How to Travel from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles by Train, Bus, Car, and Plane

Road In City Against Sky
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Exchange Santa Barbara’s seaside serenity and wine country for the bright lights of the big city of Los Angeles—and all the Hollywood history, culture, fantastic food, shopping, and nightlife that come with it—in just 95 miles. That short distance between two of California’s most popular vacation destinations can be traversed by plane, train, bus, or car.  

There are pros and cons to each transportation method. It’s more about figuring out which best suits your needs. For instance, if you can’t drive or definitely know you can’t handle the infamous traffic, catch a ride on the bus, the cheapest choice, or train. But if neither of those things applies and you plan on doing a significant amount of exploring in L.A., having your own wheels buys a lot of freedom and convenience in a very spread-out city. If you’re simply trying to get to LAX for a connecting flight, or have an unlimited budget, consider flying, which is usually the fastest alternative. No matter what you settle on, booking in advance and scoping out promotions/sales usually garners additional savings. 

How to Get from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles
   Time Cost Best For
Train 2 hours, 45 minutes From $25 Enjoying the scenery
Flight  54 minutes From $249 Arriving the quickest
Bus  2 hours, 5 minutes From $9 Least Expensive
Car  1 hours, 30 minutes 95 miles Easy exploring

What Is the Cheapest Way to Get From Santa Barbara to L.A.?

Greyhound buses are the most budget-friendly as fares have dropped as low as $9 recently. The price gets higher the closer the travel day is to the weekend. In Santa Barbara, the Greyhound shares the Amtrak Station just off State Street about two blocks from the beach, and L.A.’s station is downtown. The trip takes a little over two hours. 

What Is the Fastest Way to Get From Santa Barbara to L.A.?

This is a bit of a trick question. If all goes smoothly, the answer is flying nonstop on United from SBA to LAX, which lists the travel time as 54 minutes. This does not take into consideration check-in time rules, security lines, delays, boarding and deplaning, waiting for baggage, or traffic at LAX (which is reliably atrocious). Other carriers like Alaska and American have routes for passengers to fly up to San Francisco and connect back to L.A., in which case the flight time jumps past three hours. Either way, it’s also the priciest option, starting at $249. Santa Barbara Airbus runs a shuttle multiple times a day to LAX from Santa Barbara, Goleta, and Carpinteria. One-way rides are around $50 and take approximately two hours. (Factor extra time for heavy traffic and unforeseen road conditions.)

How Long Does It Take to Drive?

The journey is approximately 95 miles and it takes about two hours. This number fluctuates a lot depending on a multitude of factors like time of year, time of day, traffic, weather, if you qualify for the carpool lane, accidents, construction, and where in the city you are headed. The most commonly used route takes drivers south on the 101 along the coast, through Ventura, and then inland through the San Fernando Valley to Hollywood and downtown. If you prefer to stick to the seaside more, you can cut over to the PCH (1) near Oxnard and connect to the 10 in Santa Monica. 

How Long Is the Train Ride?

It’s a little under three hours to make the journey aboard Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner, a trip that starts at $25 each way. There’s a connecting bus to take passengers from U.C. Santa Barbara in Goleta to the town’s main station off State Street. There’s also a connecting bus to take people from Union Station in L.A. to UCLA/Westwood. There are usually between three and five trains a day. Your ticket stub can score discounts at participating hotels, restaurants, and attractions/activities through the Santa Barbara Car Free program.

When Is the Best Time to Travel to L.A.?

"Eighty degrees and palm trees" is printed on trinkets and T-shirts for a reason. Weather delays aren’t often a necessary consideration here although the worsening wildfire season (mid-summer through late fall) can seriously affect air quality and close roadways, especially through hilly and mountainous areas. Winter holidays can be packed with folks trying to escape the polar vortexes at home. Summer is also a popular time to visit. Awards season (January through March) should be avoided unless that’s the reason for the visit as hotels fill up and raise prices and lots of venues get booked for private events. 

It’s also important to remember that L.A. County has around 10 million residents. Freeways, airports, and all forms of transportation are shared with them and they too like to explore the Golden State. Santa Barbara, Ojai, Ventura, San Luis Obispo, and Paso Robles are popular weekend getaways and the 101 is the highway of choice to get to all of them. So if you’re driving, plan your departure time carefully. Avoid driving any direction during rush hours on weekdays, north on Fridays from 2 to 8 p.m, and south into L.A. on Sunday afternoons when most people return from weekends away. 

What’s the Most Scenic Route to L.A.?

No contest, it’s driving along the 101 and the PCH where much of the ride is wedged between dramatic coastal mountains, farms, and the gleaming Pacific Ocean. This route passes through Ventura and Malibu and deposits you in Santa Monica by the pier. It takes longer than the inland route almost 100 percent of the time. Some of Amtrak’s route also hugs the coastline and as you aren’t conducting the train, you can stare out the window with abandon.

Can I Use Public Transportation to Travel From the Airport?

LAX is the main international airport in L.A. although smaller and often more pleasant airports in Burbank and Long Beach also service the greater area. It is located between El Segundo, Inglewood, and Marina Del Rey about 11 miles from Santa Monica, 25 miles from Hollywood, and 18 miles from downtown. A L.A. Metro rail stop is planned for LAX within a handful of years, but travelers have to settle for taking a free shuttle bus from the airport to Aviation Station on the Metro Green Line for now. From there, purchase a TAP card and the fare. One-way fares are $1.75 and various single- ($7) or multi-day passes (start at $25) are available. There are also routes to a lot more parts of the city fulfilled by Metro’s bus fleet. Flyaway buses shuttle passengers from LAX to Union Station downtown, Van Nuys, Hollywood, and Long Beach for $9.75 each way. This article has more information on public transportation in L.A. Private car service, taxis, shared shuttles, and rideshare services also take visitors to and from the airport. 

What Is There to Do in L.A.?

It’s probably easier to list what you can’t do in L.A. Tucked into that notorious urban sprawl, visitors will find a critically acclaimed and diverse dining scene, endless entertainment and nightlife options including legendary concert venues, pro sporting events, plays, and historic movie theaters, theme parks, museums, shopping, spas, pampering resorts, outdoor pursuits like hiking in Griffith Park or surfing in Malibu, gardens, and all things showbiz from TV tapings to movie location tours. The city is also famous for being within a two-hour drive of most types of scenery including mountains, lakes, apple orchards, sand dunes, desert, snow, and beaches.