How Long Does It Take To Drive Across California? (FACTS)

How long does it take to drive across California

Have you ever wondered how long does it take to drive across California? Look no more. We´ve got you covered.

The Golden State stretches almost 900 miles along the Pacific coast, how long it takes to travel across it depends on many factors.

Various road construction sites will slow you down, but also the notoriously congested traffic near and around big cities is another factor to take into account.

But what will actually add the most time to your travel are the stops and the scenery.

California is the home of many scene routes famous around the globe, and if you are not in a hurry, it’s more than worth it to slow down under the speed limit and just enjoy the ride.

Many people from around the world come to California just to drive on the coastal roads, the scenery is just that beautiful.

So, how long does it take to drive across California? On average, you can expect between 12 and 14 hours to drive across California from south to north or from the top of California to the bottom and around 8 hours from the east coast to the west coast. However, there are three different main routes you can take:

  • Interstate 5: is the fastest way and will take around 12 hours
  • US Route 101: will take around 17 hours to drive across California
  • California State Route 1: It will take around 20 hours

The Distance

When traveling the whole of California from south or north there are three different main routes you can take.

Interstate 5

Taking Interstate 5 through California is arguably the fastest way to drive from its most southern parts on the southern outskirts of San Diego to the border with Oregon.

But it is also the least appealing one. The 797 miles of this road will take you from San Ysidro to Hilt just shy of 12 and a half hours.

It will take you through most of the major cities of the state, but you will be missing the most scenic roads. Because of this, it is known as the most boring direct route to travel across California.

Driving straight for 12 hours maybe is possible for some people. But because you will be driving on the highway, it is a better idea to spend two days traveling this distance.

Highways are boring to drive, and that boredom causes quicker loss of attention and fatigue.

Read also: Can You Sleep At Rest Stops In California? (The Truth)

US Route 101

The US Route 101 spans over 808 miles in length through the Golden State, if you are very lucky you will be able t travel this distance in less than 17 hours.

Speed limits and traffic congestion in some parts will slow you to a crawl, so you should prepare yourself for traveling even longer, which will require at least one sleepover along the way if not two.

This route will take you through some of the historic areas of California. For apart you will travel on the historic El Camino Real, and you will cross the Golden Gate Bridge.

Without any doubt, this is the second most attractive route to travel across the Golden State.

California State Route 1

State Route 1 is the road that will take you through some of the most scenic areas on the Western coast. Part of the southern leg you will drive on I-5, till Dana Point where SR 1 starts.

And the last part of the trip you will travel on US 101 as SR 1 terminates near Leggett in the north.

The 656 miles of this road will take you through some of the most beautiful areas in the Golden State.

Overall, this whole trip from San Ysidro to Crescent City will take you over 1,000 miles and more than 20 hours in the best-case scenario, which is just impossible.

So splitting this trip over three days, at least, is a must.

As much as the SR 1 is famous for its scenic parts, it is also notorious for landslides along the coast that often require lengthy repairs and long detours inland, so travel time can be increased up to 30 hours when you calculate the traffic congestion around the big cities.

Famous Routes

Traveling through the “el país grande del sur” or better known as the Big Sur is probably the most enjoyable 85 miles of road anywhere in the world.

But California has many more scenic routes you can explore while traveling across it.

They will increase the time you are spending on the road, but also the enjoyment of this travel.

Redding to Lassen Volcanic National Park

Starting in Redding you should take the I-5 to Shasta Lake and Mount Shasta, at Castle Crags state park you should change to Highway 89 and drive to McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial Park, and continue to Lassen Volcanic National Park.

This 190 miles trip will take you around 3 hours without stops, and will take you north before switching back south.

Along the way, you will enjoy some of the most majestic sights the Golden State has to offer to travelers.

Castle Crags’ spires, Mount Shasta, and geysers of Lassen are just some of many.

Malibu to Big Sur

Driving these 278 miles of the road, you will enjoy quite a bit of the coastline. Some people recommend even splitting this trip over two days and letting yourself enjoy it slowly and fully.

There are many beaches you will drive by that are easily accessible and very pleasant to rest for a while.

Along the way, you must not miss driving across the Bixby Creek Bridge, one of the most photographed bridges in the world.

Once you see the view that majestically lies around it, you will understand why it is more popular than the Golden Gate bridge.

San Diego to Palm Springs

There is more than one way to drive from San Diego to Palm Springs, but one of them will take you through practically all types of scenery that California has to offer. The ocean side, mountains, and deserts.

These scenic 140 miles you should start on I-15 and drive toward Indio on Highway 79. From Indio, you should take 371 and Highway 74 to Palm Desert, where you should change to highway 11 that will take you to Palm Springs.

When traveling this route, you should make sure that your camera or phone is fully charged, because you will drain the battery taking pictures along the road.

Things To Know Before Driving

Before you start your trip across the Golden State, there are some things to have on the mind or to plan for. Driving long distances can be a challenge in a case that you don’t know what to expect ahead.

Plan ahead

It’s a simple truth, there are many sites and sights to be seen in California. If you don’t plan which to visit and which not, your trip could be prolonged to weeks or even months.

There are many parks, maybe you shouldn’t visit them all.

Be smart about staying over

Along the most popular routes, there is a lot of tourist traps. They are in essence overpriced hotels that will not provide you with services that match their price.

Many areas are very popular so a lot of skinning the unaware European tourists does happen as part of regular business.

If you don’t like to pay $15-20 for a sandwich you should avoid staying at the most popular places.

Less popular places will give you more for your buck.

Don’t be in hurry to get on the road

If you are staying over at someplace, when you get up in the morning you will be tempted to get on the road right away. Don’t.

You are not the only person with that very idea, there are more people who have stayed overnight near the place you did, let them get stuck and annoyed by traffic in the morning when the daily commuters travel to their jobs.

Plan your start of the day smart, for the moment when there are fewer vehicles on the roads, especially in areas around cities.

Traveling should be enjoying the road, not getting stuck in traffic. Don’t be afraid to stay on the road well into the sunset, you will mostly drive along the coast, so enjoy the sight on your left side.

Get off the beaten path

California is rich in natural beauties and gorgeous scenery, don’t be afraid to make a detour and explore them for a bit.

Very likely it will not add much time to your overall trip, though it will add miles. And do slow down, you are traveling through one of the most beautiful areas in North America, you should find time to enjoy it.

There are many parts of the road where you can pull over and enjoy both the beaches, cliffs, mountains, rivers, lakes, and even deserts.

You are on a trip, not a race track. Trying to drive as fast as possible and zooming through the traffic will only serve to aggravate you.

California is a vast state not due to its area but many things worth seeing and places worth visiting in it. A trip across it will take at least 12 hours under the perfect conditions, but more realistic is to expect 17 or so hours.

This time is best split across at least two days of travel.

Experienced travelers, wishing to get to know better the Golden State will want to split it into more days, taking bigger detours from the main route.


Mike Gilmour

Hi, I'm Mike, co-founder, and editor of RV and Playa. My passion is traveling (with my RV) and enjoying the day at the beach (Playa)! Well, I originally created this blog as a way to share what I've learned by experimenting with the RV lifestyle, and I want to help others develop in life through new skills and opportunities.

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