Plane, train, automobile? SF to LAX
September 24, 2012 4:22 PM   Subscribe

Plane, train, or automobile? Which is the cheapest way to get from San Francisco to Los Angeles?

I will shortly be moving to San Francisco, and I'm seriously thinking of ditching my car so that I don't have to pay gas, insurance, parking, and so on. I will have a carless commute.

However, I have friends in LA that I like to visit regularly, so my question is: of the three choices, plane, train, or (rental) car, what is the cheapest way to get from San Francisco to LAX? Assume that at LAX I can either be picked up by a friend with a car, or rent a car there (but include that rental in the cost).
posted by babbageboole to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Coach ( is $45 one-way.
posted by katrielalex at 4:27 PM on September 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Plane tickets can be had for about $100 round trip, especially if you're not flying on the weekend.
posted by justjess at 4:29 PM on September 24, 2012

You can't get directly from San Francisco to LA by train. Amtrak uses busses for part of the trip. (From SF proper, two busses and a train, from Oakland, one bus and one train)

I've recently both driven and flown round trip LAX->SF->LAX and driving was a little bit cheaper, but was more expensive than I've sometimes had sale fares.
posted by kbuxton at 4:29 PM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Actually, playing with the fare finder a bit more, the coach is basically free if you book a month in advance ($1 each way).
posted by katrielalex at 4:29 PM on September 24, 2012

The bus is definitely the cheapest (and you can go for less than $45 if you pick it up from Chinatown), but it can take the better part of a day to get there. I think it took me 9 or 10 hours last time.

Virgin runs pretty cheap flights between L.A. and SF on a regular basis. Less than $100 each way on off-peak days, but about that on weekends.

I'm of the opinion that it's not worth keeping a car in San Francisco for anything, certainly not just for the occasional trip to L.A.
posted by mykescipark at 4:30 PM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Random Friday in November it looks like Southwest wants $78 for SFO to LAX, you'll have to include getting to SFO, for which BART wants $8.10. You don't say where you're going from LAX, it's been years since I've been there and I'm vaguely remembering that a taxi was $35 to downtown, SuperShuttles were less but usually I was traveling with someone (or for a conference, where I could find someone to share a cab with) so splitting cab fair made that the way to travel.

And flying will certainly be the fastest if you value your time.
posted by straw at 4:34 PM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

If the only reason you might keep your car in SF is so that you can drive it to LA, ditch it without a second thought. Parking in many parts of the city is an enormous PITA, and you might want to factor in the bonus of parking tickets you won't get, when you are considering the costs of flying to LA. Unless you are planning to go down every weekend, it's a no-brainer.

If you are going for the weekend, flying is the only way to go, otherwise you will spend more time on the journey than at the destination. Advance purchase is your friend.
posted by ambrosia at 4:52 PM on September 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

While not exactly efficient, one can go from SF to LA on public transportation for $41.25.
posted by zsazsa at 4:55 PM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Remember to factor in cost of transportation to and from the airports, or parking there, when you evaluate flying costs. They are not minimal, and the time involved in getting to and from airports going both directions and time spent going through security can make the bus not such a bad time comparison.
posted by uncaken at 5:10 PM on September 24, 2012

How about renting a car in SF and driving it to LA and back? You could probably get a rental car for a weekend for cheaper than the cost of a round-trip plane ticket plus airport transportation, and it's faster than the bus.
posted by breakin' the law at 5:25 PM on September 24, 2012

Bus is cheapest. But, it will chew up a day each way. If you value your time and independence, flying or driving a rental car will be preferable. All options are more affordable with planning, flexibility, and signing up for fare trackers so that you can buy when prices are best.
posted by quince at 5:31 PM on September 24, 2012

Fly into Burbank. Your friends will thank you.
posted by roger ackroyd at 5:49 PM on September 24, 2012 [7 favorites]

How much is your time worth? If it's more than "basically zero", fly.
posted by mdonley at 6:38 PM on September 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: This could help: It doesn't do trains, but you can kind of trick it into calculating what you want by changing some of the optional add-on times and/or costs, like "time needed at airport" or "daily rental car fee".
posted by gubenuj at 8:57 PM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Many of my carless SF friends have had good luck snagging rideshares to and from LA via the "asking on Facebook if anyone knows anyone who's going" method. I've heard Craigslist rideshares are pretty active as well for that route, if that's your style.

Greyhound is a pretty unpleasant way to travel, and Amtrak is Cheap weekend flights do exist, but you absolutely have to buy ahead, and you won't find them in November/December or May through September.

I have a car in San Francisco because I know that if I had to calculate the cost of flying or renting a car every time I wanted to leave the city, I would do it much less often, even if the total cost were still less than car ownership. But I also live in a part of the city known for relatively sane parking, so don't discount some of the more negative views on car ownership upthread.
posted by psycheslamp at 9:35 PM on September 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

You can fly to Long Beach or Burbank and getting to SFO on BART is the easiest thing ever. Just fly.
posted by dame at 10:56 PM on September 24, 2012

Yes, absolutely ditch your car in San Francisco.

Every time you need to go to LA, just price out your options. I think you'll find flying to be the easiest and most convenient.

You can rent a car, lots of rental agencies have weekend deals, just keep an ear to the ground on that. I could make the trip from San Jose to the edges of LA in 5 hours, on 5. Just turn left at Gilroy, past Casa De Fruta (and the famous cup flippers!) and then put a brick on the gas pedal, stopping in Button Willow for a soda and a pee.

Amtrak. Meh, not fast, not fun, not convenient to get to or to be picked up from.

Greyhound. Hell no! Once we threw a rod in Buelton and had to take Greyhound home. Talk about YUK!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:50 AM on September 25, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks all! To the ones who said "bus": bzzzzt! "Toilet on wheels" was not one of the choices :D

Sounds like flying is probably the best choice overall, also considering the price of gas.
posted by babbageboole at 12:30 PM on September 28, 2012

« Older Looking to learn to make chocolates   |   Vegetarian ISO romantic meaty meal Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.