San Diego | Van Life + Roadtrips | Weekend Adventures

10 INCREDIBLE STOPS YOU CAN’T MISS ON YOUR SAN DIEGO TO PHOENIX DRIVE

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I have taken a lot of road trips from San Diego, but this was the first time I have ever done the San Diego to Phoenix drive.

It is actually quite a cheap flight from San Diego to Phoenix, but my husband, Dan, and I decided it would be a fun way to explore places close to our home. 

Girl in car with Palm Trees in background on her drive from San Diego to Phoenix

Phoenix makes for the perfect long weekend getaway. I would recommend going from Thursday to Monday. 

If you are interested in doing this same road trip then read on! I am going to give you a complete breakdown of what you should do and where you should stop along your trip from San Diego to Phoenix. 

HOW LONG IS THE DRIVE FROM SAN DIEGO TO PHOENIX?

This drive is most definitely doable in a day; however, if you can I recommend splitting the days up, so you can enjoy your stops. Coming in at 355 miles long this trip should take you about 5 hours and 30 minutes depending on which route you take.

Essentially, there are two routes to get from San Diego to Phoenix and vice versa. You can take the I-8 or the I-10. Supposedly, the I-10 is the more scenic route; however it will take you longer.

Papago Park in Phoenix

If you plan to take the I-10 direct driving time would be 6 hours and 30 minutes.

For this article, we will focus on the faster route along the Interstate 8, which I consider to still be scenic. This route takes you right along the US/Mexico border. You will go through multiple border stops and see lots of border patrol cars along the way.

Be careful not to get off the wrong exit and accidentally end up in Mexico, unless you brought your passport with you.

BEST TIME TO TAKE A TRIP FROM SAN DIEGO TO PHOENIX

As you can imagine, Phoenix gets hot in the summer months. You will be driving through the desert so keep this in mind as again it will be hot out.

You will want to take this into consideration as you plan your route. Some of the hikes I list below should not be done in the summer heat for safety purposes. 

Girl standing in front of a cactus on her hike up Camelback mountain in Phoenix
Girl standing looking at the views of Phoenix from atop Camelback mountain

If you choose to make this drive in the summer months then I recommend you make sure your car is in pristine condition and your AC is working well. Regardless of which month you choose to take your road trip your car should be in good shape as you will be going through a pass on your way back from Phoenix to San Diego. 

This pass is steep and hard on the car. There is radiator water fluid along the way in case you need it, but let’s hope you don’t.

If you plan to go in the winter, then I would prepare for rain, which might make it difficult to do some of the stops I list below. 

The best time to take this road trip from Phoenix to San Diego and vice versa is in the spring or the fall. 

STOPS TO MAKE ON YOUR SAN DIEGO TO PHOENIX DRIVE

If you can split up this drive into two days then you will have more time to enjoy these stops along the way. Pick and choose which spots you want to stop at to customize your route!

If you have a child who does road trips well then this is the perfect road trip for them. Each stop is about an hour apart, so it breaks up the trip nicely. Also, a lot of these attractions are child appropriate. If it is not, I will list it below. 

1. SUNRISE HIGHWAY

On your way out to Phoenix I highly recommend you make a stop on Sunrise Highway. This is one of my most favorite spots in east San Diego. 

Girl on a hike off Sunrise highway on her drive from San Diego to phoenix

The scenery is just gorgeous. There are plenty of hike options out here, but my personal favorite is Garnet Peak. There are a few routes for this trail ranging from 1-mile to 5-miles long. 

If you plan your trip out, you could also go car camping up on sunrise highway and wake up for a gorgeous sunrise. 

2. JACUMBA HOT SPRINGS

Jacumba Hot Springs is a small town east of San Diego. It is desert land and contains a few things you can do like visiting the desert view tower, boulder park, or taking a soak in the hot springs. 

3. DESERT VIEW TOWER

The desert view tower is a unique stop to make along your way. We actually rented the place for a night which you can read all about here. You don’t have to stay the night, but you can explore this tower for a small fee.

Girl with views of the Desert View Tower
Man inside the desert view tower in Jacumba

4. BOULDER PARK

Boulder park is located directly across from the desert view tower. This is a fun spot for kids to climb across rocks that have been molded and painted into different animal shapes. There is an admission fee, but it is extremely affordable. Like $2/person.

Boulder park rocks in Jacumba, Ca
Girls standing in front of skull rock in boulder park

5. GOAT TRESTLE CANYON

Dan and I had planned on doing this hike; however the weather took a turn for the worst and we did not want to risk it. There are two routes to this hike. A 5-mile route and a 16-mile route. Both are long and treacherous and not kid friendly so I heard.

Man standing on the Goat trestle canyon which is a great hiking stop to make on your phoenix to san diego drive

If you do this trail please make sure to bring enough water and have a safety device like the Garmin In Reach to reach someone as there is no cell-service on this trail. 

6. IMPERIAL SAND DUNES

My biggest regret is not stopping at these sand dunes. I have seen some pretty epic pictures of these dunes and for some reason we didn’t stop. I love that you can find sand dunes like these so close to San Diego. 

Imperial sand dunes which are a stop right along the drive between San Diego and Phoenix

These dunes are the largest in the state. You can explore these dunes by foot without a permit, but if you plan to operate recreational vehicles out here like ATVs then you may need a permit. 

7. YUMA STATE PRISON MUSEUM

Stop here to experience what a prisoner would have gone through in the 1800s at Yuma State Prison. This place has now turned into a museum and you can tour it for $8/person. 

8. DATELAND

Another fun stop along the way is Dateland. This place is known for its world-famous dates. Stop by the travel center and pick up a milkshake made from dates. Dan and I found a cool spot next to the travel center that was filled with Palm Trees and was fun to explore!

9. DINOSAURS IN GILA BEND

Kids love this stop and it is easy as it is right on the side of the road in a gas station. Stop by the shell and see the Gila Bend Dinosaurs.

Dinosaur in Gila Bend is a great stop to make on your San Diego to Phoenix drive
Girl and guy standing in front of the dinosaur statues in Gila Bend

 

10. SPACE AGE RESTAURANT

Another great stop for the kids and a great lunch stop. This is a hotel and restaurant combined. Decorated with tons of space-age decor. It’s trippy!

FINAL THOUGHTS FROM YOUR OUTDOOR GIRL

I hope you have found this article helpful. I know when I was planning my drive from San Diego to Phoenix I found it difficult to find things to do.

There wasn’t much information regarding the stops I could make along the way; therefore, I wanted to create this guide for you!

Let me know in the comments if you have ever done this drive and what stop you enjoyed the most!

10 INCREDIBLE STOPS YOU CAN’T MISS ON YOUR SAN DIEGO TO PHOENIX DRIVE

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