Driving from San Diego to Mexico

San Diego is a major jumping off point for entry from California to Mexico. It’s a laid back city that shares a coastline and similar geography to northern Baja and it offers a number of ways to reach the border. Driving from San Diego to Tijuana is far and away the most popular option but there are many more crossings within a short drive with some being much easier to manage. 

Follow these directions to find your way to Mexico via San Diego. Most routes are under an hour, traffic-dependent. It’s always smart to check border wait times before driving south. They are often very quick southbound but the waits are long northbound. Plan ahead, do a little research and you can daytrip back and forth or spend more time in Mexico.

Route Options from San Diego to Mexico

How far is San Diego from the Mexico border? We have the time and distance to each port of entry in the state of California listed here.

#1 – San Diego to San Ysidro

This is the busiest border crossing in the world and it’s less than a half hour from San Diego. Surprisingly, it’s extremely efficient and fast to cross into Mexico. It has a ton of parking on the USA side for people who wish to walk across. It has a sky way bridge for those who fly and want to walk across within the airport and it has some wide lanes to zip across in a vehicle. It’s almost too easy so don’t forget to stop for your FMM before getting sucked into a dedicated southbound route.

Time to Destination: Less than 30 minutes

Miles: 18 miles

Route: A few different routes will lead to the same end destination. Use Google Maps directions to Tijuana to find the route with the least amount of traffic. I-5 is generally the fastest route down but traffic slowdowns can call for routing to the 805 or to surface streets when nearing the border crossings.  

#2 – San Diego to Otay Mesa

This originated as a crossing to alleviate the flow of big commercial trucks and traffic from the incredibly busy San Ysidro. It now has passenger vehicle lanes and also pedestrian lanes. Like San Ysidro, it connects directly to Tijuana and it’s also a gateway to the Baja Peninsula. 

Time to Destination: 30-45 minutes

Miles: 25.5

Route: The route is very similar to the latter. Drive I-5 south towards San Ysidro but turn east on the 905 to Otay Mesa. It’s an easy route and the crossing is pretty straightforward too. 

#3 – San Diego to Tecate

The time to this crossing will depend on where you leave from in San Diego. It can take as little as 40 minutes or up to an hour. It’s a beautiful drive once you leave Jamul and begin the rural route to the border. We love the Tecate border crossing because it’s generally low traffic with no wait times. The downside is that you’ll need to drive farther to catch Highway 1 or 5 into Baja. For folks visiting the Valle de Guadalupe, it’s the perfect route. 

Time to Destination: 1 hour

Miles: 40

Route:  Take the 94 the entire way. When you pass the casino in Jamul, that’s about the last establishment before you reach the border. They do have RV camping at the casino if you need a layover spot before a crossing.

#4 – San Diego to Calexico West

While there are border crossings closer to San Diego proper, the Calexico or Mexicali West and East options offer a direct route south on Highway 5. This is a major vein into Baja and the Sea of Cortez. It’s wider than Highway 1 and is generally a nice drive. 

Time to Destination: Over 2 hours

Miles: 118

Route: You’ll need to reach I-8 east and follow it until you hit highway 98 and make a right turn towards Calexico and the border zone.   

#4 – San Diego to Calexico East

The east crossing is spacious and is often preferred by RVs and bigger rigs. It’s not much farther than the west crossing so don’t fret about taking a few extra minutes to cross the town of Calexico if you want to try this crossing. 

Time to Destination: Over 2 hours

Miles: 129

Route: It’s the same route from San Diego. This time, stay on I-8 through Calexico and turn south on highway 7 which leads into the border crossing.

#4 – San Diego to Los Algodones

The farthest east crossing in California is Los Algodones. It’s known for dental tourism and also acts as a good entry into Baja with a reasonable connection to highway 5.

Time to Destination: Roughly 2.5 hours

Miles: 166

Route: Although it’s the farthest distance, the directions have the fewest amount of twists and turns. Catch I-8 east and follow it all the way to the border at Los Algodones. 

Planning Your California Border Crossing to Mexico

The biggest thing to consider when driving from San Diego to Mexico is the return trip. The wait times can be very long at border crossings from Mexico into the USA. The southbound drives are all on clearly marked roads. If you plan to enter Mexico and leave the immediate border area for an extended period of time, you will need an FMM permit and Mexican car insurance. This is your entry permit that allows for a specific number of days in the country. It can range from a week up to 180 days. If you drive outside of Baja and Sonora to the mainland, you will also need to get a TIP for your vehicle. Otherwise, it’s a great drive!