San Francisco to San Diego

Driving from San Francisco to San Diego has two main options, the fast way on I-5 or the scenic route along the Pacific Coast Highway.

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco by nightThe Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

You can get from San Francisco to San Diego in several different ways, including flying, by train with Amtrak, or on the Greyhound bus. According to Google Maps you could also walk it in 185 hours or cycle it in 52 hours. However, let's start with the driving options, which is what most people want to know.

The San Diego Waterfront at NightSan Diego

Driving from San Francisco to San Diego

The Fastest Route

The fastest way to get from San Francisco to San Diego is the inland route, along I-5. From San Francisco take I-80 East towards Oakland. In Oakland this becomes I-580 East, which eventually merges onto I-5 South. I-5 takes you all the way virtually to the center of San Diego.

Road signs in California for I-5 SouthHeading for I-5 South

Taking this fastest route between San Francisco and San Diego, the driving time is going to be about 6 hours till you reach Los Angeles, where traffic can become a problem. It's another 2 hours to San Diego from Los Angeles on I-5, but you have to allow for some traffic delays around the city. Being realistic, it's going to take about 9-10 hours to get to San Diego, and that's driving without a break.

The Scenic Route

If you want to drive the Pacific Coast Highway, then the first stretch to Los Angeles is going to take you about 9 hours without a break. That means you're not going to be able to stop and smell the roses, so plan to stop for at least one night and preferably more on the way.

The California Coast on the Pacific Coast Highway between San Francisco and San DiegoThe California Coast

We like to split the route up in Los Angeles as that's where you hit the big city, no matter which way you drive. Allow an hour or so at least before you can get back to the coast on the south side of LA. From here to San Diego is about 4 hours more, so you're looking at 14 hours all-in, taking the coastal route, and without breaks. If you can be flexible, stop for 2-3-4 nights along the way, or even longer. There's no shortage of amazing things to see and lovely towns along the way.

San Francisco Airport to San Diego

San Francisco Airport is 12 miles south of the city center, about a 15-minute drive under normal traffic conditions, though it can be longer during rush hour. If you want to pick up a rental car to drive to San Diego, it's much easier to travel out to the airport by taxi or public transport, and collect your car there.

San Francisco AirportSan Francisco Airport

If you're flying in to San Francisco and want to spend some time in the city before driving to San Diego, you don't have to rent a car for the whole time you're there. Parking in San Francisco is difficult and expensive, if you use a hotel's parking garage. San Francisco is an easy city to explore on foot and by public transport, or by taking taxis, so you don't need a car while you're there. 

At the time of writing a taxi from San Francisco Airport to downtown San Francisco is about $45-50. You can easily pay that to park your car for just one night.

The other side of that is that when you hit the road in San Francisco in your car, you're on your way. Having to take a taxi to the airport, find the car rental place, and do the paperwork, all takes time and can easily add an hour to your journey. If time is of the essence then you might prefer to have your car with you in the city and pay for the parking.

San Francisco Airport to San Diego is about 7-8 hours if driving non-stop along I-5, but if you take the Pacific Coast Highway then it's more like 13-14 hours, so you'll want to stay overnight along the way.

San Francisco to San Diego: Other Options

San Francisco to San Diego by Train

You can get from San Francisco to San Diego by train on Amtrak, but there is no single through route the whole way. You will need to change trains once, in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, or Los Angeles.

The Coast Starlight train goes all the way from Seattle to Los Angeles, and the nearest station for San Francisco is in Oakland. The service currently operates three days a week in each direction, with a journey time of just over 12 hours.

The Pacific Surfliner Train from San Luis Obispo to San DiegoPacific Surfliner

Once in Los Angeles you can change to the Pacific Surfliner for the Los Angeles to San Diego stretch. This runs from San Luis Obispo to San Diego several times a day, so you could also change from the Coast Starlight to the Pacific Surfliner in San Luis Obispo or in Santa Barbara, where both trains also stop. Get schedules and prices on the Amtrak website.

The Coast Starlight Amtrak train between Seattle and Los AngelesThe Coast Starlight

Flying from San Francisco to San Diego

Several airlines operate flights between San Francisco and San Diego. At the time of writing these include Alaska Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and United, so check their websites for prices and schedules. There are several flights a day with a flight time of about 90 minutes.

Airplane flying at night

San Francisco to San Diego by Bus

You can take the Greyhound bus from San Francisco to San Diego but you will need to change in Los Angeles. Total journey time is 14-15 hours. This is your cheapest option if you are on a budget. See the Greyhound website for schedules and prices, and to book tickets.

Greyhound Bus

Other driving pages

  • When to Drive the Pacific Coast Highway

    When to Drive the Pacific Coast Highway depends on whether you want to drive in Oregon and Washington as well as California, and on the weather.

  • West Coast RV Parks

    One of the best guides to West Coast RV Parks, covering campgrounds in California, Oregon, and Washington, is West Coast RV Camping from Moon Guides.

  • Ways to Go

    Here are links to the different ways you can go along the Pacific Coast Highway, one of the most popular drives in the world but you can also cycle it.

  • The 17-Mile Drive between Carmel, Pacific Grove, and Monterey

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel takes the 17-Mile Drive from Carmel to Pacific Grove and Monterey, stopping to see the Lone Cypress and beautiful coastline views.

  • Route 66 Meets the Pacific Coast Highway

    Historic Route 66 winds from Chicago to LA, going through Los Angeles, meeting the Pacific Coast Highway in Santa Monica, California, at the Santa Monica Pier.

  • Pacific Coast Highway Stops

    Pacific Coast Highway stops include big city vacation destinations like Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, and smaller places like Monterey.

  • Pacific Coast Highway Road Trips: Lonely Planet Guidebook Review

    Review of the Pacific Coast Highway Road Trips book from Lonely Planet, which includes a California Driving Guide, by the Pacific Coast Highway Travel website.

  • Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Guide

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel reviews the Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Guide book covering the drive from Vancouver to San Diego.

  • Pacific Coast Highway in California

    The Pacific Coast Highway in California book shows in historic photos the building of the Pacific Coast Highway from its earliest beginnings in 1911.

  • Pacific Coast Highway Driving Tips

    Pacific Coast Highway driving tips for this great American road trip include finding cheap gas, watching the speed limits, and allowing plenty of travel time.

  • Pacific Coast Highway Drive Times and Distances

    Drive times and distances on the Pacific Coast Highway or the quickest routes from Seattle to San Francisco to Los Angeles to San Diego.

  • Maps of the Pacific Coast Highway: Free Driving Maps of the PCH

    Road maps of the Pacific Coast Highway or PCH are essential for anyone planning to drive the trip, and detailed routes are available for free.

  • LA to Hearst Castle

    Pacific Coast Highway travel offers advice on driving from LA to Hearst Castle, including distance, journey time, and route.

  • Epic Drives of the World

    Epic Drives of the World from Lonely Planet describes 50 of the world's most exciting road trips, including, of course, the Pacific Coast Highway.

  • Driving the Pacific Coast Highway

    Driving the Pacific Coast Highway is made easier with Road Trip USA by Jamie Jensen, a good handbook for the west coast drive.

  • Driving the Pacific Coast Highway in Two Days

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel's advice on driving the Pacific Coast Highway in two days, including the best places to stay, and the best things to do and see.

  • Driving the Pacific Coast Highway in Three Days

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel's advice on driving the Pacific Coast Highway in three days, including the best places to stay, and the best things to do and see.

  • Driving the Pacific Coast Highway in Four Days

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel's advice on driving the Pacific Coast Highway in four days, including the best places to stay, and the best things to do and see.

  • Driving the Pacific Coast Highway in Five Days

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel's advice on driving the Pacific Coast Highway in five days, including the best places to stay over, and the best things to do and see.

  • Drive the Pacific Coast Highway

    Here are the basic facts if you plan to drive the Pacific Coast Highway, including which is the best direction and when is the best time to go driving.

  • Coastal California Guidebook

    Lonely Planet's Coastal California guidebook is the ideal travel guide for driving or cycling the Pacific Coast Highway from the Oregon border to Mexico.

  • California Driving Laws

    If visiting California and planning to drive the Pacific Coast Highway it's important to know California driving laws in case they differ from your own state.



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