A road trip from Houston to San Francisco takes you between two of the largest and most spectacular states in the US. On the way, you'll cross three time zones as you pass through deserts, mountains and forests: departing from the shores of the Gulf of Mexico and ending at the Pacific coast.
The 1,925-mile road trip from Houston to San Francisco takes at least 28 hours to complete. Depending on the route, you can take in San Antonio, Austin, El Paso, Phoenix, and Los Angeles, or Amarillo, Albuquerque, and the Grand Canyon.
Read on to find out what's in store as you embark on this monumental journey. We'll step you through the best route to take from Houston to San Francisco, where to stay on the way, plus our favorite things to see and the best time of year to travel.
How far Is San Francisco from Houston and how long will the road trip take?
|The Northern Route||2,088 miles||33 hours|
|The Southern Route||1,925 miles||28 hours|
One of the most incredible adventures you can wish to undertake, the most direct route from Houston to San Francisco takes over a full day of continuous driving to cover the 1,925 miles.
Of course, we recommend breaking up the journey - not only for safety purposes, but to allow you sufficient time to enjoy the awesome scenery and stops along the way.
Allow at least 4 days to make the trip, and longer if time permits: balancing time at the wheel with the freedom to embrace and explore the many attractions along the route. This road trip could easily be stretched over a two-week period - there's more than enough to keep you busy if your schedule allows for this.
Best road trip route from Houston to San Francisco
The best road trip from Houston to San Francisco depends on what exactly you are after, as both routes are blessed with amazing scenery and have so much to offer.
The Southern Route takes in more major cities and attractions, and the Northern Route offers the chance to see the awe-inspiring Grand Canyon. The choice is yours.
The Northern Route
Our slightly longer option at 2,088 miles, the Northern Route follows major roads and makes navigation quite straightforward, despite the distance.
Leave Houston on the I-45, heading north past Lake Conroe and the spectacular Richland-Chambers reservoir before arriving in Dallas. With such a wide variety of cultures and histories to be discovered, you may decide to spend a day or two here and in neighbouring Fort Worth.
Heading onwards, join Route 287 just north of Fort Worth, passing Bowie and Wichita Falls, before arriving at Amarillo. From here you'll join Interstate 40, travelling through Albuquerque, and Flagstaff, and passing Bluewater Lake State Park, Petrified Forest National Park and Coconino National Forest on the way.
Leave the I-40 at Williams and take Route 64 north to marvel at the geological wonder of the Grand Canyon. Return to the I-40 past Mojave National Reserve to Barstow, where you'll join Interstate 15 heading towards the outskirts of Los Angeles.
Join the I-10 into downtown LA and spend the night in one of the most famous cities in the world, taking in Hollywood and the amazing bars, designer shopping and world-class restaurants that this amazing city has to offer.
From Los Angeles, head north (for around six hours) on the I-5 until you reach San Francisco.
The Southern Route
Despite covering the best part of 2,000 miles, the Southern Route is relatively straightforward with the majority of the trip being covered by a handful of major roads.
You begin by setting out on the I-10 going east, which you'll take an astounding 1545-miles to Los Angeles, California. From here you'll switch to the I-5 north for 85-miles, until just past Wheeler Ridge.
You'll then pick up State Route 99, also known as the Golden State Highway, where it begins and take it 250-miles north to Manteca.
This is the one slightly tricky part of the journey. You'll join State Route 120 going west for a few miles until it merges with the I-5, which you'll then need to exit almost immediately onto the I-205 as soon as it begins.
Follow this to its completion just south of Mountain House, where it merges with the I-580 which you'll take 50 miles to Oakland. From here it's a simple matter of taking the I-80 across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay bridge to your destination.
Best places to stop between Houston and San Francisco
Selecting the perfect places to stay is essential, and it is important to split your driving up into reasonable segments that won't leave you too tired to enjoy the drive.
With so much to see on a road trip from Houston to San Francisco, the task of planning your stops isn't as easy as it first appears. You're almost spoiled for choice on this trip when it comes to deciding on where to stay.
Luckily, we've done the hard work for you. Read on for our tips on the best layover locations that allow you to take in as many of the attractions as possible in the area, while still allowing you to make good progress on the road.
A grande first stop - El Paso
At over 10 hours into our Southern Route, El Paso may not be your first stop on this road trip, but it's definitely one you won't want to skip if you are taking this route. The most westerly city in Texas, El Paso lies on the banks of the Rio Grande. A richly unique city, situated on the Mexican border, El Paso is filled with Hispanic culture and tradition.
If the uniqueness and the culture of this place doesn't sell it to you, then the food surely will. Famed far and wide for its cuisine, people travel from around the country to sample the incredible tastes coming out of kitchens all over El Paso.
The fantastic Plaza Hotel Pioneer Park perfectly demonstrates everything that the city of El Paso represents. With beautiful styling, a stunning on-site restaurant and a location just a stone's throw from the Rio Grande, this fantastic hotel gives you the true El Paso experience. Get ready to kick your road trip off in authentic style!
Take in the contrasts of Albuquerque
Around halfway along our Northern route, Albuquerque is a no-brainer when it comes to scheduling an overnight stay.Albuquerque has seen a rise in popularity in recent times as the location for the hit TV series Breaking Bad. To make the most of your time here, we recommend you book an official tour and see as many filming locations as possible before heading back out on the road.
Take the Sandia Peak Tramway to get spectacular views of the city, and enjoy a fine dining experience when you reach the top at restaurant 10|3. Relax and explore the Old Town Plaza and the picturesque historic quarter, the heart of Albuquerque since 1706, with an abundance of museums, shops, galleries and restaurants.
The luxurious Hotel Chaco is the perfect place to relax after your drive across the desert. Renowned for its spacious rooms and excellent location, take a dip in the stunning outdoor pool and sample a great selection of local wines before heading out to explore the city.
Let's go to Fresno
The final stop on our list is Fresno: a stop that falls along both of our routes, around 3 and a half hours away from San Francisco. This makes it an ideal location for the penultimate night of your road trip. Formed in 1856 after the California gold rush, and famed for its abundant ash trees, Fresno isn't the obvious tourist destination, but the beauty that lies in the surrounding area makes this a prime location.
Fresno is the best location to visit what is known as the Majestic Mountain Loop; a collection of three of the oldest and most stunning national parks in the country made up of Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Yosemite.
Located around an hour from downtown Fresno, these three parks cover 1.5 million acres and feature mountains, forests, waterfalls, meadows and rivers, as well as far too many species of animals and birds to even begin listing.
An incredible experience for anyone who loves the great outdoors, you'd be kicking yourself if you came this close and didn't take the opportunity to see them.
The DoubleTree by Hilton Fresno Convention Center is highly recommended for your stay in Fresno. A beautiful, modern, comfortable hotel, located right on the edge of town in the shadow of the mountains, this is the perfect place to spend the night (or three) to get well rested and limit the travelling to and from the parks.
Things to see on a road trip from Houston to San Francisco
With a journey this long, you're going to need plenty to see and do to keep things interesting, and we've compiled the following list of must-see attractions on a road trip from Houston to San Francisco.
- San Antonio - The second most populous city in the state of Texas and home to The Alamo. See where Davy Crockett fought in the famous battle for Texan independence.
- Fort Stockton - An old civil war fort at the heart of a modern-day Texan town. A perfect combination of the new and old sides of the state, face to face.
- El Paso, Texas – A border town on the banks of the Rio Grande, known as “Sun City” as it averages over 300 days of sunshine annually. Popular for its Tex-Mex cuisine and rich cultural history.
- White Sands National Park - The most recent addition to the US national park register, features miles of rolling dunes, located 50 miles from Las Cruces.
- Tucson, Arizona - The second most populous city in Arizona and a symbol of the old wild west. Take in the clean air and marvel at the night sky in what many call “the astronomy capital of the world”.
- Saguaro National Park - A stunning park filled with a huge number of a variety of species of cacti.
- Phoenix, Arizona - The capital of Arizona, featuring the fascinating Musical Instrument Museum, and the Desert Botanical Garden.
- Colorado River Indian Reservation – Modern-day Indian Reservation, home to four different tribes of Native Americans: the Chemehuevi, Hopi, Mojave and Navajo.
- Joshua Tree National Park - A desert wilderness containing over 100km of hiking trails, ancient palm groves, and fascinating rock formations. Look out for bighorn sheep and desert tortoise.
- Los Angeles, California - The largest city in California, home to the iconic Hollywood and the centre of the nation's film and tv industry.
- Sierra Nevada Mountains - The tallest mountain range in the US, referred to as the “Range of Light”, and one of the most beautiful single continuous ranges.
- Sequoia National Park - The joint second oldest national park in America (behind Yellowstone) features stunning giant sequoia forests full of wildlife, beautiful views and the largest tree on earth, General Sherman.
- Kings Canyon National Park - Part of what's known as the Majestic Mountain Loop of national parks, along with Sequoia and Yosemite. Features incredible caves, rivers and waterfalls, stemming from the glaciated Sierra Nevada mountains. Also features the world's largest diameter tree, the General Grant.
- Yosemite National Park - The joint second oldest park in America, along with Sequoia, Yosemite features some of the most stunning views on the planet. Towering waterfalls, crystal lakes and the famed Yosemite Meadows are home to an incredible collection of wildlife, including bears, bighorn sheep and over 260 species of bird.
- Oakland, California – Situated across the bay from San Francisco, home to a magnificent lake and spectacular public performances from the Oakland Symphony Orchestra.
- Lake Conroe -A beautiful 22,000-acre lake, with over 150 miles of shoreline. The perfect spot for rest and relaxation, or an exciting adventure. Enjoy fishing, boating and other water sports.
- Albuquerque – New Mexico's largest city, high in the desert, with a fascinating history as a Spanish colony. The old town is filled with historic buildings. Home to the renowned International Balloon Festival
- Petrified Forest National Park - Known for its harsh, rocky landscapes and the many fossils it contains, covering 346 square miles of highly eroded and colourful Badlands.
- Coconino National Forest - With its stunning red rocks and spectacular landscapes, from southwestern desert to alpine tundra, one of the most diverse and unforgettable destinations in the whole country.
- Grand Canyon – One of the wonders of the world, take in the views of this incredibly impressive natural phenomenon, carved out by the Colorado River.
Best time to go on a road trip from Houston to San Francisco
While many people think of the entirety of California as a golden, sun-soaked paradise year-round, that isn't always the case. Some of the mountain areas experience snow closures during the winter, which can catch you out if you aren't expecting it.
If you are taking the trip in October, then visit Albuquerque and witness the International Balloon Fiesta, taking place over 9 days and is the largest of its kind in the world.
San Francisco has weather vastly different to the climates people imagine when they think of Californian cities like Los Angeles or San Diego.
Its location in the north of the state, on a bay on the Pacific coast, can often lead to overcast and inclement weather throughout the year, not exactly ideal for your picturesque walk across the Golden Gate bridge.
That's why the ideal time to make your road trip from Houston to San Francisco is between June and September. These are the months that generally have the highest temperatures, least rain and most sunshine. Perfect for seeing this fabulous city in all its glory.