Need to get away? Here are weekly tips on places to visit outside the Sacramento area.
The U.S.-Mexico border has been in the news a lot these days, and not for the most cheerful of reasons. If you only took in the speeches and headlines, you’d think the border was swamped mainly with drug and immigrant smugglers and in general brimming with crime.
There’s no question that all of the above takes place in some form along the 1,952-mile dividing line, but the borderlands are also a fascinating, transnational world unto themselves that blends cultures and national strengths.
They’re where thousands of students cross every day to attend secondary school or college in El Paso, Texas, or San Diego, and then return home to Mexico. It’s the line dividing lots of Americans from affordable dental and medical care in Mexican border towns, as well as favorite surfing spots in Baja California. About $580 billion in goods and services were traded between the two countries in 2015, with much of it crossing the border in trucks.
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As journalist Tyche Hendricks wrote in her 2010 book “The Wind Doesn’t Need a Passport”: “At this juncture where the United States and Mexico meet, a border culture has evolved that sets the region apart from other parts of either country.”
For the current affairs-minded visitor, visiting the region means diving into a world that both reinforces the significance of borders, and transcends it. People can catch a glimpse of the border barrier in its various permutations near San Diego, where long, twisting stretches of corrugated iron cut through fields, with the outskirts of Tijuana edging right up against the barrier.
At Border Field State Park about 15 miles south of San Diego, sand dunes, salt marshes and beaches give way to the westernmost edge of the border wall, which is really just a series of tall, thin metal slats crossing the sand and surf. You can see Mexico through the slats and even chat with a fellow beachgoer on the other side, that is, if you don’t mind being scrutinized by U.S. Border Patrol guards.
Crossing into Tijuana from San Ysidro can take as little as 14 minutes or as long as two hours, with the weekends requiring the longest waits. Definitely make sure you’ve bought the appropriate amount of Mexican auto insurance before you drive in.
Once you’re across, a surprisingly hip culinary scene awaits in Tijuana, with the restaurant Misión 19 (Misión San Javier 10643, Piso 2, VIA Corporativo Zona Urbana Río, +52-664-634-2493) leading the pack. Expect creatively prepared octopus, oysters, scallops and other seafood, along with steak, usually served with tortillas, and a generous selection of Baja California-produced wine.
Sometimes, a taco from a cafe or truck will satisfy, and there are plenty of places to choose from. Taqueria Franc (Blvd. Sánchez Taboada and Calle 8) is one of the most popular and adds craft beer into the mix.
Moving farther east are the twin cities of Calexico and Mexicali, with the latter dwarfing the former. Mexicali, in particular, hosts the biggest Chinese-Mexican community in the country, and the neighborhood La Chinesca is still lined with restaurants serving a unique blend of Mexican and Chinese cuisine. You can also tour the sprawling network of tunnels built by Chinese-Mexicans decades ago as a way to beat the desert heat, among other purposes.
Finally, lots of Americans cross the border for cheap medical care. The quality of those services is debatable, but that doesn’t stop legions of medical tourists from flooding towns such as Los Algodones, at the juncture of the Arizona, California and Mexican borders.
As always, take care on either side of the border, especially at night. Some of the border scare stories are true, which means you should be aware of your surroundings, like you’d be in any urban setting. That said, the border can be a seductive state of mind where it’s easy to forget where the peso ends and the dollar begins. At the very least, a visit to these borderlands might help you better parse all the debate about it on this side of the line.
What: Savor pies, hamburgers and other delectable dishes during the Taste of Julian, an annual self-guided culinary tour through Julian, a historic town east of San Diego.
When: 1-5 p.m. Saturday, April 8
Where: Highway 78 and Main Street, Julian
What: Hosted by the No Reservations Travel Club, local traveler Chris Smith will speak about his recent trip to Nicaragua.
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 4
Where: Arden-Dimick Library Community Room, 891 Watt Ave., Sacramento
What: Two historical tall ships will make a stop in Oakland on a tour along the Pacific Coast. Board the Lady Washington and the Hawaiian Chieftain to experience mock battles and living history.
When: Sailing times vary between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Sunday, April 2 through Monday, April 24
Where: Jack London Square, 1 Broadway and Water Street, Oakland
Cost: $5 to $59 for sailing excursions and tours