Tucson, Arizona, USA with a sunset over saguaro cactus seen as a silhouette against the sky.
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Road Trip from San Diego to Houston

Updated by Dianne Titos on March 7 2024

If you're looking for a road trip across much of southern USA, with vibrant metropolises, landmarks of pioneer and Native American history, and breathtakingly beautiful national parks, then the road trip from San Diego to Houston is for you. Set off on an adventure across the American Southwest and travel past deserts, underground caves and awesome canyon landscapes.

The 1,535-mile road trip from San Diego to Houston takes 23 hours to drive uninterrupted. Notable stops include Tucson, Coronado National Forest, El Paso and San Antonio, or alternatively, White Sands and Carlsbad Caverns National Parks and Austin.

This road trip of note is filled with exciting, diverse cities to explore and iconic natural landmarks. Carry on reading to find out about best routes to take, things to see and do along those routes, and best places to stay overnight during your road trip.

How far is Houston from San Diego, and how long will the road trip take?

Comparison of road trip routes between San Diego and Houston
RouteDistanceDriving Time
The El Paso Route1,353 miles22 hours 30 minutes
The White Sands Route1,570 miles24 hours

The road trip from San Diego to Houston takes about 23 hours to drive without stopping, when taking the El Paso Route.

Alternatively, if you travel along the White Sands Route, the distance is 1568 miles and will take 24 hours to drive non-stop.

You could drive this distance in 3-4 days uninterrupted, but we recommend taking at least 6-7 days for this road trip, to make justice to all the stunning cultural and natural landmarks found along the way.

Best road trip route from San Diego to Houston

You can choose from two routes for your road trip from San Diego to Houston. Both take you via the states of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, and past iconic landscapes of deserts, mountains, and metropolitan cities with rich culture and attractions. Which route you take depends on which particular attractions and landmarks you would like to see.

The El Paso Route takes you through the stunning deserts of Arizona, the city of Tucson and Coronado National Forest to the colorful metropolitan of El Paso on the border of Mexico. You'll then drive via Marfa, with the option of visiting Big Bend National Park with diverse deserts, rugged canyons and pine forests, and San Antonio, where you can enjoy a lovely riverside walk and explore the historic town center.

Alternatively, the White Sands Route starts like the El Paso Route, only at Las Cruces you'll head further north into New Mexico, to explore the White Sands National Park with great sand dunes and Carlsbad Caverns National Park where you may explore some of the largest underground caves of America. You'll also get to visit Austin, an important economic and cultural hub in Texas.

Whether you're flying into San Diego, or you simply don't have your own transport in the city, renting a car for your road trip is something you'll want to take care of ASAP.

For an easy-to-compare view of rental options for your road trip from San Diego to Houston, take a look at our partner site, RentalCars.com.

The El Paso Route

Drive east along Interstate 8 (I-8). Just before the city of Tucson, you'll join the I-10 and continue your drive further east. You might want to visit Coronado National Forest with its stunning rocky outcrops and diverse desert vegetation along the way.

Coronado National Forest, Tucson, USA with hills and mountains in the distance against a blue sky.
Leave the car behind and take to the trails at Coronado National Forest on the El Paso Route.
Danette C/Shutterstock.com

You'll then reach El Paso, a colorful melting pot of cultures and fascinating attractions.

Afterwards, you'll follow I-10 again all the way to Houston, with a small detour to Marfa on the way, known for its arts scene, and the option of visiting Big Bend National Park from there.

The White Sands Route

To start this route, follow I-8 and I-10 eastwards as in the El Paso Route. Then, at Las Cruces, take a turn northeast along US Route 70.

You may visit White Sands National Park, Lincoln National Forest, and Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Then, follow US Route 285 until at Fort Stockton, you'll join I-10 again.

Before San Antonio, take US Route 290 to Fredericksburg, with a rich German heritage, and Austin, capital city of Texas. You'll join I-10 again at Columbus, and can drive along it the rest of the way to Houston.

White Sands Dunes in New Mexico, USA with white sands against a blue sky.
You can't drive this route and not stop to admire the stunning landscape of the White Sands National Park.
Galyna Andrushko/Shutterstock.com

Best places to stop between San Diego and Houston

This epic road trip has plenty of wonderful things to see and places to visit, from resort cities to artistic small towns and wilderness areas with superb hiking trails. Continue reading to find out our recommendations for best places to stay overnight during this road trip, best things to see and do in those places, and our favorite hotel suggestions.

Sample cultural and culinary delights in El Paso

El Paso is located about halfway along its namesake route. This is a fabulous city to explore or relax at during your road trip, with interesting museums, art galleries and historic sites to visit and amazing restaurants with Tex-Mex style and other foods to sample.

Being located on the border of the US and Mexico, the city is especially known as a site of diverse cultures and traditions. It is also known for the stunning Franklin Mountains State Park.

There are lots of fabulous attractions to visit in this colorful city. For example, El Paso Museum of Art harbors collections depicting the area's American, Mexican and European roots, and El Paso Museum of History presents El Paso's history from ancient times until today.

El Paso, Texas, USA with the downtown city skyline at dusk with Juarez, Mexico in the distance and a blue sky.
Halfway along this route is El Paso, a fascinating historic city that overlooks Juarez in the distance.
Sean Pavone/Shutterstock.com

You'll also certainly enjoy visiting Franklin Mountains State Park. It is a stunning mountain area, and the city of El Paso sprawls on its foothills. You may take a scenic drive there to view the surrounding cities and landscapes, or explore the mountains by hiking.

A great hotel option while visiting El Paso is Stanton House. This hotel is known for its wonderful service, and it harbors spacious, luxurious rooms with stylish, tasteful interior decoration.

The hotel also has a lovely restaurant serving French and Mexican food, a terrace for guests to enjoy, and a well-equipped fitness center/spa. Private parking is available on-site.

Stanton House is located just off Interstate 10 that brings you into the city and out again the next day. It is also centrally located in downtown El Paso. You'll find wonderful attractions within walking distance, including El Paso Museum of Art and El Paso Museum of History.

There are lovely breweries and restaurants close to the hotel, serving Tex-Mex cuisine and much more.

READ MORE - Click here for more great hotel options

Visit beautiful Las Cruces in Mesilla Valley

Las Cruces is located about halfway along the White Sands Route. It is a good base for exploring both Gila National Forest and White Sands National Park.

Gila River in Gila National Forest, New Mexico, USA with trees lining the river and a rocky cliff in the distance against a blue sky.
While stopping is Las Cruces you can easily explore the Mesilla Valley and Gila National Forest.

The city is an important economic center in Mesilla Valley, an agricultural region on the floodplains of the river Rio Grande.

It also harbors a number of wonderful cultural attractions. For example, New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum is an interactive center where you can learn about the history of farming and ranching.

The beautiful Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park has lovely walking trails, and at Railroad Museum you may explore the history of train travel in the region.

In downtown Las Cruces you'll find historic buildings, such as the 1920s performing arts venue Rio Grande Theater.

As a place to stay overnight while visiting Las Cruces, we can recommend Home2 Suites by Hilton Las Cruces.

This hotel is conveniently located right on the highway taking you further on your journey the next day. It offers spacious rooms and a wonderful breakfast. It also features an outdoor swimming pool, spa and fitness center.

Home2 Suites by Hilton Las Cruces is located within a 2-mile distance to many notable attractions of the downtown Las Cruces, including Las Cruces Railroad Museum, Museum of Nature & Science, and the historic Rio Grande Theater.

Close to the hotel you'll find lovely Tex-Mex restaurants and bakeries.

Where to stay when you reach Houston

In Houston, there is much to see and do for everyone. This fourth largest city in the USA is known as a vibrant cosmopolitan city. It is also known for Space Center Houston, a visitor center at NASA's nearby training and flight control complex.

Houston, Texas, USA skyline with trees in the foreground against a cloudy blue sky.
Houston is a great city to explore with beautiful green spaces and plenty of museums, galleries and restaurants to discover.

A wonderful hotel to stay at while visiting Houston is The Lancaster Hotel. This hotel offers luxury accommodation with spacious, stylish rooms and superb service. It features a wellness center and a lovely on-site coffee shop and restaurant.

Being located in downtown Houston, The Lancaster Hotel is a wonderful base for exploring the city's Historic District and its 19th-century architecture, the Theater District with Houston Grand Opera and other performing arts venues. You'll also be close to plenty of amazing restaurants.

Other notable attractions close to the hotel include Market Square Park and the Heritage Society Museum at Houston Park.

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

This road trip, covering several southern states, offers much to see and do. You'll have plenty of chances to learn about the multicultural history of these regions, or to immerse yourself in natural landscapes such as the Sonoran desert in Arizona, the wilderness areas of New Mexico, and the canyon lands of southern Texas. Read on to discover our recommendations for best things to see and do during this road trip.

On The El Paso Route

  1. El Paso, Texas - El Paso on the border of Mexico is a vibrant metropolitan city with a rich, multicultural history, colorful arts scene and amazing culinary delights of Texas and Mexican style to explore. Notable attractions include El Paso Museum of Art, El Paso Museum of History, and Franklin Mountains State Park.
  2. Marfa, Texas - Marfa is one good gateway to Big Bend National Park. The city is known for its arts scene, and it is also home to the mysterious phenomenon that attracts people from the world over, the Marfa Lights.
  3. Big Bend National Park, Texas - Should you feel like a small drive off your road trip route, Big Bend National Park is definitely a site worth visiting. The area contains rich fauna and flora, found among the areas deserts, pine forests, and canyons.
  4. San Antonio, Texas - In San Antonio, you may enjoy visiting the cafés and restaurants of the lovely San Antonio River Walk. Or, explore sights in the historic district, where you'll for example find Alamo, a historic Spanish mission that now serves as an interesting museum.
Big Bend National Park, Texas, USA with a field of blue bonnets alongside Cerro Castella, a large mountain, on a sunny day.
Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy exploring the majestic Big Bend National Park.
Terri Butler Photography/Shutterstock.com

On The White Sands Route

  1. Gila National Forest, Arizona - Gila National Forest is home to magnificent mountain scenery, forested hills, and an extensive hiking trail system.
  2. White Sands National Park, New Mexico - World's largest dune field of gypsum-sand is found in White Sands National Park. Furthermore, ice-age fossilized footprints have been discovered here, that tell the story of at least 20,000 years of human presence in the area.
  3. Lincoln National Forest - Lincoln National Forest contains parts of three mountain ranges, the Sacramento, Guadalupe and Capitan mountains. The vegetation is made up largely of mountain forests and sub-alpine grasslands. You'll find a vast array of superb hiking trails and campgrounds in this national forest.
  4. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico - At this national park you may visit the mesmerizing Carlsbad Caverns, a series of underground caves that are some of the largest in America. Above ground, you may admire the fauna, flora, canyons and rock formations of the Chihuahuan Desert.
  5. Fredericksburg, Texas - Fredericksburg has been influenced by a strong German heritage, notable in the many German-style buildings in the city. You can also explore early settlers' lives, homesteads and artifacts at the interesting Pioneer Museum. The area is known for wonderful wineries, and nearby you'll find the amazing Enchanted Rock State Natural Area.
  6. Austin, Texas - Austin, the capital city of Texas, is especially known for its rich country, blues and rock music scene. It is also a wonderful city for outdoor recreation with its many parks, lakes, and the surrounding areas.
Austin, Texas, USA with a downtown skyline the city at sunset with the sea in the foreground.
Austin is a great place to stop en route, with its mix of country and blues music and great parks, lakes and architecture.

On both routes

  1. Tucson, Arizona - In Tucson, you may enjoy wonderful Mexican food, world-class resorts, or admire views over the beautiful Sonoran desert. It is a large city with a rich culture due to its Spanish, Mexican and American roots.
  2. Coronado National Forest, Arizona - In this beautiful national forest stretching across south-eastern Arizona and south-western New Mexico you'll find highly diverse fauna and flora, including stunning wildflowers and cacti living among forests and rocky outcrops rising off the desert floor.
  3. Lordsburg, New Mexico - Lordsburg is a town where you may explore the history of the wild west. For example, visit Shakespeare Ghost Town, a true wild west ghost town dating back to the 1850s. Or, explore local history at Lordsburg-Hidalgo County Museum.
  4. Las Cruces, New Mexico - Las Cruces, on the edge of the Chihuahuan Desert and the Organ Mountains as its backdrop, is a site of many wonderful attractions. These include the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum, the beautiful Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park with lovely walking trails, or the Railroad Museum where you may explore the historic stories and impact of trains in the area.
  5. Fort Stockton, Texas - In Fort Stockton, you may learn about the local history by for example visiting the historic Indian Wars Fort or the Annie Riggs Memorial Museum.
Las Cruces, New Mexico, USA with cactus in the foreground taken at sunset.
Regardless of which route you opt for, you'll pass by Las Cruces on the edge of the Chihuahuan Desert.
Richter MachThunder/Shutterstock.com

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

Houston is certainly a wonderful destination any time of the year, with generally pleasant coastal temperatures and much to see and do. However, March-June and September-November are often thought of as the best times to visit here, because tourist crowds aren't as thick then as in July-August, and temperatures are moderate.

Summer months, June-August, see the biggest crowds of tourists in Houston. These are also the hottest months, temperatures ranging between 70-90 degrees Fahrenheit, and this time of year in Houston is very humid. Prices may also be high in these months. However, if you enjoy the heat, this is definitely your time of year to visit Houston.

Winter can be a good time to visit this area, seeing that you may find cheapest prices of flights and hotels in the off-season, December-February. Temperatures aren't too bad either, ranging in the 50s – at worst it might prevent you from swimming on the beach.

Temperatures in spring (March-May) and fall (September-November) range between 55 degrees Fahrenheit in the cooler months to 80 degrees Fahrenheit in the warmer months. With such pleasant temperatures, and tourist crowds not being too thick, spring and fall are definitely wonderful times to visit Houston.

Spring months also see several amazing events take place in Houston, something for you to consider when planning the timing of your road trip.

Houston, Texas, USA with the downtown park and skyline at twilight.
Houston shines in any season, and thanks to its underground walkways and plentiful indoor, air-conditioned spaces, you can visit any time.
Sean Pavone/Shutterstock.com

For example, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is the largest livestock show in the world and one of world's biggest rodeo events. It takes place yearly in January-March.

Bayou City Art Festival is Houston's premier fine art festival, and it takes place in March.

In April, you may catch the wonderful Worldfest Houston in action. It is an international film festival, championing independent film makers especially.

Finally, also in April, you might wish to attend the San Jacinto anniversary. This is a special regional event, celebrating Texas' independence.