Arizona and New Mexico are fairly low key when compared to the ultra-busy borders shared by Texas and California. While the Texas border is exceptionally long, The California Mexico border is geographically narrow. The bottleneck created in California has created the busiest border crossing in the entire world at San Ysidro.
The border in California is a fascinating study of commerce, immigration and general border culture. It has some great towns, surprising wild spaces and appealing scenery. For hikers, bikers, drivers and travel savants, this is a border worth exploring.
Driving from San Diego to Mexico
We use San Diego as the reference point because it’s hard not to brush the perimeters on your way south. At least while traveling inside the bounds of California at least. In fact, the quickest route to any of the border crossings in California is generally through San Diego.
Highway 94 is a rural two lane from San Diego to Tecate. That same highway connects to Interstate 8 which parallels the border to Calexico and eventually, the Arizona border at Andrade. All routes here lead back to San Diego in some way or another.
San Ysidro being the exception, the highways typically don’t have a ton of traffic along the border. They aren’t your typical California traffic jams at least. You will pass through agricultural zones and some very nice mountains in this region.
California Border Crossings
The most popular route leads from San Diego California to Tijuana Mexico via the San Ysidro crossing. Otay Mesa is another option on the outskirts of the city. Tecate is your easy entry to the wine country as well. It’s a simple crossing and we have video footage below. For the Baja folks wanting to catch Highway 5 and the Sea of Cortez, Mexicali is your best entry point.
Interesting Facts and Data
- Nearly 15 million passenger vehicles cross the San Ysidro border annually.
- San Diego and Tijuana airports are connected by a causeway
- Covid restrictions cut border traffic nearly in half but it has since rebounded
- In 2022, over 49 million personal vehicles drove northbound into California
- in 2022, over 72 billion USD in trade occurred across the California border.
California Border Towns
The culture is pretty interesting along the border in California. You will notice an increase in border patrol and law enforcement in some areas with the occasional checkpoint. Otherwise, the towns and stopping points are largely laid back and nice.
San Diego and Tijuana
The two big cities offer a diverse set of options for visitors. You can catch a professional sports game in San Diego, see concerts and eat at great restaurants. The city has great beaches, walking trails and parks as well. It even has nice camping options for tent campers and RVers traveling through the area.
On the opposite side of the border, Tijuana has a reputation as a party town for Californians but don’t overlook the opportunities here. It’s a cultural hot spot with great museums, parks, beaches and more. You can really have a great time exploring the city.
Favorite destinations in Tijuana:
- Local Markets – There are several great outdoor markets where you will find craft goods, artisan foods and unique products. Head downtown for some shopping and expect to find some wonderful things to view and purchase. Mercado Municipal and Mercado Hidalgo are two favorite stopping points.
- Incredible Eateries – There are some iconic stops but you will have a hard time going wrong anywhere in town. Hit the taco stands or go upscale at one of the many restaurants.
- Hit the Beaches – Although they are separated by a border wall, the beaches in Tijuana are similar to those in San Diego. They have nice parks and beach access directly from town.
Most visitors breeze through town to visit the Valle de Guadalupe. It’s a short drive to the wine tasting paradise. Tecate itself is a small city that is easy to navigate. You will find a few good hotels, plenty of good food and a nice town to walk around. They have a brewery in town and nice parks and squares. It’s a great vibe and a nice way to get acquainted with Mexican culture.
The US side of the border doesn’t have much for services until you reach San Diego. There are some great hiking trails and campsites just north of Tecate however. If you enjoy the outdoor, give this region a chance because it’s quite beautiful.
Calexico and Mexicali
The US side of the border is largely an agricultural zone. Calexico has a few museums, restaurants and parks but it’s not exactly a destination. It is an easy place to stop before and after crossing the border however.
Mexicali is a much larger population center with malls and shopping, a vibrant nightlife and plenty of attractions. You can pass through the city quickly if desired or you can stick around to enjoy the city. It’s a fairly raw place with a busy border but there is still plenty to see and enjoy.
Andrade and Los Algodones
The last stop along the California Mexico Border is near the Arizona line. Andrade is hardly a town but it does have a casino and RV park that are nice for staging a border crossing. Los Algodones on the other hand is small but full of services. It’s a popular spot for dental tourism in Mexico. Some visitors drive across and stay but many use the pedestrian crossing to walk over.
Don’t forget – you have a legal requirement to carry Mexican auto insurance while driving over the border. Get in touch for a no obligation quote today!