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San Francisco, Los Angeles, California

Renting a car from San Francisco and returning it to Los Angeles

Me and my boyfriend are planning to drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles in December 2017. We would like to hear recommendations of good car rental places and also if there is something special we should keep in mind. For example, will there be any problems when renting a car from a different location where it will be returned? 

6 Answers

answered by
Fritzi from San Francisco

It is amazing how car rental companies update their prices almost moment by moment.  That is why when I book I call about 6 companies to compare prices.  I always book direct with the rental company, because if something goes wrong they are accountable.  Budget, Thrifty, National, Fox, there are so many companies. Make sure you check your route because Highway 1 can close due to mud slides and that happens all the time in the rainy season (Dec.). In that case you will have to go around a portion of Route 1.  It gets foggy on the coast and sometimes no visibility. If you can't see the coast you might as well drive inland.  The route we usually take is San Francisco to Half Moon Bay then Santa Cruz MontereyBig Sur Morro Bay and Santa BarbaraVentura and the coast road to Malibu and Santa Monica. In clear weather it is an awesome drive.  Good luck.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. San Francisco (city)
  2. Half Moon Bay (city)
  3. Santa Cruz (city)
  4. Monterey (city)
  5. Big Sur (city)
  6. Morro Bay (attraction)
  7. Santa Barbara (city)
  8. Ventura (attraction)
  9. Malibu (city)
  10. Santa Monica (city)
1 thankscomments (1)

answered by
Janelle from Charleston

Stiina, in the USA rental companies charge a huge penalty for picking up in one city and returning in another.  These range from $250 to over $1000, depending on how long the rental is and how far apart the pickup and return cities are from each other.  If it's too late for you to rebook your return flight to fly from San Francisco International Airport instead of Los Angeles International Airport, it might be cheaper for you to drive back to San Francisco and return the car where you picked it up, then buy a one-way air ticket from San Francisco to Los Angeles to catch your flight home.  

You can take the scenic routes U.S. 101 and California Highway 1 (Pacific Coast Highway) between San Fran and L.A. and make plenty of great stops along the way (including Santa Cruz, MontereyBig Sur, Hearst Castle, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara, and then take the quick but boring I-5 on the way back up.

As far as rental companies go, I second Michael Lupetin's advice about avoiding small companies, but I do NOT agree with him that you should use Hotwire to book.  Your best bet is to stick with a major company such as Thrifty, Avis, Budget or Hertz, but book directly with them.  You can use Hotwire to compare prices, but I never recommend booking through Hotwire or any third party site such as Hotwire, Expedia or because you'll have little to no recourse if something goes wrong, and the odds are very good that you'll find the same price on the car rental company's site as you did on Hotwire.  

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. San Francisco International Airport (attraction)
  2. Los Angeles International Airport (attraction)
  3. Santa Cruz (city)
  4. Monterey (city)
  5. Big Sur (city)
  6. Hearst Castle (attraction)
  7. Paso Robles (city)
  8. San Luis Obispo (city)
  9. Santa Barbara (city)
1 thanks

answered by

Hi Stiina,

There is no problem renting a car in SF and returning it to LA. You should rent from any of the typical rentals such as Budget, look in

Regarding the trip, make sure you take the  A1, not the 101 hwy to Los Angeles. The coast is wonderful. Depending on your budget you could stay in boutique hotels in Carmel By the Sea. I am reading the road is closed on your way through Big Surso you might have to take 101 at Carmel by the Sea. You can then return to the ocean from 101 to Cambria, which is a hippie town with an adorable Hostal. 101 was the road used by the pioneers taking over the West coast, so it is very interesting and lovely to travel.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Los Angeles (city)
  2. Carmel By the Sea (city)
  3. Big Sur (city)
  4. Cambria (city)

answered by

Most places will allow it but there will be an additional charge for having a different drop-off point. However, sometimes someone else has made a similar one way trip and they need to get a car returned to it's original location.

If this happens to be the same route you want to take you may get an interesting discount. So I'd call ahead to the different vendors to see if one of them has such a car that needs to be returned to where you are going.

More recently some companies offer this without a cost. 

answered by
Diane from New York City

Any of the major rental companies will let you pick up and return in different places, but the ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles  is beautiful along the coast and treacherous. There are many bus companies that do the run and you can sit back and enjoy the view. Also parking is horrible in both cities

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. San Francisco (city)
  2. Los Angeles (city)

answered first by

I've done it tons of times. No problems at all but only easy if you pick up and drop off at an airport locatoon. Using in city locations can make it trickier mainly because they don't have the volumes of cars. So stick with SFO or OAK pick up and LAX or other airport drop off. Don't use any weird little economy companies. They are never actually cheaper and you'll have long lines. For the best deals when booking, use Hotwire. Personally, I like Thrifty Car Rental, the friendliest staff. Lastly, except for Enterprise, all of the major car rental companies are either owned by Avis or Hertz. Price is solely based on inventory so through Hotwire they are measuring across a huge pool of cars. Have a great trip and don't worry about the rental at all!

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