We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.
We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

Traffic San Francisco to Monterey?

Which San Francisco hotels are on sale?
mm/dd/yyyy mm/dd/yyyy
See hotels
Tampa, Florida
Level Contributor
29 posts
32 reviews
Save Topic
Traffic San Francisco to Monterey?

Planning a day trip from San Francisco to Monterey on a Friday in early March. I'd like to avoid as much traffic as possible on the way south but of course still want to take the scenic route. Is there a certain window of time that I should try to avoid?

Thank you in advance for your time!

NoCal
Level Contributor
1,879 posts
61 reviews
Save Reply
1. Re: Traffic San Francisco to Monterey?

Driving from SF to Monterey once, I got caught in commute traffic, think it was 7am and I was taking 101 through Salinas to the coast.

San Diego...
Level Contributor
26 posts
Save Reply
2. Re: Traffic San Francisco to Monterey?

Just go, you'll be fine. Take the 101 or 1 south and do it. Stop at the Shadowbrook rest in Capitola for lunch.

San Francisco...
Destination Expert
for San Francisco
Level Contributor
48,164 posts
149 reviews
Save Reply
3. Re: Traffic San Francisco to Monterey?

The scenic route is down Hwy 1. Please let when you can and as early as you want to not because you will hit traffic but there is so much to do and see in Monterey and the drive is lovely. You can come back on 101 and then take 85 to 280 into the city at night

101 is not the scenic route and will have traffic in the morning but should be ok late in the evening for the short part through san Jose

San Jose
Level Contributor
41 posts
30 reviews
Save Reply
4. Re: Traffic San Francisco to Monterey?

Hi Cici14

The biggest challenge you will have traffic wise is from San Francisco to the San Jose (south bay area)- hence you may want to pick a non peak hour. Usually by 10:00 - traffic is better - since the peak office going traffic is between 7:30 and 9:00. From SF to get to Monterey- there are many route options. My favorite would be 280 South to 85 South to 17 South to 1 south. The drive on 280 through the hills and valleys of the peninsula are are really beautiful and traffic wise it is the best option (say as compared to 101 S on which traffic can get ugly). Also 17 South is nice but winding and often places only single lane. And then once you hit hwy 1- you are good. I think with this route you should be in Monterey in 2.5 hours.

If you want really scenic- you could take 1 all the way from SF to Monterey- but then you are definitely going really slow and winding. You could also potentially do 280 South to 101 South- this way you are entering 101 at a good point. In any case try to avoid 101 South from the city to south bay (san Jose) area since that is usually bad traffic and unpredictable. Hope that helps and feel free to ask any other questions on route, monterey etc.

Pacifica, California
Destination Expert
for Pacifica
Level Contributor
8,626 posts
4 reviews
Save Reply
5. Re: Traffic San Francisco to Monterey?

"If you want really scenic- you could take 1 all the way from SF to Monterey- but then you are definitely going really slow and winding"

I'm sorry, but that's not true. The only really windy part of the drive is Devil's Slide, just south of Pacifica, and that's only three or four minutes. But the view is worth it.

San Francisco
Level Contributor
36,629 posts
27 reviews
Save Reply
6. Re: Traffic San Francisco to Monterey?

Take Highway 1 the whole way and you won't have an issue with traffic regardless what time you leave. As Simba says it's not curvy as it is around Big Sur. And, even at low traffic times on faster roads, it will only add about 30 minutes to the trip.

The scenery south from Pacifica is gorgeous and from there to Santa Cruz is quite a serene drive.

Santa Cruz...
Destination Expert
for Santa Cruz
Level Contributor
31,750 posts
7 reviews
Save Reply
7. Re: Traffic San Francisco to Monterey?

I agree. Take Hwy 1 all the way. In addition to having the most scenic drive you will avoid a commute traffic on the major roads.

Tampa, Florida
Level Contributor
29 posts
32 reviews
Save Reply
8. Re: Traffic San Francisco to Monterey?

Thank you everyone - I will be getting up bright & early as I want to see & do as much as possible. Also Highway 1 will be the route since it seems as though the drive itself is a huge part of the adventure. Now off to find a 24 hour coffee shop in SF!

Berkeley, California
Destination Expert
for Berkeley
Level Contributor
5,846 posts
75 reviews
Save Reply
9. Re: Traffic San Francisco to Monterey?

Yes, Highway 1 is definitely the way to go. You won't experience the commute traffic you get on the freeways, and you won't have to deal with windy roads like on Highway 17. The time difference is not too significant, and Highway 1 is far more enjoyable anyway.

On your way back at night, just take the quick way. Remember to switch off of 101 when you approach San Jose. Take 85 to 280 to get to San Francisco. There is absolutely no reason to take 101 all the way. Even if you are returning the car to SFO, simply cross over on 380 at the very end.

San Francisco...
Level Contributor
106 posts
Save Reply
10. Re: Traffic San Francisco to Monterey?

Fastest route and shortest is Hwy 101 if you do it right. Worst by far is Hwy 1 route. I have lived and commuted from north Monterey county for more than 20 years into the bay area and this includes the Frisco and Marin areas.

On a weekday it can be faster during commute hours if you can make use of the carpool lanes (only need one passenger) than later in the day. If you are driving solo then the best times are an hour after the carpool lanes have opened back up to all traffic (10:00 AM to noon and from 1:00 to 3:00 PM, and after 8:00 P.M.)

Most of Hwy 101 has carpool lanes from SF to San Jose and these will work best at the tail end of the commute periods, i.e. better at 8:00 AM than at 7:00 AM - usually.

If you travel south on Hwy 1 to Hwy 680 there will be little traffic if you leave at 8:00 and come into the Cupertino area after 9:00 AM and continue south.

Once south of San Jose there will be little or no traffic. What you want to avoid is Hwy 1 coming from SF through Half Moon Bay and then Santa Cruz. Doing this witll add 1-2 hours to the trip on a weekday. Going through Half Moon Bay area is a nightmare with the school traffic and small trucks on what is a two lane highway. Encounter any type of accident or construction work along Hwy 1 and you have no exit strategy except to go back north to Hwy 92 and cut across to Hwy 680 or Hwy 101.