L.A. to San Francisco: The Hyperloop and Its Competitors

by  Blane Bachelor | Aug 14, 2013
Los Angeles
Los Angeles / choness/iStock

Silicon Valley techies – along with pretty much all Californians – are abuzz with news of the latest venture from entrepreneur Elon Musk: a super-high-speed train called the Hyperloop that is capable of jetting passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco in a mere 30 minutes.

Musk, the dynamo who co-founded PayPal and how heads up Tesla Motors, this week unveiled plans for the proposed transit system, which will whisk passengers through a tubular system at speeds up to 700 miles per hour – faster than most commercial airliners and slightly less than the speed of sound.

At a conference earlier this year, Musk described the Hyperloop as "a cross between a Concorde, a railgun and an air hockey table." But it will be a while (if ever) before travelers can hop aboard the Hyperloop. Musk estimated he could build a prototype in about three to four years, but some transportation experts doubt the project will ever be realized.

In the meantime, here's a quick look at the current available routes between the City by the Bay and the City of Angels. Of course, none of them can hold a candle next to the Hyperloop's supposed 30 minute commute, but until Musk's vision becomes a reality, it's nice to know we've got options:

By Train: Until the Hyperloop makes its debut, Amtrak’s Coast Starlight is the way to go via rail from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Trips run from about nine hours, with several stations in San Francisco, including the Ferry Building and the Financial District, and cost from about $59 per person. But most trips require at least one stop and/or transfer.

By Car: If you have some time and a set of wheels on your hands, the approximately 381 miles separating these two cities can make for one of the most spectacular road trips in the country – especially if you take U.S. Highway 1, also known as the famous Pacific Coast Highway, or the slightly speedier but still scenic Highway 101. And assuming L.A. is your final destination, you’ll likely need a set of wheels anyway. (If, however, you don't own a car, frequent ads are posted to Craigslist Rideshare by motorists in need of passengers; the cost is usually the price of gas – around $30 or so – and while 99.9 percent of the time everything turns out fine, there's always the risk of encountering a weirdo, so be safe.)

By Bus: Megabus,  the budget bus service whose fares start at just $1 and increase as travel dates get closer, runs service between the two cities, starting at a reasonable $37 for one-way adult fare for dates I checked two weeks out. Plus, the company just added Burbank as another city that will serve the Bay Area. Bonus: There's free Wi-fi.

By Plane: As someone who’s traveled between San Francisco and Los Angeles several times, I still vote for flying every time. Why? It’s affordable, it’s quick, and you can snag occasionally a rate low enough – my record is $120, and that’s over a weekend, with mid-day connection times – that warrants a trip just for the heck of it. Plus, as both cities are serviced by several airports – Oakland and San Jose in the Bay Area, Long Beach and Burbank in Los Angeles – you have more options for schedules and fares. My favorites for this route are Virgin America and JetBlue, which run great deals and have several flights each day.

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