San Francisco to Monterey: 7 Great Ways to Get Here

Jill on a windy day at the Golden Gate Bridge

by Jill Loeffler  •

Published: August 22, 2023

Are you looking for the best way to get from San Francisco to Monterey? My guide offers tips to help you find the best option to take you the 120 miles between these two Northern California towns.

The seven best ways include two different driving routes, a day tour from SF, the Monterey Airbus from SFO, the bus, the Amtrak train, and Uber/Lyft.

Read on for details about each option, including how long they take and other things to consider before you decide.

San Francisco to Monterey Main Image

Disclaimer: I receive a small commission from some of the links on this page.

1. Drive Highway 1 from San Francisco to Monterey

One of the most popular options is to drive from San Francisco to Monterey via Highway 1 (also called the Pacific Coast Highway or PCH). This drive offers fantastic views along the Pacific Ocean and Monterey Bay waterfront.

As you leave San Francisco, you will take US-101 south, exit 431 to merge onto I-280 S toward Daly City, and follow signs for CA-1/Pacifica. CA-1 is the coastal road you will then take all the way south to Monterey.

This is the slow and easy route for those who are up for a day of driving and stopping to explore the area. In other words, this option is for travelers who aren't in too big of a hurry to get to Monterey.

Some of the great places to stop and explore along the way include Half Moon Bay, Pigeon Point Light Station State Park, and Año Nuevo State Park (a famous spot to check out elephant seals).

You can also spend a little time in Santa Cruz, where you can explore the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, local wineries, and its beaches (find more fun things to do in Santa Cruz here).

Other spots to check out along the way include Capitola, Aptos, and Moss Landing.

This scenic drive takes anywhere from 2 hours and 15 minutes to 3 hours without stops. If you plan to make stops along the way, this could take all morning or even all day!

>> More fun things to do in Monterey

>> Tips for renting a car in San Francisco

2. Take a Day Tour from San Francisco to Monterey Bay

Monterey Waterfront

If you prefer to let someone else drive, this one-day tour from San Francisco to Monterey Bay is a great option.

With a 7:30 am pickup in either Union Square or Fisherman's Wharf, this tour starts first thing in the morning in San Francisco, takes you down Highway 1 with a few photo stops along the way, and then arrives in Monterey mid-morning.

As you cruise along, your knowledgeable guide will offer details about places you pass, including their history and other fun stories.

Once you arrive in Monterey, you will have some time on your own to explore this seaside town. You will stop at Cannery Row, where you can do a little shopping, take some pictures along the waterfront, or grab some lunch.

You will then continue on to see the famous 17-Mile Drive in Pebble Beach (including a stop at Lone Cyprus) and then a short break in Carmel-by-the-Sea. You will then return to San Francisco.

I've taken this tour a few times, and you can read more about my experience here.

During the lower season (October to April), it's offered on Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays. During the higher season (May to September), it's additionally offered on Tuesdays.

You can learn more about this tour, including how to book here.

More Great Monterey Tours

3. Drive Highway I-280 and CA-1

If you want to get from San Francisco to Monterey a little faster, then driving via I-280 and CA-1 is another great option. This route (without stops) takes about 2 hours (or 2.5 during rush hour traffic).

The great thing about this option is that you can get to Monterey early enough to spend a few hours at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, stroll along Cannery Row, and check out Pacific Grove.

Although this path doesn't take you along the California coast, it allows you to spend more time in Monterey exploring everything it offers.

4. Monterey Airbus from SFO

Sunny Day along Monterey's Cannery Row

If you have luggage and plan to stay in the Monterey Bay area for a few days, you can also use the Monterey Airbus from the San Francisco International Airport. This is a great option if you plan to fly into SFO and need to get to Monterey or if you are staying in San Francisco and want to visit this wonderful area.

The Monterey Airbus offers daily rides from San Francisco to Monterey between 5 am and midnight. The shuttles leave about every hour and 15 minutes from either the international or domestic terminal of SFO, so there are plenty of options throughout the day.

The ride takes about 2.5 hours from San Francisco and drops you off at the Shuttle Station in the heart of downtown Monterey. From here, you can easily walk to your hotel or grab an Uber or Lyft if you need to go a bit further.

This stop in Monterey is also only about a 10-minute walk to Old Fisherman's Wharf, a 20-minute walk to Cannery Row, or a 30-minute walk to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

>> Visit their site to learn more and book your tickets in advance

Fun Things to Do in Monterey

Monterey Kids 300
Monterey Free 300
Monterey Redwoods 300

5. Bus from San Francisco to Monterey

The next option is to take the Flixbus from San Francisco to Monterey. The Flixbus does not have a stop directly in Monterey but instead will drop you off at the train station in Salinas. 

This bus runs about four days a week. It departs from 5th and Townsend Streets, near the Caltrain Station just two blocks from Oracle Park.

Most leave San Francisco around 11:40 am, arriving in Salinas at 1:55 pm. Once you arrive in Salinas, you will then need to transfer to a local bus.

The 20 is your best option (it picks up at the same station where the Flixbus drops you off), and this will take you to the corner of Tyler/Franklin Streets in downtown Monterey. This local bus takes about 50 minutes.

From here, you are just a few minutes from the top attractions, including Old Fisherman's Wharf, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and Cannery Row.

The Flixbus takes about 2 hours and 15 minutes to Salinas. With the 20 bus from Salinas to Monterey, your total travel time is around 3.5 hours. The total estimated cost each way is $25 to 40.

>> Visit the Flixbus site to book your tickets

6. Amtrak from San Francisco to Monterey

Monterey Canning Company

Amtrak is another way to get from San Francisco to Monterey, though it's not as direct. This option involves both train and bus. The train you will take is part of the Coast Starlight route.

It runs from Emeryville, CA, down to Salinas, CA, so you will have a couple of transfers to get you all the way from San Francisco to Monterey.

You'll start by taking the Amtrak Thruway Connecting Service bus from the Salesforce Gondola in downtown San Francisco over the Bay Bridge to Emeryville.

Here you will catch your train down to Salinas. From there, you will take another Amtrak connecting bus, which will drop you in downtown Monterey.

This is a great option for those that love the train, have plenty of time to get to Monterey, and don't mind the additional transfers.

The estimated time for this trip is about 6 hours. The estimated cost is about $50 each way. 

7. Uber/Lyft from San Francisco to Monterey

The final option is costly but perfect for those who don't want to drive, and for whom budget is not a concern.

Rideshare services are popular all around San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area. They are readily available, and you can book them in advance so you can leave and arrive when it fits into your schedule.

Uber and Lyft are headquartered in San Francisco and offer services from San Francisco to Monterey. This option costs around $175 to $250 before taxes and tips. The standard vehicles have room for up to three people with luggage.

If you need additional room, you can order the Lyft or Uber XL, which offers bigger vehicles, but this service costs more.

I don't recommend heading down during rush hour as the price will increase quite a bit.

You can also plug in the location you are staying at in San Francisco and the place you want to visit in Monterey to get a better estimate on how much it will cost from point to point (just don't request the vehicle until you need it).

This option will take two and a half hours from most pick-up locations around San Francisco.

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Comments? Questions? Suggestions?

I would love for you to join me in my private Facebook group

It's a great place to interact with me and others who know the area well.

You can ask questions, get advice for your upcoming stay, and then share your photos and advice with others when you return home. It's a great community and the fastest way to get answers to those nagging questions about your visit!

Come join the fun here!

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