The Lowdown on Getting Around California

No car? No problem! Here are alternative ways of traveling around California.

In the United States, most people drive a car. This is especially true outside the big cities, as locations tend to be more spread out and public transport is less accessible. It’s even more true in huge, sprawling states like California, where people are used to driving everywhere, every day. But then, what about people who can’t drive and want to visit the Golden State? Is there any way for SoCal home buyers and visitors to get around without driving? 

You can’t take a 400-mile round trip in a taxi, that’s for sure, but there are ways and means. You just need to do your research and be organized. Before we get into that, there’s another option for people who can drive but don’t have access to their own vehicle – to rent a car. There are tons of car rental places in the state, and it’s pretty reasonable if you pick up a basic or mid-range model. Car rental is an especially good option if you’re traveling in a group with more than one licensed driver. You can share both the cost and the driving! 

For people who can’t drive a car, public transport is there to save the day. Bus tickets are a really good value for money, and if you’re smart and book in advance, you can travel between cities for as little as $20. Trains are slightly more expensive, but still a great option and certainly cheaper than gas!

Traveling by public transport also eliminates the problem of ‘what do I do with the car when I get where I’m going?’ Many car hire companies will charge extra to drop the car off in a different city or location, while traveling by bus or train means you don’t have to worry about any additional cost. You can also sleep while on the move, which is always a bonus, and lots of California’s bus and train providers now have WiFi on their services, too. Just sit back and relax! 

Another advantage of traveling by bus or train is the view. Drivers are always too focused on the road to notice, but on a bus or train, you can spend time properly taking in the stunning sights of California. The entire coast is a protected national monument and deserves to be appreciated properly! Plus, the state has more national parks (nine) than any other state in the country.

For longer distances, it’s also entirely possible to fly from city to city. After all, as we said, California is a huge state (for reference, it takes about six hours to drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco). However, it’s significantly more expensive than ground travel. Also, when you factor in the time it takes to get through the airport at both ends, it’s probably not much faster, especially if you have checked bags.

Back to buses and trains

Another reason to be grateful you’re not traveling by car is parking. California has a well-deserved reputation for being one of the worst places to get a parking space in the entire country. It can take hours, especially in big cities (Los Angeles is particularly notorious). What do you do with a car you can’t park? It can also be expensive, depending on where you are and how long you need to park for.

Planning for public transport

The most important thing to do if you’re planning to get around California on public transport is to research and plan accordingly. You don’t necessarily need to make tons of reservations in advance, especially if you want to be flexible on travel dates and times. But then, you can be prepared in other ways.

With California being such a big and sprawling kind of place, there are lots of bus companies and lots of bus stops. Knowing where to get the bus from, what companies travel to which locations, and downloading a few timetables is a good start. You should also look up any amenities that different companies offer, read reviews, and check out smaller companies that might travel to smaller towns you want to visit.

While Google is, of course, a goldmine of travel information, you should also check out any available apps. Navigational apps often allow you to keep all of your routes, itineraries, and tickets in one place, so it’s easier to keep track of everything, and doesn’t rely on you having printed copies of anything to hand.

Traveling in cities

Now, we’ve covered getting from city to city by public transport. It’s time to turn our attention to traveling within them. Locals of most big Californian cities will look at you like you have three heads if you mention getting around using their public transportation network. Again, Los Angeles has a particular reputation for terrible public transport, but it really isn’t anywhere near as bad as it’s made out to be. Is it as convenient as some other major cities in the world? No. However, it’s perfectly fine. The trains run regularly, the stations are clean, and it’s a good value for money.

Bus travel is a little more complicated and can take longer in heavy traffic, but it’s still fine. Just make sure you know where your local bus stops are, and what the timetable is, as some areas are better served by buses than others. Don’t forget: if you were driving, you’d be stuck in the traffic, too. On the bus, however, you don’t have to worry about parking.

A final tip on bus travel – take change! Not all city bus drivers will give you change if you only have notes for the fare.

In the worst-case scenario, there’s always Uber or Lyft! Major Californian cities have thousands of drivers, and you can usually have a ride with you in just a few minutes. You can also cut the cost of traveling by cab using Uber Pool, which allows you to share a cab with other passengers traveling in the same direction. 


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