Sedona, Arizona, USA with a view of Cathedral Rock in the distance and cactus in the foreground taken at sunset.
Andrew S/

The Perfect Road Trip from San Diego to Sedona

Updated by Sasha Yanshin on March 6 2024

A scenic Arizona gem, Sedona is famous for its towering red rock formations, charming downtown dotted with shops and restaurants and for its mysterious vortexes that bring spiritual seekers to its doorstep.

A great route on a road trip from San Diego to Sedona will take you through Temecula, Palm Springs, Joshua Tree National Park, Indio, Blythe, Wickenburg, Prescott and Cottonwood. You will spend 9 hours and 30 minutes on the road to cover 510 miles.

There is another route that goes through Phoenix. If your inner explorer is ready to shake the cobwebs off, then continue reading for the routes, places to stay overnight, hotel recommendations, things to see on the routes, and the best places to embark on this journey.

With so much to see on the drive from San Diego to Sedona, it might look challenging to plan the best road trip. We have summed the itineraries so that you can make an easy and informed decision:

Comparison of road trip routes between San Diego to Sedona
Phoenix RoutePalm Springs Route

550 miles


510 miles

Driving Time

9 hours 10 minutes

Driving Time

9 hours 30 minutes

We suggest taking

4 days

We suggest taking

4 days


🌇 Phoenix

♨️ Hot springs

🌳 National forests

🏜️ Red rock formations

🍷 Temecula

🏕️ Joshua Tree National Forest

🏊 Palm Springs

🏜️ Red rock formations


Beautiful small towns, cityscapes and natural escapes


Beautiful small towns, national parks and vineyards

Best time for this drive

March to May, September to November

Best for avoiding the Arizona heat and beating the crowds

Best time for this drive

September to October

Best for enjoying wine harvest season in Temecula, avoiding the heat

View The Phoenix Route ItineraryView The Palm Springs Route Itinerary

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

Even though the Phoenix Route covers more distance, it takes less time to complete this road trip from San Diego to Sedona. With 550 miles, it takes 9 hours and 10 minutes to complete the drive.

The Palm Springs Route covers 510 miles and takes 9 hours and 30 minutes to complete this road trip from San Diego to Sedona. This route would be more suitable for nature lovers who enjoy visiting forests and parks.

Although this road trip is on the shorter side, it covers a lot of attractions and provides many opportunities to click a frame-worthy picture. So, we would recommend taking at least 3 to 4 days for this road trip.

Arizona, Sedona, Cathedral Rock mountain range; in the Coconino National forest.
There aren't many other places in the country that are as majestic as Sedona's red rock surroundings.
John Charboneau/

Best road trip route from San Diego to Sedona

While both routes take almost the same time and offer plenty of natural attractions, the scenery is strikingly contrasting. So, your choice of route will depend on the vibe you are after.

The short and direct Phoenix Route will take you from San Diego to Sedona in the middle of the Arizona Desert. You will discover the Gila River Indian Reservation and the populous city, Phoenix along the way. You will also have the option to visit Tijuana or another city in Mexico.

This is because the route takes you right along the border. You will have the option to visit the Kofa Wildlife Refuge or simply enjoy the stunning desert landscape. It takes you on the gorgeously scenic Red Rock Scenic Byway, but you will miss out on the luxurious resort experience in Palm Springs.

If you are more of a forest and park lover, take the longer Palm Springs Route which allows you to discover the Mount San Jacinto State Park, Joshua Tree National Park, the Bajada National Trailhead, and the Prescott National Forest. You can also stop by beautiful Palm Springs, with the option to add Los Angeles.

It also lets you make a slight detour to drive on the Red Rock Scenic Byway as well, but it does not stop at Phoenix if you are looking for an urban getaway.

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 Sedona, take a look at our partner site,

Itinerary A: The Phoenix Route from San Diego to Sedona

Itinerary for a road trip from San Diego to Sedona, stopping in Jacumba, Yuma, Gila Bend, Phoenix, Payson and Sedona
Your San Diego to Sedona Itinerary, following the Phoenix Route.
© LazyTrips

1. Drive from San Diego to Jacumba

70 miles (1 hour 10 minutes)

Your drive from beautiful San Diego to Sedona will start with heading east on Interstate 8 (I-8). Just before you drive into the beautiful landscapes of Cleveland National Forest, you will pass through Alpine, where you can visit the Alpine Historical Society Museum.

If you are traveling with family, don't forget to add Lions Tigers and Bears to your itinerary. This exotic animal sanctuary is also an educational facility on your way to Jacumba.

Once you arrive in Jacumba, take some time to admire the beauty of the high desert landscape that surrounds this hidden gem. Make sure to put aside some time to visit the Jacumba Hot Springs, which is the perfect spot to take a break from driving and soak in the natural mineral hot spring water.

2. Drive from Jacumba to Yuma

100 miles (1 hour 40 minutes)

Once you have enjoyed a dip in the healing waters of Jacumba, it is time to set off on the road again. Keep following the interstate and you will soon reach Ocotillo, home to the Imperial Valley Desert Museum.

After your visit, drive past El Centro and make a short detour to Imperial Sand Dunes Recreational Area before following I-8 into Yuma.

Inside of the prison, with stone walls and cells lined up
When you arrive in Yuma, you can visit the Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park and learn about the infamous outlaws whose paths lead them here.

Once you arrive in Yuma, you will step into the sunniest city in the world, with over 300 days of beautiful sunshine! Yuma is a historic small town and you can see its Old West roots when you visit the Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park.

A bit of a local gem, you can head to West Wetlands Park for a scenic picnic if you have some time on your hands before you leave Yuma.

3. Drive from Yuma to Gila Bend

120 miles (1 hour 40 minutes)

Even though the drive from Yuma to Gila Bend isn't particularly long, you will have plenty of interesting and historic places to visit. Continue your journey on I-8 and you will soon get a chance to visit the Painted Rock Petroglyph Site and Campground.

Another great place to visit before you reach Gila Bend on the interstate is the Dateland Ranch House, an abandoned building. See if you can spot the name "Bill Cody 1902" carved into the interior wall of the house; this old worldly graffiti might belong to the infamous Buffalo Bill Cody himself!

Once you arrive in Gila Bend, you will get the unique opportunity to learn more about the legacy of Native American cultures that call this place home. Also, make sure to add the untamed vistas of the Sonoran Desert National Monument to your list of places to visit.

If you love history, then you can visit the Mormon Battalion and Butterfield Stagecoach Trail and see part of the 1,850-mile route the Mormon Battalion marched in the 1800s.

4. Drive from Gila Bend to Phoenix

70 miles (1 hour 30 minutes)

As you make your way from Gila to Phoenix on CA-85, you can visit the beautiful Skyline Regional Park just before you enter the city. If you'd like to spend more time exploring the city's surroundings, Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium & Safari Park is a great place to visit with the family.

Phoenix, Arizona, USA with an aerial view of the city skyline at sunset with mountains in the distance.
Halfway on this route is the city of Phoenix, the capital of Arizona and a great location for exploring the nearby desert.
Nick Fox/

Once you arrive in Phoenix, you are in for a treat when looking for places to visit. Explore 140 acres of Desert Botanical Garden, showcasing a beautiful variety of desert flora. The Heard Museum is the place to visit if you'd like to learn about the Native American tribes in the Southwest.

If you'd like to spend some time under the Arizona sun, then we recommend visiting Papago Park, with 1500 acres of stunning desert landscapes and hiking trails.

Once you are ready to call it a day, one of the best hotels in Phoenix is RISE Uptown. This trendy boutique hotel has a beautiful rooftop pool, and bar with stunning city views. You will also find a great restaurant on-site that serves delicious Mexican dishes.

READ MORE - Click here for more great hotel options

5. Drive from Phoenix to Payson

90 miles (1 hour 30 minutes)

This section of your drive from Phoenix to the charming small town of Payson will take you through Tonto National Forest. You will also find a few lakes and reservoirs you can visit on the way. One of our favorites is Saguaro Lake, where you can enjoy swimming (check out Sadie's Beach!) and boating.

Then, AZ-87 will take you all the way to Payson.

Once you arrive in Payson, you will be located at the heart of the Mogollon Rim, offering breathtaking views, forested trails, and clear, starry nights. First place we recommend visiting here is the Rim Country Museum.

If you are a history buff like us, then don't miss out on visiting Shoofly Indian Ruins, which is a village ruin occupied between AD 1000-1250.

6. Drive from Payson to Sedona

90 miles (1 hour 50 minutes)

This last leg of your road trip from San Diego to Sedona on the Phoenix Routem will take place on AZ-260. Head northwest from Payson and visit Camp Verde, a beautiful small town surrounded by beautiful landscapes. This town is the perfect gateway to Montezuma Castle National Monument.

After your visit to Camp Verde, follow I-17 northwest and switch to AZ-179 past Lake Montezuma. You will soon start driving on the legendary Red Rock Scenic Byway and travel through the Village of Oak Creek before you reach your destination in beautiful Sedona.

Sedona, Arizona, USA with a sunrise at Cairn Courthouse Rock, rocks stacked in the foreground and cliffs in the distance.
Be sure to catch a sunset or two while stopping in beautiful Sedona.
William Hager/

Once you arrive in Sedona, admire the views of the red-rock buttes, steep canyon walls, and pine forests. If you are looking for a different way to explore the landscape, Pink Jeep Tours is a hands-on experience with knowledgeable guides.

Once you are back in town, we recommend heading to the Tlaquepaque Arts and Shopping Village, the perfect place to see some local art and get some souvenirs for your loved ones.

Once in Sedona, our top choice is staying at Sedona Pines Resort. It has spacious and comfortable villas with private balconies or patios, fully equipped kitchens, and fireplaces. It also has an outdoor swimming pool and hot tub, perfect for relaxation and soaking in the Arizona Sun.

READ MORE - Click here for more great hotel options

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

Itinerary for a road trip from San Diego to Sedona, stopping in Temecula, Palm Springs, Blythe, Wickenburg, Prescott and Sedona
Your San Diego to Sedona Itinerary, following the Palm Springs Route.
© LazyTrips

1. Drive from San Diego to Temecula

60 miles (1 hour)

Head out of sunny San Diego on I-15 and head north. On this leg of the road trip, you can make a detour to the coastline, but seeing that you are starting off from oceanside San Diego, you might want a change of scenery.

Heading inland on the interstate, you will drive through Los Penasquitos Canyon and get a chance to visit a few wineries and get a few samples of local wine (to be enjoyed after your driving is done, of course) before arriving in Temecula. One of our favorites is Orfila Vineyards located just outside Escondido.

Once you arrive in Temecula, first take a second to admire the views of the rolling hills of SoCal. One of the first places we recommend visiting is Temecula Old Town, where you can see historic buildings and treat yourself to a well-deserved meal.

Once you have refueled, then you can head to the Temecula Wine Country, home to many amazing vineyards where you can enjoy wine-tasting sessions.

It is hard to beat Domaine Chardonnay when it comes to where to stay in Temecula. This luxurious B&B is located in the heart of Temecula's wine country, and features gorgeous outdoor terrace and lounges to take in the view.

READ MORE - Click here for more great hotel options

2. Drive from Temecula to Palm Springs

65 miles (1 hour 20 minutes)

As you leave Temecula, hop on CA-79 and then CA-371 towards Mount San Jacinto National Park. This section of the drive is incredibly scenic, but please keep in mind that the road gets twisty as you climb up the mountains near Idyllwild-Pine Cove.

After enjoying mountain vistas, you will merge onto I-10 and head east towards Cabazon, where you can visit the quirky Cabazon Dinosaurs before reaching Palm Springs.

Palm Springs, California, USA with a street view at sunrise, palm trees lining the street.
You can rub shoulders with the rich and famous at popular Palm Springs.
Nick Fox/

Once you arrive in Palm Springs, take a peek at the luxurious estates and resorts that dot the city. This sun-kissed city was a favorite of Hollywood movie stars, and you can see some of their names on The Palm Springs Walk of Stars.

As the saying goes, "Too much of a good thing" can actually be less than optimal, and this applies to the sunny weather of Palm Springs. If you'd like to get away from the heat, you can visit the Palm Springs Art Museum and see some impressive works of art while taking a break from the sun. Two birds, one stone!

We recommend staying at L'Horizon Resort & Spa during your visit to Palm Springs. This iconic hotel presents stylishly adorned rooms and suites, exclusively catering to adults aged 21 and above. It boasts a full-service spa, hot tub, and outdoor pool surrounded by breathtaking desert landscapes.

READ MORE - Click here for more great hotel options

3. Drive from Palm Springs to Blythe

120 miles (2 hours)

As you leave Palm Springs, make sure to put aside some time to visit the iconic Joshua Tree National Park if you haven't done so during your stay here. As you drive southeast on I-10, you will get views of the beautiful Coachella Valley, home to the famous Coachella Festival.

If you have time, visit General Patton Memorial Museum before you continue onto Blythe on the interstate.

Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA with trees and rocks in the foreground and taken on a sunny day.
A highlight of the Palm Springs Route is seeing Joshua Tree National Park, where you'll see the iconic trees in this vast desert landscape.
Evgeny Drokov/

Once you arrive in Blythe, you will get to enjoy river views. Mayflower County Park sits on the banks of the Colorado River and is popular for fishing, picnicking, and barbecuing. You can even camp here, if you have brought your camping gear!

Before you leave Blythe, you can visit the Palo Verde Historical Museum and Society to learn about the area's past.

4. Drive from Blythe to Wickenburg

110 miles (1 hour 50 minutes)

You will drive through small and charming desert towns on this section of the drive into Arizona. Follow I-10 to Quartzsite, famous for its gem shows; you can also make a fun detour to the Historical Gold Eye Mine here before continuing on.

A further detour will take you to the beautiful Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. After your visit, return to the interstate and switch to US-60 to drive through Salome and Wenden before arriving at Wickenburg, a lovely Arizona small town.

Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, USA with wildflowers and cacti against an evening sky and mountain background.
The Kofa National Wildlife Refuge is a great place to see towering saguaro cacti and wildflowers.
Brian K Harris/

Once you arrive in Wickenburg, you will see that the spirit of the Wild West is still very much alive in this part of the country. Wickenburg has a rich history of gold mining, ranching, and rodeo, and one of the first places to visit to learn more is the Desert Caballeros Western Museum.

If you like ghost towns, you can also check out Vulture Mine before moving onto the next leg of your road trip.

5. Drive from Wickenburg to Prescott

60 miles (1 hour 20 minutes)

Head out of Wickenburg on US-93 and drive north. Past Congress, hop onto AZ-89 and you will soon enter the beautiful Prescott National Forest. Before you make a stop in Prescott, take in the views from the Sunset Lookout and snap some photos of the beautiful panorama.

Once you arrive in Prescott, you will be surrounded by ponderosa pine forests. This historic small town is home to the Whiskey Row, named so due to the large number of saloons in one place. The block hosted a total of 40 saloons at one point!

If you would rather spend some time enjoying the great outdoors, there will be plenty of opportunities during your visit to Prescott. Watson Lake is a great place to spend some time away from the desert heat. A true outdoor lover's paradise, you can enjoy fishing, boating, kayaking, hiking and camping here.

6. Drive from Prescott to Sedona

70 miles (1 hour 20 minutes)

You might be tempted to hurry to your destination, but we recommend taking some extra time on this last leg of your drive from San Diego to Sedona on AZ-69. There is simply so much to see despite the short distance!

Past Camp Verde, you can pay a visit to Out of Africa Wildlife Park and learn about fascinating animals and the institution's conservation efforts. Alternatively, you can make a detour on I-17 to visit Montezuma Castle National Monument from here.

If not making the detour, continue on to Cottonwood on AZ-260. Cottonwood is located at the heart of the Verde Valley Wine Trail, so you can sample local wines at the vineyards if you have a designated driver or plan to stop over.

Two pink Jeeps parked on rugged red rocks, with red cliffs in the background
For a unique way to explore Sedona, you can book a spot with the popular Pink Jeep Tours.
Red Lemon/

Once you arrive in Sedona, admire the stunning red rock scenery that makes this area so famous. The views of Cathedral Rock will take your breath away. You can enjoy an off-road experience with the Pink Jeep Tours if you want to explore the terrain in a more adventurous way.

If that's not your thing, then why not spend some time at the beautiful Tlaquepaque Arts and Shopping Village and pick souvenirs for friends and family? It will be like gifting them a piece of your amazing journey from San Diego!

One of our favorite places to stay in Sedona is A Sunset Chateau. This beautiful B&B features cozy, traditional-style rooms with jaw-dropping mountain views. Come night, you can relax outside next to a firepit and enjoy a beautiful Arizona sunset.

READ MORE - Click here for more great hotel options

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

Sedona is a place you can visit most times of the year, though it all depends on your sensitivity to heat. If you don't like hot temps, avoid visiting in the summer. That being said, you'll always find something to do in this paradise, regardless of the weather.

Summers in Sedona can get quite hot, with temperatures ranging from 75 degrees Fahrenheit to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. So, plan on spending time indoors or finding ways to stay cool. Tourism rates are steady throughout the summer, meaning that hotel rates can be slightly higher.

Prescott National Forest in Prescott, Arizona, USA with a path leading to the top of Thumb Butte Trail, views of the tree lined hills in the distance against a blue sky.
While driving through the Palm Springs Route, you can grab your hiking boots and explore Prescott National Forest, especially if you travel in summer.
Arlene Waller/

While outdoor activities may be limited, winter is still a popular time to visit Sedona due to the mild temperatures to enjoy seasonal events and activities. It is a great way to enjoy the stunning red rock scenery with temperatures ranging from high-20 degrees Fahrenheit to mid-50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Spring and fall temperatures range from 45 degrees Fahrenheit to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. These are both great times to visit Sedona as the weather is mild and comfortable, and there are many outdoor activities to enjoy. Hotels may also be more affordable during this time.

While you won't find any happenings in summer due to the scorching heat, other times bring in plenty of events. If you travel in the summer, you can participate in the Sedona Hummingbird Festival in July.

Fall brings in the Sedona Arts Festival in October and the Sedona Food Truck Festival in November.

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

Even though this road trip from San Diego to Sedona is on the shorter side, you will still find yourself stopping at a lot of places. From historic museums to theme parks, there is something to do for everyone.

Comparison of things to see on each route from San Diego to Sedona
The Phoenix RouteThe Palm Springs Route
  • Alpine Historical Society Museum
  • Lions Tigers and Bears
  • Jacumba Hot Springs, California
  • Imperial Valley Desert Museum
  • Imperial Sand Dunes Recreational Area
  • Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park
  • West Wetlands Park
  • Painted Rock Petroglyph Site and Campground
  • Dateland Ranch House
  • Sonoran Desert National Monument
  • Mormon Battalion and Butterfield Stagecoach Trail
  • Skyline Regional Park
  • Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium & Safari Park
  • Desert Botanical Garden
  • Heard Museum
  • Papago Park
  • Saguaro Lake
  • Tonto National Forest
  • Rim Country Museum
  • Shoofly Indian Ruins
  • Camp Verde, Arizona
  • Montezuma Castle National Monument
  • Red Rock Scenic Byway
  • Los Penasquitos Canyon
  • Orfila Vineyards
  • Temecula Old Town
  • Temecula Wine Country
  • Mount San Jacinto National Park
  • Cabazon Dinosaurs
  • The Palm Springs Walk of Stars
  • Palm Springs Art Museum
  • Joshua Tree National Park
  • General Patton Memorial Museum
  • Palo Verde Historical Museum and Society
  • Mayflower County Park
  • Kofa National Wildlife Refuge
  • Historical Gold Eye Mine
  • The Desert Caballeros Western Museum
  • Vulture Mine
  • Sunset Lookout
  • The historic Whiskey Row
  • Watson Lake, Prescott, Arizona
  • Out of Africa Wildlife Park
  • Montezuma Castle National Monument
  • Cottonwood