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    From Los Angeles to San Diego by car: itinerary and tips for on the road

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    Joel Fulleda

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    Although the distances to be covered are not in the least comparable, theitinerary between Los Angeles and San Diego it is less frequent than the classic, long one road trip tra Los Angeles e San Francisco on Highway 1. The latter is one of the most important cities in the United States and, thanks to its charm and favorable position in the tours of the Great Parks, it is often preferred to San Diego, which shares the Pacific Ocean with San Francisco and Los Angeles. . In my opinion though San Diego it doesn't deserve to be labeled second choice on California tours: it's a joyful city full of personality and has the advantage of offering very beautiful and inviting beaches (the water here is a little warmer than on the north coast).

    In the case of a first trip to the west coast of the United States, I always recommend, where possible, to insert 1-2 days in San Diego on tours entirely dedicated to California, or on 20-day multi-state itineraries. In fact, in my opinion, in general it is also possible to visit it during a 15 day tour, as long as you stay outside San Francisco and that the trip is concentrated in the southern part of California + Arizona and southern Utah. Obviously the possible combinations are many and you can indulge yourself in the organization, but in any case the Los Angeles-San Diego route in one of the two directions will be almost obliged. So here it is how to organize the move, travel times and places to see along the way.


    • Distance and travel times
    • The panoramic road on the coast
      • What to expect
    • The fastest way
      • What to see between Los Angeles and San Diego
    • Route map
    • Da Los Angeles a San Diego in treno

    Distance and travel times

    Taking Downtown as a point of reference, the distance between Los Angeles and San Diego and of 190 km, to go in at least 1.50 hours without stopping and without considering the traffic out of Los Angeles and inbound in San Diego (or vice versa).

    In light of this information, if it is your intention to do one hit and run from Los Angeles with a day visit to San Diego and overnight stay in the city, do not underestimate this distance: with city traffic you can get to employ even more than 3 hours, which further reduces the time available for visiting the city.

    An idea can be that of leaving Los Angeles after dinner to find your way a bit freer, stay overnight in San Diego and keep the whole day at your disposal for visiting the city (here are some tips on what to see in San Diego): in this way you will not have stolen too much time visit to Los Angeles! In this regard, it seems obvious to me to add that visiting the city in a day while based in Los Angeles is an idea not to be recommended.

    The travel times indicated above refer to the fastest road ever to do by car. Below, I illustrate an alternative solution, more fascinating but also more demanding.

    The panoramic road on the coast

    If you would like to enjoy every single kilometer of your on the road in the USA and would therefore like to avoid crossing areas of little scenic interest, the solution is take your time so that the journey from Los Angeles to San Diego is not just a simple transit from one point to another. The solution exists, and it is follow Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1) from Los Angeles to its end, a sud at Laguna Beach. From that point on, to reach San Diego it will be mandatory to take the last part of I-5, in the stretch near the coast.

    What to expect

    Moving on from here the landscape is definitely less gray and monotonous of the I-5, which we will see later: the views of the sea in some places are remarkable - I think the glimpses of Moro Canyon / Crystal Cove State Park near Laguna Beach. To be honest, the possible stops along this road are numerous and all different, so the reference is to our focus on Orange County and above all to the in-depth article we dedicated to Laguna Beach: with its fortunate position overlooking the sea, for me this town, with its beaches and the natural parks, is perhaps the best spot in the whole county along the way.

    Driving is also enjoyable when the Pacific Coast Highway runs alongside the long sandstrips of Huntington Beach or when it crosses the other coastal towns, well-kept and green. Of course, don't expect the unspoiled landscapes of the Big Sur region, and above all, expect some slowdowns, as the road zigzags through the coastal cities and is therefore quite busy.

    Under ideal conditions, i 200 km about of road between Downtown Los Angeles and San Diego along this road would take 3 hours, but between slowdowns and intermediate stops for photos and short visits, the journey can also last from 4 to 6 hours: practically half a day. The solutions I recommend are therefore the following:

    • stay on I-5 as much as possible and move to the coast to make the most scenic stretch, which in my opinion is between Newport Beach and Laguna Beach. In this case my advice is to exit the highway at Santa Ana (Exit 103) and reach Highway 1 via CA-55 S, State Route 73 and Newport Coast Rd. The journey time is not short but it is a good compromise to get to San Diego in the afternoon.
    • take the whole day for the move from Los Angeles to San Diego, making a complete on the road on Highway 1 in all calm, with stops in Orange County in Huntington Beach to see the scenic pier that cuts the beach of the Californian surfers, in Newport Beach (where it is set The OC series), or in the enchanting Laguna Beach. You can stop further south to see La Jolla, but by then you are almost there. In this case it is good to expect to arrive in San Diego in the evening.

    The fastest way

    As is often the case, the fastest route is also the most boring. Those who do not have time and want to reach San Diego as quickly as possible from Los Angeles, must travel there I-5, the highway that connects Mexico and Canada. Travel times are those indicated in the first paragraph, and in my opinion, if you are in a particularly hurry, there are no intermediate stages to be considered, because in the first section (up to San Juan Capistrano), the road - not at all scenic - cuts through Orange County through suburbs and towns of little interest. In reality, even the second part of the trip - although it takes place closer to the coast - is not distinguished by a particular pleasure to drive, so you can easily consider this trip as simple. moving stage without then having to regret it.

    However, if you have some time available for one or more detours, here are the options intermediate stops along the way.

    What to see between Los Angeles and San Diego

    By reading our article dedicated to Orange County you will find that not all places of interest are on the coast! With a few small detours from the main route on the I-5, you can reach some places worthy of a visit. In this regard, I have divided the itinerary into two parts: Orange County and North County. After all, the most interesting part of the on the road between Los Angeles and San Diego remains the one that runs through Orange County: when you have passed Dana Point (see cover photo), it is not worth stopping for other stops along the way.

    From Los Angeles to San Clemente: Orange County

    Disneyland ad Anaheim, by far the most famous attraction in the area, it deserves at least a full day and therefore certainly cannot be considered a stop over. Beyond the Disney theme park, the more curious can enrich the trip to San Diego by reaching:

    • la Old Towne of Orange with its historic buildings
    • la Richard Nixon Library with his testimonies on the life of the controversial US president
    • the mission of San Juan Capistrano
    • the XNUMXs playground Knott's Berry Farm in stile far west
    • le futuristic architectures of Garden Grove and Costa Mesa

    If delving into this area seems a tantalizing idea and think about doing an intermediate overnight stay between Los Angeles and San Diego, read our tips on staying overnight at the link below.

    Where to sleep in Orange County

    Da San Clemente a San Diego: la North County

    The final stretch of I-5, south of Orange County, continues into North County from San Clemente to San Diego, lining up a long series of quiet towns of little tourist interest: Del Mar, Leucadia and Encinitas are good for a possible food stop in the waterfront bars and nothing more. Carlsbad deserves a separate discussion for the presence of Legoland but, just like in the case of Disneyland, the theme park cannot be considered a quick intermediate stop on such an itinerary. If you would like to touch at least one of the stages of the Camino Real on the trail of the Spanish Californian missions, you could instead reach the mission of San Luis Rey de Francia, near Oceanside, a town otherwise famous for surfers and for the presence of a Navy base nearby.

    Route map

    Da Los Angeles a San Diego in treno

    In the case of the United States, I tend to always advise you to travel by car, not only for the distances but also for the unparalleled spirit that distinguishes road trips in the USA. However, since the distance between Los Angeles and San Diego is not too great, take a trip on Amtrak trains it could be a fascinating solution for those who want to reduce the number of driving hours, perhaps at the end of the holiday.

    There are around 12 runs every day, from 6 am until 22 pm. Journey times from Los Angeles Union Station to the Old Town Transportation Center in San Diego are approximately 2.40 hours. Prices range from $ 35 to $ 54 per person.

    Near a train from Los Angeles to San Diego


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