Americans, Chinese, Mexicans, East Indians and Japanese settled the area in the late 1800s, engaging in cotton production, some farming and other endeavors. At that time, they neglected to formally found the city. This occurred years later, on March 14, 1903, when the words ‘Mexico’ and ‘California’ were combined to create the name ‘Mexicali’. The city’s neighbor to the north, in the United States, reverses that combination in its own name, ‘Calexico’.
Today, with a growing middle class and one the highest standard of living in Mexico, farming and industry thrive in Mexicali’s strategic location, a busy border-crossing area. That said, it is important to remember that Mexicali bears little resemblance to what is commonly conceived of as a typical ‘border town’. Even a quick drive through town makes it apparent that there is a vibrant energy to Mexicali, and a focus on culture, education and government that is evidenced by modern building, museums and schools. On the border with the United States, at the interchange of Highway 2 (Tecate-Mexicali) and Highway 5 (Mexicali-San Felipe), the city is a doorway to the Sea of Cortez and the beautiful mountains and beaches of San Felipe to the south. But it has much to offer in its own right. A large Chinese population – brought into the region by the Colorado River Land Company to work on farms made possible by the creation of the Imperial Canal – resulted in the creation of La Chinesca, the city’s Chinatown, around 1920. Today, that neighborhood thrives and is famous for its scores of Chinese restaurants.
The Galeria de la Ciudad is Mexicali’s main art gallery, and for those more interested in consumption rather than viewing, the Cervecería Mexicali brewery and production plant is one (the most historic) or the city’s burgeoning beer operations. Of the northern Baja cities, perhaps none is quite as enthusiastic about sports as Mexicali. The city is home to the Águilas (Eagles) de Mexicali – which plays in the Estadio Nido (Eagles’ Nest Stadium) — one of the Pacific Mexico League teams that often serve as feeders to the U.S. major leagues. Basketball and soccer are also big ticket sports events, along with off-road motor sports. Mexicali in recent decades has become host to many maquiladoras– production companies for everything from electronics to foods – which take strategic advantage of manpower and location for manufacturing their products and getting them distributed efficiently. This, naturally, has helped the city retain its wealth and influence within Baja and Mexico. Although not thought of as a first-stop tourist destination, Mexicali nonetheless draws a significant visitor group, particularly from California, Arizona and Nevada. Many of these are ‘medical tourists’ seeking health care, pharmaceuticals and dental services in Mexicali because they tend to be less expensive than those in the United States. Keep in mind that many medications still require a doctor’s prescription (antibiotics, for one), although several accessible doctor offices are located near the border as well. For those more interested in shopping, Mexicali possesses a diversity of shopping venues and malls, the most visited being Plaza La Cachanilla, located just a few minutes away from the US border. This is a popular stomping ground, especially during summer days when the weather reaches exceedingly high temperatures!