Beating Holiday Traffic Heading North

— by Caroline on Crack

Here to There

Like many other Angelenos, I have to make the dreaded trek up north via car for Christmas. Living in L.A. all these years and having to do this every year, I’ve experimented with different routes–all to avoid the hassle of holiday traffic or at least minimize it.

Interstate 5: This is the straight shot to where I’m going. Unfortunately, it’s a two-laner for 90 percent of that way and slow-moving semis (so many! I wish they had their own highway) usually take up the right lane, and on most occasions sweep over to the “fast” lane to pass each other. This slows EVERYONE down. However, the benefit of traveling on the 5, besides the 70-mph speed limit, is that there aren’t many towns so there isn’t much intercity traffic. But I have noticed that with the growth of many rest stops along the way (including three Starbucks), the 5 has gotten a lot busier. I try to avoid that noise, though, by traveling late at night. That way a lot of the truckers are asleep on the side of the road and there aren’t many family minivans unloading at the gas station bathrooms.

Highway 14 to 58 to 99: The one time I took this was when I drove up in the middle of the day on the eve of Christmas Eve, apparently everyone’s big travel day. The 5 North was at a standstill near Santa Clarita and I saw that the 14 was wide-open. So I thought I was so smart taking this alternate route. Sure, I was moving but this detour added a couple of hours to my drive and slowed it down further with its 65-mph speed limit and many on-ramps and exits on the 99. Never took this way again.

Highway 101: I love this route but only if I have lots of time to kill. Along this way, and unlike the 99, there are all these quaint little towns and one time I’d like to just stop at every one of them and explore. You can go wine tasting around San Luis Obispo, antiquing in Cambria, stop off at Hearst Castle in San Simeon… But usually all I have time for is a drive through, and a quick stop at the Madonna Inn in SLO to pick up one of their colorful water goblets (it’s my tradition). Because there are so many wonderful towns and a ton of CHP patroling the highway, only take this way if you’re not in a great rush but want a lovely, leisurely tour of California.

So tonight I’m taking the 5. We’ll most likely leave L.A. at 8 or so to avoid rush-hour and other holiday travelers and get to our destination at 1 a.m. Don’t worry, we have a thermos of black coffee and our tunes to motivate us. I’d rather do that than spend eight hours on a normally-5-hour drive.