Sitting just 20 miles (32 kilometres) south of San Diego, it’s hard to believe that a few steps can alter your surroundings so dramatically. Yet, step over the border from the USA into Mexico and turn your ear to the air: the car horns have stopped, tacos sizzle on road side carts and Spanish floats by on the breeze.
“Bienvenido a Mexico!” you’ll hear from the locals and they mean every word – welcome to Mexico!
Around 35 million people visit San Diego annually but less than a third of those tourists take the short trip from San Diego to Tijuana. For many they are concerned about safety. For some, they feel like San Diego is enough. For others, it feels complicated to tackle the Tijuana Mexico border crossing.
For me: I can’t think of a better way to spend a few days. And in this guide I hope to convince you of the same, offering details of how to get from San Diego to Mexico’s fun city of Tijuana (it’s really very easy).
And if you’re looking for what to do in Tijuana, check out my post about 20 Fun Things To Do In Tijuana.
How far is Tijuana from San Diego
Tijuana is just 20 miles (32 kilometres) from San Diego and it takes about 45 minutes to get from Fifth Avenue in downtown San Diego to the San Ysidro border crossing. BTW, San Ysidro is the name of the area just north of the San Diego Tijuana border, on the US side hence the name: San Ysidro border.
How to take the San Diego Trolley to San Ysidro from Gaslamp Quarter
The easiest way to get from to Tijuana is via the San Diego Trolley, a tram that runs from downtown San Diego all the way to the San Ysidro border.
You need to take the UC San Diego Blue Line, which starts at the American Plaza Transit Centre, near Fifth Avenue in San Diego’s Gaslamp District, a popular tourist area.
The blue line will take you directly to San Ysidro from Gaslamp and says Tijuana on the front. If you want to connect to the tram from another part of San Diego or from another line, you can find the trolley map here.
The trolley costs $2.50 and tickets can be bought from one of the trolley ticket machines using cash or credit card. The trolley is part of the San Diego MTS.
The trolley takes around 45 minutes.
How to take the San Diego Trolley to San Ysidro from San Diego Airport
To get to the border from San Diego International Airport by public transport, take the MTS airport bus (number 992), which will take you directly to Broadway and Kettner. From there you simply cross the street to the American Plaza Transit Centre and catch the blue line trolley.
The airport bus costs $2.25 and you must have the exact change or you won’t be able to ride.
Should you do the Tijuana border crossing by car?
If you’re just crossing from San Diego to Tijuana, I would advise that you travel by foot because it is so easy.
If you do have a rental car or your own car with you, there are reasonably priced car parks near the border on the US side, where I’ve left a car before and it was completely fine upon my return.
If you do plan to take a car from the US to Mexico – which might be helpful if you’re heading down Baja California’s route 1 – make sure it’s covered for insurance and also that taking it across the border is within the terms of any rental agreement (quite often it’s not). Alternatively, opt to hire your car in Tijuana. I did this on my last trip and the rates were much cheaper.
I booked with Rentalcars.com, which is a car rental comparison site and makes life a lot easier than checking prices on individual sites. You can find out more about taking a car to Mexico here.
And if you want an insight into life at the border, you can read more in this fascinating post about the vendors working the bordert.
How to cross the Tijuana border into Mexico by walking
Crossing the border into Mexico couldn’t be simpler. Follow the signs, go through the turnstile and you’re in. You generally will not have to queue to cross the border to go to Tijuana. However, you’ll notice a dramatically different experience coming back into the US if you use the same border crossing. But more on that below.
Do you need a passport to go to Tijuana (Mexico entry, visas and fees)?
The official position is that all visitors to Mexico require an FMM Tourist Card which can be obtained online or, in theory, at the border.
In order to obtain an FMM Tourist Card, you need a passport.
So, that’s the official position. In reality, I have never been asked to show a passport or fill in an FMM form when passing from San Ysidro to Tijuana.
This unofficial position can be both great and greatly unhelpful. If you want to chance your arm and cross the border without a passport, you’ve probably got a fair chance of success (though I’m making no promises) and you will require the necessary identification to return to the US. If you’re not from the US or Canada, this will be a passport in any case.
Where the unofficial position becomes unhelpful is when you actually need an FMM because you’re exiting Mexico from a border with more controls than in Tijuana or from an airport.
The first time I entered via Tijuana, not having a stamp in my passport made no difference because I crossed back into the US a few days later by the same route. This time, however, my lack of stamp was a problem because I left from the airport in Mexico City. Cue: 500 pesos, a strict talking to and a whole heap of bother finding an immigration office where I could fix the issue.
As for paying a fee, a few years ago an entry fee was implemented for tourists entering Mexico at the Tijuana border. At the time of writing, that fee is 500 pesos per person and is payable if you’re staying for more than seven days. However, as mentioned above, finding an official to pay the money to at the border is another matter. I ended up paying the fee at Mexico City airport.
You can find full, helpful and up-to-date details about crossing the border on this website. In my guide to La Paz in Baja Sur, I have more details on Mexican visas and the FMM card.
How to get from the Tijuana border into downtown Tijuana
The first time I crossed into Tijuana by land, I managed to make my way to downtown no problem. This time, I didn’t find it so straightforward.
If you have data in Mexico, get on Google Maps. Otherwise, download maps.me app and follow the directions from this off-line map service (just make sure you have downloaded the Baja California portion of the map while you are online). Alternatively, ask someone. Most of the locals near the border speak English if you don’t have great/any Spanish and although the taxi drivers will try to sell you a fare, they will still help you with directions if you refuse a ride.
Otherwise, check out my Google Maps below where I have marked the border and the main tourist avenue – Avenida Revolucion. It a several minute walk between the two.
Tijuana border crossing times
The San Ysidro border is a 24/7 operation. However, as I would advise in any country, it’s best not to hang out around the border, drunk in the middle of the night because that’s just asking for trouble.
What is the time difference between Tijuana and San Diego?
There is no time difference between Tijuana and San Diego.
How to travel from Tijuana to San Diego
Let’s start with this fact: the Tijuana San Ysidro border crossing is the busiest in the world with around 50 million people crossing a year. Many of those people are Mexican commuters heading into the USA for work. So, it’s understandable that crossing back from Mexico into the US, coupled with America’s painful security checks and general paranoia about Mexico, promises a long wait.
There are a few fast lanes you can try if you have the right documents and passes (which you may have as US or Canadian citizen) but for the rest of us, it’s likely you’re just going to have to stand in line, which can take hours. And that is no exaggeration – it can literally take hours
You can find out more about the fast lanes here. The most important thing is to make sure you don’t get into one of the fast lanes when you don’t have the right documents. I know this from experience because I was incorrectly advised that the RFID in my passport would work when, in fact, it didn’t. This resulted in me having to go to the back of the line and queue a second time. Total waiting time: 4 hours.
You can get an estimate of border wait times from this website.
Should you fly into Tijuana airport?
Tijuana airport is located about 20 minutes by car from Avenida Revolucion. It’s a great option if you are arriving from elsewhere in the US or overseas. However, due to the proximity of San Diego to Tijuana, it makes little sense to fly between the two cities.
Should you take a day trip to Tijuana or stay overnight?
Apart from all of the wonderful things to do in Tijuana, the return border crossing back into the US alone makes a day trip less of an attractive prospect. If you’ve already gone to the effort of arriving in Tijuana and particularly if you’re looking to experience the nightlife, I’d highly recommend spending at least one night in the city.
Considering a Baja California Road trip? Here are my related guides:
- Ultimate Baja California Road Trip Guide with Things To Do, Map & Tips
- 16 Very Best Things To Do in La Paz, Mexico
- La Paz Mexico – Full Travel Guide & Attractions
- How To Swim With Sea Lions in Mexico – Baja California
- How To Take the Baja Ferry from Topolobampo to La Paz in Mexico
- How To Go Wine Tasting in Ensenada
Where to stay in Tijuana
If you do decide to stay overnight in Tijuana, here’s a quick list of hotels in Tijuana. I’ve got more details about each place and tips for choosing a good and safe hotel in Tijuana over on my post about the best fun things to do in Tijuana here.
Aqua Rio Hotel – A budget hotel in a good location with very friendly management.
Lifestyle Hostel – This is my favourite place to stay in Tijuana. Yes, its budget and a hostel but they have a private room and you absolutely cannot beat the location.
Tijuana Marriott – if you want somewhere more upmarket, there is a Marriott near the business district.
Hotel Ticuan – a good mid-range option in a good location in Zona Centro, this hotel is popular.
Is Tijuana safe for tourists?
I’ve written a detailed post about whether Mexico is safe and in there I cover the topic is Tijuana safe for tourists.
But let’s touch on the subject here, too.
Search online for safety in Tijuana and it will take you less than three minutes to decide to cancel your trip. Why? In my view it’s a combination of two things: sure, there has been some drug-related trouble in Tijuana and, courtesy of the number of drunk tourists, there will be some opportunist crimes too. But that’s only half of the reason behind the bad press – there seems to be nothing the US media sites love more than sensationalising every single unsavoury instance that happens in Mexico. Speak to anyone in the USA and they will have some anecdote about how unsafe Mexico and Tijuana is.
However, before you cancel your trip, do your research. Check the official travel advisory websites and do this for more than one country. America’s official view of Mexico is, sadly unsurprisingly, more fear inducing than the official view you’ll read from somewhere like the UK.
Next, check the local news in Mexico. And then check the local news in your home country. I bet you’ll find violent deaths have been reported for both places. Yes, crime has increased in recent years in Mexico and in Baja California but, personally, at the time of writing, I would still feel comfortable travelling there.
You might also like: Is Mexico Safe? The Main Risks & How To Avoid Them
Tijuana tours from San Diego
If you’re still unsure about the San Diego to Tijuana Border crossing, consider taking a tour from San Diego where you’ll be in a group with a guide that takes you across the border:
- Tijuana Half Day Sightseeing Tour from San Diego – this half day tour is the perfect introduction including sightseeing and some hands on Mexican cooking (and eating).
- Grand Baja Mexico Tour – this 1 day trip takes you further into Baja California and includes Puerto Nuevo and Rosarito Beach
San Diego is more than just a jumping off point for Mexico. It’s a popular tourist destination that many people choose to call home. If you are planning a move to San Diego, Move Central’s San Diego Movers can help the process run smoothly.
And if you’re looking for things to do in California, check out my posts: Things to Do in San Diego | 19 Best Things To Do In Downtown LA
So, that’s my guide to visiting Tijuana from San Diego. If you have any questions or more suggestions, let me know in the comments below.
My other Mexico Blog Posts
- 20 Fun Things To Do In Tijuana
- 11 Best Things To Do in La Paz Mexico
- Your Ultimate Baja California Road Trip Itinerary
- Swimming with Sea Lions in Mexico – Isla Espiritu Santo Tour
- Guide to Swimming with Whale Sharks in Mexico
- How To Go Wine Tasting in Ensenada
- Taking the Baja Ferry from Topolobampo to La Paz in Mexico
- Things To Do In The Copper Canyon – Where To Visit
- The Copper Canyon Travel Guide: Planning Your Trip
- Best Things to Do in Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico
- Is Mexico Safe? From Someone Who’s Been
- How to Drink Tequila Like a Mexican
- Quick and Easy Guacamole Recipe: From Mexico
- The Only Packing List You’ll Ever Need (with printable checklist)
- 15 Long Haul Flight Essentials: What to Take Onboard
- Travel Insurance: Don’t get Screwed by the Small Print
- 101 Tips for Cheap Flights
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55 thoughts on “How To Visit Tijuana from San Diego – Complete Guide”
Thank you so much!🙏
You’re very welcome!
Hi can you email me I needed info I really would appreciate a few mins please It’s travel advice related
Hi Dai, you can fill in my contact page and I’ll be happy to reply from there 🙂 Happy trip planning.
Great article! It helps us a log to explore Tijuana.
Yes. If you walk in at the San Ysidro crossing, Mexican officials will demand that you produce a passport and sign up for the FMM card. Until Covid struck, the FMM cards for stays in Mexico under 7 days, were free. Now they’re trying to extort $30 from visitors, insisting that you buy a 6 month FMM visa. Pure greed on Mexico’s part. Scandalous.
Thanks for the update!
Can you walk thru the border to go to TJ now? I heard it’s essential only. Is it normal to tip border official to get thru? Thanks
Oooh, coivd question…I don’t want to be unhelpful but the chances are that by the time I reply, the rules will have changed. Go to the official Mexican government website and find out the rules there would be the safest bet.
You no longer have to claim ‘essential business’ to cross into Mexico. You can go for any purpose. Actually, Mexico never really enforced it anyways. And no, you don’t have to tip anyone in customs. It’s their job.
If I am going for 3 days do I need a fmm form? if so where do I get it ?
Hi Derrica, you can stop in at the immigration office as you cross the border. The other option is to complete the form online but you’ll still need to go to the office at the border for your stamp. Have fun.
Wow this is so comprehensive and I love your photos.
I’m from Aussie and going back to america next month and will be in LA for 5 days. My friend and I are wanting to go to San Diego and thought this would be a fun idea to check out Tijuana. We will go by foot as car seems a little harder. My friend is nervous something could happen.
We are two females aged 25 and 28. We just want to go for the day and come back late arvo – do you have any tips or suggesting for us? Plus do they allow anyone besides U.S Citizens to cross the boarder for a day trip? Thank you
Hi Jamie, all of my tips are in the post but if your friend is nervous how about planning a place to eat and drink, find it on a map and go straight there. Having a destination and purpose can make you look more confident and you’ll be so focused on getting where you’re going you’ll have less time to worry 🙂 You can definitely cross with a non-USA passport (I’m British). Nervousness is common with Tijuana. Just be sensible and don’t get rat-arsed drunk and you’ll probably be fine. Tijuana really has some many great things to offer. Come back and let me know how you get on.
Hello. I wanted to know if you ended up going to Tijuana. Could you share where you stayed and if you have any tips that are not mentioned on this website.
I haven’t been to Tijuana in a long time. I am sure it has change alot. I want to go to Ensenda where i have relatives living there. Do you think it is safe for me to travel alone?
Hi Teresa, we all have our own personal definition of what feels safe. I have felt safe alone in Mexico 99.9% of the time. I think if you’ve been to Tijuana, you’ll probably feel safe in Ensenada. Just check the local news before you go.
Hi can we get a mexico flag view from San ysidro?? Or we have to cross the border??
Hi Megha, I’m afraid you’ll need to cross the border to see it properly. It’s completely worth it though (IMO!)
Hi Jo, great article! I am a journalist coming to Tijuana & San Diego to write about the differences in the border region and how people try to make good use of it (dental treatments in Tijuana, Shopping in San Diego etc.). Do you have any recommendations for a guide regarding these aspects?
Thanks a lot!
Hi Mal, I’m afraid I don’t. Sorry – I’d just be hitting Google as much as you. Good luck and I hope the trip goes well.
Hello, great article. How do you recommend how to get from the border to the beach? There doesn’t seem to be an organized bus system. Are taxis the best? Thank you
Hi Eli, yes, I’d recommend a taxi – it’s about 15 – 20 minutes away and shouldn’t be too expensive. If you’re paying in dollars, you’re probably getting ripped off. I believe Uber is now in Tijuana so that might be worth a try.
Dahlia Dental right next to the Hotel Pueblo Amigo is very good and I had full mouth reconstruction done there. About 150 yards from the border. Hotel is very nice also.
Hi Jo, I am thinking of taking a 2-day cooking class at the Tijuana Culinary Art School- it looks like state-of-the-art school. The classes run from 5:30 pm to 10:30 pm so I would be crossing back to the US by foot rather late at night- I might stay at a nearby hotel, though, so I could return to the US during the day time. I’m a bit nervous about doing this by myself- oh well, you only live once!
Hi Fran, I’d personally rather stay locally than linger around the border area late at night. If you’re worried, book one of the big chain hotels and get a taxi straight there from your hotel. Have a great class – if you have a minute, come back and tell me how it goes! Have a great trip.
I’m looking at going to have gastric bypass in Mexico. Go to San Diego and travel down. It’s at Oasis hospital. Any info you can provide would be helpful?
Hi Valerie, I’ve not been to Mexico for any medical treatment so I’m afraid I can’t advise you. Having spent a lot of time in the country, I can say that I wouldn’t have any concerns about having treatment there if it was medically necessary. Part of me wants to say that I’m sure you’re beautiful and wonderful without the surgery but that isn’t very supportive so, if it’s the right decision for you, I wish you luck and hope it all goes well.
I’m thinking of traveling to TJ for same reasons at that hospital, but I don’t have my passport just the new Real ID drivers license and of course my birth certificate. Do you think I can travel with just those documents? I will hate to get hassled on my way back. Please advise.
Hi, as I’ve mentioned in the article, a passport is officially required and if you’re looking for 100% guarantee that you will both get in and out of Mexico, that’s what you need. If you go without a passport, there is a risk. As I say, I’ve not been checked but that doesn’t mean you won’t be unlucky on the day. Sorry!
Hello, very good guide. I would like to know how to travel DIRECTLY by bus from San Diego to Tijuana and vice versa. Thank you
Hi Andy, I don’t believe there is a direct bus – I suspect this is because all vehicles have to pass through the border which can be very time consuming and therefore not cost efficient for a bus company. If you want to go direct, the best options are via taxi or private tour. Hope that helps.
Hi! This is really random, but I’m going to San Diego for a day and need a cheap place to stay for one night and found that Tijuana has really inexpensive Airbnb’s. Can you tell me how easy it is to get in and out of Tijuana to California? I’ve never entered Mexico by car so I’m just wondering if you know how long it typically takes to get in and out at the border. I know I need a passport, but other than that do you know if I’d need anything else? Any insight would be really awesome. Thank you!
Hi, read above, I’ve covered a whole section on how long it takes to get in and out by car and foot! No point me repeating it here ;p
are there 2 entry/exit points for walking ? I’ve used the old one by the trolley. Is the new one more convenient ?
I’ve only walked over the one crossing which was close to the trolley. So I can’t comment on the others except to say that it was super easy.
I want to take advantage of the lower dental prices in Tijuana. But I am scared to visit. Their violent murder rate in 2017, was 1700 murders! That is just for Tijuana. So you think it is a safe place for an older white women to visit?
Hi Sally, I’ve been to Tijuana more than once and never had any trouble. Of course, I can’t make any promises about any destination (including Europe and the USA). However, I’m sure if you drill down into those crime statistics, you’ll find most of them were gang/drug related and probably unlikely included women travelling for dental treatment 🙂 Do be savvy – don’t take your Rolex, stay in a safe area and ask your hotel for local safety advice and I’m sure you’ll be fine (dental pain aside!).
1000 percent safe. Go to trust dental care in Tijuana. Perfectly clean and safe. They even offer a driver to pick you up and drop you off at the border free of charge. I’ve also stayed at the hotel next door which is nice and literally right next door to the dental place. I’ve been down there about 50 times over the last 20 years and never once felt unsafe and I’m a small short Asian guy!
I am thinking of doing this as a younger small Asian guy, any tips? What to avoid/where to hide money, is it safe to go to a convenience store alone for a sim card?
Hi Chad, I’m a small woman and had no trouble. I tend to take money out as I go to limit my risk and just store it in an old travel towel cbag (sophisticated, I know!). I’ve been to plenty of stores alone and they will even help set up the SIM for you. Good luck!
Totally safe. I recommend Trust Dental. They’ve done extensive work on me including implants High quality, they all speak English, and you can park on the US side of the border and they will have the driver pick you up, drive you to the office, then return you to the border when finished. Try it once. You’ll be surprised how easy and cheap it is.
Nice, post 😀
We did the trip at the same time as you. We also crossed at San Ysidro, but in a private car. There was no line going into Mexico. Coming home on a Sunday night, however, was a nightmare. The line of cars was 4 miles long. It took us 5 hours and 16 minutes (yes, you read that right: 5:16) to make the actual crossing. It was a total mess. Foot crossings are probably much, much easier.
Hi Lance, yikes! I did wonder, given how long it took to cross back by foot, whether it would be about the same by car but apparently not. Thanks for stopping by to share this. Hopefully, it will help someone say five hours of their life (or at least prepare them so they can create a five-hour long playlist on Spotify!).
Lance: thanks for the information about the border crossing time. It sounds like a weekday around 10am might be better for crossing back. My wife and I are planning a camping trip down Baja next winter and the information posted here in the article and the comments are quite pertinent for our planning.
Hello Mike. Curious to know where you and your wife went camping and did you like the campground you stayed at?