Traveling from Los Angeles to San Francisco: all possible itineraries on the road

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Joel Fulleda

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You have to go gives Los Angeles to San Francisco (or vice versa!) and you don't know how much time you will have to spend in the car? The immense ones frighten you Californian distances? Are you wondering if there is a faster or a more scenic way to get from one city to another? No panic: you have landed on the right article.

I will not just tell you which roads are available, but I will also give you some advice on where to stopwhat see along the various routes, on the steps to take to break up the journey and, in general, on ways to make this challenging journey from the City of Angels to the Fog City less tiring.


  • Route map
  • Option 1: I-5 N, the fastest road
  • Option 2: US 101, a valid alternative
    • The 101 proper
    • Two possible deviations
  • Option 3: the legendary Pacific Coast Highway
  • The other options: plane and train

Route map

Click on the square at the top right to see all the various options

Option 1: I-5 N, the fastest road

You are in a great hurry to go gives Los Angeles to San Francisco? There is no time to waste in Alloa: rent a car in Los Angeles and hit the road. But on which path? It is easy to say: the I-5 N.

Pyramid Lake

In 6 hours (380 miles from downtown to downtown), traffic and weather permitting, you will arrive in San Francisco. To be sure you have taken it, put it on the navigator Santa clarita, which is right on the road: from there you just have to follow it northwards. After crossing the Tejon pass (where the risk of wind is frequent) the flat panorama of the San Joaquin Valley, an area dedicated to agriculture where it is not uncommon to find fog.

What to see along the way? Unfortunately good little: for long stretches the road can seem really boring and frustrating and the only way not to shoot yourself in the head is to stop at a service area (there is one every 30 miles or so) to eat something. However, here are a couple of possible stops:

  • If you have some time you can detour on CA Hwy 14 and reach the bizarre rocky landscape of Vasquez Rocks But we are not far from Los Angeles (about 40 miles) and there is still a long way to go.
  • Otherwise you can stop for some fresh air and see a beautiful lake at the viewpoint on the Pyramid Lake, called Vista del Lago Visitor Center (sic!): hard to find one rest area with such a suggestive panorama! The exit to take is called Vista del Lago and is located 25 miles north of Santa Clarita.

For obvious reasons, the road is traveled by most of the trucks and trucks that have to reach San Francisco in the shortest possible time: this can be a bit annoying for some car drivers who feel in awe of these giants on wheels, especially when they have the bright idea of ​​overtaking (and they do!).

Option 2: US 101, a valid alternative

If you really don't like the idea of ​​doing the travel from Los Angeles and San Francisco along the boring I-5 N and if you have a little more time to spare, you can walk the U.S. 101, a decidedly more interesting and very “flexible” road: there are in fact numerous small detours that can be made along the road.

The 101 proper

La U.S. 101 requires a journey of approx 7 hours (without ever stopping) about long 430 miles, therefore a little longer than the previous one. The 101, exiting from Los Angeles, passes near the famous Mulholland Drive scenic route, then leads straight to Santa Barbara (which, if you have some time, would be worth a visit) and then, after crossing the Gaviota Pass, it continues to Santa Maria, San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles, Salinas, San Jose up to San Francisco. You can also do it without ever stopping enjoying the beautiful views, but here is where it might be worthwhile to make some stops.

Da Oxnard a Santa Barbara

  • Da Oxnard a Santa Barbara a very scenic segment of 101 winds through mountain and ocean landscapes: just past Ventura you can also see the channel Islands.
  • The cultivation season takes place from February to September strawberries: on this journey you will see strawberry fields, according to many among the best in the state. You can check it out directly by tasting some of it in one of the stands along the road.
  • Santa Barbara itself would clearly deserve a visit, but if you are short on time you can invest it in a walk along the seafront or in visiting the Santa Barbara Mission. Find these and other ideas in the article on what to see in Santa Barbara and in our in-depth study on California missions.

From Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo

Pismo Beach Pier
  • The 101, effectively overlapping part of Highway 1, winds along the coast between avocado trees and vineyards, while the ocean remains on your left. You will see this panorama up to Gaviota Pass, after which the road will enter the interior.
  • At the height of Buellton (where is theHitching Post restaurant – 406 E Hwy 246, which no BBQ lover should miss), you may decide to take a detour to Solvang, A kind of Danish colony in the heart of California: some restaurants also offer traditional Danish cuisine, if you feel like changing your new eating habits a bit. On the road between Buellton and Solvang (just about 4 miles) there is also an ostrich farm, Ostrichland USA.
  • Before arriving in San Luis Obispo, the road will take you back to the ocean, at Pismo Beach, a classic village with a maritime atmosphere. You can reach the waterfront and decide to eat a plate of clam chowder at the Splash Cafe (197 Pomeroy Avenue), or just visit the Pismo Beach Pier. If you have always liked the idea of ​​going to the beach by car and you have not yet gone to Daytona Beach in Florida, know that Oceano Dunes Pismo Beach (105 W Grand Ave, Grover Beach) can be done: it's the only place in California where it's allowed.
  • After possibly visiting the Mission of San Luis Obispo de Tolosa (751 Palm St, San Luis Obispo) and the beautiful park opposite, go to Bubblegum Alley, corner 733 Higuera St: if it doesn't make you sick, you can embellish the wall with your chewing-gum too.
  • Leaving the chewing gum behind you, eat something good: sandwiches Firestone Grill (a few minutes walk from Bubblegum Alley, at 1001 Higuera St) will blow your mind (and fill it up again!). After lunch, last quick visit to the Fremont Theatre in 1035 Monterey St: even just a photo from the outside is worth taking.

Give San Luis Obispo to San Francisco

Pinnacles national park
  • This stretch of road is characterized by the presence on the side of the road of wayfarer sticks surmounted by metal bells: it means that you are on the El Camino Real. To have some time, you can discover some beautiful missions, which we have already given you a taste in the previous stages.
  • If you are abstinent from California national parks and want to discover a fairly unknown one, consider making a detour to Pinnacles National Park: it is not a park equal to the others you will visit in California, but in the linked article I have pointed out some trails that could be rewarding to do. In this case you will also need to find accommodation, as the excursion may take you longer than expected.
  • A Saltworks the biographical story of the great writer is closely linked John Steinbeck, author of highly successful novels such as Furore, Men and Topi, Pian della Tortilla and I pastoli del cielo. If you want to know the history of Steinbeck go to 1 Main St and visit the halls of the National Steinbeck Center. From Salinas you can decide whether to go straight to San Francisco or make a nice detour to Monterey and Carmel-by-the Sea: if you have time they deserve!

Two possible deviations

1) Most likely, you will have decided to take the 101 reluctantly having to give up on an on the road on the famous, spectacular coast road, Highway 1. I understand you: it really seems a waste, but if you want to travel at least a little bit longer than the one you already travel after Santa Barbara, there is a way.

Point Mugu
  • Instead of following 101 up into the Hollywood Hills towards Ventura, you should reach Santa Monica and stay on the road that skirts the ocean, towards Malibu. The name of the well-known Californian destination already evokes dream beaches: it is unlikely that curiosity does not tickle you at least a little! If you are not in a hurry, stop and take some time to visit Malibu. Before rejoining 101 in Oxnard, you will have the opportunity to take an exciting on the road with a view of the Pacific Ocean, while the escarpments, canyons, dunes and beaches of Point Mugu State Park.

2) After Santa Barbara, to go to San Louis Obispo you can decide not to pass by the coast, but to pass from the inside along the CA-154:

Santa Ynez Valley
  • On sunny days this road offers its best. You will pass on the impressive Cold Spring Canyon Arch Bridge (but you will not be able to see it from above), a very long bridge with an arch structure, the fifth longest in the world of this type).
  • On the way you will encounter numerous ranches dedicated to the breeding of the horses: the Santa Ynez Valley is renowned for this type of business.
  • If the rustic air of this area has made you thirsty, you can stop me in the pretty village of Los Olivos and take a stroll down Grand Avenue, looking for one of the various wineries that offer tastings of wines from the area. Alternatively, reach Los Alamos and drive to Bell St., where you will find Bob’s Well Bread Bakery: the patisserie and sandwiches of this bakery are very popular.

Option 3: the legendary Pacific Coast Highway

There is no need to go around it: the two previous options are only for those who are satisfied with little: the most beautiful way to go from Los Angeles to San Francisco and vice versa is to take the legendary Highway 1 Pacific coast highway, one of the most beautiful and desired scenic roads in America, a true symbol of California road tours.

Unlike the other two roads, to travel this route it is better to take into account at least 2 days, but those who have a little more time may even decide to invest more, because there are so many things to see along these 460 miles approximately. In this regard, I don't think there is any better thing than to refer you to two of our insights on this famous road:

  • Pacific Coast Highway, drive to the scenic route from San Francisco to Los Angeles
  • Big Sur: the wonders not to be missed on the Californian coast
  • Where to sleep between Los Angeles and San Francisco: recommended stops for one or more stops along Highway 1


The other options: plane and train

If you don't feel like spending all this time in the car, you have the following alternative solutions:

  • plane: There are likes interns to Los Angeles and San Francisco which in about an hour and a half will get you to your destination. Check prices and availability on the best and cheapest price comparators that we have collected in the article USA Low Cost Flights.
  • train: la Coast Starlight di Amtrak it is a railway line that offers fantastic views over the coast. We talked about it here.
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