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

Road Trip from San Diego to Sedona

By Pat Dorri | Updated on 17 May 2023

Are you looking for a laid-back adventure from the vibrant coastal scenery of Southern California to the stunning desert landscapes of Arizona? Then this road trip from San Diego to Sedona is custom-made for you, with a perfect blend of adventure and relaxation.

The 510-mile road trip from San Diego to Sedona takes almost 10 hours to complete. Highlights include Mount San Jacinto State Park, Palm Springs, Bajada Nature Trailhead, Prescott National Forest, LEGOLAND California, Robolights, and Lost Horse Mine.

If your inner explorer is ready to shake the cobwebs off, and pique your interest, 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.

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

Comparison of road trip routes between San Diego and Sedona
RouteDistanceDriving Time
The Phoenix Route550 miles9 hours 10 minutes
The Joshua Tree Route510 miles9 hours 30 minutes

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 Joshua Tree 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.

Mount San Jacinto State Park, California, USA with trees surrounding the rocky cliffs against a blue sky.
This epic road trip to Sedona will take you through parks, desert landscapes and rocky cliffs like Mount San Jacinto State Park.
Victor Maschek/

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 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 Joshua Tree Route which allows you to discover the Mount San Jacinto State Park, Joshua Tree, 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.

How to drive from San Diego to Sedona

The map above shows our suggestions for the best road trip routes between San Diego and Sedona. Keep reading for detailed descriptions of both routes, where to stay on either, and the best things to do on the way.

The Phoenix Route

If you want to drive through desert landscapes, continue on CA-94 E from San Diego. Then follow Interstate 8 (I-8) E Yuma and then toward the Gila River Indian Reservation.

Gila River Indian Reservation, USA with a view of the Sonoran desert at sunset with wildflower super bloom in the foreground and Estrella mountains in the distance.
Be sure to stop at Gila River Indian Reservation for beautiful wildflower super blooms.

From here, head north into Pheonix. Stay overnight in this vibrant city to relax and stock up before setting off on the last leg of your journey, which will take you further north.

Drive through Payson, Camp Verde, and Lake Montezuma before arriving at your destination in Sedona via the scenic Red Rock Scenic Byway.

The Joshua Tree Route

Head north out of San Diego towards Mount San Jacinto State Park. Your next stop will be the fabulous Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park. Afterwards, head east on I-10.

Driving across the Colorado River, you will enter Arizona. You can make a detour to Kofa National Wildlife Refuge soon. If not, keep driving northeast towards Prescott and you will soon reach your destination in beautiful Sedona.

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 Joshua Tree Route you can grab your hiking boots and explore Prescott National Forest.
Arlene Waller/

Best places to stop between San Diego and Sedona

Exploring breathtaking nature, world-class museums, and thrilling theme parks, you would need an overnight stay on this road trip from San Diego to Sedona. Read on for our recommendations for cities and hotels.

Taste the rich cultural heritage in Phoenix

You will come across Phoenix about halfway on the Phoenix Route of this road trip from San Diego to Sedona. This city is the capital of Arizona and offers a plethora of attractions on the way to El Paso. It strikes a perfect balance between indoor and outdoor activities.

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/

It boasts abundant sunshine and picturesque desert scenery. It is steeped in the cultural legacy of various Native American tribes and is also the location of Arizona State University. Whether you are an outdoor enthusiast or an architecture admirer, you won't run out of options.

Explore 140 acres of Desert Botanical Garden, showcasing an abundant variety and splendor of desert flora. The Heard Museum is a celebration of the rich cultural heritage of Native American tribes in the Southwest. Then visit Papago Park with 1500 acres of stunning desert landscapes and hiking trails.

Our vote for the lodging option in Phoenix goes to Renaissance Phoenix Downtown. You can enjoy panoramic views of the city skyline from the rooftop pool and bar area. It also has a fitness center, complimentary WiFi, and on-site dining.

It boasts a prime location in the heart of downtown Phoenix, offering a range of popular attractions within walking distance. You can also take advantage of the hotel's proximity to public transportation, with nearby light rail and bus stops facilitating convenient exploration of the other areas of the city.

Explore the vibrant culture of Palm Springs

On the Joshua Tree Route of this road trip from San Diego to Sedona, about one-third of the way to Sedona, exists Palm Springs. Located at the threshold of California and Arizona deserts, it is an ideal place to satiate your shopping and dining desires before a long journey through the barren landscapes.

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/

It has gained a reputation for its abundant golf courses, spas, hotels, and natural hot springs. This city is also recognized for its diverse cultural attractions, encompassing several museums, and serving as the venue for the renowned Coachella Festival located nearby.

Explore the Palm Springs' desert ecosystem in The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, covering over 1000 acres. Visit the premier Palm Springs Art Museum for regional art, natural science, and the performing arts. Take an intimate view of WWII combat aircraft and aviation art at Palm Springs Air Museum.

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.

There's also an on-site restaurant, including pool-side dining. Located just outside Oswit and Tahquitz Canyons, you will be close to Moorten Botanical Garden, Baristo Park, and Palm Springs Desert Museum. You can even take the free bicycles to explore these places.

Where to stay when you reach Sedona

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.

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/

For those who want to stay active during their stay, this hotel has an on-site fitness center and tennis courts. It also boasts a stellar location with close proximity to hiking and mountain biking trails, including the popular Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock trails.

It also provides easy access to Sedona's vibrant art scene, shopping, and dining options, as well as popular tourist attractions like the Chapel of the Holy Cross and Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village.

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.

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/

The Phoenix Route

  1. Crystal Pier – This wooden jetty, which has been renovated and reconstructed since its original construction in 1939, is an ideal location to enjoy a romantic stroll or witness a stunning sunset.
  2. Imperial Valley Desert Museum – This museum, recently opened in the Yuha Desert, showcases a variety of historical and indigenous artifacts discovered in the Imperial Valley.
  3. Z Fun Factory – This amusement park provides entertainment suitable for all ages and features mini golf, go-karts, arcades, and a water park during the summer season.
  4. Kofa National Wildlife Refuge – This extensive nature reserve is filled with towering saguaro cacti and fascinating Gila monsters, making it a perfect destination for a scenic hike.
  5. Estrella Star Tower – This astronomy-themed tower is situated on the outskirts of Phoenix and offers a spectacular view of the Arizona night sky from its 50-foot height.
  6. Phoenix Art Museum – With an impressive collection of over 18,000 art pieces from across the globe, this museum spanning 285,000 square feet is the largest in the southwestern region of the United States.
  7. Butterfly Wonderland – This interactive indoor rainforest habitat, located near Phoenix, is home to thousands of butterflies, and also features a gift shop and café.
  8. Skyline Regional Park – Explore this park's 8700 acres of mountains, hiking trails, and campsites by foot or car.
Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA with trees and rocks in the foreground and taken on a sunny day.
A highlight of the Joshua Tree Route is seeing the national park where you'll see the iconic trees in this vast desert landscape.
Evgeny Drokov/

The Joshua Tree Route

  1. Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park – Explore the tranquil grounds of this secluded ranch that houses numerous peacocks, a theater, and a gift shop with free admission and optional guided tours.
  2. LEGOLAND California – This California resort, located only 30 minutes away from San Diego, has over 60 rides, a water park, and numerous dining options, all built from LEGOs!
  3. Cabazon Dinosaurs – Purchase tickets at the entrance and explore this famous roadside attraction that features giant dinosaur sculptures and has been featured on TV.
  4. Palm Springs Windmill Tours – Explore the marvels of renewable energy on an educational tour of this contemporary wind turbine farm.
  5. Robolights – This garden is located on the outskirts of Los Angeles and features distinctive sculptures and light shows throughout the year, providing a whimsical experience.
  6. Lost Horse Mine – Located within a short distance from each other, these two historic mining structures are the last remaining remnants of the California Gold Rush that took place in the 19th century.
  7. Joshua Tree National Park – This national park in Southeastern California features a vast desert landscape known for its unique Joshua trees, stunning rock formations, and diverse wildlife.
  8. Rice Desert Signpost – This peculiar signpost, situated in the middle of the Rice Desert and approximately 30 minutes off the main road, presents an ideal opportunity for a memorable photo op.
Montezuma Castle National Monument, Arizona, USA with a view of the ancient well preserved Native American cliff dwelling in side of mountain made out of stone.
Go back in time at the Montezuma Castle National Monument where you can see the ancient Native American cliff dwellings in person.
Pamela Au/

Both Routes

  1. Montezuma Castle National Monument – Situated in Arizona's desert terrain, this is a dwelling site that was inhabited by the Sinagua people in the past. It is directly carved into the limestone cliffs.
  2. Museum of Northern Arizona – Discover Arizona's past at the Museum of Northern Arizona, where you can explore many exhibits featuring artifacts dating back to 15,000 B.C.

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.

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. Spring has the Sedona Film Festival and Sedona Bluegrass Festival. Fall brings in Sedona Winefest and Sedona Jazz on the Rocks. While winter gives Sedona Mountain Christmas.