San Francisco to L.A. How Long?
December 3, 2008 8:02 PM   Subscribe

If I leave San Francisco at 4pm on a Friday (11/5) what are my chances of getting into L.A. by 11:00pm?

Google says 6 hours, but I don't have a sense of what L.A. traffic is like. I imagine I'd beat SF rush hour, and maybe San Jose rush hour. Specifically I'm going to Beverly Hills / West Hollywood.
posted by mto to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (16 answers total)
Not to be a Negative Nancy, but I'd say the chances aren't good. That's a 6-hour drive drive without any traffic, and rush hour always starts early on a Friday with people getting out of town. Google says 7 hours with traffic. And you'll hit the worst of it.

To make the best shot, though, don't take the 101 to San Jose (unless you're already starting down there). Get on the 5. You might be able to make up some time in the vast stretches of the central valley, but keep an eye out for speed traps.
posted by hwyengr at 8:19 PM on December 3, 2008

I've made that drive in 8.5 hours. I don't know if 4pm is early enough to beat Friday rush hour (depends on your route). In LA, the rush on the freeway will likely be cleared out before you arrive, but you may run into congestion on the surface streets due to Friday night activity.
posted by oceanmorning at 8:19 PM on December 3, 2008

It is possible. I've made the trip several times. You'd definitely miss L.A. rush hour, though I'm not as familiar with traffic in northern California. I take it you're driving down the 5 and not the PCH, right?

Just be aware that the 5 isn't very scenic along long stretches, nor is it very populated except for the rare oasis here and there. Plan accordingly for rest, entertainment, food and "rest stops".
posted by digitaldraco at 8:20 PM on December 3, 2008

As people have said, it's doable if traffic isn't horrid. best to avoid 101 around SF. 280 to 85 to 101. From there, any hope of finding out what traffic is like on the 152, which takes you to 5? Some people don't bother w. 152 to 5. 101 flows pretty fast to L.A. and parts have a 70 limit. (I've always driven speed limit + 10, never had a ticket.)

Also, depends on where you're going in L.A. LA proper, somewhere in the northern part, downtown, down near LAX, somewhere east?

Those things aside, you're probably looking at speed limit +10, one or two quick stops to use the bathroom if you want to make it in 7 hours.
posted by ambient2 at 8:29 PM on December 3, 2008

Seconding mattdidthat. It's dodgy unless you are unabashed about exceeding the speed limit in the clear breaks you find on 5. If you take 280 southbound you will hit miles of traffic south of about the 92 junction, even if you get there by 4:30. 280 - 85 - 101 - 152 - 5 as long as there are no big incidents. Bay Bridge traffic is also awful that time of day and your other route is 80 - 580 - 5, 80 being a crapshoot. Try to "beat the cheaters" and skive off work early.

152 is supposed to be significantly better since the road was improved and a fly-over installed.

As ambient2 says, the CHP seem to be pretty tolerant but it's traffic, not cops, you'll need to worry about. I've made the trip from Belmont to Long Beach in five hours, but that involved some delirious speeding as well as careful choice of start time.
posted by jet_silver at 9:15 PM on December 3, 2008

Where in LA? 6 hours to the outskirts of LA is totally do-able but probably not on a Friday night because traffic leaving the Bay Area is always horrible. If you can leave by 3pm it'll help. And yeah, avoid Pacheco Pass.
posted by fshgrl at 9:34 PM on December 3, 2008

I made this trip on a wednesday a few weeks ago, left at 3 made it to Hollywood (which is pretty much the first bit of LA you hit) before around 9 - Take the 580 route out to 5 you'll hit some traffic on the way out but 5 should be clear to LA proper.

I drive really fast though. I'd add on a bit to account for that.
posted by bitdamaged at 9:37 PM on December 3, 2008

Ok ... - I have to point out that 11/5 isn't a Friday (in any calendar system).

posted by Xhris at 10:13 PM on December 3, 2008

Bad chances. If you're in SF city, you'll hit traffic no matter which way you go getting out of the city. We do this trip frequently (Berkeley to L.A.) and our average time going around 70 mph with two stops is 6 hours, but our favorite time to do this is leaving around 7 p.m. and arriving around 1 a.m. - no traffic anywhere on the trip.
posted by arnicae at 10:52 PM on December 3, 2008

At 4p on Friday, you're going to run into traffic no matter which route you take. The route I'd recommend would be to take the Bay Bridge to 580 and connect to 5 as soon as possible--the Bay Bridge traffic leaving San Francisco will be slow, but it should open up after that.

As someone who is often in 4 o'clock traffic on the Bay Bridge, I would not take this route, because you have absolutely no options if anything goes seriously wrong on the bridge. 580 South to at least Fruitvale is usually stop and go, too, and then 580 can be quite miserable for a stretch. I would probably do 280 to 101 all the way down to 152 to 5. Though 101 through Morgan Hill is also going to be crappy. It's all going to be bad though. You'd be leaving at pretty much the worst possible time on the worst day of the week.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:20 PM on December 3, 2008

Can't be done. But if I was going to try, I'd head east directly toward the 5, invest in a radar/laster detector (costco has one that's nice), find a website for speed trap maps and hope.

I know Morgan Hill. You have to go through San Jose traffic to get there. If you are going to push for 152 (against my earlier advice) you may want to get off at Bernal (both 85 and 101 hit bernal) and take Monterey or Santa Teresa through Morgan Hill to 152. It may be faster if there's heavy traffic or an accident.

I'd note that there is still commuter traffic on 152 at 6:30pm ish heading to Los Banos. And it goes down to one lane, if memory serves. So it's basically horrible all the way.
posted by gryftir at 3:00 AM on December 4, 2008

I work next to a bay bridge approach. At 4pm it's already a clusterfuck.
posted by ryanrs at 3:19 AM on December 4, 2008

Rush hour in SF starts early on Friday. I spend more time on the Bay Bridge than 101, but given that caveat, I'd choose 280 (to 85 to 101) over just 101 or the Bay Bridge.

But better than any of these choices would be to leave at 2:30pm or 3pm instead of 4pm.
posted by zippy at 3:25 AM on December 4, 2008

It could take an hour just to get out of SF. Then another 1.5 to 2 to get to the 5. I've sat in traffic in downtown SF at that time and had it take 15 minutes to go a block.
posted by apostrophe at 7:21 AM on December 4, 2008

Your chances are good if you drive to SFO and fly. Southwest has round-trips tomorrow for $134 each way. If you can't leave before 4:00 and have to be there by 11:00, flying would give you a better chance than driving.

(And forget about Amtrak; it's a 12-hour trip.)

I have to point out that 11/5 isn't a Friday (in any calendar system).

Pretty sure it's tomorrow and not 11 months from now (or six months from now).
posted by kirkaracha at 1:44 PM on December 4, 2008

Thanks everyone! Based on all your advice I decided to skip the trip. I was hoping it'd be doable, but oh well. (For the curious, I was going to go to a concert)
posted by mto at 10:39 PM on December 5, 2008

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