San Diego (California)
San Diego, the second largest city in California, is a world apart from its loose Mexican sister to the south, Tijuana . This clean, wealthy city boasts excellent beaches, a famous zoo and a thriving downtown area that includes the Gaslamp district - the hub of San Diego's entertainment scene. Arriving in
San Diego International Airport
, bus No 992 stops outside all terminals and continues to the Gaslamp district and the
, with many services to Los Angeles. The trolley bus service covering most of the city goes to the border at San Ysidro.
The border town of
is more like a Mexican city of the interior than a gaudy border town, perhaps because there is no town centre on the US side. It is also uncharacteristically clean, having been spared the heavy air pollution that has so ravaged its neighbours. Drivers heading out of Mexico may want to exit at Tecate; the crossing is calm and straightforward and the ambience decidedly civil. If arriving from the US, bus services to the interior are as frequent as any other major crossing
There is some disagreement about the meaning and origin of the town's name, but one popular interpretation is 'clear water' - an indigenous reference to local springs. This fits nicely with the marketers of the locally produced beer, Tecate - one of Mexico's finest brews. Aficionados can visit the world-famous brewery,
Ceverceria Cuautémoc Moctezuma
, where fresh, locally sourced spring water is transformed into golden nectar.
Baja California Secretary of Tourism
, provides a useful map of the town and other information.
Capital of Baja California, Mexicali is not as geared to tourism as Tijuana and thus retains its busy, business-like border-town flavour. Its name is a fusion of two words 'Mexico' and 'California', hastily assigned after the city mushroomed on the banks of the Río Colorado. Once an important agricultural centre, Mexicali drew various waves of migrant workers during the 19th century, not least Chinese, whose legacy survives in a wealth of restaurants and Mexico's most thriving Chinatown. Today, the
(assembling and manufacturing) industry plays a more vital role in the city's economy. There is a
Tourism and Convention Bureau
, with the usual flyers and brochures.The University of Baja California's
, has interesting exhibits illustrating Baja's archaeology, ethnography and missions.
, the much smaller city on the California side of the border, is so thoroughly Mexicanized that it can be difficult to find a newspaper from San Diego or Los Angeles. Mexican shoppers flock here for clothing bargains. Day visitors may prefer to park on the California side, since the extremely congested Avenida Cristóbal Colón in Mexicali, which parallels the frontier fence, is the access route to the US port of entry.
West of Mexicali, the road to Tijuana is fast and well surfaced, running across barren desert flats with organ-pipe cacti in abundance, below sea level, until reaching the eastern escarpment of the peninsula's spine. It then winds its way up the Cantú Grade to
, giving expansive, dramatic vistas of desert and mountain.
South of Mexicali, Highway 5 runs for 193 km to San Felipe, passing the
Cerro Prieto geothermal field
around Km 34. Then, after passing the Río Hardy and the
(Km 72, a vast, dry alkali flat sometimes turned into a muddy morass by rare falls of rain), the road runs straight across sandy desert. It enters
around a tall, white, double-arched monument. Floods can cut the road across the Laguna Salada; when it is closed, motorists have to use Highway 3 from Ensenada to get to San Felipe.
North of San Luis (35 km) is Baja California's last international border crossing point, the farming town of Algodones. The road north from San Luis skirts the Algodones dunes, the longest in North America. Algodones has one hotel and there are several
casas de cambio
. At Andrade, on the California side, the Quechan people from nearby Fort Yuma Reservation operate an RV park and campground.