Driving from San Diego to San Francisco - in One DayDistance: 500 miles
Driving Time: 8.5 hours in good traffic
Southern California freeways offer so many choices for getting from San Diego through Los Angeles and headed toward San Francisco that it could take you as long to plot your route as it would to drive it. We've made this trip many times and can help you pare down the options to just a couple.
If you're trying to make this long trip in a single day, you need to get through LA as quickly as you can. Most online mapping sites will route you through Los Angeles on I-5, but in our experience, that freeway can be more than frustratingly jammed up, adding more than an hour to your trip, even when it isn't rush hour.
Instead, take I-15 north from San Diego, then I-210 west to connect to I-5 north, avoiding the busiest areas. Traffic jams can happen any time on any road, so it's best to check the current traffic situation before you set out to be sure it's the optimum route at that time. If you don't have a mobile device that provides traffic info, Los Angeles radio station KNX 1070 has frequent traffic updates.
After you connect with I-5, you'll drive north on it for about 280 miles, then take I-580 and I-80 west to San Francisco, crossing the San Francisco Bay Bridge (which charges a toll).
Driving from San Diego to San Francisco - If You Have More Than One DayYou can drive from San Diego to San Francisco in one day using the directions above, but where's the fun in that? Instead - if you have time - break the trip into parts:
- Use the tips for driving from San Diego to Los Angeles to get started. Depending on traffic, you'll be on the north side of LA in 2 to 3 hours.
- From Los Angeles, check all the options for driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
- If you choose the US Hwy 101 route, try San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles or Pismo Beach for an overnight stop. They're about halfway between San Diego and San Francisco. Continue to this guide to find out more about that route.
- If you plan to follow the coastal route along CA Hwy 1, Morro Bay and Cambria are good stops, just a little further north - which will allow more time for a leisurely coastal drive the next day. This guide starts in San Luis Obispo and takes you up the coast to San Francisco.