How to Get From Portland to San Francisco by Train, Bus, Car, and Plane

low angle view of golden gate bridge

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The West Coast cities of Portland and San Francisco are about 630 miles apart and there are plenty of ways to get between them, whether you prefer taking the scenic route or getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible. Despite time at airports, flying is your quickest bet but driving, taking the train, or riding the bus have their perks as well—namely, getting to see some of the beautiful scenery on this stretch of the West Coast. You can fly, drive, take the train, or bus all year, but be aware that there are some mountains and passes along the way so snow is something to keep in mind during winter months. 

  Time Cost Best For
Train 18.5 hours from $75 Taking the scenic route
Bus 18.5 hours from $70 Traveling on a budget
Car 10 hours 634 miles Exploring the coast and towns on the way
Plane 1.5 hours from $100 Getting there quickly

What Is the Cheapest Way to Get From Portland to San Francisco?

In general, the bus will be your cheapest bet to get between Portland and San Francisco. Greyhound fares hover around $70 one way, but sales can bring the price down. Also if you’re traveling with someone else, you can get a Companion Fare, which is generally one fare for half off. You’ll most likely depart from the main bus station in downtown Portland at 550 NW 6th Avenue, and arrive at the main station in San Francisco at 425 Mission Street. However, taking the bus takes about 18.5 hours and flight deals between these two points are also not unheard of since the flight isn’t very long. The price to fly may end up in the same range as taking the bus, especially if you’re a single traveler, and at just a 1.5-hour flight, it’s definitely worth checking both options before you book.

What Is the Fastest Way to Get From Portland to San Francisco?

Hands down, the fastest way to get between these two cities is to fly. You will, of course, need to allow time to drive to the airport, get to the airport early, and time to get to your transportation option in San Francisco, but even with all of that time factored in, flying is still the fastest way. Portland International Airport is large enough to accommodate international flights, but small enough that it’s easy to navigate, and San Francisco International Airport is similar.

You can also check flights to nearby Oakland International Airport, which is around a half-hour from San Francisco, to open up more flight options and possible deals. Many airlines travel between the two cities, but if you’re looking for a deal, Southwest and Alaska Airlines fly to both San Francisco and Oakland, and Spirit flies to Oakland.

How Long Does It Take to Drive?

Driving between Portland and San Francisco takes about 10 hours and spans 634 miles along I-5. The route is an easy drive with some interesting stops along the way, including Medford, Oregon, which is known for its pears and is home to the flagship Harry and David store (be ready to stock up on chocolate-covered cherries!); Ashland, Oregon, where there’s a large Shakespeare festival each year; and Mount Shasta, California, which is an adorable and spiritual town with lots of neat shops to explore. Driving will allow you to explore San Francisco on your own as well as get out to nearby cities. Parking in downtown San Francisco, like most cities, is plentiful, but expect to pay for garages and lots. Also note that San Francisco is an extremely hilly city, so take note if you have a manual! Also, make sure to turn your wheels to the curb when you park on the street. 

How Long Is the Train Ride?

Taking the train is about 18.5 hours and you’ll be riding on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight - one of the most scenic train routes in the country. You’ll leave from Portland’s Union Station at 425 Mission Street and arrive in Oakland (30 minutes from San Francisco) at the Jack London Square Station at 425 Mission Street. The Coast Starlight runs once a day, leaving Portland around 2:30 p.m. and arriving in Oakland at 8:35 p.m. The base fare is around $75, but you can pay more to get a private room and ride in style. This generally starts around $300.

When Is the Best Time to Travel to San Francisco?

In general, the best time to visit San Francisco is during the spring or fall. While you can visit any time of year and find plenty of things to do, the winter is pretty wet and cold, and summer can be surprisingly foggy and chilly, as well as crowded since people visit while school is out. Spring and fall offer generally good weather, and fewer travelers. September and October, especially, are just about perfect. October is also a time when you’ll find a few major festivals in town, including popular Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, a free music festival at Golden Gate Park.

What's the Most Scenic Route to San Francisco?

The most scenic route between Portland and San Francisco is a tie between driving and taking the Coast Starlight train. The train will take you through the Cascades, where you’ll spot a few peaks including Mount Shasta and Mount Hood, as well as stretches of coastline, and city views alike. However, driving allows you to choose your own adventure and stops along the way. You can shoot down I-5 for the most direct route, but for the best scenery, take one of the east-west highways over to the Pacific Coast Highway. You will add 4-5 hours to your journey as the PCH is not a speedy freeway, but if you’ve got the time, meander down the coast, stop in seaside towns, and admire sea stacks, cliffs, and stellar ocean scenery.

Can I Use Public Transportation to Travel From the Airport?

You have all kinds of ground transportation options at San Francisco International Airport, including public transportation. You can take the BART to downtown San Francisco (and other stops along the way) for about $9. The airport’s BART station is on the departures/ticketing level of the International Terminal. BART is accessible from any terminal by riding the airport’s free AirTrain to the Garage G/BART station stop. The journey takes approximately 40 minutes. You can also catch SamTrans buses, which take about an hour and fare is $2-$5. SamTrans buses stop at several points in terminals 1, 2, and 3.

What Is There to Do in San Francisco?

San Francisco has literally tons of things to do. Some of the most famous attractions include the Golden Gate Bridge, the city’s trolleys, Alcatraz, Ghirardelli, and the city’s amazing Chinatown, where you shouldn’t miss a trip to the fortune cookie factory (you can watch cookies being made as well as eat them). If you like less touristy things to do, visit the Castro District (one of the most famous gay neighborhoods anywhere) to catch a classic movie at the Castro Theater, or check out one of the city’s amazing museums, which include everything from the Exploratorium to traditional arts at the DeYoung Museum.

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