Planning a trip to California? We share how to travel from San Diego to San Francisco, so you can choose the best route for you.
San Diego and San Francisco are popular USA bucket list items but there are plenty of places to visit in between these two fantastic cities. We share some of the best things to see and do along Big Sur as well as the different travel options between San Francisco to San Diego.
San Diego to San Francisco – Best Travel Options
How to get from San Diego to San Franciso by bus
Taking the bus from San Diego to San Francisco is the most affordable option. However, it can also be the most uncomfortable because the drive is long. The travel time will take around 12-15 hours, depending on how many stops the bus will take.
The trip is over a 500-mile drive, and the bus ticket costs approximately $70 per person. Getting your ticket 2-3 days in advance is best because it gets booked even when it’s not peak season. Depending on the bus company you book, it will leave either from SDSU Transit Center or the 12th & Imperial Transit Center.
How to get from San Diego to San Franciso by train
Although boarding the train is possible, there is no direct train route between San Diego and San Franciso. You’ll need to connect at Oakland. You can board Amtrak Pacific Surfline in San Diego and then get off at Oakland Jack London. Finally, ride the BARTA (Yellow, Red, Blue Line) to reach your final destination. Depending on the time and day you want to leave, some trains heading north of California also require you to switch trains at Simi Valley with Coast Starlight and still change in Oakland.
You can make this ride more enjoyable if you leave early in the morning so you can see some sights along the way, such as the breathtaking Pacific Coast.
The ticket usually costs around $70 to $75 per person, and the travel time is around 13 hours to 14 hours. The train will leave at AMTRAK San Diego Station. If you’re traveling during peak seasons such as summer or winter holidays, ensure your ticket in advance.
How to get from San Diego to San Franciso by plane
The fastest way to reach San Franciso from San Diego is getting on a plane. A non-stop flight takes no longer than 1 hour and 30 minutes, and there are nearly 10 flights a day. On the other hand, it can also be the most costly way to travel between the two cities having ticket prices from $100 to $250 per person. Once you arrive in San Francisco, you can use the Hop-on, Hop-off bus to see all the sights at your own leisure.
How to get from San Diego to San Francisco by car
Alternatively, driving from San Diego to San Franciso is an excellent choice. Not only do you get from point A to B, but you can also make this trip scenic and enjoyable, especially if it’s your first time making this trip. If you’ve never been to the northern region of California, take this as an opportunity to see exciting places along the drive.
There are two routes you can take. One is along the coastline, a picturesque road where you can admire the stunning Pacific Coast. That will take around 8 hours and 20 minutes drive covering 543 miles. You can take plenty of breaks throughout the drive to take some lovely photos or check out some places.
The other option is taking the I-5 from San Diego all the way to San Franciso, where the trip is shorter, around 7 hours and 50 minutes. Although this road can be tedious and has fewer interesting stops, you can still admire the excellent desert terrain of California. Just make sure you leave enough time in your itinerary to see the best San Francisco attractions once you arrive in the city.
Attractions to check out along the Pacific Coast
Take the route by the coast. You can stop at many famous attractions, such as the glorious Long Beach, Venice Beach, or Malibu, to enjoy the magnificent Santa Monica Mountains – and those are just within the Los Angeles area.
Lake Cachuma is an excellent place for a quick stop after Los Angeles. There’s not much to do, but there’s a small store for cold drinks and a lovely view of the lake and the vast desert of California.
On the other hand, if you prefer to avoid the busy area of Los Angeles, you can take your first break at Oxnard, where you can walk along the beach and take dreamy photos on the boardwalk dotted with palm trees. From here, you’re also directly viewing the Channel Islands and Santa Cruz Island.
If you want to take a bigger break for food, go to Santa Marta or Laguna Lake, where you’ll find plenty of restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, and even a dog park if you’re traveling with your pet.
After that, take your next stop and stretch your legs at Monterey Bay, where you’ll find Lovers Point Park and Old Fisherman’s Wharf, and buy some ice cream. Don’t forget to take a photo and admire the beautiful Pescadero Point and 17-Mile Drive. From here, San Francisco is just another 2-hour drive.
Attractions to check out along the I-5
This route is not the most scenic way to travel from San Diego to San Franciso. Most of the stops you’ll be taking are at rest stops or gas stations. But it’s a little faster, suitable if you’re short on time.
Coming out of San Diego through I-5 means your first stop will be in Los Angeles. This road passes right through the city’s heart featuring extraordinary places to take a break at. For example, you can exit Anaheim and see Disneyland to take excellent theme park photos.
There are plenty of places to eat there, but the prices are often higher due to its location. If you don’t want that, you can also stop near the Hollywood Hills and take a photo with the world-famous Hollywood Sign.
Your next break could be at Bakersfield. However, that means you must split from I-5 and take the Golden State Highway. There’s not much to see there, but it’s a nice place to enjoy a long break for lunch or a bigger break since there are plenty of places to eat. From Bakersfield, head west, where you can rejoin I-5.
You can take your final stop at John “Chuck” Erreca Northbound. It’s a rest area where you can pick up some drinks, use a bathroom, and get a quick snack before you enter San Francisco. You must split from I-5 once you’re past Patterson and take William Elton “Brownie” Freeway (I-580). This will take you to Oakland. San Franciso will be just a bridge away from there.
Best places to visit in California
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- We use this travel drone (but make sure to check drone laws in your chosen destination first).
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What to pack
- No matter where we travel, I always take these trusty hand sanitizers and a mini first aid kit.
- We love these toiletry bags (especially great for smaller bathrooms) and choose a laptop bag like this as our hand luggage.
- We keep our devices charged on long travel days with these lightweight battery packs and bring these worldwide travel adaptors on all our trips.
- I still struggle not to overpack so stick to using an expandable suitcase like these and always take my trusty luggage scales to avoid being charged at the airport.