A scenic view of the cars driving along the intersecting highway with palm trees and bushes planted along the road with a picture of the skyscrapers of Phoenix in a fine day with a thin sheet of clouds covering the blue sky
Brandon Burris/Shutterstock.com

Road Trip From San Diego To Phoenix

Updated by Pat Dorri on March 6 2024

Buckle up and prepare for a sun-soaked journey on a road trip from San Diego to Phoenix, Arizona. Sample fine wines in Temecula, gaze at the stars at Joshua Tree, or enjoy "The World's Sunniest City" as you pass through Yuma.

The 355-mile road trip from San Diego to Phoenix takes around 5 hours and 30 minutes to drive. Traveling direct, you'll pass Yuma, Imperial Valley and Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. Alternatively, see Temecula, Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park.

With towering cacti, sweeping dunes and small towns peppering your route, this is a trip that boasts more than its fair share of wonder. Read on to discover everything you need to know, some places and sights you don't want to miss, and our favorite accommodation for an overnight stop between San Diego and Phoenix.

How to drive from San Diego to Phoenix

The map below shows two great route options for your road trip from San Diego to Phoenix. Click on the star icons for headline details, and scroll down for much more information below.

* Always remember that drive times can be impacted by traffic, closures, weather and other conditions. It's best to double check while planning and before starting out on your trip.

Comparison of road trip routes between San Diego and Phoenix
RouteDistanceDriving Time
The Direct Route355 miles5 hours 30 minutes
The Joshua Tree Route420 miles6 hours 30 minutes

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

All things considered, the drive from San Diego to Phoenix isn't a particularly long one, the shortest route being 355 miles. This route will take you around 5 hours and 30 minutes following the I-8.

This is without accounting for any pit stops you might need to make, so you'll need to tack on an hour or two for those. Also keep in mind that depending on when you leave San Diego, you might experience some traffic delays.

Heading out during rush hour will slow you down considerably, as will leaving on a Friday or Saturday and contending with other drivers leaving for the weekend.

If, however, you'd like to take the much more scenic Joshua Tree Route from San Diego to Phoenix, you'll only need to add an extra hour to drive time, with a total trip length of 420 miles.

Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA taken at Chollas Cactus at sunrise.
Considering that it's only an hour more time spent on the road, we'd choose the Joshua Tree route every time.

You could drive either route in a day without too much pressure, but you'd be missing out on so many of the amazing sights you're going to be passing. And anyway, what's the point of taking the scenic route if you don't stop to look at all the scenery?

Best road trip Route from San Diego to Phoenix

The fastest way to get from San Diego to Phoenix is by the I-8, which will take you right along the US/Mexico border. By taking this route, you'd still have the opportunity to stop at some state parks, like the Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.

The longer route, however, gives you many more opportunities for experiencing both city life and sightseeing. This one will take you north towards Los Angeles on the I-15, past several parks and forests before heading east through the desert towards Phoenix.

The Joshua Tree Route also passes the beautiful wine region of Temecula Valley and the glittering desert resort of Palm Springs, with its excellent amenities and hotel options.

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 Phoenix, take a look at our partner site, RentalCars.com.

Taking the Direct Route from San Diego to Phoenix

If you need to get to Phoenix quickly, then the Direct Route will be perfect. Head out of San Diego via the I-8, following this highway the rest of the way through California and Arizona until you reach exit 115.

Take exit 115 onto AZ- 85 until you reach the I-10. Hang a right and follow the I-10 the rest of the way into Phoenix.

Taking the Joshua Tree Route from San Diego to Phoenix

If you've decided you'd like to take the more scenic Joshua Tree Route on your road trip from San Diego to Phoenix, you'll leave San Diego by heading north on the I-15.

Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, California, USA with the Milky Way and fire-damaged trees in the foreground taken at Paso Picacho Campground.
The shorter, more direct route from San Diego to Phoenix will still take you past Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and its spectacular scenry.
Kevin Key/Shutterstock.com

Continuing along this highway until you reach the I-215, following that road until you hit exit 29. Take a right to get onto CA-60, merging onto the I-10 once you reach it. From here, you'll follow the I-10 the rest of the way to Phoenix.

On the way you'll pass by Temecula, Palm Springs and Coachella Valley, before skirting the southern side of Joshua Tree National Park.

Best places to stop between San Diego and Phoenix

If you're looking to break up the long drive and relax on your road trip, here are a couple of great options for spending the night on you way.

Take a break in Yuma

While the Direct Route from San Diego to Phoenix should only take around five and a half hours to drive, you may still want to split the drive up over two days.

Yuma is perfectly placed, just under halfway along the Direct Route. Previously certified as "The World's Sunniest City" by Guinness World Records, Yuma serves as a fitting stop on this sun-drenched road trip.

La Fuente Inn & Suites stands out as an ideal accommodation, offering a blend of traditional style decor and modern comforts. The hotel boasts a grand reception area, setting the tone for an elegant stay. After a day on the road, La Fuente's sociable happy hour at the bar from 5-7pm is a perfect way to relax before dinner.

The outdoor area of La Fuente Inn is a highlight, featuring a year-round swimming pool surrounded by beautifully landscaped grounds, providing a serene oasis for relaxation.

The hotel is close to popular sites such as Roxaboxen Park and Library Grounds, making it convenient for exploring Yuma's attractions if you're not in too much of a hurry to drive on to Phoenix in the morning.

Relax in Palm Springs

This popular resort destination in the Sonoran Desert is the perfect place to get a little R&R before making the rest of the trek towards Phoenix.

The stunning L'Horizon Resort & Spa is a perfect place to relax in Palm Springs- you'll spend the day pampering yourself at the spa and lounging by the pool before enjoying an intimate meal at the restaurant. The rooms here are really amazing - check them out!

While you're in Palm Springs, visit the Palm Springs Art and Air Museums to learn more about the city's history and culture.

If you decide to take this road trip in April, you'll also get the chance to check out the nearby Coachella Valley for the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

There are plenty of other tourist attractions in the city, and Palm Springs is very close to Mount San Jacinto, which you'll be able to visit via the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.

READ MORE - Click here for more great hotel options

A vintage car parked outside a midcentury residential home in Palm Springs
Ease into the glamorous surrounding of Palm Springs, with its mid-century modern vibes and glittering past.
Stephanie Braconnier/Shutterstock.com

Where to stay once you reach San Diego

Nestled in the heart of Downtown San Diego, Moxy Gaslamp Quarter is a no-brainer if you're looking for modern design, top-notch comfort a fabulous location that's perfect for exploring San Diego's favorite entertainment district.

What sets Moxy Gaslamp Quarter apart is not just its proximity to San Diego's top sights but its own unique charm and character. The hotel's interior blends a vibrant and funky aesthetic with the laid-back sophistication of Californian hospitality.

From the moment you step in, the atmosphere promises something out of the ordinary. The innovative concept of combining the bar with the check-in desk ensures that your welcome is as stylish as it is memorable, allowing you to kickstart your adventure with a taste of the hotel's spirited ambiance.

The Gaslamp Quarter, a stone's throw from the hotel, is a vibrant historic district known for its bustling nightlife, gourmet dining, and a range of fun entertainment options.

For those exploring during daylight hours, Horton Plaza Park offers lush greenery and a lively atmosphere. Venture a little further to East Village Square, and you'll find yourself in the midst of eclectic eateries, chic boutiques, and inspiring art galleries.

And for aviation enthusiasts, the San Diego Aerospace Museum presents a fascinating journey through the history of flight, with its impressive collection of historic aircraft and space vehicles.

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

Although the road trip from San Diego to Phoenix is relatively short, don't worry. There's no shortage of things you'll want to stop and see along the way, whether you're taking the Direct Route or venturing a little further off the beaten track via Joshua Tree National Park.

Attractions on The Direct Route from San Diego to Phoenix

  1. Alpine Historical Society Museum - A charming museum showcasing Alpine's rich history and heritage through artifacts, photographs, and stories, providing a unique glimpse into the past of this Californian town.
  2. Lions Tigers and Bears - An exotic animal sanctuary in Alpine, offering close-up experiences with rescued big cats, bears, and other wildlife, emphasizing conservation and animal welfare.
  3. Jacumba Hot Springs, California - A tranquil retreat famous for its natural hot springs, offering relaxation and healing in mineral-rich waters amidst the serene desert landscape.
  4. Imperial Valley Desert Museum - This museum in Ocotillo celebrates the cultural and natural history of the Imperial Valley, featuring interactive exhibits and artifacts from the region's Native American tribes.
  5. Museum of History in Granite, Felicity - An outdoor museum in Felicity featuring monumental granite panels engraved with historical events and figures, known as the "History in Granite."
  6. Waylon's Water World - A family-friendly water park in Yuma, Arizona, offering a variety of water slides, a lazy river, and a wave pool for a fun and refreshing stop.
  7. Martinez Lake - A picturesque lake near Yuma, popular for fishing, boating, and birdwatching, surrounded by the natural beauty of the Arizona landscape.
  8. Imperial National Wildlife Refuge - A haven for wildlife enthusiasts, this refuge along the Colorado River boasts diverse habitats, offering opportunities for birdwatching, hiking, and photography.
  9. Painted Rock Petroglyph Site and Campground - An archaeological treasure near Gila Bend, showcasing ancient petroglyphs etched into rocks by Native Americans, set in a scenic desert campground.
  10. Skyline Regional Park, Arizona - A rugged park in the Buckeye Hills, offering miles of hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails with panoramic views of the surrounding desert and mountains.
  11. Estrella Star Tower - An architectural landmark in Goodyear, this 50-foot spiral tower provides breathtaking views of the Estrella Mountains and the night sky, perfect for stargazing and sunset watching.
Sunrise at the Imperial Sand Dunes near Yuma, Arizona. Clear blue sky, sunrise hues, and flowing forms in the sand.
If you're stopping in Yuma on the Direct Route, be sure to visit the beautiful Imperial Sand Dunes.
Larry Barrett/Shutterstock.com

Highlights on The Joshua Tree Route from San Diego to Phoenix

  1. Mission Trails Regional Park - On your way out of San Diego, why not stop at Mission Trails Regional Park? Explore one or two of the hiking trails, and get in some fishing at the park's Lake Murray.
  2. Escondido - A mere 15 miles away from the coast, Escondido is also close to the San Pasqual Valley, where you'll be able to visit the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Make sure to take the drive out to the coast while you're checking out Escondido to see the beautiful California coastline.
  3. Skydive Perris - If you're not afraid of heights, check out this favorite skydiving location. You'll be able to skydive solo, in tandem, in their indoor facility or outside. This is the perfect place to go for a truly once in a lifetime experience.
  4. Los Angeles - Explore this city famous for its art and culture. Stop by a few of the many sights in this huge city, like the famous Hollywood sign, Venice Beach, or Universal Studios.
  5. Moreno Valley - Just east of LA you'll find the much smaller Moreno Valley. But don't worry, there's still plenty to do here. Check out the March Field Air Museum which holds over 70 different aircraft. If you're a fan of racing, pay a visit to the Perris Auto Speedway.
  6. San Gorgonio Mountain - This mountain, also called Old Greyback, has the tallest peak you'll find in Southern California.
  7. Palm Springs - Manicured green lawns, palm trees, endless swimming pools, spas and golf clubs right in the middle of one of the world's hottest desert.
  8. Mount San Jacinto Park - If you decide to stop in Palm Springs, you're going to want to check out this park. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway can take to the mountain, but the park itself has plenty of other hiking trails you're not going to want to pass up on.
  9. Joshua Tree National Park - This park and its strange, otherworldly Joshua trees along with its rugged landscape are sure to take your breath away. This is the perfect place to do some camping since nighttime provides amazing stargazing opportunities.
  10. Kofa National Wildlife Refuge - This refuge was first established in 1939 to help protect the desert bighorn sheep native to the area. The refuge itself now encompasses over 665,400 acres of land and provides many hiking trails for visitors.
  11. White Tank Mountain Regional Park - You'll find this desert park just outside of Phoenix. This 30,000-acre park is the largest in Maricopa County.
A beautiful view of the sunrise with a thick gray sheet of clouds spread in the morning sky and the golden sun giving light to the mountains with a golden shade and saguaro cactus everywhere in the sand in Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, Arizona
Explore the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge and see some bighorn sheep.

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

Since a good chunk of your drive will be through the desert, you should know that southern California and Arizona summers tend to be very hot and dry.

Temperatures in Phoenix can very quickly reach well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer months. You can certainly take this trip in the summer, but you'll want to make sure you're staying hydrated and bring plenty of water with you.

Another thing to consider about Phoenix in the summer is that many of the city's attractions will keep you outdoors - exploring the Sonoran desert, visiting the city's botanical gardens, and visiting Papago Park will keep you outside in the heat so be mindful of that.

If you're looking for some milder weather, heading out to Phoenix between November and April will be your best bet. The desert flowers bloom in spring and the weather is mild making it a lot nicer to hike and explore the outdoors. Plus, if you go in April you might get the chance to check out the Coachella Music and Arts Festival before you reach Phoenix.

Keep in mind, though, that the weather during the spring can be somewhat unpredictable. Even though you're driving through the desert, you can get caught in a rainstorm and the temperatures can fluctuate a lot.

A vivid kid-friendly trail with lively green bushes around the dirt road and a view of the mountains on an early morning light with a thin white cloud in a blue sky
Stretch your legs from your San Diego to Phoenix drive by doing some hiking at Mission Trails Regional Park.
Gloria V Moeller/Shutterstock.com

Winters in Phoenix will bring you temperatures around the mid 60s, far more comfortable than summer temperatures. Be aware, however, that winter is peak tourist season in Phoenix. While the rest of the United States experiences rainfall, snow and chilly weather, snowbirds will be heading down to Phoenix to enjoy the warmth.

Just to remind you again, no matter what time of year you decide to go, make sure that you bring a lot of water and that your car's air conditioning is working well. San Diego may have perfect temperate weather all year round but the Sonoran desert can get mighty hot.