How to Travel From San Francisco to San Diego by Train, Bus, Car, and Plane

an illustrated map of the four main ways to get from San Francisco to San Diego

TripSavvy / Jiaqi Zhou

San Francisco and San Diego are two of California's most prominent cities, though are worlds apart—both literally and figuratively. While San Francisco is known for its steep hills and ever-encroaching fog, San Diego's a place of stunning beaches and perennial sunshine. It's approximately 501 miles between the two, and they are easily connected by bus, plane, and car. Although train travel is also an option, it's one that's a little more complex (surprisingly, there's no direct train route from San Francisco to San Diego). Booking a rental car or transport tickets in advance can help save a lot of money, and there are often some great flight deals, so remember to keep an eye out!

Flying is the quickest way to get to San Diego from San Francisco. Tickets are often inexpensive, though prices are higher during the holidays and San Diego's high season, which is mid-summer through fall. You won't find a lot of scenery along I-5 or the 101 via bus or car, but a lot of travelers opt for the ultimate road trip when traveling between the two cities: a drive down the Pacific Coast Highway (SR 1) all the way south to Dana Point, then connecting with I-5 to San Diego. While the drive can be done within a day, many travelers make the drive longer by making stops at places along the way like Monterey, Hearst Castle, San Luis Obispo, and Los Angeles.

How to Get From San Francisco to San Diego

  Time Cost Best For
Train 16 hours from $100 People who don't want to drive
Bus 13 hours, 5 minutes from $14.99 Saving money
Car 8 hours, 49 minutes 502 miles (807 kilometers) Making stops along the way
Plane 1 hour, 29 minutes from $49 Travelers in a time crunch

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

You can score bus tickets between San Francisco and San Diego for as low as $14.99 if you plan early enough, and trips run around 13 hours each way. Greyhound tickets start at around $30 and typically include a Los Angeles transfer. Buses are equipped with Wi-Fi, reclining seats, charging outlets, and a restroom. Routes usually include one stop between SF and LA for food (though it's a good idea to bring along snacks of your own). Greyhound buses leave from the San Francisco Bus Station at 425 Mission Street, Suite 206 and arrive at the San Diego Bus Station (1313 National Avenue). Another option is low-cost provider FlixBus, which also transfers in LA, offers similar amenities, and sells tickets beginning at $14.99. These buses leave from either behind SF's Caltrain station or the city's Stonestown Mall and run to places in SD such as Seaport Village, Old Town, and even La Jolla.

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

Flying is undoubtedly the quickest way of getting from San Francisco to San Diego, with flights take around 90 minutes. If you bring only a carry-on, utilize TSA PreCheck, and catch an UBER or Lyft to and from the airports, you can get through the whole production in less than four hours—though checking luggage, public transit, and waiting in line for airport security, as well as any flight connections, can add substantial time. Alaska, United, and Southwest all offer direct flights, and you can find additional flights on Delta, American, and Frontier. Flights to San Diego are often even cheaper if you depart from San Jose International Airport or Oakland International Airport. Reliable public transit serves all four airports, which makes getting to and from them relatively easy. Tickets start at around $49 each way depending on your departure airport and airline of choice.

How Long Does It Take to Drive?

If you make minimal stops it will take around 8 hours, 49 minutes to drive from San Francisco to San Diego on the I-5. The drive covers around 505 miles (813 kilometers). While this is the most direct route, many travelers opt for the 'ultimate California road trip' along the Pacific Coast Highway (or the PCH, in southern California). If you don't already have a car of your own it's a good idea to pick one up at SFO, where rentals are cheaper than in the city itself. Consider keeping the car for exploring San Diego, especially if you're planning on visiting more outlying areas like La Jolla or Carlsbad. Trolleys serve San Diego's downtown, so if you're sticking to spots like downtown and Old Town think about dropping your car at the airport and utilizing public transit. Like many major cities, it can be difficult to find parking in San Diego. If you do find a spot easily, make sure to watch out for any parking restrictions.

How Long Is the Train Ride?

Because there's, astonishingly, no direct rail service between San Francisco and San Diego, a journey by train takes around 16 hours. If you have your heart set on train travel there are still a few ways to go. One is to catch the Amtrak Coast Starlight train in Oakland, just across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco, and ride it down to Los Angeles's Union Station. From there you can catch the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner, which runs along the coast to San Diego's Santa Fe Depot in downtown. Another option is taking the Amtrak San Joaquins from San Francisco to Bakersfield and transferring to an Amtrak throughway bus for the rest of the journey. Or, you can take an Amtrak throughway bus from San Francisco to Santa Barbara, and hop aboard the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner for the remainder of the route. Your San Diego arrival time will depend on which option you choose, and whether you decide to stay for a night in say, Santa Barbara, between connections, but it's definitely something to think about when planning your trip. Tickets start around $100 and can be purchased at the Amtrak website.

When Is the Best Time to Travel to San Diego?

Traveling to San Diego before May or after Labor Day means smaller crowds and pleasant weather. Beachgoers who are fine with fairly crowded beaches should visit in the summer while surfers will have the best experience from late August to early September. San Diego is a great destination year-round, though summer's Comic-Con brings thousands of tourists into the city raising accommodation rates.

What's the Most Scenic Route to San Diego?

The most scenic route to San Diego is driving along the Pacific Coast Highway. The journey takes longer than the direct route but how long depends on how many stops you chose to make along the way. Some travelers can spend as long as a week driving the PCH, stopping along at cities and campgrounds along the way.

Can I Use Public Transportation to Travel From the Airport?

The San Diego Metropolitan System (MTS) offers a bus that travels from the airport to the city center. The Route 992 bus stops in front of all terminals and connects to the trolley system, COASTER, and Amtrak trains at Santa Fe Depot. It takes around 15 minutes to get to Santa Fe Depot from the airport and buses run every 15 minutes, most of the day, seven days a week. Tickets are $2.50 for a one-way fare.

What Is There to Do in San Diego?

San Diego is a city of sandy beaches, Hispanic heritage, craft beer, and sunshine. It's home to a legendary zoo and a strong naval presence; a place brimming with oceanside bonfires and endless surfboards. While here, a visit to the San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park—which is also where you'll find a wealth of additional museums and attractions like the San Diego Air & Space Museum, Natural History Museum, and the Old Globe Theatre—is a must. Don't miss Mission Bay for water sports like swimming and kiteboarding, and Coronado Beach for just plain relaxing. The iconic Hotel del Coronado—once the world's largest resort—is worth a visit as well. Delve into the city's Mexican culture and cuisine in Old Town, and its naval background at the USS Midway Museum. Downtown's Little Italy and Gaslamp Quarter are hubs of delicious food and drink.

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