If you like a healthy combination of desert planes, forests and city life, a road trip from Phoenix to San Diego might be the perfect adventure for you. Despite the relatively short ride you can still see a variety of landscapes.

Of course you could have flown from Phoenix to San Diego, but then you would have missed an extraordinary trip to the southwest of the United States.

The 355 mile drive from Phoenix to San Diego takes 5 hours and 30 minutes without any problems. Although this is possible during the day, you may consider sharing the trip and choosing the tourist route with stops in Yeshua, Palm Springs and Los Angeles.

If you are interested in this trip, read on for the best route and some ideas for stops along the way.

How far is San Diego from Phoenix and how long is the journey?

If you need to get from Phoenix to San Diego quickly, the fastest route is 355 miles past the I-8, which takes about five and a half hours. This is pure driving time, so you should probably add at least a few hours for unexpected traffic jams and breaks for rest, fuel and food.

Route Distance Driving time
Fastest route
(via I-8)
355 miles 5 hours 30 minutes
(via I-10)
420 miles 6 hours 30 minutes

Beware, if you leave the Phoenix in rush hour, Friday evening or Saturday morning, you can easily queue up for a similar weekend, so miss the time to cross traffic.

Even with these delays you can still make this trip in one day – I did it myself in the afternoon and it’s a relatively easy route. But if you drive all this at the same time, you’ll miss out on some of the great sites you’ll pass, which is definitely worth it.

If you have free time, you can cover the longest distance of 420 miles after I-10. You add miles and hours to your journey, but believe me, it’s worth it.

Best Road Trip from Phoenix to San Diego

The quickest route from Phoenix to San Diego is via the I-8 highway, close to the border between the US and Mexico. You always have the possibility to spend the night in several national parks, including the Cuiamaca Rancho National Park.

I did that and out of curiosity I found a dirt road through a number of fields, only to find out a little later that I had managed to drive straight to the border and get an escort back to the border patrol, which was very close and somewhat confused.

On the other hand, if you have time and want to enjoy your trip to the I-10, you can visit other national parks and Los Angeles if you want to visit a city with cult status.

Phoenix-San Diego Road

For a longer, more scenic route, leave the Phoenix on the I-10 and follow the road through Arizona and California to the Moreno Valley.

From there take exit 58 to the I-215, which turns into the I-15 as soon as you arrive. Follow this highway to San Diego.

If you need to travel to San Diego by Expressway, leave the Phoenix on the I-10, but once you have left the city, take exit 112 to join the AZ-85. When you get to Gill Bend, take the I-8 and follow this highway through Arizona and California to San Diego.

Empty Highway 10 with green bushes on the sides along isolated hills and a low mountain in Quartzisa on a sunny day
Enjoy the scenic drive on the I-10 on the highway from Phoenix to San Diego.

You touch the EuToch/Shutterstock.com pixel.

Best ports of call between Phoenix and San Diego

If you plan to split your trip into 2 or 3 days, here are some places to stay and information.

Relaxing in Palm Springs, California

When you sit in the car for hours and nights, you feel tense, and there is no better place than Palm Springs to stretch your legs and pamper yourself.

Located in the heart of the Sonoran desert, you should consider booking a stay at the luxurious L’Horizon Resort & Spa. A fully equipped spa, a beautiful swimming pool and truly exceptional rooms will make you wish you had stayed longer, no matter how long you book.

During your stay in Palm Springs, visit the Palm Springs Museum of Art and the Air Museum to learn more about its culture and history.

On a sunny day, the Palm Springs Air Museum exhibits a series of old World War II airplanes with views of the mountains from afar.
Discover the history of warplanes and their pilots who returned to World War II in the Palm Springs Air Museum.

Steve Cookrow/Shutterstock.com

For more outdoor walks you can visit the Palm Springs aerial tram or the nearby Indian Gorge and Mount San Jacinto.

If you drive at the right time of the year, Palm Springs is located in the Coachella Valley. The Coachella Valley Music and Art Festival, usually held in April, is an incredible experience not to be missed.

Spend the day in Temecula

Like Palm Springs, Temecula is a popular destination for travel and short breaks.

When you visit this city, you will be surrounded by impressive vineyards and wine cellars and you will have the opportunity to follow one (or two or three) of the many guided tours.

The Temecula Carriage Company even offers a wine tour where you travel as a crew. Is there anything more elegant than that?

You can stay at the Ponte Vineyard Inn, surrounded by incredible vineyards. The hotel itself has an open-air restaurant, so you can enjoy the weather and the beautiful view during your meal. If you play golf, the hotel is just a 10-minute drive from Temecula Creek Inn Golf Course.

During your stay in the city you should take the time to explore the old town of Temecula and visit one of the many wineries in the city, such as the Vindemia winery or the Peltzer winery.

Things to see on a trip from Phoenix to San Diego

Breathtaking views from the sky of the mountains of San Gorgonio and Little San Bernardino, which on a winter day are covered with blue mackerel by white and grey clouds.
Stay in Palm Springs to explore the mountains of San Gorgonio and Little San Bernardino.

Joel Hensler/Shutterstock.com

You will not be embarrassed by the wonderful things you will see on this journey. Here is a list of some curiosities worth seeing!

  1. White Tank Mountain Regional Park: Start your journey in the desert landscape where you are. This national park covers 30,000 hectares and is the largest national park in the Marikopa district. Admire the beautiful White Tank Mountains as you walk through the park.
  2. Kofa National Park: Kofa National Park, established in 1939 to protect desert sheep, covers more than 665,400 hectares. Spend some time exploring the footpaths, where you might even come across some old mines.
  3. Yeshua Tree National Park: If you want to feel like you’ve entered another world, visit Joshua Tree National Park. Yeshua’s rugged landscape, rock formations and trees of the same name, to name but a few of the elements you’ll find in this park, will take your breath away.
  4. San Jacinto Mountain Park: If you still miss the breathtaking mountain scenery, you should explore Mount San Jacinto Park for a few hours. The mountain itself rises to an altitude of 10,834 feet above sea level, and the park offers many hiking trails to explore.
  5. Palm springs: Relax in a palm-lined oasis with swimming pool in one of the hottest deserts in the world.
  6. San Gorgonio mountain: This mountain, also known as Old Grayback, has the highest peak in Southern California.
  7. Los Angeles: Visit the Botanical Garden of Los Angeles, the Griffith Observatory, the Venetian beach and of course the easily recognizable Hollywood signboard.
  8. Moreno valley: It may be a small town, but there are still many sights to see in the Moreno Valley. Visit the March Field Air Museum or take the Perris Highway. Here you can watch a professional race or order a session on the track yourself.
  9. Perris Parachute jump: Do you want your blood pumped up? South of the Moreno Valley you will find Skydive Perris, where you can skydive by parachute, tandem or indoor. As your favourite adrenaline addict, you won’t easily forget your skydiving experience.
  10. Escondido: This city is just 15 miles from the coast where you can see the beautiful and rugged California coastline. The Safari Park of the San Diego Zoo is also located near the San Pasqual Valley.
  11. Itinerary Regional Park: Before going to San Diego, you should experience the outdoors in Mission Trails Regional Park. Explore one of the many hiking trails and spend hours walking and boating on Lake Murray.

Best time to travel from Phoenix to San Diego

Botanical building illuminated by violets of different colors (red, white, purple, blue and palm trees) around the water in Balboa Park, San Diego, California
Day and night, Balboa Park is one of the main reasons to travel from Phoenix to San Diego.

John Bilous/Shutterstock.com

During this hike you will cross many desert countries, which means it will be hot if you choose to hike during the summer months.

If you travel by car between June and August, make sure the air conditioning in your car works perfectly before you leave, and bring plenty of water with you, especially if you are planning a walk.

San Diego itself is quite warm all year round, with temperatures fluctuating from the mid 60s to the high 70s and stable all year round. However, if you choose to travel from May to June, San Diego has a very cloudy sky. There is a reason why the people of San Diego call these months May Grey and June Mrac.

As far as winter is concerned, a lot of rain is expected in the Southern California region. You can certainly make this trip in winter, but don’t be surprised if you get wet! Instead of driving in summer or winter, it is better to make this trip by car in spring or autumn, when the weather is mild and there are fewer tourists.

The period from September to November is particularly good for traveling from Phoenix to San Diego – the weather is still beautiful, the cloudy skies of the Californian coast are long gone and the summer tourist season ends with Labour Day.

Don’t forget that whatever season you choose, it is essential that you bring extra water with you for your trip. And don’t forget your camera – you’ll want it on this disc to capture the breathtaking scenery along the way.

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