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The best ways to get from Portland to San Francisco

How to travel from Portland to San Francisco by plane, train, bus or automobile

Written by
Shoshi Parks

No matter how you slice it—by car, plane, bus or train—the 535-mile trip from Portland to San Francisco is easy and (relatively) painless, you just have to decide how much time you’re willing to spend. For leisure-travel, the Coast Starlight, one of the country’s most memorable train routes, is well worth the 18-hour journey. If your time is limited, a commercial flight will get you to San Francisco or Oakland non-stop in about an hour-and-a-half. Or, split the difference on a road trip. The drive from Portland to San Francisco down Interstate 5 is 10-11 hours of lush PNW and Northern California scenery. 

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Best ways to get from Portland to San Francisco

Photograph: Flickr/Drew Jacksich/CC

1. Train

The Coast Starlight is considered to be one of the most spectacular rail routes in the country. Toggling back-and-forth between the drama of the Cascade Mountains and the Pacific coastline, this legendary train is the very definition of the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” The 18-hour Coast Starlight route is a romantic adventure and reserving a bedroom, which has sleeping space for two adults and a small toilet and shower, is the most comfortable way to make the journey—though it will cost you. If you don’t mind spending the night in a seat, tickets start at a reasonable $75 for coach and $118 for business class.

The Coast Starlight departs for Oakland’s Jack London Square Station from Portland’s Union Station a few times a week. From there, take the San Francisco Bay Ferry to downtown San Francisco’s Ferry Building. Boats leave multiple times a day for a $7.20 one-way fare.

Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/elleneka102

2. Plane

Flying between Portland and San Francisco is quick and easy. Non-stop flights leave PDX several times a day for a quick, 90-minute trip to SFO or Oakland (OAK). In Portland, the MAX Light Rail will get you from downtown to the airport for just $2.50. When SFO spits you out on the other end, hop on BART for a $9.65 one-way ticket for the 35-min ride downtown. You can take BART from the Oakland Airport, too and, despite needing to cross a beneath the San Francisco Bay, the trip will take only ten minutes more than arriving at SFO.

Photograph: Flickr/Roadsidepictures/CC

3. Bus

Greyhound offers the only long-haul bus ride from Portland to San Francisco. The 16-18 hour long trip isn’t just long, at an average ticket cost of $103–$122, it’s relatively expensive, too—about the same as a one-way plane ticket. On the plus side, onboard wifi and electrical outlets are available to all passengers on the daily 535 mile trip; and, unlike the Coast Starlight, the Greyhound’s route terminates in downtown San Francisco, at 425 Mission Street.

Photograph: Shutterstock

4. Car

The drive from Portland to San Francisco down I-5 is a nice option if you’ve got time to spare. A little over 500-miles long, the journey takes you through the bucolic dairy lands of central Oregon, over Grant’s dramatic mountain pass, and straight into the shadow of indomitable Mount Shasta. The 10-11 hour drive can be done in a single day but is much more enjoyable broken up into two or more with stops for wine-tasting around Roseburg in southern Oregon or hiking in northern California’s Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

Make the most of your trip to SF

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