Freeways, Los Angeles
How to drive from San Diego to LA.
=== Introduction ===============================
This is not a neat-things-to-see travel guide. Check other parts of VT for that. This is a How-To-Avoid-The-Horrible-Traffic guide.
This guide assumes that you are going from almost any part of San Diego to central LA ( downtown, Hollywood, Burbank, etc ) on I5.
For those heading toward western LA ( Santa Monica, LAX, etc ) on I5/I405 much of this guide will still be useful. There is an appendix for I405 in part 3.
=== IF THIS PAGE IS SHOWING AS ONE LONG PARAGRAPH, CLICK ON 'SEE MY LOS ANGELES PAGE' ===
I drive SD to LA and back once a week. I've been doing it almost every week - except when vacationing, of course - for the past 3 years. Over those years, I've tried almost every time of the day and night, every day of the week. I've had lots of easy runs, and a few bad ones. I hope others can benefit from my experiences.
For going from LA to SD there is a companion guide; check out the 'transportation' tips in my SD page.
If you have any comments or suggestions to improve this guide, please email me.
=== Overview =====================================
The most important concern is when to leave.
There are two separate section on when to leave: one for weekdays ( just below ), and one for weekends ( in part 2 ).
=== Weekends - when to leave =====================================
On weekends, there is no predictable pattern other than that the traffic is light in the early mornings, gets worse late in the morning, and is worst in the afternoon.
Saturday evenings can vary quite a bit.
Sunday evenings after 8:00 pm are almost always uncrowded. But, paradoxically, leaving after 9:00 pm on a Sunday can be worse because the Caltrans road repair crews seem to save their biggest projects for late Sunday nights, and you may find four lanes of traffic restricted to one lane as they set up the construction equipment.
( continued in part 2 )
SD to LA on weekdays
=== Weekdays - when to leave =====================================
On weekdays, the consideration of when to leave is dominated by rush-hour traffic.
If you want to try to avoid morning rush hour by leaving early, you must leave SD by 4:30am. Any later than that and you will find yourself in 20+ miles of stop-and-go traffic in northern Orange County around 6:30am. ( This is known as the 'orange crush'. )
The next option is to leave mid-morning, after the rush hour traffic has dissipated. This means about 9:00am to noon. You will hit some traffic, particularly around Norwalk, but it won't be too bad. You have a 95% chance of making it within 2-1/2 hours.
Leaving in the early afternoon is chancy. If there are no problems of any kind, you can make it in 2-1/2 hours. But if there is a minor delay, you can get caught in afternoon rush hour.
Leaving between 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm is a virtual guarantee that you will hit traffic.
However, there is one way to slip through the cracks in the afternoon: leave about 3:00 or 3:15 pm, and stop for dinner along the way.
You will be out of San Diego before the rush hour. There will be some traffic around Carlsbad, but it is not too bad. Then it will get lighter as you go through Oceanside, and will be 75+ mph through Camp Pendleton. Traffic will then slow down around San Juan Capistrano and gradually turn into grinding stop-and-go around Irvine at about 5:00pm. Eat dinner in Irvine. There are a whole bunch of restaurants on Culver to the west of the freeway. Relax, enjoy your dinner, then get back on the freeway about 6:00 or 6:30.
If you leave SD after 7:00 you are not likely to encounter traffic. The longer you wait, the lighter the traffic.
( continued in part 3 )
SD to LA: the appendices
=== I405 - the western branch ==================================
Use the 73 toll road. It costs four dollars - as of Feb '07 - to drive the full length. It is always lighter traffic than the sections of I5 and I405 that it bypasses, and it is shorter, and the road surface is smoother. ( If you drive it on a clear night, at the northern end there is a great view of Orange County as you come over the crest of the last hill )
Watch your speed after you leave the toll booth at the northern end of 73. There are blind curves where cops like to catch speeders until you get onto I405.
=== The twist ==================================================
As you approach the I5/I405 split, appearances are deceptive. The freeway splits, then the two branches cross. Use the right lanes to get to I405, the left lanes to stay on I5. Watch the signs.
=== Camp Pendleton Marine Base =================================
Between Oceanside and San Clemente is about 15 miles of undeveloped land where the Marines practice. Where I5 goes through, it is a high-speed traffic zone. It may be faster than you are used to. The speed limit signs say 65mph, but the cops ignore almost anything under 90mph.
Please do not dawdle along in the left lane at 80 mph. You will be holding up traffic.
Expect a slowdown when you arrive in downtown L.A. on the 101 Freeway!! Though the stretch of the 101 in downtown is just a few miles, it can take several minutes to pass through it, especially during the morning rush hours. Sometimes it takes over half an hour of traffic time!
There is talk of improving the 101 but talk is just not fast enough!! Ay, ay ay!! While dealing with the traffic jam, admire the murals like this one pictured along the downtown stretch.
(Now, traffic captured here isn't so bad in this case- this rare case!)
Most people have smart phones these days and Google Maps or Waze can provide current traffic congestion. But, if you don't have a smart phone, you can see live feed of traffic in California by going to the website below. Scroll down until you see what area and freeways you are interested in.
"Which Freeway is faster?" - that would be my first question if I were a tourist trying to get around L.A.. The answer is (and always will be) "No clue! Really can't tell!"
Traffic in L.A. totally depends on what is going on accident-wise. After living in LA for 20 years, to this day I am surprised about traffic movement on the Freeways. Sometimes I fly from West LA to Pasadena at 7:30 am, at other times I'm stuck at 11 pm on a Sunday night on the 5 Freeway in Anaheim. And WHY is the 110 North just after downtown always near standstill on Saturday afternoons? It doesn't make sense. None of the Freeways make sense in LA.
The best option is to go online and check sigalert.com before hopping on the Freeway.
Oh yeah - the 405 between the Valley and LAX is ALWAYS bad!!!
Los Angeles is a huge, spread out city, crisscrossed by numerous freeways and expressways, but limited mass transportation. Couple that with some 13 million people in the metropolitan area and you end up with the most polluted and congested region in America. Here you have daily traffic jams as people commute across town to and from work and play.
Some estimates show there is one cars for every 1.8 people in the city, making this one of the densest concentrations of automobiles in the world. These lucky drivers spent an average of 97 hours per year delayed on LA's 20-some freeways. Speaking of THE freeways, locals almost always refer to a high way or interstate as "THE 405" or "THE 110" rather then the more common "Interstate-405," "I-405," or just "405" that you hear in the rest of the country. This does get annoying, and one guy I met in Seattle griped for hours about how people in LA think theirs is the only 110 or 405 in the world. Indeed, there are three or four other I-110s in America, and Interstate 405s exist in both Oregon and Washington.
To know about Los Angeles is to dread the 405 freeway. Stretching from the valley area to down south in Orange county, it is considered one-if not THE worst traffic jammer of southern California (The 101 and 91 can contend for the title also). Though I have heard countless nightmare stories and seen on local TV of the major stress associated with the long 405 cummute (I don't live close to and travel often on the 405), I am always amazed how people, especially those taking it solo put up with it , especially in the always busy pockets of West LA and down south in the Irvine-Costa Mesa/O.C. area.
Well, there will be continued congestion on the 405 just like donuts and coffee devoured in the morning. At least, there is some hope for the drive (unlike your stomach will have after numerous donuts and coffee consumed every day). There is on-going carpool construction (projected to be finished mid 2010s) in the West L.A.-valley area. Check on the MTA website for updates before beginning to tackle the 405, especially in L.A.!
Well, you can't talk about L.A. freeways withough mention of the 5. It is hard to miss, since it cuts through Metro LA and Orange county. Morever, the freeway goes all the way north to California's capital on paper, Sacramento. So for your California trip, the 5 should be met at some point. The 5 jammed packed in various parts along its route, but especially notewothy in LA in the downtown vicinty (Boyle Heights) Also, traffic tightens in LA suburbs of Norwalk, Santa Fe Springs and La Mirada which all make up a kind of gateway between LA county and Orange county at large.
You need to drive around here, very spread out. Try to avoid rush hours and the major highway intersections during this time. About 6:30AM to 9AM, and 3:30PM to 7PM can be bad, depending where you are and the day.
If you have two or more people in your car, the carpool lane is great during rush hours. You will save so much time, and you will get to your destination less stressed.
On weekends, if you will be leaving the city, the earlier the better. By about 11AM it gets congested on the highways, but normally not nearly as bad as during the week.
You are what you drive in LA. So, proffer your gold card and rent a Rolls Royce. Few driving experiences can equal cruising the LA freeways, listening to a classic rock station, in a cool Corniche. You don't even have to worry about finding your way, as your onboard navigation system guides you effortlessly to your destination. Unfortunately, the Roller was out the last time old Cliffie was in LA - and he had to settle for a humble Cadillac!
If you are traveling LA's freeways with more than one person in your car (artificial people don't count, they must be breathing), you can take advantage of the car pool lanes that show up on many of the freeways. Look to the very left lane, if it's a car pool lane it is very clearly marked with signs saying that it's a car pool lane, there are diamond markings on the pavement and yellow double parallel lines that mean that you should not cross in or out of them. You should enter and exit at the marked spots which means that you usually have to wait for a bit after you merge onto the highway. I did see people traveling over the double yellow lines, I believe that you could get a ticket for that. Watch the signs that say what exits are covered at the next exit spot to make sure you can get out legally.
Motorcycles can also use the carpool lanes unless otherwise marked
When driving on the LA freeways, don't use your signal to change lanes until a couple seconds before you find an opening in traffic. If you signal too early you will be on the receiving end of a blocking maueuver. Even if traffic is light the drivers in this town are so rude and aggressive they still won't let you in.
While travelling between Northern California and San Diego, it's best to go around L.A. rather than through it. You will add some miles to your trip, but save a LOT of time and aggravation.
From San Diego, heading north, take I-15 north to I-10. Then follow I-10 west (toward Santa Monica) to I-5. Then take I-5 north (toward Sacramento).
Heading south toward San Diego, it's the reverse. Follow I-5 south to I-10 east to I-15 south.
Alternative route: Heading south toward San Diego, take the coastal highway 101 south (past Ventura) to I-405, toward San Diego. This is the best way to get to Long Beach, without going through L.A.
try to travel after 9 am. the traffic settles a bit around then except on holidays. friday evenings are busey everybody is comming and going to and fron LA. listen for traffic reports on am 1070 and 980 traffic reports every ten or so minutes.