A reasonable person would take a flight from San Francisco to San Diego, and then Uber to the border between San Diego and Tijuana. I was not feeling reasonable, so I booked an overnight Amtrak journey that took me from Mission Street in downtown San Francisco to the Santa Fe Depot in downtown San Diego. From there I hopped on the Blue Line to the border. I had a blast, and while the route I took is not for everyone, it was fun, different, and a memory I will have forever.
Leg 1: San Francisco to Santa Barbara by Bus
My first leg was from San Francisco to Santa Barbara by overnight bus. My dad dropped me off at the Salesforce Plaza on Mission Street at 10:00 pm for my 10:30 departure. As I arrived at the station an attendant pointed me in the right direction, and I was all set.
When the bus arrived, the driver had our names written down on a tracker and scanned our E-tickets. We all had a pair of seats to ourselves and I was relieved to see everyone was wearing their mask properly.
Every few hours we would stop for a rest and socialize beside the bus. In the wee hours of the night, we enjoyed the camaraderie of our fellow travelers and we indulged ourselves in conspiracy theories about corona virus and the election. At one stop a man graced us with Spanish classical on his nylon stringed acoustic guitar, all the while telling us he wasn’t any good. That man was liar.
I felt an odd sense of relief on the bus. I had been self-isolating in San Francisco from June to September and I was starved for the companionship of other people. It felt so incredible to be surrounded by others in the same space, and that feeling helped me drift off to sleep.
At 6:15 am, we arrived at an Amtrak station in Santa Barbara where we were to catch the Pacific Surfliner passenger train to San Diego. We shuffled off of the bus, we living dead, into a cool and foggy morning. We huddled into the warm and cozy station for a brief wait before our train arrived.
Leg 2: Santa Barbara to San Diego by Train
The Surfliner pulled into the station right on time at 6:49 am and we were delighted to find clean, spacious, double decker train cars. After just being on the bus, the wide cushioned seats seemed fit for royalty. As the sun rose, we skated the Pacific Coast with gorgeous views of the ocean on one side and a sunrise over grassy hills on the other.
I had never been in Southern California before, and I was amazed to see a hundred mile line of surfers stretching the entire length of the coast. RV communities and camper vans also took advantage of the incredible weather and extensive beachfront to set up shop. Passing through Los Angeles was also a great experience because we were able to see the city at full speed without regard for the infamous LA traffic.
There was a food service on the train, and some of my fellow passengers were able to get burgers and drinks to tide them over on the hours long trip. I decided to bring my own snacks, and I treated myself to a canned black coffee and a P3 protein box of almonds, cheese, and ham. Since I had not gotten a perfect night’s sleep on the bus, a good nutritious start helped me power through the day.
We arrived at the end of the line at the Santa Fe Depot in Downtown San Diego just before 1:00 PM, some fourteen and a half hours after our journey had begun. The Santa Fe Depot is iconic, trimmed in blue, and impossible to miss at the end of the line.
Leg 3: San Diego to San Ysidro by Trolley
Once we shuffled off the train, I made a beeline for the Blue Line Trolley to San Ysidro, which takes you all the way to the Pedestrian East (PedEast) crossing into Tijuana. I missed the first trolley by 30 seconds, but I only had to wait 14 minutes for the next one. I paid $2.50 USD at a ticketing machine and was soon on my way. Not a bad deal compared to an Uber priced at $35-40!
The highlight of my trolley trip was seeing the US Pacific Fleet. The behemoths towered stories over the water and were an impressive landmark on the journey.
It was easy to follow along with the trolley’s route with prominently displayed station maps, but it is all the easier knowing that the Blue Line, like the Pacific Surfliner was an end to end trip. At the absolute last stop, we were off to cross the US-Mexican border on foot!
Leg 4: San Ysidro to Tijuana by Legs
Crossing into Mexico from the United States by land was a breeze. Once everyone exited the trolley, we followed the signs towards the border crossing. As we entered Mexico, we had our temperatures scanned with contactless thermometers and our luggage went into machines to check for anything nefarious. Passports are generally not checked for those entering Mexico by land, BUT YOU WILL NEED YOUR PASSPORT TO RETURN TO THE USA!
Exiting customs, we were greeted by taxi drivers, porters, and vendors pushing their wares. It was a bit of a shock, but I pushed on towards a taxi stand where I paid $8 USD (way more than I should have) for a ride to the Hotel Real Del Rio where I would be staying for my trip.
Reflecting on the Journey
Yes, it was ridiculous to take a bus, a train, and a trolley to Tijuana from San Francisco, but I had an amazing time. There was every opportunity to enjoy breathtaking views of the beaches, hills, and cityscapes of southern California and the Pacific Coast. I will remember this trip for a lifetime. It is important to remember that the journey is often as important as the destination.
It would have been easier to hop on a flight from SFO to SAN and bounce right over to Tijuana. It would not even have been much more expensive than the $77 one way ticket I had purchased. That said, I am so thankful to have made the trip. Every leg was unique and enjoyable in its own way, and I feel like the journey was well worth the extra hassle.