USA Car Hire – California

California is the third largest of the states in the USA and there is so much to see and do here that it cannot be done realistically without using car hire, but you may find that you need a series of car rentals as you move from city to city, perhaps having a few days without a car in places such as San Francisco, where a car is not really necessary to get the best from the city.

With car hire rates cheaper in California than most other states, many clients choose to use California as their starting point, flying into Los Angeles or San Francisco, before heading off to Las Vegas on a road trip via Yosemite or Sequoia National Parks.  In fact, many also include the Grand Canyon Park in Arizona before returning to Las Vegas, so we like to encourage drivers to choose Alamo or Dollar for these trips so that there is no one-way fee.

Collection Points for Car Hire in California

Los Angeles:

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)

Alamo/National  (young driver package available here)

  • Open 24 hours


  • 07.30 – 18.00 Mon – Fri
  • 08.00 – 15.00 Sat
  • 09.00 – 14.00 Sun


  • Open 24 hours

Downtown Disney, Anaheim 

Alamo (young driver package available here)

  • 08.00 – 18.00 Mon – Sun

Los Angeles Union Station, 800 North Alameda Street


  • 07.00 – 17.00 Mon – Fri
  • 08.00 – 14.00 Sat – Sun

San Francisco Area

San Francisco International Airport (SFO): (young driver package available here)

  • Open 24 hours

Oakland International Airport (OAK):

Alamo/National opening hours: (young driver package available here)

  • 05.30 – 23.59 Mon – Fri
  • 05.30 – 22.30 Sat
  • 05.30 – 23.59 Sun

Avis opening hours: 

  • 06.00 – 23.59 Mon – Sun

Budget opening hours:

  • Open 24 hours Mon – Fri
  • 06.00 – 23.59 Sat – Sun

Dollar opening hours: 

  • 06.00 – 23.59 Mon – Fri
  • 00.01 – 01.30 Sat
  • 07.00 – 23.59 Sun

Fox Opening hours:

  • 06.00 – 23.59 Mon – Sun

Norman Y. Mineta San José International Airport (SJC):

Alamo opening hours: (young driver package available here)

  • 05.30 – 23.59 – Mon – Sun

Avis opening hours:

  • 05.00 – 02.00 Mon – Sun

Budget opening hours: (off airport)

  • 06.00 – 23.59 Mon – Sun

Dollar opening hours:

  • 06.00 – 2359 Mon – Sun

Fox opening hours: (off airport)

  • 06.00 – 23.59 Mon – Sun

San Diego

San Diego International Airport (SAN)

Alamo/National opening hours: (young driver package available here)

  • 04.00 – 23.59 Mon – Sun

Avis opening hours (off airport)

  • Open 24 hours

Dollar opening hours:

  • 04.30 – 23.59 Mon – Sun

Fox opening hours:

  • 04.00 – 01.30 Mon – Sun
  • big sur california from above

Places to Visit

San Francisco

There is much to do in San Francisco, and you may not need a car for much of it.  Please see our San Francisco page for a full run down of the California car hire locations there.

San Diego

San Diego is the southernmost city of California with plenty of attractions of its own. Please see our San Diego page for a full run down of California car hire collection points there.

Pacific Highway 1

This iconic road travels up the majority of the California coastline from near Los Angeles all the way to Mendocino County. For most of the route the road hugs the coast giving rise to some stunning coastline and coastal views.  The first section of the road was constructed in the Big Sur area (above photo is Bixby Beach Bridge at Big Sur) where the Santa Lucia mountains rise straight out of the Pacific Ocean. In fact, Big Sur’s Cone Peak is the largest coastal mountain in all the contiguous states and rises 1 mile from sea level, just 3 miles inland.  Different parts of the road share co-designation with other roads, and some parts are major thoroughfares, such as the section that crosses the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and in Greater Los Angeles.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite is a world famous park, visited by 3.5 million people a year. Although the park is easily reached by car from Los Angeles or San Francisco, there are parts of the park road system that become in-passable during winter due to heavy snowfall. We have a separate article on our blog about the issue of carrying snowchains in rental cars – even though you are not allowed to fit these to the rental cars, so if you do plan on visiting the park during winter months you will need to do your research and check the online park notices. Yosemite is particularly known for its stunning waterfalls and valleys such as the valley below the Half Dome in the photo below.  Camp sites and cabins are available for those who really want to immerse themselves and explore.

Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park together protect over half of the world’s population of sequoia groves within 1,353 square miles of park land.  Over 1.6 million people visited the two parks during 2012. The tallest sequoia tree in the whole park is the General Sherman Tree, last measured at 274.9 ft tall according to park statistics released in April 2013. Groves of sequoias within each park spread for 1,800 to 2,000 acres! There are three truly ancient trees in the park, a giant sequoia that is 3,266 yrs, a western juniper which is 2,675 years and a foxtail pine which is 2,123 years old.  It is not just the trees that break records, Mt Whitney is the highest point in the contiguous United States at 4,417.8 metres!

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park covers over 3 million acres, and extends for about 140 miles from Last Chance Canyon in the north to near Saratoga Springs in the south. The famous salt pans on the floor of the Valley cover are 40 miles long.  The lowest point of the park – which is below sea level anyway, is the Badwater Basin which is 282 feet below sea level. The Badwater road is the most popular drive in the valley as a round trip takes about 1.5 to 2 hours. As well as driving the sites, you can hike, bike and walk the trails in this park, where much of it is actually covered in flora with huge variety of native animals too.

There are also 9 campgrounds, but these can get very busy and are served on a first come, first served basis with the exception of Furnace Creek Campground where reservations can be made for the winter months. There are over 300 miles of proper roads, another 300 miles of improved dirt roads and many more miles of unmaintained roads.  Please remember that hire cars cannot be driven on unmade roads without violating your insurance packages.  Death Valley is about 2 hours drive from Las Vegas through Pahrump, Nevada, so most people tend to visit the valley on their journey from California to Las Vegas.