Travel from San Diego To LAX

I love living in San Diego but you’d never think it’s the second largest city in California with the airport we have here.  Although there are plenty of flights to get to/from San Diego from the rest of the US, international flights are a different story.  Whenever I travel, I always fly out of Los Angeles or San Francisco. To be honest, I usually try to find flights out of SFO because it’s really easy to find a flight from a multitude of airlines at all hours of the day that fly between San Deigo and SFO.  But every now and then, I end up flying out of LAX and I’m always torn on how to do it in terms of cost and time. Having done the trip differently multiple times, I hope this will help you make a decision on what fits best for your time and budget.  

If you don’t have someone willing to drive you up to LAX and time is limited, your best options will be to drive yourself, fly, or Uber.  However, if you have time on your hands, a combination of the trolley/metro and train can work for you as well.  

Shuttle Service

You can always take the shuttle service but I think these are really only worth it if you have a large group of people.  Whenever I’ve looked at pricing for 1, the cost is usually around $300 one way. Now, the upside is that you make the journey comfortably by a driver who can get you to the airport quickly and efficiently.  But for that price, I just don’t see the value.  

Uber 

This is the easiest option since I imagine it’s an app that most people use already.  Obviously it’s going to be cheaper than using a cab but depending on the time of day, the price and the time it takes can fluctuate.  I’ve seen prices range from around $100 to $200 so it isn’t outrageously priced. However, depending on the time of day, it could take a few hours to get there (especially if you’re battling rush hour traffic in LA).  I don’t think it’s the best option but it’s certainly available if it’s a last minute trip or if you’re in a bind.  

Fly

I know it almost seems stupid to fly for such a short distance but it is by far the easiest way to get to LAX.  Outside of being dropped off at the airport via Uber, it’s a pretty straight forward process and my preferred method.  First, the timing is perfect. The flight takes all of about 30 minutes and there is a flight that leaves basically every hour from SAN to LAX.  Second, the price is pretty cheap. It’s about $100 (as long as you book your flight at least 3 weeks from departure) and I’ve never seen the flight full….ever.  

The downside to flying is that you will have to deal with all the airport madness that accompanies flying.  Getting there early, security, and getting a ride to the airport are all nuances you’ll have to deal with. The good thing about the short flight is that I don’t see a huge reason to get to the airport super early.  Boarding doesn’t really take too long since the flight is never full and as long as the arriving flight is on time, you can pretty much expect the flight to be on time.  

I think the main downside is that flying isn’t always an option depending on your departure time in LAX.  Since flights from SAN to LAX stop at around 8:30pm, if your flight departs LAX at 5am the next day, you may not want to sit around the airport for that length of time especially at that hour when nothing is open.  I actually like to have about a four hour buffer in between flights when positioning from San Diego to another airport just in case there are delays but that’s also when shops, restaurants, and airport lounges are open.  When nothing is open and you’re stuck at the airport, it can get really boring, really fast.  

One Way Car Rental

When flying isn’t an option due to my departure time, I opt to get a one way rental car from San Diego to LAX.  I think a lot of people forget that you can rent a car in one location and drop it off at another location. Sometimes, this isn’t a great option (especially if you’re coming or going from a small town) but to go from San Diego to LAX is a different story.  It’s pretty common for a lot of tourists to fly into LAX and leave out of San Diego (or vice versa) so I haven’t really encountered any additional charges when I drop it off at LAX. 

A rental car usually costs around $100 and is pretty straight forward.  I usually pick up the rental from the rental terminal at the airport because there are always cars available and they’re open later hours than some smaller sites located throughout the city.  Since I’m taking an Uber to the rental terminal anyways, it’s nice to have a little more flexibility when picking up the car.  

The only time I opt for a rental is when my flight departs LAX so early that I either can’t get a flight out of San Diego early enough to make it in time.  Remember that flights out of San Diego leave at 6am so the earliest you could get to LAX is around 7 and if you run into a marine layer, the flight could easily be delayed.  

The downside to a rental is obviously the time you’ll spend driving.  However, if you’re driving really early in the morning or late at night, the traffic will be minimal and the drive is going to be easy.  Navigating the area around LAX means you’ll have to use Google maps because the rental facilities are spread out over a few blocks around the airport.  But, there are a couple gas stations as soon as you get off at Century Blvd and the 405 so filling up the tank is very easy. Also, since you’re only driving up to LA, you definitely won’t use a full tank of gas so it won’t cost much to fill up.  

Trolley/Amtrak/Metro Rail

If you really have time or if you’re feeling like making a fun little journey out of it, you can certainly take the Surfliner up from San Diego to Union Station and then take the metro to the airport.  This option is the cheapest but it’ll be the most time intensive by far so you’ll definitely want to allot a fair amount of time. The time it takes will be around 4 hours but the cost will be around $50 so it’s up to you to decide if it’s worth the time.  

Obviously, you can take the Surfliner at multiple stations along the coast but if you want to take the trolley to Old Town or Santa Fe Station, you have that option as well.  From there, you can purchase your ticket (no need to purchase super early since they won’t sell out) and you probably won’t need a business class ticket unless you really want to get the snacks onboard.  I’ve never seen the train close to full so you’ll have plenty of space to spread out if you want.  

Once at Union Station, you have two options.  You can either take the Flyaway bus from Union to LAX or you can take the metro (this is metro RAIL, not to be confused with METROLINK) .  The Flyaway bus is certainly the easier option since it’ll take you to the airport directly.  However, it has 2 weaknesses. First, it costs $9.75 for a one way ticket. That isn’t a huge downfall but it’s still more expensive than the metro.  Second, depending on the time of day, you’ll be battling LA’s infamous rush hour traffic. That said, a short ride of a few miles can easily take an hour.  

The second option is to take the metro rail from Union Station to Aviation/LAX station.  You’ll need to take 3 different lines to do it but it’s actually really simple and straightforward.  The main thing to realize is that Aviation/LAX station is on the Green Line so you can take whatever combination of lines you want to get there.  

The great thing about this option is the cost.  A one way fare is $1.75 (even though you will have to buy a metro card for $2) and you can transfer to other lines for free so it’s a very simple process if you’ve ever taken public transportation anywhere else in the world.  It certainly isn’t nearly as complicated as Tokyo or Seoul by any means.  

Another reason this is a great option is because if you’re arriving at Union Station during rush hour, the metro could actually be faster than the Flyaway bus.  The metro will take almost exactly an hour to get from Union Station to Aviation station. The bus, since it’ll take the roads, will be much harder to time since there could be an accident that really clogs the streets.  You just never know.  

From Aviation station, you’ll see a regular public bus that has LAX on the front (included in your ticket price).  From the station, it’s about a five minute drive and the driver will stop at whichever terminal you need. Just know that the bus stops are on the lower level (arrivals level) so you’ll have to go up to the departures level once you arrive.  

My feeling is if you have time to take the train up to LAX, you’re probably doing it to save money and because time is on your side.  If you’re really nervous about taking the metro, then maybe the Flyaway bus is for you but since you’re already at Union station, I don’t think the metro is that bad of an option.  It’s actually really simple and probably rewarding especially when you zoom past all the cars that are stuck on the freeway.  

Final Thoughts

I’ve taken all these options up to LAX from San Diego and flying is by far my preferred method.  Since the cost of flying is basically the same as driving, I don’t really see the point unless the timing of the departing flight in LA just doesn’t make flying out of San Diego viable.  Then, my next option is to just get a rental one way. Those 2 options are the perfect middle ground between cost and time. If you really want to be lazy, you can take an Uber but that’ll certainly cost more.  Finally, if you have the time, the Surfliner and the metro is a great option. If you’ve never been to Union Station in LA before, the train option might be worth it just to walk around the station. It’s a really cool site and a landmark in LA.  

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