Press Release

San Ysidro/Otay Mesa: A sense of history and community pride


Most people think of San Ysidro as the place to drive through to get to the Mexican border, but the district is more than just a border crossing, with a long history and sense of community pride.

History: In the 1800s, San Ysidro and Otay Mesa were part of a land grant named Tia Juana, which ended up on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border with the establishment of international boundary line through the property. Journalist and historian William E. Smythe bought a piece of land in 1908 to create a utopian agricultural community known at the “Little Landers” – each settler would get “a little land and a living” – an idea that attracted about 300. San Ysidro surged during Prohibition, catering to tourists flocking to Mexico. San Diego annexed Otay Mesa in 1956 and San Ysidro in 1957. Eventually, Interstates 5 and 805 cut through San Ysidro, displacing much of the old commercial area. Plans are now underway to re-establish a vibrant tourist center. The plan envisions a “Mexican Village” that would become a visitor destination

How it got its name: The Little Landers named San Ysidro after Saint Isidore of Spain, the Catholic patron saint of farmers. Otay is Kumeyaay for “bushy.”

Landmarks: The San Ysidro Port of Entry is the world’s busiest land crossing. The U.S. Customs House, which dates from the 1930s, is on the National Register of Historical Places. Nearby, Brown Field has been operating since World War II, first as a military airport and now as a public airfield.

Things to do: Las Americas Premium Outlets attracts shoppers from both sides of the border.

By: MARTINA SCHIMITSCHEK, San Diego Union Tribune