Tucked away on the most southwestern point in the continental United States is the 800-acre Border Field State Park. As its name implies, its southern border is the U.S.–Mexico border. Like many things in San Diego, the park is diverse in its offerings.
The park is part of the larger Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve, which also includes the Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge to the north, so there’s plenty of opportunity to enjoy the nature that the salt marshes, beaches, and estuary have to offer. But there’s also the history of the border and the area’s use during World War II.
Trails throughout the park allow you to explore the ecosystems of marshes and estuaries and look for the many birds, small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians that inhabit the refuge.
For me, however, the highlight is heading up to Monument Mesa where you’ll be right along the border fence with the Tijuana bullring and a lighthouse on the other side. There’s just something about standing on an international border that’s delineated by a monster fence. It makes you think.
Friendship Park is a small section where the Border Patrol will let people actually walk up to the border fence from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. You’ll see family and friends gather on both sides of the fence to share their stories and get caught up on the events of their lives. Watching that also makes you think.
A large picnic area atop Monument Mesa has built-in barbecues, tables, shade canopies, and restrooms. There’s also beach access (but no swimming allowed) for both pedestrians and equestrians. Yes, it’s one of the few places you can ride a horse on the beach. (Several nearby businesses offer horseback riding.)
There’s a little history in the park, too. After the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848, surveyors from both countries began work to establish the international boundary. The Boundary Marker #1 was placed at the location of present-day Boundary Marker #258. (Surveyors re-surveyed the border 45 years later starting in Texas and working their way west, hence the change in designation from Monument #1 to #258.) You may also see some World War II gun control bunkers along the coast.
Getting to the park can be challenging given its restricted hours for vehicle access, but it is unique and worth the effort.
What You Need to Know
Location: 1500 Monument Rd, San Diego, CA 92154
Hours: Opens 9:30 a.m. daily and closes between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m depending on seasons. Please check the websites below for detailed information.
Cost: $5.00 per vehicle
Tips: Accessing the park isn’t the easiest. While it’s open seven days a week, you can drive into the park only on Saturdays and Sundays; otherwise, you have to walk into the park. (It’s about 1.5 miles from the entrance station parking lot to Monument Mesa.) Because the park is adjacent to the Tijuana River estuary, its roads are prone to flooding, so it’s wise to call or check the website in advance to make sure you can drive the roads. It’s also wise to call the Border Patrol to confirm that Friendship Park will be open during your visit.
For obvious reasons, there is a strong armed U.S. Border Patrol presence in the park, and that can be a tad intimidating or even unnerving. Just follow the rules and respect that they’re doing their job, and you’ll be fine.
Click to see full-sized photos.