Travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco Using Only Local Public Transit

Have you ever wondered if it were possible to travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco using only an interconnecting mishmash of local bus and train services? Probably not. Why would you want to, when you could just book a flight from LAX to SFO or a trip on Amtrak California?

I wondered if it were possible. I even drew up an itinerary for a journey along the coast from the City by the Bay to the City of Angels, but it was lacking in one major respect – there was no local transit service that could bridge a roughly 40-mile gap along 101 between King City and San Miguel. I failed you, Dear Readers.

But I’m back with another itinerary, this time taking you from Los Angeles Union Station to Embarcadero Station in San Francisco via Yosemite using only unreserved fixed-route public transit.

Disclaimer: If you are actually brave enough to try this, I’m not responsible if you miss a connection and get stranded. The trip is based on currently available published schedules from transit agency websites – please check with the agency you’ll be using before your trip to make sure the data is current and correct.

This trip is only possible in July or August due to seasonal closures of the YARTS route from Mammoth Lakes to Merced. You’ll also need to come up with overnight accommodations in Mammoth Lakes, Merced, and Modesto.

Monday in July or August:

11:20 a.m.: Depart Los Angeles Union Station on Metrolink’s Antelope Valley Line, Train 207.  Adult one-way fare: $12.75.

1:20 p.m.: Arrive Lancaster Metrolink Station. Layover: 1 hour 10 minutes.

2:30 p.m.: Depart Lancaster Metrolink Station on Eastern Sierra Transit’s Mammoth bus.  Adult one-way fare: $33.00.

7:35 p.m.: Arrive Mammoth Lakes McDonald’s. Enjoy a delicious McRib sandwich. Layover:  11 hours 45 minutes.

Tuesday in July or August:

7:20 a.m.: Depart from Mammoth Lakes Shilo Inn (directly adjacent to McDonald’s) on YARTS Highway 120 route. Adult one-way fare: $15.00.

10:55 a.m.: Arrive Yosemite Valley Visitors Center. Purchase a post card and mail to Headquarters, San Francisco, Calif. – it’ll probably make it here before you do. Layover: 4 hours 55 minutes.

3:50 p.m.: Depart Yosemite Valley Visitors Center on YARTS Highway 140 route. Adult one-way fare: $13.00.

6:27 p.m.: Arrive Merced Transportation Center. Do whatever it is people do in Merced. Layover: 22 hours 58 minutes.

Wednesday in July or August:

5:25 p.m.:  Depart Merced Transportation Center on Stanislaus Regional Transite Route 70. Adult one-way fare: $2.50.

6:35 p.m.: Arrive Modesto Transit Center. Layover: 10 hours 5 minutes.

Thursday in July or August:

4:40 a.m.: Depart Modesto Transit Center on the MAX Modesto BART Express. Adult one-way fare: $14.00.

6:35 a.m.: Arrive Dublin/Pleasanton BART Station. Layover: 8 minutes.

6:43 a.m.: Depart Dublin/Pleasanton BART Station on a Daly City train. Adult one-way fare: $5.55.

7:28 a.m.: Arrive San Francisco Embarcadero Station. Walk to the Ferry Building and spend $5 on a mocha at Blue Bottle – you deserve it.

The Stats

Total time from leaving L.A. Union to arriving at S.F. Embarcadero: 68 hours 8 minutes (time spent waiting for transfers: 51 hours 1 minute – time spent moving: 17 hours 7 minutes)

Total fare (excluding McRib, post card, and Blue Bottle Coffee): $95.80.

Transfers: 7, utilizing 6 different agencies (Metrolink, Eastern Sierra Transit, Yosemite Area Regional Transportation, Stanislaus Regional Transit, Modesto Area Express, and Bay Area Rapid Transit)

If you decide to undertake this adventure, please let me know in the comments. And if you know of a better route that also only uses local carriers, please let me know! There should be a better way to bridge the Merced to Modesto gap.

Credit: Featured image on homepage is used under Creative Commons license from Flickr user sludgegulper.

25 thoughts on “Travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco Using Only Local Public Transit

    1. davidjchurch

      those involve an intercity carrier that needs reservations, either Amtrak or Bundubus. this itinerary doesn’t require any reservations :)

      1. Peter Smith

        ah, you’re right – at least in terms of the google trips not being ‘local bus and train services’.

        as far as i can tell, neither Amtrak nor Bundu Bus require reservations — the only qualification for Bundu Bus is that you have to pay cash when you arrive without a reservation.

  1. Richard Masoner

    Hi Matt, it was good to meet you at Transpo Camp on Saturday.

    I once drew up an itinerary from Monterey to someplace east of Sacramento using nothing but local transit agencies (well, except for a leg on Capitols Corridor which is usually used for commuter use), but this one is truly impressive.

    1. Avatar of Matthew NelsonMatthew Nelson Post author

      Thanks again Richard, it was great meeting you at #Transpo. This blog post has generated so much interest I think I need to do a follow-up that goes to Sacramento or maybe points even further north…

    1. jl

      If you show a valid drivers license or calif. or other state official ID that is probably enough, Ive been able to drive on to the base and drive the road to hwy 1 w/no problem and also visit Mission San Antonio

  2. Scott Mercer

    This reminds of a revelation I had while looking at old train route maps.

    I believe it was possible at one time (probably around 1925) to travel from New York to Chicago (or maybe it was New York to Boston) using only electric trains (city “streetcars” or interurbans), as there was a network of various and sundry independently owned routes connecting the whole area.

    No long distance locomotive-pulled trains, just electric passenger service.

    1. Avatar of Matthew NelsonMatthew Nelson Post author

      What a great idea for a wiki! Demand-response totally counts – when I lived in Ridgecrest, Calif., I actually used demand-response transit quite often. It can be a pain sometimes, but still provides an essential link for a lot of people.

  3. David D.

    It is now possible to travel from LA to SF using public transit along the coast. Monterey-Salinas Transit recently began operations on two bus routes operating between King City and Paso Robles. (The Paso Robles route is contracted with SLORTA, which is the regional bus system in SLO County.)

    It is possible to transfer between Routes 82 and 83 without entering Fort Hunter-Liggett. I contacted MST to confirm this, and a friend who is planning to do just this trip (he is going from San Diego to Sacramento, actually!) contacted MST separately and got the same answer. I haven’t been in the area since service started, but I was told the transfer can be made somewhere outside the main gate.

    There are several parallel services that can be used in the urban areas, but here is an example of how a trip from downtown LA to SF can be done over the course of two weekdays:

    1. LADOT Route 422, LA to Thousand Oaks
    2. VISTA Highway 101, TO to Pacific View Mall
    3. VISTA Coastal Express, Pacific View Mall to Santa Barbara
    4. MTD Route 12x, Santa Barbara to Hollister Street (Goleta)
    5. Clean Air Express, Goleta to Santa Maria
    6. SMAT Route 8, P&R Lot to Broadway/McCoy
    7. SMAT Route 1A, Broadway/McCoy to Town Center Mall
    8. SLORTA Route 10, Town Center Mall to SLO
    9. SLORTA Route 9, SLO to Paso Robles
    Overnight in Paso Robles
    1. MST Route 83, Paso Robles to Fort H-L
    2. MST Route 82, Fort H-L to Salinas
    3. MST Route 28, Salinas to Watsonville
    4. Santa Cruz Metro Route 71, Watsonville to Santa Cruz
    5. Highway 17 Express, Santa Cruz to San Jose
    6. Caltrain, San Jose to SF

    I’d give it a try if I had the time. I took public transit from Santa Barbara to San Diego (Chula Vista technically) on a Saturday back in 2004, and that was quite the experience. I actually took an Amtrak bus from SLO to Santa Barbara first, but that doesn’t “count” as the public transit portion. I took VISTA Coastal Express to VISTA Highway 101 to Metro 161 to Metro 750 to Metro Red Line to Metro Blue Line to Long Beach Transit Passport to OCTA 1 to NCTD 395 (or was it still 305 at the time?) to NCTD 301 (now the 101) to MTS 34 (now 30) to Blue Line Trolley. Phew!

    1. Avatar of Matthew NelsonMatthew Nelson Post author

      That’s great news that you can go from King City-Paso Robles on the MST 83/82 without a military ID. That was the frustrating missing link last time I tried to get this all lined out.

  4. David D.

    Justin: Interesting link. I will have to contribute to that site!

    Conveniently I can cut and paste now, haha. :)

    1. Avatar of Matthew NelsonMatthew Nelson Post author

      I think I can stretch it south to the Mexican border via North County Transit and the SD Trolley Blue Line – I need to see just how far north it can stretch too.

      1. cph

        You can get from SF to Ukiah, at least, using Golden Gate Transit and Mendocino County MTA. Maybe as far north as Willits (Skunk Train). Then there is a gap between Willits and Garberville, where the Humbold Transit starts up….

  5. cph

    I may actuallty try the all-local-transit trip between LA and SF. It would be on a Thursday-Friday (return to LA on Saturday) in either June or July….

  6. Pingback: San Francisco to Los Angeles on Public Transit: 30 Hours, 14 Transfers, & Only $45.25

  7. Chaffee

    I quickly scan through the schedule and seems if doing the same thing from LA to SF may take less time? Btw which SMAT route can close fill the gap within city of Santa Maria? It’d be fun if I can do it sometimes.

  8. Michael

    OMG. I totally want to do this. As soon as I get out of summer school — I’ll have a month in August before the fall term starts — I want to do this. Thanks for the hard work and inspiration!!

  9. Charles P

    I also drew up plans once I had heard MST had the 82 and 83 were combined. Some of my routes were laid out differently as far as travel from LA to SF but most do in align with the above. My friend and I want to do the trip but haven’t had the time yet. I also want to to the Central Valley trip as well. hoping to find an easier way to connect routes where little walking is involved but may not be possible. Definitely want to try as well go from San Francisco north to the state border. We will see. When my friend and I get together I will post our experience here.

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