[Road Trips] Coachella from San Francisco

Music drives us. 

Coachella 2015, one of the United States’ largest music festivals, kicked off today. Over the next six days, almost 600,000 people will travel to city of Indio in Southern California, just outside of Los Angeles- and you can bet a bunch of them will be driving.

The San Francisco to Los Angeles is a pretty familiar route for most Californians, but the advent of Coachella makes it even more interesting. We wanted an in-depth understanding of what it’s like to drive to the festival, so we’re going to tackle it in two separate posts: the first (this one) will cover the journey from San Francisco to Los Angeles. For the trip from L.A. to Indio, I’ll actually be live-tweeting the journey next Thursday, April 16, including screenshots from the Waze app of whatever’s happening on the road (a passenger will be operating the phone for me). More on that later, so let’s get to the first part of the trip, SF to L.A.

Norcal to Socal:

For this section, we took a look at a week’s worth of driving data for over 500 Waze trips that originated in San Francisco and ended in the greater Los Angeles area.

In general: The best time to leave is always earlier or later than everybody else.

Most people leave between Noon and 5PM. If you want to beat the traffic, leave after 9PM or before 4AM.

The trips that have the fastest speeds begin at 1am (81 MPH) and 6PM (65 MPH). After 6PM, the speeds stabilize around 65, so don’t worry about leaving after that if you don’t mind driving at night.

Trips that leave at midnight have the shortest drive times on average at around 3 and a half hours. The longest trips take place at 11:AM at 6 hours, which makes sense as you would arrive in L.A. during the afternoon rush hour.

Middle of the day isn’t actually that bad- speeds remain around 60 mph. Just remember to think ahead 4-5 hours from when you leave the Bay Area, since that’s the time you’re going to hit L.A. traffic.

Standstill traffic is at its worst during the evening rush hour, according to Wazers making the trip. Specifically, it’s worse at 5PM on Fridays than any other time. Just a quick note – Friday at 5PM may be the worst time to leave for anything, let alone a road trip. Don’t leave SF around noon, or you’ll see what we’re talking about.

More people leave on Friday and Sunday, but Sunday has the shortest drive times and the fastest average speeds (so they’re making the right call!). Unfortunately it doesn’t help much to leave for Coachella on a Sunday, unless you plan to spend the entire week down there. Though Thursday had the longest drive times on average, you can still make good time if you leave near 4AM.

According to geographic location of alerts (and where they’re clustered), these are the top  “traffic hotspots” along the route:

A cluster map of alerts from Wazers traveling from the Bay Area to Los Angeles.

A cluster map of all Wazer-reported incidents along the way. ©OpenStreetMap contributors ©CartoDB 

These are some of the places that stood out. It’s very difficult to avoid them entirely, but just keep in mind as you get close to these spots that you may get stuck in traffic. So make sure your car has plenty of gas and that you have a bottle of water and an audio book, or just a fantastic playlist as you get near:

  • Between 101 and the 5 on the 152 (Gilroy, Los Banos)

  • Just south of Santa Clarita where the 210, 5 and 14 all meet

  • Just west of Neenach where the 5 and 138 meet

  • Just north of Castaic on the 5

  • Bay Bridge into and out of Oakland

  • Downtown Los Angeles, near Chinatown

We hope this gives you a good idea of what to expect on your way down there. Based on this data, I’ll definitely be departing San Francisco around 4am on Thursday, so see you around 10AM for the trip to Indio.

Final note- if you’re driving back up after the festival, leave before the campers. Set out as early as possible or you’re going to be stuck in commuter rush hour along with thousands of people trying to get out of Indio.