What You Should Know About the Southern California Freeways - Relocation Tips

Real Estate Agent with eXp Realty of California, Inc. CA DRE #01490977

What You Should Know About the Southern California Freeways - Relocation Tips


If you are moving to the Southern California area, there are some things you might want to know about our freeways, especially if you have not experienced them. I am not a freeway expert, but I have logged thousands of miles and these are my thoughts and observations, for what they are worth. Plus a bit of useless trivia.


They are called FREEWAYS, not highways or turnpikes, terms I have heard in other parts of the country. People will correct you. I still let (highway” slip out now and then even after 7 years of life in SoCal.


Many of our freeways have names (e.g., Santa Monica Freeway, Harbor Freeway, San Diego Freeway) as well as numbers (e.g., 405, 5, 110, 101). A special note – we don’t use the names just the numbers typically, and you MUST use “the” before the number. You would not say "I am taking 110" but "I am taking THE 110." Grammar IS important here.


5 Freeway in San Diego seen from Mt. Soledad in La JollaThose zillions of bumps (i.e., pavement markers) you see, and feel, between the lanes are called Bott’s Dots. OK the sound may be annoying but you know when you are straying across the lines and shouldn’t be.


We have BIG ROADs out here. If you are coming from another large city that may not be such an issue, but 5 - 8 lanes roads in one direction can be daunting for those not used to high-speed roadways. The big interchange in San Diego is where the 805 meets the 5 – a total of 21 lanes of traffic!! There are others near LA that are bigger.


We drive fast out here. No, I wouldn’t say we necessarily drive faster that some other states, but averaging 80+ mph heading down the road with 6+ lanes of traffic can intimidate many drivers.  And once you get off the freeway (NOT highway), speed continues.


Speeding and other violations can cost you a pretty penny. Drive in the HOV/Express lanes when you shouldn’t can cost you $341. Yeah, I suspect part of this is an attempt to help pay the budget deficits and deal with road maintenance issues – our DMV-related fees are legend, I have learned. But watch out – the cops are looking for you. Speeding tickets are costly, too. Who wants to go to traffic school?


Signage is pretty good but don’t get fooled by distances. You may be a mile from your exit but if you are 5 lanes to the left getting over may be tough. And sometime there are multiple exit and entrance roads at the same place, so lots of traffic entering and leaving.


Watch for the meter lights. Many entrance ramps are metered during certain hours. You can’t enter the freeway in your lane (there are usually 3 lanes, 1 for HOV) until your meter light turns green. Watch carefully, it happens fast and you don’t want to miss your turn.


Take the 405 north from San Diego to LA. Just before the LA line in Carson check out the Goodyear Blimp parked on the east side. Very Cool.


We televise highway chases by the cops (CHiPS, or California Highway Patrol – remember Eric Estrada and Larry Wilcox?). You will see TV programs preempted by televised high-speed chases by the highway patrol – very exciting. And watch for the occasional cop weaving back and forth across the lanes to slow traffic in the event of an accident, a drunk driver or some other excitement.


And you will run across the occasional border patrol stopping point. Relax, it’s not a big deal. It slows traffic for a bit but you get moving again.


Avoid the freeways and slowdowns at rush hour. Yep, if there are accidents you will also see slowdowns but rush hour (and it is NOT 1 hour) can be the worst. There are a number of traffic reporting websites that will give you up to the minute reports on the traffic patterns.


Want to experience a Southern California freeway? Take a quick tour on the 5 freeway in my area near Carlsbad, CA in the video below.


Comments (29)

Jeff Dowler, CRS
eXp Realty of California, Inc. - Carlsbad, CA
The Southern California Relocation Dude

Tom - thanks. Probably more entertaining than driving on the freeway, at least in rush hour traffic. The views in some areas along the ocean and mountains are pretty nice, however.

Debbie - yep those fees can get pretty steep.  For themost part, from what I observe, most people are pretty good about not bein in the HOV lanes when they shouldn't, unless traffic is REALLY slow.

Sheila - our freeways when there is a lot of traffic are pretty intimidating to newbies. I remember my first drive years ago and how shocked I was at the number of lanes going in one direction.

Michael - well rush hour traffic canget pretty ugly. BUt I have to say that even though we have far more cars and bigger roads some of the traffic jams I got stuck in back in the Boston area were worse, especially the log-jams in the city.


Jun 24, 2012 11:50 PM
Elizabeth Weintraub Sacramento Realtor Top 1%
RE/MAX Gold - Sacramento, CA
Put 40 years of experience to work for you

I see things haven't changed much since I lived in southern California. I used to drive out the Newport Freeway only between the hours of 10 AM and 2 PM; otherwise, I didn't leave Newport Beach. And that was in the '80s.

Jun 25, 2012 12:06 AM
Rene Fabre
First American Title - Seattle, WA
Marketing in the Digital Age

Great post, Jeff... and I enjoyed the video also. One thing I can say about driving in southern California is you know what the next driver is going to do and you're right, I found most drivers used their turning signals. They seem to have forgotten how to do that here in Seattle. 

If I drive from Renton up the 5 to downtown Seattle, normally it should take about 30 minutes, but during commute time it can take well over an hour. We're stuck between two bodies of water, Puget Sound and Lake Washington, so there are few east west arterials. If you get off the freeways you're going to be driving through the neighborhoods.

Jun 25, 2012 01:27 AM
David Grbich
Realty One Group - www.FindCARealEstate.com - San Juan Capistrano, CA
Orange County Real Estate - 949-500-0484

Jeff - I have lived here 12 years and I am still learning the ins and outs of the socal freeways - thanks for sharing.

Jun 25, 2012 01:30 AM
Lottie Kendall
Compass - San Francisco, CA
Helping make your real estate dreams a reality

Jeff, I think you in San Diego drive faster and closer together on the freeways than we do in the San Francisco Bay Area -- I learned that when my daughter went to USD -- maybe all the young people in the area (students, military, etc.?)

You gotta be brave and just jump in and swim!

Jun 25, 2012 01:59 AM
Margaret Goss
Baird & Warner Real Estate - Winnetka, IL
Chicago's North Shore & Winnetka Real Estate

Jeff - I've lived in Chicago for about 25 years now and I still call them "freeways."  People immediately know where I'm from!

Jun 25, 2012 02:06 AM
Kara Roberson
RES.NET - Lake Forest, CA

And don't forget Jeff, we here in So. Cal measure distances in time rather than miles. Example, "It's about 20 minutes away." vs. "It's 5 miles away." because those 5 miles could end up taking 5 minutes, or 50 depending on the time of day!

Great post!

- Pauline

Jun 25, 2012 02:33 AM
Iris Stuart
none - Santa Rosa, CA

Jeff, great post!  I wish I'd had this information 5 years ago when I first moved to Southern California.  I quickly discovered that my legendary lead foot driving style in NorCal is only moderately fast here so I'm actually going with the flow of traffic, not in the front of the pack LOL.  The first year I was here I made it a point to drive the city streets - mostly out of fear of the freeways.  Now I'm comfortable with the freeways and know how to get around on the city streets during rush hour.  Traveling seven miles here can take a looong time at the wrong time of day or in the event of an accident or street sweeper train.  People do tend to use their turn signals more often here, and I've discovered its always wise to plan my turns so I get in the correct lane early.

Jun 25, 2012 03:13 AM
Karen Burns
Sacramento, CA

Our last few trips to and fro Southern California we noticed bad traffic due to a tire change, fire burning in windy conditions, SWAT team jumping from a helicopter next to I-5 and a car crash. Lucky for us most of the time we are heading the opposite way of the traffic backup. 

Jun 25, 2012 04:48 AM
Maureen Megowan
Remax Estate Properties - - Palos Verdes Estates, CA
Palos Verdes Real Estate Blog

It takes years to fully understand the LA freeways. Most of the freeways in LA county run either north/south ( the Harbor Fwy 110, the Long Beach Fwy 710, the 605) or east/west (the 10, 105 , or 91), but then you have the 405 freeway which runs north/south on the westside into the Valley and down to the South Bay, but then it swings around to follow the coast line which through most of the county runs mostly east/west before heading south to San Diego. If you live here, you really need to understand your alternate routes when a freeway is jammed.

Jun 25, 2012 05:33 AM
Carla Muss-Jacobs, RETIRED
RETIRED / State License is Inactive - Portland, OR

Wonderful post Jeff.  Since I grew up in So. California and cut my driving teeth on the Freeways, the 5, the 101, the Ventura Freeway, I know exactly of what you speak.  The one thing I like about the freeways  down there are the emergency call boxes, which we don't have up here. 

Jun 25, 2012 06:31 AM
Irene Durocher
Coldwell Banker BUYERS AGENT - Boca Raton, FL

Hi Jeff, great advice on your road system. Sounds like you have a lot of traffic with 8 lanes

of traffic.

Jun 25, 2012 07:44 AM
Sandy Acevedo
951-290-8588 - Chino Hills, CA
RE/MAX Masters, Inland Empire Homes for Sale

Hi Jeff, great post, very creative. I never would have thought of doing something like this regarding the freeways, but it makes a ton of sense to do this for out of towners. What is with the tiff against Boston drivers? And you did take that exit pretty late and fast. I was pressing the carpet down under my desk to slow it down for you. LOL..

Jun 25, 2012 08:13 AM
Evelyn Kennedy
Alain Pinel Realtors - Alameda, CA
Alameda, Real Estate, Alameda, CA


Nice report about the California Freeway system.  It can be daunting to new comers.  Here in Northern California we do not use the "the" in front of the numbered freeways.  We simply say 101 or 280.  I am a native Northern California who feels ill at ease driving the Southern California freeways in LA.

Jun 25, 2012 08:25 AM
Jim Patton
Aspire Home Real Estate 209-404-0816 - Modesto, CA
Realtor - Stanislaus ,Merced, San Joaquin Counties

Nice post Jeff.  I haven't driven much on the Southern Ca freeways but that's how I remember them.   Now I do drive on the Bay Area freeways frequently and have experienced all the fun of rush hour a few times.

Jun 25, 2012 10:58 AM
George Souto
George Souto NMLS #65149 FHA, CHFA, VA Mortgages - Middletown, CT
Your Connecticut Mortgage Expert

Jeff what is amazing is that you guys have 5-8 lane roads, and still have traffic jams.

Jun 25, 2012 12:14 PM
Jeff Dowler, CRS
eXp Realty of California, Inc. - Carlsbad, CA
The Southern California Relocation Dude

Rob - AND to be televised to boot! Ha ha

Gary - the weather DOE help, as do the ocean and mountaing views. You just have to get use to the idea of not being able to rush.

Pamela - I have friends who take that approach, too. I get it.

Richie - yeah, it happens. I guess the answer is you go to the next exit. Traveling our freeways is NOT for the faint of heart.

Elizabeth - nope, and no doubt it has gotten worse with more traffic. I avoid the freeway whenever possible but I take it with a grain of salt, or LOTS of grains of salt.


Jun 25, 2012 02:13 PM
Christine Donovan
Donovan Blatt Realty - Costa Mesa, CA
Broker/Attorney 714-319-9751 DRE01267479 - Costa M

Jeff - A lot of things I don't often think about because I've driven S. Cal. freeways since Igot my license.  Interesting tidbit - in Northern California, they don't use "the".  So, it's 880 not the 880 if you plan to be a local.

Jun 25, 2012 03:29 PM
Glenn Freezman
Family Abstract, Inc. - Horsham, PA

I think Johnny Carson did the best with the explanation of the roadways in California.  Jeff have you ever gotton out and "Cut off your Slausan"?

Jun 26, 2012 06:19 AM
Jeff Dowler, CRS
eXp Realty of California, Inc. - Carlsbad, CA
The Southern California Relocation Dude

Rene - well we certainly have the tough travel times, and as others have said you have to talk about travel time and not distance. I find the drivers here pretty polite, compared to Boston (and I admit to being a reforming Boston driver). It gets a bit more challenging in LA!

David - it is an on-going life experience, isn't it?

Lottie - I think that's true, having driven quite a bit in SFO myself. But it does not compare to back east where if you don't tailgate no matter what the speed you just aren't a Boston driver! LOL.


Jun 26, 2012 01:46 PM