Guide to walking across the border to Tijuana

If you are in San Diego and find yourself wanting to visit Tijuana, Mexico, probably the easiest and most convenient way to cross the border is on foot. Parking in the United States and crossing as a pedestrian has a number of advantages over driving across the border and in my opinion is by far the least stressful way to visit Tijuana. In this article I’ll explain how to cross the border at San Ysidro into Tijuana, coming back, and my tips for crossing.

Before you go

Before you travel to Tijuana, you will need to make sure you have a passport. They do not always check when entering Mexico, but you will need it to get back into the United States.

Entering into Tijuana it has been about fifty-fifty over the last couple of years if I’ve been asked for my passport or had to fill out a tourist permit. The longer the line the less likely they have been to make you fill out any forms it seems. You don’t need to fill out the tourist permit in advance or bring one, it only takes a minute or two to fill it out if they require it.

If you visited Tijuana years ago, you may not remember this being an issue, but it is now. Border patrol checks your passport before you can even enter customs, where they will check you again.

I have no idea what would happen if you don’t have your passport when trying to enter back into the United States, but I can’t imagine the hassle would be very fun at all.

Parking in San Ysidro

For those who don’t know, San Ysidro is the community that is right on the border with Tijuana, and where you will want to park to use the pedestrian crossing into Mexico. You can also cross the border at Otay Mesa, but it is far from anything you’d most likely want to visit in Tijuana, and it is normally faster crossing back into the United States at San Ysidro as well.

Take Interstate 5 or 805 south (they merge into one right before the border) and take the last U.S. exit, which is Camino de la Plaza. There are several parking lots that you can pay to park your car at while you visit Mexico.

When exiting the freeway, you can make a right or a left on Camino de la Plaza. There are two pedestrian border crossings in San Ysidro, and if you have a preference for one over the other you will want to park closest to that crossing.

A map showing the border crossing locations.

If you want to use PedWest (Note: As of February 2024, PedWest is open for limited hours in each direction during the day. For travelling to the United States from Mexico, it is open from 6:00 am to 2:00 pm. For travelling into Mexico it is open from 3:00 pm to 11:00 pm. This keeps changing so check the Border Patrol site before you go.), make a right when exiting the freeway and pick one of the parking lots in that area, and if you want to use the eastern border crossing (where you see cars entering Mexico) take a left. If you don’t care about which crossing you are using, take a right and used Border Station parking. It is right in the middle and that gives you flexibility when crossing back into the United States (more on that later).

Depending on the time of day and day of the week, you will most likely have no trouble finding a parking spot, however on Friday nights or holidays the spaces can fill up. You can use SpotHero to reserve spaces in advance at a few of the lots on the border. I have personally never used the service, however, so I can’t vouch for how good it is.

Parking at the outlet mall

There is an outlet mall right next to the PedWest border crossing, and they normally have a ton of parking spaces. The parking lot is obviously for mall customers and not long term parking so you are taking a huge risk to park there and cross.

That being said, I have parked there for very short trips to Tijuana where I knew I’d only be there a couple of hours or so and the pay lot was filled. You definitely don’t want to be in a situation where you are still parked there when the mall closes, as you will likely be towed. It is much cheaper just to pay for parking.

Taking the trolley to the border

Another option is to take the San Diego trolley to San Ysidro. The last trolley station is right next to the eastern border crossing in San Ysidro. The trolley is relatively safe, and during the day time, it should be pretty filled with people and is regularly patrolled by transit police.

Take the blue line towards San Ysidro, and get off at the San Ysidro Transit Center. You won’t be able to miss the border.

As of this writing, the last trolley leaves San Ysidro heading north at 12:58 am and the first one in the morning is at 4:28 am, so if you plan on being in Tijuana for any nightlife, you do need to be wary of that.

Crossing the border into Mexico

Deciding which border crossing to take when entering Tijuana depends on what you want to do. If the plan is to walk Revolución (the main tourist area), it is probably easier and less of a walk to cross at PedWest. If you are going to grab a taxi or an Uber, both crossings are the same.

Crossing into Mexico is super easy, and unless you go at a busy time of day should be relatively fast. When you get to the border crossing just follow the signs, present your ID and your tourist permit if you are asked to fill it out, and enter.

As I mentioned earlier when crossing on foot there are times when they have not requested a tourist permit to be filled out, even though technically you are supposed to have one. A lot of the time they ask why you are visiting Mexico and the answer is good enough.

If you plan on staying in Mexico for more than 72 hours or going more than 16 miles (26 km) from the border (unless you are going to Ensenada), you will almost certainly be required to fill out the tourist permit, and pay a 170 peso (at the time of this article) tourist entry fee.

Citizens of the US, Canada, EU countries, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, and Switzerland are among those who do not need any sort of visa to enter Mexico as tourists. Mexican visas are also not required for people of any nationality who hold a valid US, Canadian or Schengen visa.

If you are crossing on foot, you likely won’t be carrying a lot of stuff with you into Mexico but it is worth noting as a tourist you are only allowed to bring in two cameras duty-free. Also, non-Mexican citizens can’t fly drones in Mexico, so there isn’t much of a point to bring a drone.

Absolutely do not try to bring any weapons into Mexico. Even carrying a knife is illegal. While marijuana is legal in California, don’t try to bring any into Mexico as well.

Once you’ve crossed the border

Getting a taxi

After you have crossed into Mexico, no matter which crossing you use you’ll be greeted by a lot of taxi cabs waiting around to provide service. If you plan on taking a cab you’ll have no trouble finding one. It is a good idea to ask the price beforehand and you can ask around or negotiate.

Another option is to use Uber. It is available in Tijuana and is very convenient. It will likely be much cheaper than a cab as well and you don’t need to use cash. Depending on your destination, it may make it easier to get picked up as well. If you are going somewhere more off the beaten path or that doesn’t have a lot of tourists finding a cab might not be easy.

Recently, I have begun to use Uber more often than taxis in Tijuana, but occasionally right at the border my phone will still pick up a signal from the US but it isn’t strong enough to get internet making it so the Uber app won’t work correctly, and I’ll end up just taking a taxi to my destination.


If you are heading to Avenida Revolución, which is the main tourist area of Tijuana, it is a short walk from either border crossing, though the PedWest crossing is a bit closer.

There are plenty of signs leading the way from both crossings. Just head west and follow the signs. The giant arch you will undoubtedly see (the one pictured in this article) is located at Avenida Revolución and Primer Callejón Z. Just keep heading towards that. You will cross a Tijuana River bridge on your way there, the arch is about two blocks from the bridge.

I have never felt unsafe walking towards Revolución in the day time, and there are usually plenty of other people walking as well. There will be plenty of merchants along the way trying to entice you to buy their goods or check out their shops, but usually, a polite no will get them to move onto the next person. The same can be said for the women and children you’ll undoubtedly see asking for money.

What to do in Tijuana

Avenida Revolucion in Tijuana.

Tijuana is a huge city and has plenty of things to see, restaurants to eat at, and places to stay. Even listing a portion of them would take another much larger article. Wikitravel has a pretty good guide to Tijuana, so it is worth checking out. There are plenty of other guides online as well.

One location that I will recommend that isn’t on a lot of lists yet is the Museo de la Lucha Libre Mexicana. Even if you are not interested in lucha libre (professional wrestling), the museum offers a fascinating look at something that is deeply ingrained in the culture of Mexico. It is right off Revolución too.

Returning to the United States

If you parked centrally on the U.S. side of the border, when you head back to the border crossing a trick is to pick whichever crossing has the shortest wait time to cross. Luckily you can download the CBP Border Wait Times app and it will tell you the wait time at every border crossing between Mexico and the United States. Just select which crossing has the shortest wait and head to that location.

If you are walking back to the border, and you are on Revolución, it is pretty easy. Just head towards that arch again and you’ll start to see signs directing you towards the border. Just make sure you are heading towards the location you want. Most of the signs clearly identify PedWest as PedWest.

As you approach the border, you will likely be stopped by border patrol and they will check your passport before they even let you in the building. Occasionally there can be a long line before you even get to this point. Once they have checked and let you into customs, usually it is a pretty fast process from there.

There will usually be a few lanes open, though some are designated for people who have a Sentri pass. When you speak with the agent they will normally ask you a few questions such as your purpose of travel, scan your passport, and you are on your way.

I have never been selected for any sort of secondary inspection or anything, so I don’t know what that is like.

Crossing into the U.S. is much faster than it used to be, and if you time your crossing to avoid busy times it doesn’t take long at all. I’ve crossed in less than 15 minutes quite a few times recently. With multiple crossings and so many lanes at each one they really have improved the process of crossing the border over what it was a decade ago.

Once you are back in the U.S., head to your car (or trolley) and you can head on your way.

I hope this guide helps anyone looking to head down to Tijuana to check out the sites. If you have any questions feel free to ask in the comments or send me an e-mail.

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