Destination: Tijuana, Baja California, MEX
Length of Stay: 1 Day (August 2018)
Transportation: Walking (Free Parking)
We decided to take a day trip to Tijuana, Mexico during our stay in San Diego, CA. San Diego is located only about 20 minutes from the border of Baja California, Mexico's western most state. Instead of driving across the border, we drove down to San Diego's Outlets at the Border and made our way across by foot. Read more below about how we got over the border and into Tijuana as well how to plan your day trip there.
Crossing the Border
Walking vs. Driving
We had read horrible things about driving across the border of Mexico into the U.S. One blogger, Art Travel Eat Repeat, said that she walked across the border to save time and since that was an option for us, we decided to give it a shot.
Where to Park
You can find free day parking at the Outlets at the Border that lie right over the border in San Diego. Alternatively, if you feel more comfortable paying and having video surveillance of your vehicle, you can pay $12 for the day in the same parking lot, just outside of the Nike Outlet.
Walking across the Border
Similar to customs in an airport, you will need to provide documentation - your passport will do (your drivers license will not) and you will need to place your belongings on a belt for scanning prior to proceeding. We went around 10am on a Tuesday morning and the whole process took us under five minutes. Returning home, we anticipated about a 2-3 hour long wait, based on what we’d read online, but again, the whole process took us under five minutes. It was about 3pm on a Tuesday and there were no lines. Pro tip: if you are visiting Mexico from the U.S. for under 72 hours you do not need a Visa.
If you decide to drive, keep in mind that it will take a lot longer to cross the border in a car than on foot. We saw a very long line of cars (even mid day on a Tuesday) for both sides of the borders, particularly crossing into the U.S. side. Even once you make it over, you will still need to find a safe place to park so keep that in mind. It is also worth checking your car insurance policy as some insurance companies will not provide coverage in Mexico, and if they do they will likely have some restrictions as to where you can go.
Cabs to Avenida Revolución
When you emerge on the other side and into Mexico, there will be several white cabs waiting ready to take you anywhere you want to go. We’d recommend offering the cab driver a straight “cincuenta pesos to Avenida Revolución” which is about $2.50 USD (as of August 2018). Some may be willing to take you for more or less depending on how well you blend in (we obviously look like Gringos) and how good your Spanish is. We paid 90 pesos on the way there, which we thought was a good deal at the time because we had been told it was going to cost roughly $5.00 USD. However, we were offered 50 pesos for a ride back to the border from Revolution Ave.
Most cab drivers will take either Mexican Pesos or American Dollars. You can choose to convert your money before or after you cross. We did before we went, in the same parking lot of the outlets. It’s hard to say where you will get a better rate, luckily we did get a better rate in the U.S. as we exchanged $40 US dollars for $750 pesos which included the service charge by the foreign exchange stand.
Conversion Rates and Bargaining
Exchange Rates are from August 2018 - current exchange rates here
Taxi: 90-100 pesos = $5.00 U.S. Dollars
Lunch: 135 pesos = $7.20 U.S. Dollars
Souvenirs: 500 pesos = $27.00 U.S. dollars
You could definitely spend the day in Mexico and have a good time for between $40-50 USD depending on if you want to buy a souvenir. Josh got a leather belt for 500 pesos and I got some beautiful Mexican pottery, three pieces, for 1700 pesos. With that being said, definitely bargain for goods. The woman I bought the pottery from was willing to reduce the price of all the pieces I had my eye on for between $5-10 each. Avenida Revolución is considered the tourist strip, offering heaps of shopping and cafes and it's easy to walk up and down, especially just for a day trip. Don’t be surprised if the shop owners try and (somewhat aggressively) invite you into their tiendas with a, “Hey amigo!” or “Come look, you never know!”
"Always ask the Fat Boy"
I’d looked up a few restaurants prior to going and have to agree with the masses that Caesars brings home the gold for this one. They offer white table cloths, inside or outside seating, and a high end dining experience for a fraction of the price - you can’t go wrong. The Caesar salad was allegedly invited here, in Tijuana, so it’s a shame to visit and not have the dressing made table side for you. We had a cerveza (beer) and split a salad before venturing onward. We went to another local restaurant, but it was a mistake leaving Caesars.
We met a local shop owner who told us that we should "always ask the fat boy" and he recommended us to try out a local joint on the corner for their huge portions and authentic Mexican food, but I’m sad to say I wish we ate our whole lunch at Caesars.
At the second restaurant, Josh order steak and was brought a very small portion - about an appetizer size. It was very difficult for me to find something on the menu that was vegetarian. I had asked the waiter if they had veggie fajitas, hoping for a heaping portion of veggies and some beans and rice, but instead ordered their 'Mexican Pizza' (below) which he said was the only vegetarian thing they had on the menu. Seriously, take our advice and try out Caesar’s - you won’t be disappointed.
Heading back Home
We wanted to make it back before dark, so we caught a cab back around 3pm. If you have any left over pesos and you want to convert them, there is stand in the parking lot of the San Diego side that is open 24 hours. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend spending the night in Mexico as I can’t speak from personal experience but if you are so brave to do so, more power to you! We passed “Hostel de California” on our way out, which looked to be the closest lodging to the border.