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Driving from SF to LA, I-5 v. 101...reality check?

Oakland, CA
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Driving from SF to LA, I-5 v. 101...reality check?

We are driving from Oakland to West LA, and debating I-5 versus 101. I know I-5 is the fastest on paper, but the last two times we've done this drive it's been an absolute nightmare (first a breakdown as far from civilization as is possible, necessitating a 1.5-hour tow to Bakersfield; then crazy traffic backed up from the Grapevine; trips clocked in at 11 and 9 hours, respectively). So I'm taking a look at 101 as an alternative. Husband says I'm nuts, these were just flukes, and going via 101 will add at least two hours to the trip. Google thinks it's not quite that bad. What say you, Tripadvisor readers?

We can leave anywhere between 8 and 10 am. This will be the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend (so hopefully avoiding the worst of the holiday traffic, but maybe not...?) We are three, so will have carpool lane access where that's relevant. The third traveler is our preschooler, but I can see that being an argument for either route (get there as quickly as possible, or go the route that offers more opportunities for playground/food stops).

I am considering:

- 580 to I-5 to 405

- 880 to 101 to 405

- 880 to 101 to 46 to I-5 to 405

I know 880 south can be awful in the mornings, but not sure if leaving at 9-10 am will help on that front or not (and we do have the 580 to 238 option to cut out some of this traffic if needed). Thanks for any perspectives on this!

(Oh, and yes, I've seen the FAQ on this and also Google's estimates, but not sure how "real" these are given traffic and our timing.)

Grover Beach...
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for Pismo Beach, Cambria, Big Sur
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1. Re: Driving from SF to LA, I-5 v. 101...reality check?

This is the option I suggest:

- 880 to 101 to 405

You should miss the worst of commute traffic leaving Oakland between 9-10 am. Closer to 10 am the better. Expect the drive to take approx. 7 hours without stops. More or less.

Option #3 would NOT save you any time. Doesn't make sense to travel south, then east to continue south.

Dublin, California
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46 reviews
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2. Re: Driving from SF to LA, I-5 v. 101...reality check?

Is the total travel time the key criterion? I don't know how going either I-5 or 101 is going to make any difference in terms of a car breakdown. Are you saying that had you gone 101 you would not have that breakdown? And traffic can affect either freeway, can't predict that.

Oakland, CA
14 posts
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3. Re: Driving from SF to LA, I-5 v. 101...reality check?

Right, breakdowns definitely couldn't be predicted (although funnily, for that particular breakdown it might have been avoided going 101--was a late-summer trip and problem was heat-related!) But the bigger issue was just that stretches of I-5 are very desolate and we had the bad luck to break down on one that was very far from any nearby community--thus our options for getting help were very limited. I know there are stretches of 101 like this as well, but my sense is that overall there are more communities, albeit small ones, along it most of the way.

Total travel time is important, but if it's only likely to be an hour's difference, we're willing to do 101. If it's 2-3 hours or more, we're not. So my question is mainly about typical traffic patterns--is I-5 on a weekday likely to be closer to the Google estimate of 5.5 hours, or will normal/expected traffic at those hours make it longer? And same question for 101. I know we can't predict traffic anomalies, but at least at the Bay Area end, there are some pretty predictable commute patterns that you can guess at to time trips, so that's what I'm hoping to do.

Edited: 09 May 2014, 20:18
Grover Beach...
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for Pismo Beach, Cambria, Big Sur
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4. Re: Driving from SF to LA, I-5 v. 101...reality check?

If you leave Oakland closer to 9:00 am, you should be able to avoid some commute issues in the Santa Barbara area (Rolling in between 2 and 3 pm). You will likely have some commute trafficonce you reach Ventura/Oxnard and Thousand Oaks/Woodland Hills into the LA Basin. You would likely miss most traffic issues via I-5, but you have that boring, desolate drive that concerns you. At least with Highway 101 you get "some" variation of scenery and the comfort of knowing that there are several small towns en route in case of breakdown.

Edited: 09 May 2014, 20:32
Santa Clara...
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5. Re: Driving from SF to LA, I-5 v. 101...reality check?

I drove from SF to West LA/South Bay quite a bit over the last 10 years. I have always taken I-5 due to the shorter travel times. With typical traffic, we can make the drive under 6 hours. The only time we had to take 101 was due to a traffic accident and we couldn't get over to I-5. I think it is much longer.

Edited: 09 May 2014, 20:38
Oakland, CA
14 posts
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6. Re: Driving from SF to LA, I-5 v. 101...reality check?

Thanks all! And good to know re: the 46 option--that was only on the list because Google Maps thought it was faster than taking 101 all the way down, but I know that Google often has no idea what it's talking about. Will take it out of consideration! :)

Edited: 09 May 2014, 21:52
7. Re: Driving from SF to LA, I-5 v. 101...reality check?

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