Arizona's state capital, Phoenix, prides itself on being one of the sunniest places in the United States, and it is the perfect destination for a sizzling city break. The road trip from San Francisco to Phoenix is an amazing journey from the shimmering Pacific Coast to a wide desert landscape, peppered with stunning Saguaros.
The 850-mile road trip from San Francisco to Phoenix will take about 14 hours to drive. Along the way, you can visit Santa Cruz, Big Sur, Los Angeles, and Joshua Tree National Park, or travel inland via Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, Death Valley and Las Vegas.
Whether you're looking for some winter sunshine or a sweltering summer road trip, there's plenty in store for you. This road trip packs in big cities, stunning scenery and even ticks off bucket-list attractions like the Pacific Coast Highway and Yosemite National Park, so read on to find out more!
How to drive from San Francisco to Phoenix
The map below shows two great route options for your road trip from San Francisco 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.
|Los Angeles Route
|14 hours 10 minutes
|Las Vegas Route
How far is Phoenix from San Francisco, and how long will the road trip take?
It takes about 11 hours to drive from San Francisco to Phoenix on the interstate, but you'll miss out on some of the real highlights if you drive direct between the two cities.
The Los Angeles Route is the shorter of our two routes at approximately 840 miles, and takes you to Phoenix via Los Angeles. This route adds up to 14 hours and 10 minutes on the road, not accounting for any detours or stops.
Alternatively, the Las Vegas Route offers a slightly longer journey of around 950 miles, requiring an estimated 16 hours of driving.
With both routes taking you to so many amazing places, we'd suggest allowing at least 5 or 6 days for your road trip. If you want to really immerse yourself in the thrills and spills of Disneyland, try your luck in Las Vegas, or take some of the longer hikes in Yosemite National Park, then you'll need to add on a couple more days.
Best road trip route from San Francisco to Phoenix
Whichever route you take to get from San Francisco to Phoenix, you'll need to cross California to arrive at your destination, which means you'll have a whole host of stunning landscapes and urban thrills to enjoy along the way.
The Los Angeles Route is a classic California road trip that begins with a scenic drive along the Cabrillo Highway, part of the iconic Pacific Coast Highway.
Breathtaking views of the rugged California coast make way for the urban allure of Los Angeles, before you continue on through the arid landscapes of inland California.
This route takes you through the Coachella Valley and Joshua Tree National Park, a huge contrast to the Pacific views you've left behind.
Keep in mind that Pacific Coast Highway is prone to landslides, especially in the Big Sur area, so always check for road closures before setting off, to avoid disappointment.
In contrast, the Las Vegas Route takes you on a less direct route to Phoenix, including a drive along the "Loneliest Road in America," US Route 50, through Eldorado National Forest.
From dense forests to towering mountains, this scenic route offers a distinctly different vibe from the coastal route through Los Angeles. You'll visit Lake Tahoe, Yosemite National Park and Death Valley before reaching Las Vegas, so this is definitely a route to consider if you love the great outdoors.
Los Angeles Route
From your starting point in San Francisco, make your way to CA-1 to join the stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway known as the Cabrillo Highway and begin your journey south.
Known for its stunning ocean views and cliffside vistas, the first part of your journey along the PCH begins with a visit to Half Moon Bay State Beach, where the rolling waves and sparkling sand make for a serene start to your road trip.
Continuing south along the coast, you'll pass through Santa Cruz and then skirt the bay to reach Monterey, where you can take a deep dive into the region's marine life at the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium.
After Monterey, the Pacific Coast Highway travels through the legendary Big Sur, one of America's most famous stretches of coastline. Keep an eye out for possible road closures on this stretch.
Pause at San Luis Obispo to see the quirky and colorful Bubblegum Alley before rejoining CA-1 to head towards Pismo Beach, another beautiful coastal stop.
Next, your route takes you to Los Angeles for an urban interlude. Departing Los Angeles, you'll transition into desert landscapes before reaching the legendary oasis of Palm Springs and then Joshua Tree National Park before compelting your journey in Phoenix.
Las Vegas Route
Starting your journey from San Francisco, head northeast on I-80. You won't be visiting Disneyland on this route, but you can still stop at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo for some thrilling rides and animal encounters before you reach Sacramento.
The journey then takes a more nature-centric turn as you drive towards South Lake Tahoe. If time permits, you can take a detour to drive all the way around Lake Tahoe, take a boat ride, or take the Gondola at Heavenly for breathtaking views of the Sierra Nevada landscape.
From Lake Tahoe, join US-395 for a scenic drive southeast, which skirts the edge of the magnificent Yosemite National Park, which you can visit via the Tioga Pass Entrance near Lee Vining.
Mountains make way for desert as you approach Death Valley National Park, where you can experience some of the most dramatic landscapes in the United States, from sand dunes to salt flats.
Emerging from the desert onto US-95, Las Vegas awaits. Sin City's neon lights and vibrant nightlife will be the ultimate contrast!
After checking out the Las Vegas Strip, you'll begin the last stretch of your journey. Leave Las Vegas via Henderson to cross into Arizona by Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam, then continue towards Kingman for a flavor of Route 66 History before reaching Phoenix.
Best places to stop between San Francisco and Phoenix
With so much to see and do on your road trip from San Francisco to Phoenix, you'll want to find some great places to stop and recharge along the way. Here are some of our top picks that will help make your road trip into the trip of a lifetime.
Soak up the sun by the ocean in Los Angeles
Los Angeles serves as an ideal midway stop on the Los Angeles Route. It's about 8 hours and 15 minutes on the road, and with so many iconic sights and attractions to explore, it's definitely worth spending a night or two in town before continuing on to Phoenix.
The epicenter of the entertainment industry, many of LA's landmarks reflect the city's cinematic history, including the Hollywood Sign and the Walk of Fame.
Los Angeles is also the home of the original Disneyland Resort, whose design was overseen by Walt Disney himself. The Getty Center is also a fabulous place to visit while you're in the city.
Combining luxurious accommodation with direct beach access, Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica is a fantastic place to stay while you explore Los Angeles and the surrounding area. Being a few miles away from LA's downtown lets you combine the charm of coastal living with the sophistication of the city.
Shutters on the Beach is also the perfect place for some relaxation. Bask in the Southern California sunshine by the year-round outdoor pool, indulge yourself in a rejuvenating treatment at ONE Spa, or sit back and enjoy the stunning beach views from the hotel's restaurant and bars.
Just a 5-minute walk from Shutters on the Beach is the Original Muscle Beach. Carry on a little further and you'll reach the iconic Santa Monica Pier, the end point of historic Route 66, which is home to the Pacific Wheel as well as plentiful entertainment and dining options.
Admire the stunning views of June Lake
Around 5 hours and 45 minutes into the Las Vegas Route, you'll reach June Lake, which is perfect for a picturesque stopover on the first or second night of your road trip.
With pristine lake views set against a dramatic mountain backdrop, you can enjoy outdoor activities like boating and skiing during your stop at June Lake.
A quirky highlight of the area is Black's Pond, which features in the Tom Cruise movie "Oblivion". In the movie, Lake Oblivion is the 'last habitable place on earth', but when you see it for yourself, you're more likely to be blown away by the natural beauty of the location.
If you're seeking accommodation that harmonizes with the serene environment, the Double Eagle Resort and Spa is a perfect choice. Its cabins and balconies overlook the majestic alpine surroundings, embodying the essence of June Lake.
The Creekside Spa, which is complimentary for guests, features an indoor swimming pool and whirlpool, with spa treatments available for ultimate relaxation. The resort also has its own restaurant, saloon bar and shop, offering a comprehensive stay experience.
Nearby attractions include the June Mountain Ski Area, just a 5-minute drive from the resort, providing winter sports enthusiasts with a variety of slopes. Keen hikers can strike out on the Reversed Peak Loop Trail, just a short 7-minute drive away, to explore the natural beauty of the area on foot.
Where to stay when you reach Phoenix
Nestled in the Sonoran Desert, Phoenix offers a unique blend of urban and natural attractions. Just a short drive away, you'll find the Desert Botanical Garden, and there are also numerous hiking routes, including the trail to Camelback Mountain.
RISE Uptown is the perfect place to round off your road trip to Phoenix. It's a modern bohemian retreat that perfectly captures the city's sunny disposition.
The hotel boasts a distinctive vibe with rooms equipped with vinyl players, adding a nostalgic yet refreshing twist to your stay. You can borrow records from its eclectic LP collection to set the soundtrack for your stay.
You can soak in views of Camelback Mountain and the Phoenix skyline at the rooftop bar, while the hotel's outdoor swimming pool and Lylo Swim Club offer a cool respite from the desert heat, complete with a poolside bar, cocktails, and weekend DJs during the summer months.
Things to see on a road trip from San Francisco to Phoenix
From the Pacific coast to the Arizona desert, a road trip from San Francisco to Phoenix takes you on a real adventure. Here are some of the highlights you can stop to explore along the way.
Los Angeles Route
- Half Moon Bay State Beach - This picturesque expanse of coastline not far from San Francisco features miles of sandy beaches, and is ideal for picnics, hiking, and surfing.
- Santa Cruz Museum of History and Art - Showcasing local history and art, dip into this great museum to get a sense of Santa Cruz's rich cultural heritage and community spirit.
- Monterey State Beach - Known for its scenic beauty, this beach is a haven for kayakers and windsurfers. You can also scuba dive here, if you want to explore the vibrant marine underwater environment.
- Monterey Bay Aquarium - If you'd prefer to stay on dry land while you find out more about the region's diverse underwater ecosystems, head to the world-famous aquarium for up-close experiences. The aquarium highlights conservation efforts and environmental challenges too.
- San Lorenzo County Park - Nestled in King City, this tranquil park is a great place to stop to camp or to enjoy a picnic. While you're here, take a moment to explore the park's historical exhibits, which include a full-sized steam train.
- Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa - This beautifully preserved Spanish mission - founded way back in 1772 - offers a glimpse into California's mission era with its stunning architecture and gardens.
- Bubblegum Alley, San Luis Obispo - A quirky, colorful alleyway completely covered in used bubblegum, which has become one of the city's most unusual and photographed attractions.
- Avila Valley Hot Springs - Enjoy a relaxing retreat at this natural hot springs resort, where you'll find soaking pools, spa services, and family-friendly amenities.
- Pismo Beach- This classic Californian beach town is known for its beautiful pier and wide beaches - you can even drive vehicles on the sand here.
- Universal Studios, Hollywood - An iconic theme park and working movie studio offering behind-the-scenes tours, thrilling rides, and live shows that really bring the magic of the movies to life.
- Hollywood Walk of Fame - This famous LA sidewalk celebrates the stars of the entertainment industry, with more than 2,600 brass stars embedded in the pavement honoring celebrities.
- Cabazon Dinosaurs - For a playful stop on your way out of LA, pull in to visit these iconic roadside dinosaurs.
- Palm Springs Air Museum - Dedicated to the preservation of World War II aircraft, this museum offers an extensive collection of planes, memorabilia, and interactive exhibits.
- Joshua Tree National Park - A vast park known for its stunning desert landscapes, unique Joshua trees, and rock formations, offering opportunities for hiking, climbing, and stargazing.
- El Dorado Hot Springs - A rustic, natural hot spring oasis located in the Sonoran Desert about an hour west of Phoenix, offering a variety of soaking pools with mineral-rich waters for relaxation.
Las Vegas Route
- Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, Vallejo - This animal-themed amusement park has a variety of roller coasters, wildlife exhibits, and shows, making it perfect for family fun.
- Jelly Belly Factory Tour - This tour offers a behind-the-scenes look at candy making in the famous Jelly Belly factory, complete with samples and unique flavor experiences.
- California State Railroad Museum - Situated in Sacramento, this museum showcases the history of railroads in California, featuring meticulously restored trains and interactive exhibits.
- Echo Lake - A stunning alpine lake located near South Lake Tahoe, offering peaceful surroundings for hiking, fishing, and picnicking amid the Sierra Nevada.
- Lake Tahoe Boat Rides - A scenic boat tour is one of the best ways to appreciate the breathtaking mountain views and crystal clear waters of Lake Tahoe. They also offer water sports.
- Gondola at Heavenly - A scenic gondola ride that takes visitors up the side of a mountain for panoramic views of Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
- Yosemite National Park - Known for its spectacular waterfalls, giant sequoias, and vast wilderness, Yosemite is a must-see for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.
- June Lake - This picturesque mountain lake is known for its clear waters, fishing spots, and the scenic beauty of the surrounding Eastern Sierra landscape.
- Crowley Lake - Also popular for fishing, camping, and water sports, this lake offers stunning views of the Sierra Nevada and a peaceful retreat into nature.
- Fremont Street Experience - Head to this vibrant entertainment district in downtown Las Vegas for free live music, and street performers, all set under a massive canopy.
- Las Vegas Strip - The heart of Las Vegas, famous for its luxurious hotels, casinos, and endless entertainment options.
- Willow Beach - Located on the Colorado River, Willow Beach offers boating, fishing, and swimming, with picturesque natural surroundings.
- Dolan Springs - A small community known for its proximity to the Grand Canyon and outdoor recreational opportunities in the vast Arizona desert.
- Mojave Museum of History and Arts - Discover more about the heritage and natural history of the Mojave Desert region at this insightful museum, which has exhibits on local wildlife, culture, and history.
- Arizona Route 66 Museum - Located in Kingman, this museum explores the history of the legendary Route 66, featuring vintage cars, memorabilia, and stories from the historic highway.
Best time to go on a road trip from San Francisco to Phoenix
While you're practically guaranteed warm weather when you arrive in the year-round sun of Phoenix, your journey will feel very different depending on what time of year you set off from San Francisco.
As you'd expect, temperatures in Phoenix peak in the summer months, often soaring above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. On these really hot days, it's best to head out to explore outdoor attractions like Camelback Mountain or the Desert Botanical Garden in the early morning or late afternoon.
The Las Vegas Route requires preparation for desert heat in summer, make sure you pack plenty of water. If you're traveling in July, make sure you stop off at the Mammoth Lakes Jazz Jubilee to cool down and relax.
In winter, Phoenix remains mild. Daytime temperatures sit comfortably in the mid-60s to low 70s Fahrenheit, which is ideal for hiking or visiting the Arizona State Fair. Pack warmer clothes for the evenings, even in Phoenix it can feel much cooler once the sun goes down.
Traveling through the mountains on the Las Vegas Route means you might see snow near June Lake and along the El Dorado Highway. This is the perfect opportunity for winter sports enthusiasts to combine sunshine and skiing in a single road trip!
The Los Angeles Route can experience rainfall and potential landslides in coastal areas during December and January, and stretches of the interstate can be icy when temperatures drop in the desert.
Spring and summer are perfect for traveling to Phoenix on either route, and temperatures in the high 70s to 80s Fahrenheit are perfect for exploring the city when you arrive in Phoenix. February's Devour Phoenix event is a real highlight.
You'll find added color on the Los Angeles Route, with wildflowers blooming in Joshua Tree National Park during spring, and if you take your trip in April you can catch the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
Travel the Las Vegas Route in May to see Las Vegas Helldorado Days, or in September for the Route 66 Cruisin' Reunion - a must-see for any self respecting car enthusiast!