Founded March 14, 1903, Mexicali has little resemblance to its border cousins, Tecate  and Tijuana . As the capital of the state of Baja California (Norte) and a major agricultural hub, most of the city’s one million people are too busy to take much notice of the steady stream of tourists that make their way through Mexicali to San Felipe  and points south.
What the city lacks in painted donkeys and street vendors it makes up for with efficient business hotels  and fine restaurants  that depend on local repeat customers. The zona hotelera and the area along Calle Benito Juárez offer adequate nightlife with several clubs and bars.
As a visitor to Mexicali, you can choose to blend in with the locals by catching an Aguilas baseball game, watching a bullfight, or sampling Bajanese cuisines in La Chinesca , Mexico’s only true Chinatown. If your vacation destination is beyond the city’s borders, there are several hotels that cater to the guests who view Mexicali as a border staging area with secure parking and low rates.
The nicest times to visit Mexicali are any month except the peak of summer, when temperatures regularly top 38°C.
By Air: Mexicali has an international airport, Aeropuerto Internacional General Rodolfo Sánchez Taboada (MXL), 20 kilometers east of the city via Boulevard de las Américas. No U.S. airlines currently serve the airport, but Aeroméxico (Pasaje Alamos 1008 D, Centro Cívico Comercial, tel. 686/557-2551) and Mexicana (Obregón, tel. 686/553-5401) offer connections from Hermosillo, Sonora, on the mainland. Mexicana also flies to and from Guadalajara, Monterrey, and Mexico City.
A taxi from the airport to downtown Mexicali runs about US$15.
By Car: From the San Diego airport, take I 5 north to I 8 past El Centro, and take Route 111 south to the border. This route takes about two hours. There is parking on the Calexico side of the border at Double AA Parking (201 W. Second St., U.S. tel. 760/357-3213) or Calexico Parking & Storage (465 W. Second St., tel. 760/357-2477, 6 A.M.–6 P.M. Mon.–Fri.), where you can also store your vehicle (US$1.50/day) or trailer (US$3/day).
After passing through the border patrol, you’ll reach a Y in the road. Stay right. The toll crossing is in the middle of town itself, with the usual insurance companies, fast-food restaurants, and money exchangers lining the last few blocks on the U.S. side.
To reach the east crossing, take I 8 to Route 7 south. For current border wait times, visit http://apps.cbp.gov/bwt/ .
Mexicali’s main north–south roads are well marked. The smaller streets running north–south are named by letters in the alphabet, starting with A near Route 111 and descending as you head east.
By Bus: Mexicali’s Central de Autobuses (on the south side of Independencia btw Calz. López Mateos/Centro Cívico, tel. 686/557-2410 or -2450) offers intercity connections to Baja and the mainland. Autotransportes de Baja California (ABC, Tijuana tel. 664/683-5681, www.abc.com.mx ) offers connections to Mexicali from Ensenada  and Tijuana . Estrellas del Pacífico (Tijuana tel. 664/683-5022 or -6789) also runs buses to and from Mexicali and Ensenada. Transportes Norte de Sonora (TNS), Transportes del Pacífico (Independencia 1244, tel. 686/556-1418) and Elite (tel. 800/025-0220, www.abc.com.mx ) provide connections to the mainland.
To reach the bus terminal via public transportation, catch a local Calle 6 bus from one of the stops along Calzada López Mateos.
The small ABC terminal on López Mateos (btw Azueta/Madero) offers frequent service to Tecate, Tijuana, and Ensenada.
The Greyhound station in Calexico (123 First St., U.S. tel. 760/357-1895), right at the pedestrian border crossing, runs direct connections to San Diego and Los Angeles. From the Calexico depot, you walk across through the border gate and take a taxi to the Mexicali bus depot (under US$10).