rate from the border to El Centro is $5-$6.
The Best Things to do in Tijuana
Tijuana has a lot to offer in terms of Mexican culture. There are also some interesting touristy places to visit. There aren’t really any major tourist attractions in Tijuana. You can see the main sites in a day or two. In this section, I’ll outline a few of the main points of interest in Tijuana.
For more ideas, check out my complete list of 29 things to do in Tijuana.
1. Take a Walk Down Avenida Revolución
This is Tijuana’s famous tourist street. The city’s main landmark, the Monument Arch, lies at the north end of this street. Along Avenida Revolucion, you will find some of the best bars, restaurants, and clubs in the city. You can also find supermarkets, souvenir shops, and many of your favorite American fast-food restaurants along this street.
Even though the area is incredibly touristy, it’s well worth a visit. The area is busy at all hours of the day and night. Many tourists cross the border and only visit Avenida Revolucion.
2. Visit the Tijuana Cultural Center (CECUT)
Tijuana is considered a cultural center in Mexico. This recognizable complex features a museum, event hall, and an IMAX cinema. The permanent exhibit in the museum focuses on the early history of the Baja Peninsula.
Various festivals and events are always taking place at CECUT. Oftentimes, they have an art exhibit, live music, or other cultural event going on. Check out their schedule on their website. General admission costs around $3.
3. Hang Out on The Beach in Playas de Tijuana
This is a nice, laid-back neighborhood right on the beautiful Pacific Ocean. Playas de Tijuana is a great place to take a walk down the boardwalk, grab a nice seafood lunch, or just lay out on the beach.
This is one of the more upscale parts of the city. It’s got a completely different atmosphere from busy downtown. Playas de Tijuana offers a nice alternative to Southern California beach towns.
4. Go watch Lucha Libre and visit Mullme
Lucha libre is freestyle Mexican wrestling. The sport is hugely popular all over Mexico. These events take place regularly at several venues throughout the city. Ticket prices are affordable.
Check out their Facebook Page for info on the schedule and tickets.
If you are a fan of Lucha Libre, you should definitely check out Mullme. It is a museum that holds a private collection of over 9000 Lucha libre related pieces of memorabilia including masks, belts, photos, merchandise, etc. The museum is located downtown on Avenida Revolucion.
5. Go Shopping in Tijuana
Tijuana has several large shopping plazas and outdoor malls. They have shops, bars, restaurants, and movie theaters. Popular shopping centers include:
- Plaza Rio- This is the largest plaza in the city. Here, you’ll find over 100 Mexican and American stores. Here’s a map of the plaza.
- Mercado El Popo- This is a traditional Mexican market located in downtown Tijuana. It’s just a small street where you can buy fresh produce, candy, handicrafts, cheese, etc.
- Mercado Hidalgo- This traditional market is located in Zona Rio. Here, you can buy goods from all over Mexico. This place isn’t too touristy. You’ll see lots of locals shopping here.
- Avenida Revolucion- Here, you’ll find lots of souvenir shops and some specialty and niche shops.
6. Visit the Monumental Arch
This is Tijuana’s most recognizable landmark. It lies at the northern end of Avenida Revolucion. The Arch can be seen from all over the city. It makes for a good meeting point or starting point in your visit to Tijuana. The Arch is also called the Tijuana Arch, Millenial Arch, or Monumental Clock. It was built around the turn of the millennium.
7. Visit La Catedral Metropolitana de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe
This is the big cathedral located in the center of downtown Tijuana. It was the first Catholic church in Tijuana. The cathedral is located just a few blocks from Avenida Revolución. In the plaza outside of the cathedral, you’ll find a number of shops and restaurants. The area gets busy on weekends.
8. Check out Tijuana’s Wax Museum
This museum is a popular tourist attraction. Here, you’ll see 93 wax figures of both Mexican and international celebrities and historical figures. The museum is located on Calle Primera in downtown Tijuana. Admission is 25 pesos or about $1.50. This is a small museum.
8. Go Watch a Xolos Game
Tijuana has a professional soccer team called Club Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles de Caliente or Xolos for short. They play at Estadio Caliente in Zona Rio. Tickets can be purchased through Stubhub or Viagogo.
10. Go See a Bullfight at the Plaza de Toros
This historic stadium is located in Playas de Tijuana. Bullfighting is less popular than it once was so the events aren’t held frequently anymore. If you’re looking for an exciting cultural experience, definitely consider timing your visit to Tijuana to attend a bullfight.
To check the schedule, visit the Border Bullfights website.
11. Visit Zona Norte, Tijuana’s Red Light District
Just a couple of blocks north of downtown you’ll find Tijuana’s infamous red-light district, Zona Norte. Here, you’ll find a number of strip clubs and dive bars. The neighborhood isn’t for everyone but it is a famous area that’s worth a walkthrough. This is a seedy area. Exercise caution while walking through here.
12. Visit Parque Morelos
Tijuana isn’t the greenest city. If you want to get away from the concrete jungle, head over to Parque Morelos. Here, you’ll find a small zoo, walking trails, a children’s playground, and even a lake. They also have a small train which can transport you around the park.
For info on park facilities and hours, visit their website here.
The Best Places to Eat While Visiting Tijuana
Tijuana offers world-class cuisine, including the best tacos in all of Mexico, in my opinion. The best restaurants in Tijuana are located in two zones: Downtown and Zona Río.
Downtown is generally more touristy. Many of the restaurants cater to tourists’ tastes. Zona Río is a bit more trendy and caters more to local tastes. You can enjoy an excellent meal in both zones. You’ll also find plenty of excellent street food stands and taco shops located throughout the city.
In this section, I’ll outline some of my favorite Tijuana restaurants as well as some of the most popular in the city.
This is the most famous restaurant in Tijuana. It was opened in 1923 by Italian immigrant Caesar Cardini. The restaurant is famous for being the home of the Caesar salad. Waiters prepare the salad tableside. Caesars specializes in Baja Med cuisine. The interior has a classy art deco style. This place is expensive but the food is excellent and it is part of Tijuana history. It’s well worth a visit.
Caesars is located on Avenida Revolución. You can find them on Google Maps.
Mision 19 is considered the finest restaurant in Tijuana. Here, you can sample the best of Baja California cuisine. If you’re looking to splurge, this is the place to go. Compared to a similar fine dining experience in the US, this place is a bargain. They are located in Zona Río.
Tijuana Street Tacos
One thing that I recommend everyone eat when visiting Tijuana is the street tacos. Tijuana is famous for them. I have traveled pretty extensively in Mexico and can say that Tijuana has the best tacos.
Taco stands can be found set up on the streets throughout the city. I recommend you try a few as you explore the city. You really can’t go wrong. Let me know about your favorite in the comments below!
Some of the most popular places for tacos in Tijuana include:
- Tacos el Franc (Taquería Franc)– This place is widely considered to be the best taco shop in Tijuana. They are located in Zona Río here.
- Tacos Las 24 Horas- This place is located in Zona Norte just north of downtown on the corner of Calle Coahuila and Avenida C Niños Héroes here.
- Tacos Kokopelli- This place is slightly higher priced. It’s a restaurant rather than a taco stand. They are located in Zona Río.
- Los Albañiles- Another popular Tijuana taco shop. Located just west of downtown.
- Taconazo- This popular restaurant has 5 locations around the city. They serve a variety of dishes but are most well known for their tacos.
- La Mojaritta- This place offers some of the best fish tacos in the city.
- Tijuana Jr.- Another excellent choice for fish tacos.
Telefonica Gastro Park
This is a trendy little plaza full of food trucks, bars, and restaurants. They also have their own microbrewery. It’s a good place to go with friends, relax, and try some new foods. Here, you’ll find burgers, tacos, seafood, BBQ, sausages, fusion cuisine, and more. This is also a great place to eat if you’re a vegan or vegetarian. The prices are a bit high but the food is great. It’s located in Zona Río on Boulevard Agua Caliente.
Bars and Nightlife in Tijuana
Tijuana offers excellent nightlife. Americans have been crossing the border to party in Tijuana for over a century. After a night out in Tijuana, you’ll understand why. You can find everything from dive bars to craft breweries to dance clubs to strip clubs. There is really something for everyone. Some of the best places to go out in Tijuana include:
Downtown Tijuana (Zona Centro)
Here you will find mainstream bars and clubs. There are beer bars, sports bars, cocktail bars, dive bars, and a couple of higher-end places. Many are located along Avenida Revolución or nearby. I recommend you just take a walk down the street and barhop a bit.
Here, you can also find some of the best craft breweries in Tijuana. I will talk about those a bit more in the next section.
Plaza Fiesta in Zona Río
This three-story plaza is full of bars, clubs, and microbreweries. What’s nice about this area is that you can easily walk from bar to bar without having to leave the plaza. This increases safety because you’re not wandering around on the street.
This place is a lot of fun and has something for everyone. At the end of the night, you can find some incredible taco stands in the center of the plaza.
Zona Norte: Tijuana’s Famous Red Light District
This is a rougher, seedier part of town where you will find dive bars, strip clubs, and brothels. It’s a pretty famous area that’s worth taking a walk around just to experience. If you want to visit one of the clubs, I recommend you check out Hong Kong. It’s an experience. I’ll leave it at that.
Craft Breweries in Tijuana
San Diego is known as being one of the greatest cities city in the US for craft beer. Now, its neighbor to the south is developing an amazing craft beer scene of its own. High-quality microbreweries have popped up all over the city. Here are some of the best:
- Cervecería Insurgente- This is probably the most well-known craft brewery in Tijuana. Their beers have won several international competitions and are now distributed in the US. They are located in Zona Río at Juan Cordero. You can check out their website here.
- Mamut Brewery- This is one of the more popular craft breweries among tourists. I like this place because their prices are reasonable and they produce a great tasting beer. They are located downtown at Carrillo Puerto y o Tercera. You can check out their Facebook page here.
- Border Psycho Brewery- This family-owned brewery opened in 2012 and has since become one of the most widely distributed craft breweries in Tijuana. Their beers are also distributed in the US. You can check out their website here.
For my complete list, check out my guide: The Best Craft Breweries in Tijuana
Where to Stay while Visiting Tijuana: The Best Hotels and Hostels
When visiting Tijuana, most tourists like to stay either downtown or in Zona Río. Where you stay really depends on your interests. If you plan to go out and party or are interested in trying some of the best restaurants, stay downtown. Zona Río is a good choice if you want to stay in a safer and more upscale area.
The Best Hotels and Hostels in Tijuana
- Hotel Ticuan- This is a historic mid-range hotel located right in the middle of the city center on Avenida Revolucion. The best thing about this hotel is the location. Their prices are reasonable as well.
- Tijuana Marriott Hotel- This is probably the most upscale hotel in Tijuana. The Marriott is located in Zona Río.
- Paris Hotel and Hostel- This is one of the more affordable places to stay. They offer private and dorm rooms. They are located downtown.
- Hotel Lucerna Tijuana- This is another more upscale option. Hotel Lucerna is located in Zona Río.
- Casita de Colores- This is one of the most affordable places to stay in Tijuana. It is located outside of the city center.
- Hyatt Place Tijuana- Another higher-end hotel. The Hayatt is located in the heart of Zona Rio.
There are loads of hotels and hostels in Tijuana. Most of them are fine but you do have to be careful when staying in low-budget properties. I have heard stories of visitors having things stolen from their rooms. Overcharging is also an issue at some hotels. Noise can be an issue if you’re staying near Avenida Revolucion or in Zona Norte. Before you book, read some reviews.
Airbnb is another option. I used to always stay in an Airbnb when visiting Tijuana. Over the past couple of years, prices increased substantially. These days, it’s just as cheap to stay in a hotel and the experience is usually better. If you’re staying long-term like a month or more, you may be able to score a good deal on Airbnb.
Tijuana Tours from San Diego: If you don’t want to visit alone
If you’re unsure about visiting Tijuana on your own, you can take a tour. A number of companies offer organized tours from San Diego to Tijuana. You can book private tours and group tours. A couple of highly-rated Tijuana tour options include
- Tijuana Walking Tour- This 5 hour tour picks you up in San Ysidro and drops you off at the border at the end of the day. The guide shows you around downtown and gives you a chance to taste some Mexican beer and have a nice taco lunch. The tour costs $20. Private tours are also available. For more information, check out their website.
- Tourista Libre- Similar to the above. They offer several different tours starting in San Ysidro. Private tours are also available. For more information, check out their website.
- SDTJ Passport- This company offers a shuttle service between San Ysidro and Tijuana or Rosarito. This isn’t a tour. They just pick you up, drive you across the border, then drop you off. Later in the day, you can catch a shuttle back across the border. This makes the border crossing process smoother and quicker. For moreinfo, check out their website here.
Coming Back Home: How to Cross The Border from Tijuana Back to the US
You can travel back to the border by taxi, Uber, taxi de ruta, or on foot. There are two border crossings between Tijuana and San Ysidro (PedEast and PedWest). Make sure you go to the right one.
If you’re taking the trolley or catching a Greyhound, you’ll go to PedEast. If you parked a border parking lot, you’ll have to remember which crossing you used. There are lots near both crossings.
The border is open 24 hours. If you’re crossing on foot, the western crossing (PedWest) closes between 10 pm and 6 am. During these hours, you’ll have to use the eastern crossing (PedEast) which never closes.
If you go to the wrong crossing, it’s not a big deal. They are located about a 15 minute walk apart.
When you arrive at the border, proceed straight to U.S. immigration. Mexico does not check your passport or FMM when you leave Tijuana.
When you arrive at the border, you’ll see three lines. One line is for the general public. One is a Ready Lane. The other is a Sentri Lane. The general public line is the slowest. The other lines are faster but require that you have the right documents.
Anyone can use the general public line. All you will need is your passport and U.S. visa if necessary. To use the ready lane, you’ll need a ready lane compliant document. To use the Sentri lane, you’ll need a Nexus or Sentri card.
The wait to come back to the US can be pretty long. I have waited in line both on foot and in my car for over two hours on occasion. The line can be particularly bad on weekends and during the holidays.
You can check the wait time on the US Customs and Border website here before you make your way to the border. This website shows you the wait time at all of the vehicle and pedestrian crossings.
Immigration and Customs When Returning to the U.S.
When you reach the front of the line, hand your passport to the immigration official. They may ask you a couple of questions about your trip. Common questions include:
- How long were you in Mexico?
- What was the purpose of your trip?
- Do you know anyone in Mexico?
- Are you bringing anything back with you?
Answer these questions truthfully and you’ll pass through immigration quickly and smoothly.
There is an x-ray machine where you will be asked to place your bags to be scanned. Sometimes the machine isn’t in use. In this case, you’ll just walk right on by and you’re back in the US.
Buying Souvenirs in Tijuana: What Can I Bring Back With Me?
If you plan to bring any souvenirs back with you from Tijuana, check to make sure what you are bringing back is legal. You are only permitted to bring $800 worth of goods for gifts or personal use. If you bring more, you’ll have to declare it and pay import taxes on it. You are only permitted to bring limited amounts of alcohol and tobacco products.
There are some items that you are not permitted to cross the border with. For example, don’t try to bring any prescription medications without a prescription. Fresh produce is also prohibited.
For more info, check out this guide from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Staying Safe While Visiting Tijuana
When planning a trip to Tijuana, the biggest concern for many visitors is safety. This is a valid concern. Statistically, Tijuana has a high rate of violent crime. There were just under 2000 murders in Tijuana in 2021 according to this article.
The news media loves to exaggerate and sensationalize this because it makes for exciting news. Luckily, Tijuana is much safer than we are led to believe by the news.
While all of the reported crimes do happen, they almost exclusively take place among those involved in organized crime. Most crime is related to the drug trade. Tourists generally aren’t targeted. Most violence does not take place in touristy areas. Crime happening in poor and working-class neighborhoods. There are exceptions. Bystanders do occasionally get injured or killed.
Before your trip, take some time to do a bit of research about the security situation. Read through travel advisories from your country. You can read the Mexico travel advisory from the U.S. here.
In the time that I have lived in Tijuana, I have experienced crime on two occasions. I was inside a bar during an armed robbery. On one occasion, my Phone was pickpocketed but luckily I was able to get it back.
In this section, I’ll share my top six tips to stay safe and avoid crime while visiting Tijuana. To read more about safety, check out my guide: Is Tijuana Safe? Avoiding Common Scams and Crime.
1. Don’t walk between the border and downtown after dark
The walk is safe except for one section where you cross over the Tijuana River. Muggings are common on the bridge. The reason this section is dangerous at night is because it is a dark, winding path. Police can’t patrol the path from the road.
To get around this, simply take a taxi de ruta (colectivo minibus), Uber, or a taxi between the border and downtown if you are traveling after dark. The walk is not worth the risk when you can just spend 10 pesos (50 cents) on the colectivo.
2. Be cautious of scammers, beggars, and homeless People
Occasionally you may be approached by a fast talker who tries to sell you something or take you somewhere in the city. These are usually criminals who were deported from the US. They run various scams or sell drugs. If someone approaches you speaking perfect English, just say no gracias and walk away.
Tijuana also has a sizable population of homeless people. Try to steer clear of these people. They are unpredictable. One day, while I was walking down the street minding my own business, a woman walked by and punched me right in the stomach without provocation. I hadn’t even made eye contact with her.
3. Don’t break the law
Never buy drugs or do anything illegal in Tijuana. Many of the police are corrupt and will ask for a bribe. Depending on the nature of your crime, this could be incredibly expensive if you are caught. Of course, you could also end up in a Mexican jail. It’s not worth the risk.
4. Don’t walk around too much when you have been drinking
Even though downtown and Zona Rio are fairly safe with all of the police around, people are more likely to take advantage of you if you’ve been drinking. Avoid walking around if you’ve been drinking. Take a taxi or Uber instead.
5. Don’t walk around with large sums of cash or anything too valuable
In the event that you get mugged or pickpocketed, you don’t want the criminal to profit too much. For extra security against pickpockets, it is a good idea to secure your wallet and phone in a pocket that can be closed with a zipper or button.
Police have also been known to shake down tourists for bribes but I believe this is far less common than it was in the past. You’d have to be breaking the law for the police to bother you. More on the police in the next section.
Tip: Use a money belt to avoid losing cash, your passport, or your credit cards to muggers or pickpockets. Many travelers pair their money belt with a decoy wallet stocked with a few dollars and a couple of expired credit cards to hand over if they are robbed. I recommend the Eagle Creek Silk Undercover money belt. I’ve been using mine for the past 8 years and it has held up incredibly well. Check out my full review here.
6. Avoid walking around at night
After dark, the city becomes a bit more dangerous. The risk of getting robbed increases. If you wish to travel between neighborhoods at night, it’s best to take a taxi de ruta, Uber, or taxi just to be safe.
It is safe to walk around the main tourist streets at night. These include Avenida Revolucion in Zona Centro, Paseo de los Heroes in Zona Rio, and Calle Coahuila in Zona Norte. These areas are heavily policed. you should still exercise caution. If you don’t feel safe walking around, take a taxi, even if your destination is only a few blocks away.
Police Encounters While Visiting Tijuana
The police in Tijuana have an incredibly dangerous and difficult job. They work hard to keep the city as safe as possible under the circumstances. They are understaffed and are outnumbered and outgunned by the cartels operating in the region.
The police in Tijuana are not known for being too helpful to tourists. They don’t have the manpower to search for a lost phone or wallet or to go after a pickpocket or mugger. If you fall victim to a crime in Tijuana, chances are the criminal won’t be caught.
To top it all off, the Tijuana police force is also corrupt. It’s not uncommon for police to stop tourists to solicit a bribe. When this happens, the officer will accuse you of committing a crime then tell you that you can settle the matter by paying a fine in cash. They often request $100.
If you get stopped by the police while visiting Tijuana, request a written citation. Tell the officer that you would like to pay the fine at the police station. Oftentimes the officer will let you go or issue you a ticket. If the officer becomes aggressive, you may have to pay a bribe. You can often negotiate this to 500-1000 pesos ($25-$50).
If you spend enough time in Tijuana, you’ll encounter a corrupt police officer. You should try your best to avoid paying a bribe.
Tijuana police do their best to keep tourists safe from violence. They don’t want tourists getting injured or killed while visiting Tijuana.
For more info, check out my guide to police corruption in Tijuana.
FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions About Visiting Tijuana
Hopefully, this guide has cleared up any questions or concerns you had about visiting Tijuana. In this section, I’ll answer a few frequently asked questions. If you have additional questions that I didn’t cover, feel free to ask in the comments below!
Should I Take a Day Trip to Tijuana or Should I Stay Overnight?
Many visitors only spend the day in Tijuana. They cross the border in the morning, spend a few hours wandering around downtown, then head back to San Diego in the afternoon.
I think this is a mistake. Because the wait at the border to return to the U.S. is so long, it makes more sense to spend at least one night. There are plenty of things to do to keep you busy.
Spending the night also gives you the opportunity to experience Tijuana’s famous nightlife. There are loads of restaurants, bars, and clubs that are worth visiting. In fact, one of the main reasons people visit Tijuana is the nightlife.
If you don’t care about nightlife, you may be fine just taking a day trip to Tijuana. You can easily see all of the main sites in Tijuana in just a few hours.
Money When Visiting Tijuana: Do I Need Pesos?
Yes. When visiting Tijuana, you should always exchange some dollars for pesos. Some travelers will tell you that this is unnecessary because dollars are accepted everywhere in Tijuana. While this is true, you almost always overpay when you spend dollars in Tijuana. You’ll get a much better deal when paying in pesos.
You can exchange dollars for pesos at a currency exchange booth on either side of the border. You’ll find several currency exchanges in San Ysidro including one at the trolley station. You’ll also find currency exchanges in downtown Tijuana.
You can also withdraw pesos from an ATM in Tijuana. If you decide to do this, be sure to notify your bank so they don’t shut your card off. Also, try to use a card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. For card recommendations and ATM tips, check out my article: The Best Debit Card and Credit Card for International Travel.
Do I Need to Speak Spanish to Visit Tijuana?
No. It is not necessary to speak any Spanish to visit Tijuana. Being so close to the border, most people have learned a decent amount of English. Particularly people who work with tourists such as bartenders, waiters, and salespeople. Immigration officials also speak some English. Even 80% of Uber drivers that I have ridden with speak sufficient English.
With that being said, it is nice to know a bit of the local language and Spanish is fun to learn. It makes the trip a bit easier and the locals appreciate you putting in the effort, even if you’re Spanish isn’t very good.
What Do I Need to Bring With Me When Visiting Tijuana?
- Your passport- In the past, you could travel to Tijuana with just a driver’s licence or birth certificate. This is no lnger the case. These days, you need a passport to cross the border to Tijuana. Either the book or card style passport is fine. Your passport will be checked by Mexican immigration when entering and by u.s. immigration when you return.
- Money- You’ll need some cash to pay for taxis, food, drinks, sousvenirs, and possibly the FMM permit. Brins some dollars to exchange into pesos. You can find currency exchanges on both sides of the border. It’s also a good idea to bring a debit card and credit card. You can withdraw pesos from an ATM in Tijuana with your debit card. You can pay with your credit card at many grocery stores, restaurants, and hotels.
- Comfortable walking shoes- You’ll be doing a lot of walking during your visit. The border area is large and spread out. The distance from the entrance of the border zone to the exit where you can catch a cab is around 3-4 blocks. At the minimum, you’ll walk around a mile round trip. If you decide to walk to downtow, you’ll be walking several miles. The touristy areas are also pretty walkable. Chances are you’ll want to stroll around these areas a bit. Comfortable shoes are a must.
Travel Insurance for Visiting Tijuana
When traveling to Tijuana, your US health insurance most likely won’t cover you. You may want to consider purchasing travel insurance.
I like World Nomads. I have used their insurance for pretty much all of my international trips and have had good luck with them. Even if you only plan to spend an afternoon in Tijuana, having insurance is worth it for the peace of mind. For more information and for a free quote, you can check out my travel insurance page.
Final Thoughts About Visiting Tijuana from San Diego
If you’re traveling to the San Diego area, I would consider Tijuana to be a must-visit. Even for just a day trip. The city offers incredible food, plenty of Mexican cultures, and some great nightlife. Tijuana is growing and changing quickly. After living in Tijuana for over a year, I have fallen in love with the city.
If you end up falling in love with Tijuana after your visit and want to move here, check out my guide: Moving to Tijuana as an American.
Have you visited Tijuana lately? Share your experience and recommendations in the comments below!