Panorama of the Grand Canyon with Sunset Colors Reflecting in the Rocks
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Road Trips

Road Trip from Dallas to San Diego

By Pat Dorri | Updated on 28 April 2022

Going on a drive from the Texan plains to the Californian coast is a journey like no other. A road trip from Dallas to San Diego takes you to scenic views, unparalleled fun, and an unforgettable journey.

The road trip from Dallas to San Diego covers 1,565 miles and takes 25 hours of non-stop driving. Highlights along the way include Amarillo, Albuquerque and Sedona as well as the Petrified Forest National Park and the Grand Canyon National Park.

Read on to find out where to stop for rest and relaxation, fun, and adventure on your road trip from Dallas to San Diego.

High rise buildings viewed across lake at sunset with pink and blue sky reflected in still water
1,500 miles of adventure stands between you and San Diego when you set out on this road trip.
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How far is San Diego from Dallas, and how long will the road trip take?

Comparison of road trip routes from Dallas to San Diego
RouteDistanceDriving Time
Direct Route1360 miles19 hours 30 minutes
Recommended Route1565 miles24 hours
Palm Springs Detour1600 miles24 hours

Our recommended route for a road trip from Dallas to San Diego will take you at least four days to drive, covering 1,565 miles via I-40 through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. To make the most of this drive, you should consider devoting at least a week to the trip.

Following this scenic route, you will pass through bustling cities, various landmarks and impressive national parks. This route also takes you to the famed Grand Canyon, one of the best stops on this road trip from Dallas to San Diego.

If you have time, you could easily add an extra day to your trip by taking a detour. This recommended detour will add around 50 miles to your route, during which you will see the iconic views of Joshua Tree National Park and the desert landscape of Palm Springs. This detour is well worth taking with its stunning and unique scenery.

View over rocky canyons lit up pink and golden in evening light. Eagle with white and black feathers flies through the sky.
The Grand Canyon is just one of the spectacular locations you'll enjoy on this road trip.
Skreidzeleu/Shutterstock.com

If you are pressed for time, the shortest route (which we have named the Direct Route) is via I-10 and I-20: a 1360-mile drive through New Mexico, Arizona, and California.

Although this option will also offer fun and adventure on the way, it has fewer stops for gas or other necessities along the way. It is all about your personal preferences and time limits when it comes to choosing which route to take on this road trip.

Best road trip route from Dallas to San Diego

The best route for your road trip from Dallas to San Diego is ultimately the longer but more scenic route via the I-40 across the plains, deserts, and forests of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.

This route is a bit of a detour to the north as there are quicker routes to San Diego, but the adventures and stops that await you are well worth the long drive.

This route via I-40 is parallel to the famous Route 66 and passes through breathtaking landscapes. This road trip from Dallas to San Diego is an adventure that will take you to your destination and through time.

The Direct Route

The most direct route you could take between Dallas and San Diego involves heading southwest from Dallas on I-20 for just over 6 and a half hours (or 445 miles) until you hit I-10, just after the small town of Toyah in Reeves County, Texas.

Once you have merged onto I-10, head west for 115 miles until you reach Fort Hancock, on the Mexican Border, and then on to the city of El Paso.

You will remain on I-10 upon leaving El Paso, continuing on into Tucson, Arizona, after another four and a half hours. Once you reach Arizola (still on I-10), take I-8 for the remaining 350 miles of your journey to San Diego.

Our Recommended Route from Dallas to San Diego

From Dallas, take the I-35 and turn left to Texas State Route-183 West to start your road trip. Stay on this route, then exit onto US-287. Follow this road, then use the left lane to take the ramp to I-40. Then merge onto I-40 at Amarillo.

On the Texan part of the I-40, Amarillo is one of your first stops for gas and relaxation. The famous Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo is one of the must-see places on this leg of your trip.

Continuing on the I-40 to New Mexico, you will pass through some parts of the old Route 66, one of the mother highways in the nation's highway system. You will also be driving through Albuquerque, the state's largest city, and the Continental Divide.

A tree with spindly branches and few leaves casts a shadow over the road, with scrubby vegetation behind
Mojave National Preservation is well worth a visit.
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After crossing the New Mexico border, you will be entering Arizona. Along this way, you can stop and see the Petrified Forest National Park, Meteor Crater, Mojave National Preserve, and the Grand Canyon.

Continue along I-40, then take exit 165 for Arizona 64. This road will take you to the Grand Canyon. After your visit, follow the same road back and turn right to merge onto I-40 towards Los Angeles.

Turn left onto AZ-89 and then turn right onto AZ-71. Stay right, and turn onto US-60, which will merge onto I-10. Take exit 263 for CA-78. Turn left onto CA-115, which will eventually merge onto the I-8 West using the ramp to San Diego.

You are now entering California. Follow I-8 until you reach La Mesa, then take exit 14B for California State Route-125 South. From CA-125 S, use the left lanes and use exit 15 for CA-94. Continue along this route until you enter San Diego, California.

The Palm Springs Detour

If you wish to add an extra day to your adventure and visit the famous Joshua Tree National Park and Palm Springs, you can take a short detour to enjoy this unique landscape. After your visit to the Grand Canyon, follow I-40 which will cross from Arizona to California.

Take a sharp left onto US-95 and then turn right onto CA-62 at Vidal Junction. You will soon merge onto CA-177 and then I-10 nearby the Joshua Tree National Park. Turn left from I-10 to enter Palm Springs. From there, follow CA-111 to I-10.

Take exit 93 on the left for CA-60. Parts of this road may be closed at certain times or days, so it is a good idea to check before you set off.

You will merge onto I-215 after taking exit 58 towards San Diego. This scenic route will take you through valleys and mountains and merge onto I-15. Keep right at the fork to continue onto CA-163, which will take you to your destination—San Diego.

Tall palm trees above lake with manicured green lawn and mountains behind
Palm Springs will be a real contrast after many miles of wilderness adventure on this road trip.
Jeff Whyte/Shutterstock.com

Best places to stop between Dallas and San Diego

The road trip from Dallas to San Diego is about a whole day of nonstop driving across three states. So, it is recommended to dedicate at least a week to your trip to fully enjoy where this journey takes you.

Having at least three stops during your road trip on the direct route will help guarantee that you are fully energized for both the driving and activities along the way. If you opt to take the detour, it is a good idea to add an extra stop at Palm Springs to rejuvenate. Here are the best places to stop between Dallas and San Diego.

Discover art in Amarillo

Amarillo is only about a five to six-hour drive from Dallas, but it is the perfect first stop on your road trip to San Diego. This charming city in Texas is a delight to your eyes and your palate with its grand views and gigantic steaks. Amarillo is also famous for its art and botanical gardens.

The famous Cadillac Ranch features a quirky attraction of ten graffiti-covered Cadillacs standing upright with their noses buried in the ground. This art installation has been cleverly designed to show the generations of the Cadillac brand line. Mark your visit and cover the Cadillacs with your own work of art!

Graffiti-covered cars stand upright in the desert
Cadillac Ranch is a favourite landmark when you're traveling along historic Route 66.
Edwin Verin/Shutterstock.com

Stay the night at the upmarket yet friendly Drury Inn & Suites Amarillo for a much-needed rest before you continue along your road trip to San Diego. We suggest you try to arrive in time for the hotel's well-loved happy hour, which is a real treat at the end of any long day!

The hotel is located close to many must-visit sites in the city - including the historic Route 66 District - but it's the hospitality on offer that keeps people coming back, time and time again.

Stay the night in Albuquerque

This city in New Mexico has something for all types of visitors. Whether you are outdoorsy, artsy, or a history enthusiast, you'll find all you love and need in Albuquerque.

You'll be awed by the city's architecture – a combination of the ancient Indian and Spanish cultures that will take you through time. Explore museums and browse through shops and galleries for the perfect souvenir to commemorate your stay in Albuquerque.

Many brightly coloured hot air balloons fly through blue sky above a lake, reflected in the water below
The International Balloon Festival brings a vivid splash of colour to Albuquerque.
Kit Leong/Shutterstock.com

If you love the outdoors, hike the La Luz Trail or bike around the city to discover its wonders. If you want a more soothing experience in the outdoors, take the tram for a panoramic view of the scenic Sandia Mountains and New Mexico.

To make your stay in Albuquerque truly one to remember, we highly recommend the stylish Hotel Chaco. Situated close to the city's most prominent museums and art galleries, this hotel's location means that you can pack a lot of culture into just a short stay.

And if you'd rather relax than sightsee after a hard day's driving, you can kick back beside the hotel's gorgeous pool or take a sip in its elegant bar, surrounded by authentic New Mexican artworks. As an added bonus, parking is included in the hotel room rate.

Explore Grand Canyon National Park

Visiting the Grand Canyon National Park pays off driving the longer route for your road trip from Dallas to San Diego. This epic nature wonder offers breathtaking views, historical sites, and endless adventure for all its visitors. Hike or stroll along the park as you take in the unparalleled beauty of the Grand Canyon.

Rest up at the sumptuous Grand Hotel at the Grand Canyon and prepare for a day full of adventure in Grand Canyon National Park. This hotel is only a few minutes' drive away from the Grand Canyon Village, meaning an easy start the next day if you're off for some truly awesome sightseeing.

The stunning gorge of Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona.
The Grand Canyon truly needs no introduction.
prochasson frederic/Shutterstock.com

Relax at Palm Springs

If you choose to follow our suggested detour, you will find yourself in awe of the Joshua Tree National Park, known for its mystical beauty. The park boasts the most comfortable temperatures in the spring and fall, so it is recommended to enjoy its granite monoliths and imposing rock and boulder formations during these months.

Known as the playground of actors and artists, the nearby desert resort city of Palm Springs will offer you many alternatives to unwind and re-energize. With its artistic, culinary and glamorous offerings, Palm Springs is the perfect stop on your trip before you reach San Diego whether you are up for an adventure outdoors or cocktails indoors.

Take a well-deserved rest at Margaritaville Resort Palm Springs, which offers exceptional luxury and a spa with an exquisite menu of services: perfect to soothe any aches from hours spent in the car!

The hotel also is helpfully located for some beautiful hikes in the local area, should you wish to stretch your legs and enjoy the incredible local scenery.

Things to see on a road trip from Dallas to San Diego

The road trip from Dallas to San Diego takes you across three states and various landscapes and wonderful views. There are plenty of fun activities on the road and on the stops that you'll make along the way. Here are some of the must-see places on your journey.

There is much more to explore and to do on your road trip from Dallas to San Diego that may not be on the list. Mojave National Preserve, Sunset Crater Volcano, and Joshua Tree National Park are also great places to detour on your journey.

Trees with no branches and interesting boulder formations next to an empty winding road
Joshua Tree National Park makes for a very special detour.
Gary C. Tognoni/Shutterstock.com

The Direct Route

  1. Reunion Tower - an iconic observation deck with panoramic views of Dallas
  2. Cadillac Ranch – a quirky stop featuring ten upright Cadillacs covered in graffiti from visitors all over the world
  3. Route 66 – famous for being the first all-weather highway in the US, a must-see for its historical wonders and exciting activities
  4. Palo Duro Canyon State Park – known as the second-largest canyon in the US, this is a park that allows you to be one with nature as you hike or walk along its trails
  5. Blue Hole, Santa Rosa – famous for being like an oasis in the desert, this bell-shaped pool in Santa Rosa is a must-visit for swimmers and divers
  6. Old Town – a historic district in Albuquerque which is once the provincial kingdom of the Spanish Settlement in New Mexico
  7. Sandia Peak Tramway – the longest aerial tram in the US, giving you majestic panoramic views of the Sandia Mountains and New Mexico
  8. Petrified Forest National Park – hike and camp in the wilderness and visit the famous for its petrified logs and the parts of the painted desert
  9. Sedona, Arizona – featuring unique rock sceneries and lush vegetation, this city in Arizona is a must-visit for hiking, biking, and wine tastings
  10. Montezuma Castle National Monument - a curious and well-preserved site featuring cliff dwellings built by the Sinagua people between AD 1100 and 1425
  11. Grand Canyon National Park – hike, walk or ride a horse along the trails of this wondrous natural wonder
  12. Balboa Park - enjoy museums, gardens, attractions, and venues in this attractive 1,200-acre historic urban cultural park in San Diego
Dwelling built into a cliff face
Montezuma Castle National Monument is a truly unique place to visit when you take this trip.
Vadim Gouida/Shutterstock.com

The Palm Spring Detour

  1. Arizona Route 66 Museum - a quirky and unique museum that depicts the historical evolution of travel along the iconic Route 66
  2. Joshua Tree National Park - featuring impressive geological formations, unique flora and opportunities to hike
  3. Palm Springs Air Museum - known also as an educational institution, this museum features one of the largest collections of flying World War II warplanes, many of which were used in movies
  4. San Bernardino National Forest - hike in this forest of outstanding beauty and enjoy its impressive scenery that has eight designated Wilderness Areas

Best time to go on a road trip from Dallas to San Diego

Generally speaking, a road trip from Dallas to San Diego can be made at any time of the year, but it might be best to avoid summer as the temperatures in certain parts of the trip can reach up to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. The best time to drive along I-40 is from late summer to early winter and late winter to early summer for this reason.

During these periods, the weather is better for your outdoor activities, including hiking and camping. It is also the best time to drive as it will not be too hot as you pass through the deserts and plains of Arizona and New Mexico.

Dark night sky with many stars including several bright shooting stars, with silhouettes of trees and a large rock in the middle
The big, clear skies of Arizona make for spectacular but sometimes extreme travel conditions.
Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon/Shutterstock.com

If you plan your journey during winter and spring, you must check local weather and traffic advisories before your road trip as some parts of I-40 may close due to snow. If roads are closed in the winter, I-10 is the alternate route for your road trip from Dallas to San Diego.

When visiting, it is a good idea to keep in mind that San Diego's busiest month is July and attractions might be crowded during this month. An option might be to visit the city during Museum Month in February or in April when it is home to Restaurant Week.