Planning a trip to Mexico with a drive from Los Angeles? Lucky for you, the border is a short drive away. The closest crossing places you in Baja which is also the “Free Zone”. You won’t need a car import permit unless you leave Baja for the mainland but you will need an FMM Visa (obtained at the border) and Mexican auto insurance. Otherwise, it’s an easy drive with several border crossing options.
Pick a Highway Route from Los Angeles to Mexico
For convenience, we chose the central location of Grand Park in Los Angeles as a starting point. Your starting location and traffic variables will influence the distance and time it takes to reach the border. Leave extra early to avoid traffic and to hit the border at a reasonable time.
Grand Park, Los Angeles to San Ysidro:
Time to Destination – 2.5 hours depending on traffic
Miles – 134-138
Route – It’s super easy. Get on I-5 South and follow it down the coast and straight to the border. You can also merge on Highway 805 just north of San Diego and stay on that same path until you reach the San Ysidro border crossing.
Grand Park, LA to Mexicali:
Time to Destination – Nearly 4 Hours
Miles – 230
Route – Take I-5 South and merge on 805 near San Diego. You will only stay on this a short distance before merging on I-8 east and then Highway 98 east to Calexico.
Grand Park, Los Angeles to Tecate
Time to Destination – 3.5 – 4 hours
Miles – 163
Route – Like the others, take I-5 to the 805 south then turn east on Highway 905 to the Tecate border crossing.
Which Mexican Border Crossing is Best from Los Angeles?
San Ysidro takes you into Tijuana and it’s the closest border crossing option. If you want to stick around Tijuana or drive down the Pacific side of Baja, this is your best bet. It’s a super busy place to cross but is typically quick entering Mexico. Pretty much any border can be slow on the way home.
Tecate is a smaller and less chaotic option and the town of Tecate is nice as well. If you have any interest in wine tasting, look to the Tecate Border Crossing as a means of reaching the Valle de Guadalupe. It’s a direct route and you can also loop back to Ensenada then north through Tijuana and back to Los Angeles. It’s an ideal loop with a mix of ocean and desert mountains and vineyards.
Lastly, taking the Calexico to Mexicali crossing is a good option. There’s space for RV’s and it puts you directly on Highway 5 to San Felipe and the Sea of Cortez. It’s a little farther from Los Angeles but is your best route to the east side of the Baja Peninsula. Read these Instructions for Mexicali East and West border crossings.
What to Expect on Your Drive
The hardest part of the drive is beating LA traffic by getting an early start. You can also go late as San Ysidro is open 24-hours but crossing into Mexico at night is not a great idea. Opt for an early morning crossing to have plenty of daylight and time to get south of the border if desired. Once you get through the border, reaching a reasonable recreating point in Baja is a matter of an hour or two.