Palm Desert, CA, USA with a view of water features at a golf course at the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa on November 19, 2015 in Palm Desert, CA. The Marriott is popular golf destination.
Jeff Whyte/

The Best Road Trip from San Diego to Palm Springs

Updated by Sasha Yanshin on June 13 2024

The glitzy resort city of Palm Springs is a fabulous standalone destination but hop off the highway and you can turn the drive from San Diego into an unforgettable short road trip.

The best San Diego to Palm Springs road trip will take you through Pine Valley, Mount Laguna, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Julian, Borrego Springs, Santa Rosa, Palm Desert and Joshua Tree National Park. You can do this 260-mile drive in 6 hours.

There is another alternative, a shorter route that will go through Temecula. Below you will find all the details you will need to know about each route, along with detailed itineraries that will help you plan the best journey from San Diego to Palm Springs.

Packed full of charming small towns, stunning wine country, and endless views of unspoiled forests and mountains, the San Diego to Palm Springs road trip is a real visual feast. The table below summarizes the highlights of each route:

Comparison of road trip routes between San Diego and Palm Springs
Temecula RouteJulian Route

160 miles


260 miles

Driving Time

3 hours

Driving Time

6 hours

We suggest taking

2 days

We suggest taking

3 days


🌺 Lake Elsinore

🍷 Temecula

🦖 Cabazon Dinosaurs

🌼 Wildflowers

⛏️ Julian

🌴 Palm Desert


Foodie, Mountains and Lakes


Desert Landscapes, Mining Towns

Best time for this drive

February to April, September

Best for superbloom viewing, wine harvest in Temecula

Best time for this drive

Late February to March, September to Mid-October

Best for wildflowers, apple picking in Julian

View The Temecula Route ItineraryView The Julian Route Itinerary

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

The road trip from San Diego to Palm Springs is short but sweet. At just 160 miles on the Temecula Route, you could even set out on the 3-hour drive after work on a Friday and reach Palm Springs in time for dinner.

A road trip is as much about the journey as the destination, though, so why not take the time to stop and enjoy a couple of days in the places you'll pass through along the way? There are some real treats in store along this route.

golf course at sunset in palm springs surrounded by palm trees and bright green grass
Palm Springs is a stunning destination known for its luxurious resorts and, you guessed it, majestic palm trees!

If you'd prefer to spend less time on the interstate, you can take a more scenic route to Palm Springs from San Diego. Unsurprisingly, the Julian Route through Cleveland National Forest will take your driving time up to 6 hours to cover 260 miles.

You might also want to add a day or two to your road trip if you plan to hike, bike, or fish on your way through this stunning natural landscape.

Best road trip route from San Diego to Palm Springs

The quickest route from San Diego to Palm Springs is ideal if you only have a couple of days to escape the city. Along the way you can stop at wineries and small backcountry towns as you start to unwind after leaving San Diego.

The Temecula Route will first take you towards the shore for a short (or long, depending on how much time you have!) stop at Carlsbad and then through Southern California's famous wine country in Temecula.

If you want your Palm Springs road trip to feel more like an adventure, why not opt for the Julian Route? This route takes you off the interstate and up into the mountains.

This longer route lets you take in amazing views from the Sunrise Scenic Byway, which looks out across Cleveland National Forest and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. You'll finish your route along the Pines to Palm Highway.

Driving along the smaller, winding highways, you'll meet on the Julian Route might not be the first choice for nervous drivers, and you should also check for travel advisories in winter.

With two very different road trips to choose from, you might have already made up your mind about your route from San Diego to Palm Springs. Keep on reading through to find out what's waiting for you along the way.

Itinerary A: The Temecula Route from San Diego to Palm Springs

Itinerary for a road trip from San Diego to Palm Springs, stopping in Carlsbad, Temecula, Lake Elsinore, Moreno Valley, Cabazon and Palm Springs
Your San Diego to Palm Springs Itinerary, following the Temecula Route.
© LazyTrips

1. Drive from San Diego to Carlsbad

35 miles (40 minutes)

Pack your bags and put your favorite playlist on - it's time to get on your way from San Diego to Palm Springs! Head out of the city on Interstate 5 (I-5) and drive north.

Past La Jolla, you can take a moment to stretch your legs and visit Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve for stunning ocean views and maybe a picnic.

On this leg of the journey, you will have plenty of options to make detours close to the Pacific Coast and visit some lovely beaches, such as Moonlight State Beach.

Once you reach Carlsbad, one of the places you simply have to visit is the magical LEGOLAND California, especially if you are traveling with family. Afterward, head to Carlsbad State Beach to work on your tan. You have come this far on the coast, and it would be a crime not to spend some time at the beach.

2. Drive from Carlsbad to Temecula

35 miles (45 minutes)

Before heading inland from Carlsbad, make a stop at the Oceanside Municipal Pier to snap a photo of the beautiful Pacific Ocean or enjoy some delicious seafood for lunch.

As you make your way towards Temecula on CA-76, you will pass through Bonsall, where you can visit Wild Wonders, a dedicated wild animal refuge, before hopping on I-15 which will take you to Temecula.

Temecula Valley, Southern California, USA with a view looking over the wine country in Temecula Valley showing new and older vineyards, wineries, and homes all peacefully nestled in front of the mountains in Southern California.
Wine enthusiasts will enjoy a stop at Temecula Valley, which is renowned for its vineyards and beautiful mountain views.
Patricia Elaine Thomas/

Once you reach Temecula, you will feel relieved that you can leave the car behind and enjoy wine tasting. Temecula is famous for its local wines, after all! One of our favorite producers is the Wilson Creek Winery.

Afterwards, we recommend heading to Old Town Temecula to grab a bite and enjoy some shopping. It is best to enjoy Temecula over a couple of days, so we suggest taking an overnight break here before you start driving again.

Gaia Inn & Spa is one of the most beautiful options in the area, with contemporary décor. This adults-only resort features a fabulous outdoor pool with spacious cabanas and a spa, which is music to our ears.

READ MORE - Click here for more great hotel options in Temecula

3. Drive from Temecula to Lake Elsinore

15 miles (20 minutes)

The drive on I-15 from Temecula to Lake Elsinore is quite short, but you will find plenty to see both on the way and at beautiful Lake Elsinore. If you have stayed at Temecula, it is likely that you will start your journey in the morning or afternoon.

If this is the case, take advantage of the sunniest hours and visit the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Preserve on the way. Traveling with family? Then, a visit to Mulligan Family Fun Center in Murietta will be a treat for the little ones.

Once you reach Lake Elsinore, you might want to look for wildflowers if you are traveling in the spring. Lake Elsinore is famous for its superbloom views if you are lucky enough to be traveling during this event. If you'd like to learn more, here is our detailed guide to the best places to view California's famous superblooms.

Once you have admired the yellow, purple and orange blossoms reminiscent of a Money painting, you can continue to explore Lake Elsinore and visit Lakepoint Park for a picnic.

Looking for something more adventurous? Then Skydive Elsinore is the adrenaline-packed adventure you have been craving for.

Orange California poppies with purple wildflowers on hills near Lake Elsinore
If you are lucky, you might witness a California superbloom event during your visit to Lake Elsinore.
Sundry Photography/

4. Drive from Lake Elsinore to Cabazon

55 miles (1 hour)

Follow CA-74 as you leave Lake Elsinore and head northeast. You will soon reach Perris, where you can visit the charming Southern California Railway Museum.

Since this is another short drive, we recommend making some detours to see some of the hidden gems that make this area beautiful, such as the Lake Perris State Recreation Area, before you arrive at Cabazon.

Once you reach Cabazon, one of the first places to visit is the Cabazon Dinosaurs. Whether you are looking for a quirky photo op, traveling with family, or simply love dinos, Cabazon Dinosaurs is a great place to visit.

5. Drive from Cabazon to Palm Springs

15 miles (20 minutes)

Cabazon is only a short distance away from Palm Springs on I-10 and then the famous Palm Canyon Drive. However, you can make a few worthy detours beforehand. Take this opportunity and spend some time exploring the scenic Mount San Jacinto Park.

You can also visit Joshua Tree National Park before you arrive at Palm Springs, but we did this during our stay in the city, because it makes for an amazing day trip!

A giant Marilyn Monroe statue called "Forever Marilyn" in between the palm trees on a sunny day
Make sure to visit the quirky Forever Marilyn statue during your visit to Palm Springs.
Michael Vi/

Once you reach Palm Springs, you will have many things to discover. Did you know that Palm Springs has its own Walk of Stars, just like Hollywood? The Palm Springs Walk of Stars is a great place to visit and get into the glamorous Palm Springs state of mind!

Another must-visit is the towering Forever Marilyn Statue; only Marilyn can pull off looking so fabulous in such a giant size! If you'd like to discover more places like these, check out our comprehensive guide on the best things to do in Palm Springs.

Choosing a place to stay in Palm Springs might prove difficult simply because there are so many options. That being said, it is hard to beat the Kimpton Rowan Palm Springs Hotel, with stunning mountain views and a beautiful rooftop pool and bar.

READ MORE - Click here for more great hotel options in Palm Springs

Itinerary B: The Julian Route from San Diego to Palm Springs

Itinerary for a road trip from San Diego to Palm Springs, stopping in Pine Valley, Julian, Borrego Springs, Palomar Mountain, Pal Desert and Palm Springs
Your San Diego to Palm Springs Itinerary, following the Julian Route.
© LazyTrips

1. Drive from San Diego to Pine Valley

45 miles (45 minutes)

The drive from San Diego to Palm Springs will take you from the Pacific Coast directly inland on I-8 towards beautiful Pine Valley.

As you make your way, you will drive through the heart of Cleveland National Forest and soon have the opportunity to visit the Alpine Historical Society Museum before reaching Pine Valley.

Once you reach Pine Valley, you will be greeted with many opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors. One of our favorite hikes here starts at the Bear Valley Trailhead and will take you deeper into the forest.

2. Drive from Pine Valley to Julian

25 miles (40 minutes)

As you leave Pine Valley, your drive will start on the stunning Sunrise National Scenic Byway, with forest and valley views to your left and right. There are many beautiful hiking trails you can take on this road, so you might want to park your car and enjoy some of these before continuing on.

You will then continue on Sunrise Highway past Mount Laguna, and your scenic drive will end at Pedro Fages Monument. From here, CA-79 will take you to Julian.

A plate of Julian's famous apple pie, with a scoop of ice cream and fork resting on top
Julian is famous for its apple pies, and you simply cannot visit the town without sampling this delicious treat.
ChristinaAiko Photography/

Once you reach Julian, take a walk around the old mining town, and you can see traces of history as a gold-rush hub. To learn more, you can visit Eagle Mining Co. and see a historic gold mine in person. Then, you can pay a visit to the California Wolf Center and learn more about these fascinating creatures.

Julian is also famous for its apples and apple pies, so we highly recommend treating yourself to a slice. After all, everyone knows that the calories don't count on a vacation!

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the vintage décor of Julian Gold Rush Hotel is designed to reflect the building's heritage. You'll drive right past the hotel on the route to Palm Springs, so it couldn't be more convenient. It's in the center of this compact small town.

3. Drive from Julian to Borrego Springs

30 miles (40 minutes)

The next leg of your drive from Julian to Borrego Springs will take you through the stunning Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, where you can enjoy views of superbloom if you are lucky.

Continue driving on CA-78, and you will soon reach Borrego Springs.

Once you reach Julian, one of the first places to visit is Galleta Meadows, home to the famous sculpture of Borrego Springs. See how many of these art installations you can spot and snap Insta-worthy photos.

Then, we recommend moving on to visit the Borrego Springs Slot Canyons, which are home to dramatic landscapes and a unique hike.

Wildflowers at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Southern California.
A beautiful view of the wildflowers at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

4. Drive from Borrego Springs to Palomar Mountain

45 miles (1 hour)

You might be surprised to hear that California is home to some very unique rock formations, such as the Eagle Rock, which you will get to visit on your drive from Borrego Springs to Palomar Mountain on the Montezuma-Borrego Highway.

As you approach Palomar Mountain, you will be treated to many scenic lookouts and trailheads. For some of the best views, stop off at the Henshaw Scenic Vista Observation Site before you reach Palomar Mountain County Park.

Once you reach Palomar Mountain, enjoy a hike on the Panorama Trail to take in the views. Once you have enjoyed the stunning views, then make the famous Palomar Observatory the next place to visit on your list.

Operated by the prestigious Caltech, you can take guided tours of the observatory and see the 200-inch Hale Telescope during your visit here.

5. Drive from Palomar Mountain to Palm Desert

50 miles (1 hour)

From Palomar Mountain, trace your steps back to CA-79 and then merge onto CA-371. Here, you can visit Alpine Village and then see the Hidden Falls before you reach the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument.

With views of the Coachella Valley to your right, follow CA-74 into Palm Desert.

Desert Garden and Directional Sign at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens
Visit the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens and learn more about how the desert flora adapted to live in such dry conditions over millennia.
Rei Atomei/

Once you reach Palm Desert, one of the top places to visit is the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens. Here you can see cacti of all sizes, and learn more about what makes desert flora and fauna so different.

Afterward, you can treat yourself to a shopping spree at The River at Rancho Mirage, which also has some great restaurants where you can enjoy a delicious lunch.

6. Drive from Palm Desert to Palm Springs

15 miles (30 minutes)

The drive from Palm Desert to Palm Springs is the shortest leg on your Julian itinerary from San Diego to Palm Springs. This short drive on CA-111 will give you the opportunity to make detours to Indian Canyons and visit Joshua Tree National Park before you reach your destination.

Once you reach Palm Springs, make The Palm Springs Walk of Stars one of the first places to visit and follow in the footsteps of the stars and influential people.

Palm Springs has been home to some superstars throughout its history and you can visit one up-close; Forever Marilyn Statue is a gigantic replica of that famous scene from The Seven Year Itch.

If you'd like to learn about other amazing places to visit, check out our comprehensive guide on the best things to do in Palm Springs.

For a place to stay that won't break the bank, we recommend The Paloma Resort. This affordable hotel features stylish and hip rooms with a modern twist and quirky bright colors. You will also love the restaurant and outdoor pool on-site.

READ MORE - Click here for more great hotel options in Palm Springs

Coachella Valley and Mountains Summer Sunset. Palm Desert, Palm Springs and La Quinta City in the Valley. California, USA.
Enjoy views of the beautiful Coachella Valley as you approach Palm Springs.
Virrage Images/

Best time to go on a road trip from San Diego to Palm Springs

You can visit sunny Palm Springs all year round, but it's most popular as a winter getaway due to the warm weather.

Winter is mild, dry, and sunny in Palm Springs, and many think this is the best time to visit. Daytime temperatures sit around 70 degrees Fahrenheit - warm enough to enjoy the pool without taking cover from the sun.

Palm Springs International Film Festival also brings crowds to the city in January. This and the winter sun mean that hotels can get booked up and prices are high in winter.

Palm Springs in winter, with snow capped mountains behind tall palm trees and manicured lawn in the foreground
You might see some snow on top of the mountains that surround Palm Springs in winter, but the city still remains sunny for the most part.
Virrage Images/

In contrast, Palm Springs regularly sees temperatures topping 100 degrees in summer. The heat will make it hard to appreciate the many outdoor attractions in the area – make an early start if you're planning on hiking so that you can be back in town before the hottest part of the day.

Spring (which only really lasts until May, when the summer temperatures start to hit) is also a popular time to visit. The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in April can bring crowds to the area, so you can expect higher accommodation prices.

Fall is another great time to visit, as the temperatures drop to below 80 degrees Fahrenheit, but the winter crowds have yet to arrive in huge numbers. If you're in town in November, check out the Props and Hops Craft Beer Festival.

Whatever time of year you take your road trip from San Diego to Palm Springs, be sure to pack your sunscreen, your swimsuit and your shades. You'll almost certainly need them when you reach your destination!

Things to see on a road trip from San Diego to Palm Springs

This might only be a short road trip, but there's plenty to keep you busy as you drive from San Diego to Palm Springs. Below you can find a list of our favorite places to visit on either route.

Comparison of things to see on each route from Chicago to New Orleans
The Temecula RouteThe Julian Route
  • Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
  • Moonlight State Beach
  • Carlsbad State Beach
  • LEGOLAND California
  • Oceanside Municipal Pier
  • Wild Wonders
  • Old Town Temecula
  • Wilson Creek Winery
  • Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Preserve
  • Mulligan Family Fun Center - Murrieta
  • Lakepoint Park
  • Skydive Elsinore
  • Lake Perris State Recreation Area
  • Southern California Railway Museum
  • Cabazon Dinosaurs
  • Mount San Jacinto Park
  • Joshua Tree National Park
  • Alpine Historical Society Museum
  • Cleveland National Forest
  • Sunrise National Scenic Byway
  • Bear Valley Trailhead
  • Pedro Fages Monument
  • California Wolf Center
  • Eagle Mining Co.
  • Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
  • Galleta Meadows
  • Borrego Springs Slot Canyons
  • Eagle Rock
  • Henshaw Scenic Vista Observation Site
  • Palomar Observatory
  • Panorama Trail
  • Alpine Village
  • Hidden Falls
  • Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument
  • The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens
  • The River at Rancho Mirage
  • Indian Canyons
  • Joshua Tree National Park