How to Get From San Diego to Mexico if You’re a Tourist (and an American Citizen)

If you’re ever visiting San Diego and are curious about going to Mexico for a day trip, it isn’t quite as easy as you might think, or at least that was my experience. My husband suggested we go to Rosarito, Mexico one day while we were on a recent vacation in San Diego. He had heard that Rosarito is a nice resort area and wanted to go walk along the beach and spend the day there. San Diego is only about 30 minutes by car to the border and just another 30 minutes from there to Rosarito. We thought, how hard can it be to drive there?

Here is an image from the internet of Rosarito, Mexico.  This is what my husband saw when he looked it up online.  It looks pretty fantastic, doesn’t it?


When we asked some of my husband’s friends who live in San Diego the best way to get there, we were told they hadn’t been to Mexico in years and couldn’t remember. We stopped at a visitor center and were again told by both people they hadn’t been in years. Next we stopped at a trolley information center and were told by the woman working there she had no idea. My husband asked the manager of the bed and breakfast where we were staying. She called her sister who takes people on tours of wineries in Mexico, who told her she could take us there for $150 (not sure if that was total or per person), but that wasn’t exactly what we wanted either.

Just about exasperated by this point, we searched online and found conflicting information about both driving from San Diego to Mexico and taking public transportation there. My husband called our car insurance company and was told we would not have coverage if we drove into Mexico. Finally my husband called Hertz, the rental company we had rented a car through for our vacation in San Diego. He was told we could purchase insurance coverage for Mexico for $38/day. This seemed to be our best option.

The following morning, he drove to the Hertz office where we had previously picked up the car and we bought the extra insurance. Finally we were off to Mexico! It only took about an hour and a half to drive from Coronado to Rosarito. The roads there were in decent shape and it was simple enough to get there. Going over the border into Mexico is a non-event and it’s really no different than driving from one US state to another. We were never stopped by border patrol or anyone else going into Mexico.

We had a little trouble finding a parking spot in Rosarito but we finally figured out the spaces with the curb painted green are OK to park in. Spaces with red are not OK to park in. We parked and went straight to the beach. What a disappointment! The beach was dirty, littered with trash, and smelled bad. It was not a place we wanted to stay for long so after a quick walk along the beach we made our way back to the main street.

There was trash littered all over Rosarito Beach
Rosarito Beach smelled like trash and raw fish- yuck!

At this point we had been in Rosarito for less than 30 minutes and had been harassed by multiple people at the beach trying to sell us something or get us to eat at their restaurant. We thought we would do a little shopping but we had a hard time even finding shops to go in. Many weren’t open despite it being 11:00 on a Wednesday morning and there weren’t that many to choose from open or not.

We did end up finding a couple of nice art galleries, one of which had excellent prices and quality. There were some other shops full of touristy items and even some Donald Trump piñatas. In the end we didn’t buy anything but walked around some more to find a restaurant for lunch. We had a tasty lunch of burritos and enchiladas but it wasn’t exactly cheap.

Our lunch spot was like eating in a garden with all of the greenery

After lunch my daughter said she wanted to find a bakery so we found a shop that sold only cupcakes and bought 3 for about $2.50 total and they even came with a free cup of coffee with each cupcake (which we declined). The woman working here spoke no English, so I was glad I had so much Spanish in high school and college. In contrast to what we paid for lunch, these cupcakes were a great deal. Just two days prior we had bought cupcakes in San Diego for $3.50 each. Big difference.

After eating our cupcakes we decided we had seen enough of Rosarito and started the drive back to San Diego. I wish I could say it was a nice scenic drive back but it really wasn’t. On the drive there we took highway 1D/Scenic Road, which ran along the ocean but my husband wanted to try a different way back and it wasn’t nearly as scenic. I guess the lesson here is stick to the scenic route.

Then we came upon a sight unlike anything I had ever encountered. Close to the border to enter the United States was the biggest spectacle of street vendors I have ever seen. There were people selling everything from blankets to Jesus statues to snacks to hats to cooking pots and more. I’ve never seen so many baby Jesus statues in my life!

The vendors began here under this bridge underpass
This is just a fraction of the vendors you will pass on your way into the US

After sitting in traffic at the border for an hour and a half we finally made it to border patrol for passport check. Then we were told we had to go to a secondary checkpoint which we were randomly chosen for (Yay! This meant an even longer wait time). The secondary checkpoint took another 15 minutes, for a total of 2 hours just to drive through border patrol.

Would I recommend driving into Mexico from San Diego if you’re just curious about what it’s like and want to spend the day there? Absolutely not but I didn’the go to the more popular Tijuana or anywhere else so I can’t speak for anywhere other than Rosarito. Now I see why everyone we asked about it hadn’t gone in so long they couldn’t even remember or had never been. Save yourself some hassle and just stay in beautiful San Diego. Then again, maybe you should go now before the wall goes up!