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Road Trip from Virginia to California

Updated by Dianne Titos on February 28 2024

Are you ready for a monumental trip spanning to the width of the United States? Then hop on this road trip from Virginia to California with diverse landscapes and cultures. You will travel through iconic music scenes and pristine natural beauty on your way to the beaches and theme parks of LA.

The 2,850-mile road trip from Virginia to California takes 45 hours to complete, weaving through Richmond, Louisville, St Louis, Kansas City, Denver, Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Bruce Canyon City, and Las Vegas to Los Angeles.

Sounds interesting? Then continue reading for the best routes, things to see on them, places to stop overnight, hotels to stay in, and the best times to embark on this long but fulfilling journey.

How far is California from Virginia, and how long will the road trip take?

Comparison of road trip route options between Virginia and California
RouteDistanceDriving Time
The Northern Route2,850 miles45 hours
The Southern Route2,960 miles45 hours

The Northern Route for this road trip from Virginia to California is shorter with respect to distance but takes the same time to cover, i.e., 45 hours. This 2850-mile route is more focused on big cities and natural landscapes.

The Southern Route is longer with 2960 miles to cover but takes the same amount of time. This route will suit you better if you love a vibrant arts scene during your road trips.

As this road trip from Virginia to California is quite long and has a lot to cover, we recommend setting aside at least 9 to 15 days to thoroughly enjoy both the routes and the striking destination.

Beautiful view of Zion Canyon National Park from a high scenic overlook on a sunny day with blue skies
This epic road trip from Virginia to California is packed with bucket-list worthy sights and Zion National Park is one of them on the Northern Route.
Nido Huebl/Shutterstock.com

Here is our ultimate California road trip itinerary if you want to explore the state further:

READ MORE - Ultimate California Road Trip Itinerary

Best road trip route from Virginia to California

Both routes for this road trip from Virginia to California take the same amount of time but offer a different vibe. So, your choice of route will depend on your taste for scenery.

The Northern Route takes you through West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Utah and Nevada. You'll meet key landmarks such as the Gateway Arch and cities rich in culture.

Towards the latter part of the trip, this route will take you through natural arches, canyons, hoodoos and lava bed. You will also find classic red rock formations and plenty of breathtaking views. This route gives snow in winter, so be prepared in advance and avoid arriving in LA during rush hour.

The Southern Route is rich in all types of art. You will encounter prominent music cities in Nashville and Memphis where you won't be far from live music. There are also notable music museums. As you travel across the country, the landscape changes.

From the Blue Ridge Mountains to the canyons of Sedona in addition to encountering the most famous canyon of them all, the Grand Canyon. However, Flagstaff is a high-altitude city. So, it may be colder and you may experience some snow.

How to drive from Virginia to California

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

The Northern Route

For this route, get on Interstate 95 (I-95) out of Richmond and head to Louisville. Spend some time in this city and start heading to your next stop in Kansas City.

Following the interstate west, you will soon arrive in Denver. This is the perfect place to take a break and fill your energy tank. Resume your journey the next day and continue following I-70. You can make a much-suggested detour to Moab and visit Arches and Canyonlands National Parks soon.

Drive past Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Bryce Canyon City and Bryce Canyon National Park. You will get the chance to visit Zion National Park past Springdale before arriving in Nevada. You will soon arrive in Las Vegas, which is another fantastic place to take a break.

After your visit to Sin City, follow I-15 into California and past Mojave National Preserve. Heading southeast, you will soon arrive at your destination in sunny Los Angeles.

If you have more time, set off on the ultimate road trip around California. Here is our ultimate itinerary for a road trip around California.

Wildflowers blooming on Shrine Pass, Vail, Colorado during spring. The red and purple flowers are framed by majestic mountains in the background
If you are traveling on the Northern Route during spring, make a stop at Vail past Denver to admire the stunning wildflowers.
Danica Chang/Shutterstock.com

The Southern Route

Head out of Virginia on I-85 towards Durham. After exploring this charming city, drive past Greensboro to arrive at the gorgeous scenery of the Pisgah National Forest and Asheville, which sits on the border of the beautiful forest.

Next up, you will drive through Cherokee National Forest and to Knoxville. If you have time, make a detour to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg to admire the Great Smoky Mountains.

After your visit, head to the musical cities of Nashville and Memphis. Once you're done with your visit, get on I-40 W and follow it to Oklahoma City Blvd in Oklahoma City.

Your next stops will be Santa Fe and Albuquerque on this epic journey. Driving from New Mexico to Arizona, you will soon arrive at the world-famous world wonder, the Grand Canyon National Park. Head north from here to visit the gorgeous red rock scenery of Sedona.

Here, you can make a detour to Phoenix or continue into California. Driving past Joshua Tree National Park, you will soon arrive in Los Angeles. Ready for more adventure? If so, here is our ultimate California road trip itinerary.

Best places to stop between Virginia and California

As this road trip from Virginia to California is on the longer side, you will definitely need to rest between the thrilling amusement parks, breathtaking natural beauty, and historic museums. So, continue reading for the best places to stop overnight and hotels to stay in.

Explore the vibrant street art scene at Denver

On this road trip from California to Virginia, you will arrive in Denver approximately two-thirds of the way into the Northern Route. This city is great for outdoor hikes. In contrast, downtown is a cosmopolitan metropolis, so you can get the best of both worlds.

Denver is famous for its high altitude because a step at the State Capital marks where the city reaches a mile high. Hence the nickname “Mile High City.” On your first day in Denver, visit Downtown. It is a walkable city, but you can hop on and off the free shuttle on the 16th Street Mall.

Famous Historic Red Rocks Amphitheater near Denver, Colorado on a beautiful day with blue skies.
Try to catch a concert or two at the beautiful Red Rock Amphitheater while you are in Denver.
Radomir Rezny/Shutterstock.com

Larimer Square is a high-class boutique part of town while LoDo (Lower Downtown) is great for nightlife. Then see the world-class museums. Denver Art Museum is worth it for the jagged architecture of the Hamilton Building alone. The Denver Museum of Nature and Science is another standout.

With the surrounding Rocky Mountains, there's plenty of outdoor exploration for you to enjoy including hiking, cycling, or kayaking. If you're willing to take a detour, you can even cruise to the summit of the mountains on Trail Ridge Road. Here is our guide on driving on this road.

Before leaving the city, don't forget to see a live gig. There's no venue in the world that compares to the Red Rocks Amphitheater. Even if there isn't a show or concert to take your fancy while in town, head over to check out the Hall of Fame.

While you are in this city, our vote goes to Hyatt Centric Downtown Denver for accommodation with 264 rooms available! It has sophisticated décor with wall-to-wall windows for views over Downtown. It has in-room dining and Apple Blossom restaurant serving food made using locally sourced items.

It also has a fitness center and private valet parking is also available for $59 per day. It has a Downtown location with close proximity to 16th Street Mall, LoDo, Larimer Square, Denver Art Museum, The Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Red Rocks Amphitheater, and Start of Trail Ridge Road: Grand Lake.

READ MORE - Click here for more great hotel options

Discover the scenic wonders of Oklahoma City

On the Southern Route approximately halfway into the road trip from Virginia to California, you will reach Oklahoma City. This is a near halfway point which makes it an ideal place to use as a market and milestone. It is a top city to immerse yourself in Wild West history.

This city is famous for its Native American heritage and Cowboy culture. On your first day here, learn about cowboy culture at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. You'll find sculptures, art, and Victorian firearms here which are perfect for history buffs.

Centennial Land Run Monument in Bricktown, Oklahoma City depicting several horse carriages, horses and men
Visiting Bricktown while in Oklahoma City is a must; see if you can find and admire the artistry of the Centennial Land Run Monument.

Then for all things Western, continue your journey to Stockyards City. This is homes to cattle auctions with Western theme shops and fantastic steak restaurants. Take a walk at Scissortail Park where you can relax on the lawns, stroll the gardens and take to the waters on pedal boats and kayaks.

We recommend staying at the Omni Oklahoma City Hotel during your visit here. It is a top-rated 4-star hotel located in the heart of downtown. It is a perfect blend of modern sophistication and local heritage. With seven on-site dining options, there's something for every taste.

The outdoor swimming pool and the terrace allow you to relax and enjoy breathtaking views of the hotel. It is conveniently situated close to the highway for effortless access. It also is within walking distance of the museums in Oklahoma City and the national memorial.

READ MORE - Click here for more great hotel options

Where to stay when you reach California

Once you reach Los Angeles, we recommend you stay in Beverly Wilshire, A Four Seasons Hotel. This hotel has a Mediterranean-style outdoor pool with a hot tub that lets you cool off the heat from the 45-hour-long journey.

Hollywood Walk of Fame, without any people. Neon lights in the background
Visiting Bricktown while in Oklahoma City is a must; see if you can find and admire the artistry of the Centennial Land Run Monument.

It also has a Spa that offers relaxing treatments such as massages which will give you the opportunity to truly experience the LA charm. For those who want to stay active during their stay, it offers a fitness center with modern equipment. You can enjoy the Michelin-star CUT Lounge Steakhouse on-site.

It boasts a convenient location in Beverly Hills with close proximity to Rodeo Drive, Hollywood, Santa Monica, and Venice Beach. You can also take advantage of on-site parking. However, if you are on a budget, we recommend Hotel Per La a more affordable option.

Things to see on a road trip from Virginia to California

Whether you choose the Northern or Southern Route, you will encounter stunning landscapes, unique attractions, and lively cities. With so much to do on both the routes of this road trip from Virginia to California, you will need the following handy dandy list to discover all the iconic American destinations.

The Northern Route

  1. Louisville, Kentucky – Enjoy a day at the famous Churchill Downs racecourse, explore the Louisville Mega Cavern, or see the limestone mine on the Mega Tram tour.
  2. St Louis, Missouri – Get in the cabins and travel to the top of the iconic 630-foot Gateway Arch for breathtaking views.
  3. Kansas City, Missouri – Explore the rich jazz music culture by watching a live performance and going to the American Jazz Museum. Oh, and don't forget to try the delicious BBQ!
  4. Arches National Park – Walk along the hiking trails to see the natural stone arches and discover amazing balanced rocks. You might need to make a reservation for a timed-entry permit while visiting Arches National Park. Please check the national park's website for up-to-date information.
  5. Canyonlands National Park – Drive, camp, and hike amongst the many canyons where the island in the Sky District offers a scenic drive with pull outs to admire the colorful landscape.
  6. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument – Backpack through the slot canyons made famous by the district labyrinth of rock formations.
  7. Bryce Canyon City – See the many hoodoos in the largest concentration of rock columns in the world and ride the free shuttle to find a quiet place to hike.
  8. Valley of Fire State Park, Moapa Valley, Nevada – Admire 2000-year-old petroglyphs that you will find carved into the vibrant red sandstone rocks. It is an ideal place to experience the Mojave Desert with a hike, an overnight camp, or a picnic.
  9. Las Vegas, Nevada – Wind down with a night on the Las Vegas Strip which is the entertainment hotspot with all sorts of weird and wacky sights to see. Don't forget to visit the Bellagio Fountains.
  10. Mojave National Preserve – Discover the sand dunes, lava beds, and Joshua Tree where you can hike the trails that will lead to experiencing the diverse landscapes.
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah on a crystal clear day with rugged red rock formations standing tall in the canyon
Take in the rugged, majestic landscapes of Bryce Canyon National Park if you are traveling on our Northern Route.

The Southern Route

  1. Asheville, North Carolina – Explore the vibrant art scene in a wondrous city nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains where you can also go to Lake Lure, the location of the famous Dirty Dancing scene.
  2. Nashville, Tennessee – Walk along Broadway and dive into the bars to see live country music and head to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum after being inspired by the Music City.
  3. Memphis, Tennessee – Enter the home of Elvis, The King, at Graceland and go to Beale Street at night to enjoy the vibrant nightlife.
  4. Amarillo, Texas – Drive along Route 66 and see quirky attractions like the Cadillac Ranch.
  5. Santa Fe, New Mexico – Enjoy the Pueblo-style architecture of Santa Fe which is an artful city and has a Georgia O'Keeffe Museum and the immersive art experience of Meow Wolf.
  6. Grand Canyon, Arizona – Enter the landmark from the South Rim, a year-round entrance where you can ride the free shuttle to find a private spot to marvel at the canyon, depending on the time of the year.
  7. Flagstaff, Arizona – Take a detour to Walnut Canyon, hike to see Sinagua cliff dwellings, spend some time in the Historic District, and enjoy the small-town mountain charm.
  8. Slide Rock State Park, Arizona – On a hot day in Arizona, head to the park where the rocks act as a natural water slide for a relaxing afternoon.
  9. Sedona, Arizona – From pine forests, the red-rock buttes of Sedona appear where you can hike in the quintessential US landscape and enjoy the art community of downtown.
  10. Joshua Tree National Park – This is The Hidden Valley Trail near the route where you can hike the easy 1-mile loop past enormous boulders.
Meow Wolf House of Eternal Return in Santa Fe, New Mexico with a wolf statue in the foreground
If you like interactive art installations and having quirky fun, make sure to visit Meow Wolf in Santa Fe for an unforgettable time!
Ritu Manoj Jethani/Shutterstock.com

Best time to go on a road trip from Virginia to California

Los Angeles is definitely a year-round destination. The activities you can indulge in will depend on the weather. In summer, you can hit the beaches, explore the city on foot, take a foodie tour, or visit amusement parks. While in winter, you can enjoy winter sports, visit museums and indoor attractions.

Summers in Los Angeles are hot with clear skies. The average temperatures range from 68 degrees Fahrenheit to 84 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the peak season so hotel prices will be higher. The hotter temperature might be too oppressive for some for outdoor activities such as theme parks and hiking.

If you are more of a mild-weather person, Los Angeles is perfect for you in winter because it doesn't get cold, isn't freezing and snowfall is very rare. Average temperatures are from 48 degrees Fahrenheit to 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Rain is more likely but airfares and hotels are much cheaper.

We recommend Spring and Fall to visit LA because it doesn't have overbearing heat but is still pleasant with fewer crowds. The temperature averages from 60 degrees Fahrenheit to 74 degrees Fahrenheit. You will get plenty of sunshine without the summer rush for outdoor activities.

LA holds many festivals and events, including famous ones like The Grammys in January where you can chance a peak at your favorite celebrity. Chinese New Year happens in February. Then we have the Los Angeles Marathon in March and Los Angeles Festival of Books in April.

LA County Fair is held in May while Nisei Week Japan Festival is held in August. DTLA Film Festival comes in October and LA Auto Show in November.