After passing through Jamul and Dulzura, two quiet ranching towns that appear on the verge of extinction due to San Diego’s rapidly approaching sprawl, some 40 miles east of downtown San Diego along Hwy-94, you’ll spot a sign marking the turnoff south to the Mexican border town of Tecate (pop. 64,764). Known around the world as the source of tangy Tecate beer—by most accounts, the brew that started people drinking beer with a squeeze of fresh lime—Tecate is in the top tier of enjoyable border towns, if only by virtue of being cleaner, quieter, safer, and much less “touristy” than Tijuana. Potential stops include a nice park, four blocks south of the border; the usual restaurants, cantinas, and souvenir shops; plus two special stops: the idyllic and rejuvenating Rancho la Puerta spa resort (858/764-5500 or 800/443-7565), and the historic Tecate Brewery (+52-665/654-9490, Mon.-Sat.). The brewery, now part of the Dutch megabrewer Heineken, offers free tours by appointment; call ahead for a reservation.

Because of insurance concerns and Homeland Security hassles, it’s a good idea to leave your car on the U.S. side of the border and cross into Mexico on foot, passport in hand. East of the Tecate area, Hwy-94 runs along the U.S. side of the border for 41 miles before joining the I-8 freeway.