What’s the Wait Time at California’s Most Popular DMVs?

By: Bridget Clerkin July 18, 2018
Which major California city has the fastest DMV?
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It’s been 55 years since the Beach Boys first crooned about their Little Deuce Coupe, and today in California, the car is still king.

Residents of the Golden State are in many ways tethered to their automobiles. California’s urban planning leaves few other choices for its 39.5 million citizens to get around. And in most cases, a ride must be secured to commute along the state’s tangled freeways.

Yet even in California’s city centers, cars are more or less a requirement, as public transportation options are short and walking through sprawling neighborhoods often takes too long.

The perennial need for personal transportation means the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is also very often a presence in the lives of Californians. (And if you don’t know where your closest office is, don’t worry—we’ve got you covered.)

Keeping a car legal requires frequent trips to the government agency—an idea that sends shudders down many spines. But not all Golden Staters need fear: some DMVs operate in the fast lane.

Below is how long you can expect to wait at the DMV in California’s top 10 most-populated cities. The times* reflect an appointment-free visit, but scheduling your DMV trip ahead of time will almost always carve some serious minutes off of your outing.

*NOTE: Data was collected from the California DMV on Friday, July 6.

1 - Santa Ana

The city may share its name with the infamous gusts that rush through California, but its DMV patrons can blow through the line even faster than the wind.

The average wait time for an appointment-free DMV visit in the Southern California town is a barely-believable zero minutes. That means office-goers can be in and out quickly enough to enjoy the myriad other attractions in town or take a hike or bike ride down the Santa Ana River Trail after their visit.

(One quick caveat: With 333,605 residents, Santa Ana is actually the 11th most-populated city in California, but 10th-place Anaheim doesn’t have a DMV at all. And even if it did, really... could anyone else beat a zero-minute wait?)

2 - Bakersfield

Bakersfield may have been rebuilt after a devastating earthquake in 1952, but one thing about the town has remained rock solid: its ability to get residents in and out of the DMV.

The ninth-most populous city in California also comes in second place on the list. Bakersfield offers two DMV locations, which average appointment-free wait time of one hour and two minutes—not bad for a city of 376,380.

3 - Fresno

It’s not surprising Fresno comes near the top of the list: the city began its life as a railway station along the Central Pacific Railroad, so keeping an orderly timetable is in its blood.

With a population of 522,053, the punctual city puts in an average of an hour and 32 minutes' wait for anyone visiting its three DMV offices without an appointment.

4 - Long Beach

“Long” may be its first name, but the DMV wait is relatively short.

The sixth-most populated city in the state clocks an average appointment-free line time of one hour and thirty-six minutes. (All told, the single DMV office in Long Beach services 470,130 residents.)

And that’s great news for anyone who loves a bargain. Among other assets, the town is famous for the spectacular deals found at its vintage clothing boutiques. Less time at the DMV means more time spent on shopping therapy.

5 - San Diego

Second only to Los Angeles in population, America’s Finest City is fifth on the list of best DMV wait times in California.

With 1.4 million residents to worry about, the city’s three DMV offices have a lot of work to do. Still, the agencies produce a fair result, getting the average appointment-free customer to a representative in two hours and 19 minutes.

And with such perfect weather coming in on such a regular basis, who wants to spend any more time indoors than that?

6 - Los Angeles

The City of Angels isn’t quite so heavenly when it comes to the DMV.

With only two offices covering the entire city of 4.1 million, L.A. residents can expect to wait, on average, for two hours and 42 minutes at the government agency.

Still, Angelinos can take solace in the fact that the DMV wait is probably no longer than the amount of time it takes to drive a few blocks across the metropolis.

7 - Oakland

Oakland may suffer the occasional ill comparison to its ritzier neighbor, San Francisco, but when it comes to DMV wait times, the Bright Side of the Bay has its neighbor beat.

The state’s eighth-largest city, with a population of 430,666, is seventh on the list, with an average wait time of three hours and ten minutes between its two state offices.

8 - San Jose

Located just 40 miles south of Oakland, San Jose’s DMV wait times are also slightly lower on the list.

The city of just over 1 million has three Departments of Motor Vehicles, but an average appointment-free wait time of three hours, eleven minutes.

That’s not a great record for a place that prides itself on its close connection to the fast-paced world of Silicon Valley.

9 - San Francisco

The skyrocketing popularity of San Francisco has led to major traffic issues in the city over the years—and those problems have overflowed into the DMV.

The 870,887 residents being serviced by the city’s singular state office average an appointment-free wait time of four hours.

If you’re going to San Francisco’s DMV, forget the flowers in your hair. They’ll likely wilt before you make it out.

10 - Sacramento

The state’s capital and seventh-most populous city comes in dead last on the list, with an average DMV wait time of four hours and ten minutes for the 495,234 customers using its two offices.

That’s more time than it takes to cook a 14-pound turkey, take a tour on the ill-fated S.S. Minnow, or get coronary bypass surgery.

Still, even in California, it’s a much faster go than the bureaucratic process of passing a law.

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