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

how to get from Seattle to San Francisco

TripSavvy / Julie Bang

San Francisco, California, is approximately 807 miles south of Seattle, Washington. Flying is the most time- and cost-efficient way of getting between the two cities, although beware of prices soaring during high travel periods like summer and holiday weekends. But if you don't mind slowing down, then taking the train or driving yourself are the most scenic options. Buses require transfers, are less comfortable than the train, and cost about the same, so it's not ideal for this route.

How to Get From Seattle to San Francisco
  Time  Cost  Best For 
Train  23 hours  from $90  Enjoying the scenery 
Bus  20 hours  from $86  Last resort 
Flight  2 hours, 15 minutes  from $45  Easy traveling 
Car  13 hours  807 miles  Pacific Coast road trip 

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

Whether you find a good deal or not, flying will almost always be the cheapest way to travel between Seattle and San Francisco. One-way flights start as low as $45, although you may pay a bit more traveling during high-demand times like the holidays or summer.

All flights leave Seattle from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, or SeaTac, but there are three airport options in the San Francisco area. San Francisco International may seem like the most obvious choice, but it's just as easy to reach downtown coming from Oakland Airport, so don't forget to check flights there. San Jose Airport is to the south and not as accessible to San Francisco, so take that extra cost and time into consideration before booking a flight there.

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

For those who want to leave Seattle in the morning and be exploring San Francisco by the afternoon, flying is the only way to go. Alaska Airlines, Delta, and United all fly direct between SeaTac and the San Francisco Bay Area with a flight time of about two hours and 15 minutes. Even once you add in travel time to and from the airport and going through security, flying is still drastically faster than any other travel option.

How Long Does It Take to Drive?

The route from Seattle to San Francisco is almost a straight shot south on Interstate 5. The 807-mile drive takes about 13 hours and while you may hit some traffic at the very beginning and the very end, the rest of the trip should be easy driving. The scenery isn't very exciting along I-5 so prepare yourself for long stretches of monotony, but a couple of highlights include stops such as Ashland, Oregon, or Redding, California, with easy access to both Mount Shasta and Lassen Volcanic National Park.

To enter San Francisco, you'll have to pay a toll on whichever bridge you use. Be sure to have some cash on hand, or set up a one-time Fastrak payment to pay in advance and skip the lines.

Parking in San Francisco is complicated and a car isn't necessary—or helpful—once you're in the city. If you're renting a car for the trip, it's a good idea to pick it up at SeaTac and return it to SFO, then hop on the BART train to reach San Francisco proper where you can move around on foot or public transit.

How Long Is the Train Ride?

Traveling via train is an excellent way to reach San Francisco from Seattle. Amtrak's Coast Starlight runs north to south once daily, departing Seattle's King Street Station at 9:45 a.m. and arriving at the Emeryville Train Station at 8:10 a.m. the following day. From here, a complimentary Amtrak bus will drive you over to San Francisco's Salesforce Plaza, where you should arrive by 9 a.m. The bus makes additional stops in the Financial District and SF's Fisherman's Wharf.

Although quite scenic, Amtrak is often slow-going. Still, you'll have access to both a snack bar and a dining car, as well as an observation car for taking in views of places like Sacramento and Portland, Oregon. Economy seats begin around $90, though if you'd like a good night's sleep, you're better off splurging on a roomette with a bed (prices start at $350 for a room for two). Family sleepers are also available for groups of up to four people. Tickets are available at Amtrak.com.

Is There a Bus That Goes From Seattle to San Francisco?

There aren't really any direct bus routes from Seattle to San Francisco, but with only one transfer, you can catch a Greyhound bus from Seattle's Greyhound Station—a block away from Major League Baseball's T-Mobile Park—to San Francisco's new Salesforce Transit Center for around $86. The ride takes approximately 20 hours (not to worry—there's a bathroom on board, and the bus makes several stops for food, though bring snacks to ward off any interim hunger) and often connects in Portland.

Greyhound buses typically have free Wi-Fi, individual outlets, and reclinable seats, as do those run by FlixBus, a low-cost carrier that offers slightly shorter connections (just under 19 hours) through Reno, and tickets as low as $54.

When Is the Best Time to Travel to San Francisco?

San Francisco has mild weather all year long, with winters that never get extremely cold and summers that never get extremely hot. Summer is the busiest time to be in the city, although visitors in June are usually surprised by the overcast and chilly fog that blocks out the famous California sun. Any local would tell you that the best time to visit San Francisco is in September when the fog has cleared, the sun is out, and all of the summer crowds have returned home.

What’s the Most Scenic Route to San Francisco?

Even though the train route offers some picturesque spots, the ultimate scenic route is to drive along the coast. Start on I-5 south from Seattle but, in Olympia, Washington, cut west to Highway 101. Even though it adds about five hours to the trip—not including extra stops to take in the scenery—the payoff is one of the most breathtaking drives you will ever make in your life. The route takes you from the gorgeous Oregon Coast to the majestic Redwood Highway, and finally through the Sonoma Wine Country before crossing the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco.

You can also stay on I-5 longer and cut over to Highway 101 in Portland, Oregon, or at Grant's Pass near the California border in order to cut out a couple of hours. But if you're driving instead of flying, you likely aren't in a hurry, anyway.

Can I Use Public Transportation to Travel From the Airport?

The local commuter train known as BART shuttles passengers directly from SFO Airport and Oakland Airport into downtown San Francisco in about 20–30 minutes, so look for accommodations near a BART station if you're planning to take the train. If you're traveling with a group, then using a ride-sharing app like Uber or Lyft and splitting the cost may be cheaper than purchasing individual BART tickets.

There's no direct connection from San Jose Airport to San Francisco, but Caltrain from the nearby Diridon Train Station makes frequent trips to downtown San Francisco and takes about an hour.

What Is There to Do in San Francisco?

The City by the Bay is full of attractions, from its stunning Golden Gate Bridge to its ageless Victorians, especially those found in Pacific Heights, Haight-Ashbury, and around Alamo Square. Golden Gate Park is filled with gardens, grassy meadows that are ideal for picnics, and fun attractions like the Japanese Tea Garden and Stow Lake. It's also where you'll find top-notch museums such as the California Academy of Sciences and the DeYoung, known for its American arts collection.

Pay a visit to the oldest Chinatown in the U.S., experience Italian food and culture in North Beach, and get a flavor for San Francisco's distinct history in neighborhoods such as the Castro, Nob Hill, and the Presidio, which is part of the larger Golden Gate Park National Recreation Area. For some of the best burritos around, a visit to the eclectic Mission District is a must! 

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