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Los Angeles to San Francisco Travel Options

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Driving Between Los Angeles and San Francisco
Los Angeles to San Francisco Travel Options

Driving Between Los Angeles and San Francisco

© Betsy Malloy Photography 2007. Used by permission

Routes to Drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco

The ways to drive between Los Angeles and San Francisco are almost endless, but these are the most common:

  • Los Angeles to San Francisco on I-5 (green route on the map): The fastest way to drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco takes about 6 hours, using I-5 for most of the trip.
  • Los Angeles to San Francisco on US Hwy 101 (black route on the map): More scenic and relaxing, the drive on US Hwy 101 takes about 1.5 hours longer. Our readers choose it least often, but unless we're in a rush, we'll take it every time.
  • Los Angeles to San Francisco on Hwy 1 (blue route that hugs the cost on the map): Taking the coastal route is possible in a 9 to 10 hour day, if you don't stop much. Even though it's long, it's the one that our readers choose most often.
  • The Back Way: The most beautiful and interesting way to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco takes 2 full days. It runs east of the other two, but is not color-coded on the map. Leave Los Angeles on I-405 north to CA 14, then connect to US 395 north and follow it up the eastern side of the Sierras to Lee Vining and Mono Lake. When Tioga Pass is open, cross Yosemite National Park and head west to San Francisco.

Other Ways to get from San Francisco to LA

Flights Between San Francisco Bay and the LA Metro area

Taking a Bus or Train

Travel Costs from Los Angeles to San Francisco

If you're driving on I-5 and get 30 miles per gallon, you'll use about 13 gallons of gasoline driving between San Francisco and Los Angeles. As you go through this guide, you'll find some ticket prices listed, but finding the least expensive way to make the trip isn't as simple as it seems at first. It's an issue I face every time I plan a research trip to southern California: is it better to spend 5 to 6 hours on the road each way, or fly?

When an article in VIA magazine compared different ways of making the trip between San Francisco and Los Angeles and concluded that driving was least expensive, professor David Tufte from Southern Utah University offered an economist's analysis in a letter to the editor. He thinks there are more factors to consider: greenhouse gas emissions (about the same in each case) risk of a fatal accident and then there's the time factor: how much someone would have to pay you to be on the road when you'd rather be doing something else. In the end, Tufte concluded that driving turns out to be more expensive than flying.

You may not be as detail-oriented as an economist, but we'd suggest you think about how much time it takes you go get to and from the airport, wear and tear on your vehicle and drop-off charges if you're taking a rental car one way.

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