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

Coaster Commuter Train passing near Del Mar in San Diego County

AutumnSkyPhotography / Getty Images

San Diego and San Francisco, two of California's most popular coastal cities, are about 500 miles (806 kilometers) apart. You can make the trip by almost any common form of transportation, including train, bus, car, or plane. The fastest—and usually most affordable—way to get from San Diego to San Francisco is by flying. If several people are traveling together, driving may cost less, but it's a long trip that will take an entire day.

Map illustrating travel times between San Diego and San Francisco
TripSavvy / Theresa Chiechi 
  Time Cost Best For
Train 14 hours from $86 Relaxing route
Plane 1.5 hours from $97 Arriving quickly
Bus  11-14 hours from $49 Budget travel
Car 8.5 hours 500 miles (805 kilometers) Exploring local areas

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

Typically, the least expensive way to get between the two cities is to book a bus online in advance. Greyhound leaves from National Avenue near Commercial Street in San Diego and ends up at Mission and Fremont streets in San Francisco. Expect many stops along the way and a journey of 11 to 14 hours. Fares start at $63.

FlixBus buses pick up at many locations, including popular sights such as La Jolla and Balboa Park, arriving in the South Of Market area or Stonestown in San Francisco. This approximately 13-hour ride costs $49 and up.

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

The quickest way from San Diego is flying to San Francisco International Airport (SFO), which takes about 1.5 hours at a cost of $93 and up. Southwest Airlines is a popular option, with no baggage or change fees. You'll get the lowest rates if you reserve on their website at least a couple of weeks ahead of time. Alaska, Delta, American, United, and other airlines fly this route; compare airfares using Tripadvisor.

Passengers can also fly to nearby Oakland or San Jose, each of which has pros and cons, including more expensive ground transportation to San Francisco.

Driving Route from San Diego to San Francisco

How Long Does It Take to Drive?

The distance between San Diego and San Francisco is approximately 500 miles (805 kilometers) and the fastest route takes about 8.5 hours. Before you head out, check the current traffic on your cell phone, or Los Angeles radio station KNX 1070 for updates. To make this long drive from San Diego in a single day, get to LA as quickly as you can, using Interstate Highway 15 north before returning to Interstate Highway 5 north. If you have time, it's fun to break the trip into more scenic parts on the U.S. Highway 101 or along the Pacific Coast Highway, CA Highway 1.

Once you get there, parking in San Francisco is challenging: Spots are expensive and hard to find, and street meters have time limits. Try paid neighborhood parking garages or using public transportation from your accommodations when possible.

How Long Is the Train Ride?

The Amtrak Pacific Surfliner goes from San Diego's Santa Fe Depot through Los Angeles and north in an approximately 16-hour scenic journey ranging from $88 to $132. But it doesn't go all the way into San Francisco. Instead, the trains go to Oakland across the bay, so Amtrak will take you from Oakland to San Francisco on a bus, or you can take BART public transportation. A more convenient option might be to get off Amtrak at the downtown San Jose station (starting at $86) after a 14-hour ride, where you can catch Caltrain directly to San Francisco.

Amtrak has two stations in San Diego: Old Town and the Santa Fe Depot (their website lists the latter as "SAN," not to be confused with the San Diego International Airport which uses the same initials).

When Is the Best Time to Travel to San Francisco?

The fall season from September through November is a nice time to visit San Francisco for milder weather and fewer crowds. Prices are typically lower in winter, but it's a chilly time of year, like the summer. If you would enjoy attending some of the city's popular events, the biggest Chinese New Year celebration outside of Asia is held in February, the Annual Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival takes place in April, and the San Francisco Pride Parade falls in June.

What’s the Most Scenic Route to San Francisco?

You can drive the very scenic CA Highway 1 beginning about 200 miles north of Los Angeles; the whole trip can take a full day with minimal stops. This memorable route includes tons of cliffside views, the famous Morro Rock at Morro Bay, and beautiful Big Sur.

Another option is along the U.S. Highway 101 from San Diego, which may save you a few hours but still usually takes an entire day to San Francisco, depending on traffic and the number of stops you make. You'll find plenty of ocean views, a chance to pass through Santa Barbara wine country, and charming towns to explore such as Solvang, with Danish restaurants and wineries galore.

Can I Use Public Transportation to Travel From the Airport? 

There are various ways to get to the center of San Francisco from the airport about 13 miles (21 kilometers) south of downtown San Francisco. Three or four BART trains ($8.50) per hour leave from SFO and take 30 minutes to downtown San Francisco. SamTrans ($2 and up) has frequent buses connecting SFO with parts of San Francisco, plus there are taxis ($47 and up), rideshares (prices vary), shared-ride vans ($17), and additional options, each usually taking 25 minutes or more. Prices vary so it is best to check with the individual company before traveling.

What Is There to Do in San Francisco?

San Francisco is a lovely hilly city with various neighborhoods filled with personality. It is known for great international restaurants and shopping, lovely beaches and parks, and beyond. There are world-famous sights to explore such as steep and curvy Lombard Street, Golden Gate Park, the Haight-Ashbury district and its bohemian shops, touristy Fisherman's Wharf, the gorgeous Golden Gate Bridge, and much more.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • How long is a road trip from San Diego to San Francisco?

    The distance by car is about 500 miles, which takes about 8.5 hours, not including stops or traffic.

  • What's the best route for driving from San Diego to San Francisco?

    The quickest route is to take I-15 North to L.A. and then I-5 to San Francisco. For a scenic drive, plan a route that takes you along Highway 101 or the Pacific Coast Highway.

  • Can I travel by train from San Diego to San Francisco?

    The Amtrak Pacific Surfliner goes from San Diego, through Los Angeles, and arriving in Oakland. From there, take a bus or BART public transit to San Francisco.