Planning a San Diego to Grand Canyon road trip has the chance to take you through some of the most interesting and beautiful desert scenery in the Southwestern United States. Winding from the beautiful pacific coast through the arid California desert and finally to the pine forests of Northern Arizona, the drive from San Diego to the Grand Canyon has a lot that is going for it.
If you want to make an adventure out of your San Diego to Grand Canyon road trip, then you’ve come to the right place. Though you could just drive this route in one go (and one long day), there is a fair amount to see along the way that you’re sure to get a lot out of the journey as well as the destination.
So if you’re planning to drive to the Grand Canyon from San Diego, make sure not to miss these incredible stops along the way.
Planning a San Diego to Grand Canyon Road Trip
Though you could definitely do the San Diego to Grand Canyon drive in an entire (long) day, it’s worth breaking it up over at least a few days when you consider how many interesting places there are to stop along the way.
Plan to spend a night around Palm Springs or Joshua Tree National Park before continuing onto Arizona. Sedona makes for another fantastic place to rest your head before finishing your drive north to the Grand Canyon.
The route mapped out here is one of many that you could take, however, I chose it because it will take you by the most interesting stop-off points without adding too much time to your overall drive and I personally think it is the best route from San Diego to the Grand Canyon.
I suggest taking the I-15 North out of San Diego before joining the I-10 E just outside of Riverside. Once you read Arizona, you can reach the Grand Canyon by following state highways 71 N and 89 N.
The road quality is generally good but do keep in mind that once you pass the Indio/Palm Springs area of California, the population can get relatively sparse and it’s good to plan ahead if you need to fuel up.
If you need to rent a car for this trip, you can browse Rentalcars.com which aggregates deals across a number of major car hire companies. Alternatively, you can rent an RV or campervan from Outdoorsy.
How Far is the Grand Canyon from San Diego?
Depending on the route you end up taking, the distance from San Diego to the Grand Canyon is about 550 miles and the drive, without stopping, would take about 8.5-9 hours depending on the traffic.
Keep in mind that the traffic leaving Southern California can be very heavy so that may add a significant amount of time to your overall San Diego to Grand Canyon drive time.
San Diego to Grand Canyon Road Trip Stops
And without further ado, here are some of the best stops to make on a San Diego to Grand Canyon road trip.
Located a bit north and a bit inland of the city of San Diego, Temecula is the heartland of San Diego County’s wine country. Though not nearly as well known as, say, Napa or Sonoma in Northern California, this region produces some excellent vintages and you’re sure to be able to sample some delicious and high-quality wines while here.
Even if you’re not interested in wine tasting, there is lots to see and do in Temecula that is sure to keep you entertained. There are plenty of cute shops to explore and browse and the Temecula Old Town is charming and very worth a visit.
Palm Springs, California
The second stop on your San Diego to Grand Canyon road trip is the main draw of California’s Inland Empire, Palm Springs. Long hailed as a desert oasis, Palm Springs is a very popular weekend getaway spot for Southern Californians.
Known for its world-class golf courses, great restaurants and high-end shopping, Palm Springs makes for an excellent place to break up the drive to the Grand Canyon.
There is a lot to do in Palm Springs and it will be instantly evident why this is such a popular getaway for those who live near the area. It is also a fantastic jumping-off point to visit Joshua Tree National Park, which is located only a stone’s throw away.
Joshua Tree National Park, California
If you’re looking to visit another national park while en route to the Grand Canyon, then a stop at Joshua Tree makes for an excellent option. As one of America’s most iconic and most visited national parks, Joshua Tree is easily accessible from the I-10 and the entrance is located only about 35 miles from Palm Springs.
There are countless hikes, rock climbing opportunities and beautiful views to take in in this iconic national park.
Even if you’re not interested in scrambling over rocks, there are such beautiful desert vistas enjoy and fantastic photo opportunities with the eponymous Joshua tree cacti. This is truly a special spot and a great addition to any San Diego to Grand Canyon road trip.
Leaving California, the first town you will come across on the Arizona side is Quartzsite, which makes for a great quick stop on your drive to the Grand Canyon.
As soon as you cross the border into Arizona, you will begin to be surrounded by the iconic Saguaro cactus, native only to the Sonoran desert in southern Arizona and the Mexican state of Sonora.
Quartzsite is a small area well-known for its rock and mineral trade so it is an excellent place to visit if you’re at all interested in geology (or even crystals). It has also, in recent years, attracted a number of RV-ers and van lifers and houses a large community.
The town rose to fame recently for featuring prominently in the Best Picture-winning film Nomadland.
Moving off of the interstate and venturing into Northern Arizona, another fantastic stop on the San Diego to Grand Canyon drive is the city of Prescott. If you want to blend in with the locals when visiting, do make sure you’re pronouncing the name of this town correctly — it is Press-KITT, not Press-KOTT.
Prescott is known for the historic Whiskey Row, a line of old western saloons that once catered the likes of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. The city was a hot spot during the Gold Rush in the early 20th century and still retains some of its Old West charm.
There are a number of museums to visit, should you be interested, and there are also plenty of restaurants and shops to explore in the charming downtown area.
Heading steadily north on your drive to the Grand Canyon comes one of Arizona’s most popular towns – beautiful Sedona. Well known for its iconic red rocks and new-age vibes, no trip through Northern Arizona is complete without a stop in Sedona.
There are countless things to do in Sedona that you can easily fill a day or even more here. There are wonderful hikes, great restaurants and lovely shops. Sunsets in Sedona are a site to be seen in and of themselves, so it can be a great idea to plan to stop here for at least a night before heading onto your final destination the next day.
The drive from Sedona to the Grand Canyon is a short one, but there are still a number of fantastic stops to make along the way.
Slide Rock State Park, Arizona
Just outside of the city limits of Sedona lies Slide Rock State Park, one of the best places to visit when driving to the Grand Canyon – especially if it’s during the warmer months.
This area of Oak Creek is absolutely beautiful and defined by the slick rocks that are coated with algae, meaning that it forms a natural water slide.
Slide Rock can be very popular in the summer months, so it is imperative that you get here early if you want to guarantee entry. There is the main swimming area, but there are also plenty of walking trails and other, quieter areas of the park that are very much worth visiting and exploring if you make the stop here yourself.
There is no list of the best stops on a drive from San Diego to the Grand Canyon that is complete without including Flagstaff. As the largest city in Northern Arizona and home to Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff has a completely different vibe than Arizona’s other major cities like Phoenix, Scottsdale or Tucson.
Known for its more alpine character, Flagstaff is a popular summer escape for those who live in the southern part of the state and are looking to escape the incredibly high temperatures.
It is also well-known for its craft beer scene, boasting several microbreweries to explore should you fancy it. Flagstaff is also home to the Arizona Snowbowl, one of the state’s only ski resorts.
Because of the city’s close proximity to the Grand Canyon (the South Rim is only about an hour away), Flagstaff makes for a good overnight base when exploring the park if you’re looking for something a bit more affordable with a lot of dining and other options.
Sunset Crater National Monument, Arizona
The final stop on this San Diego to Grand Canyon road trip is at Sunset Crater National Monument. An extinct cinder cone volcano, this national monument lies just outside of the city of Flagstaff and it is absolutely fascinating to visit.
While at this National Monument, you can learn about the unique geologic history of this region, enjoy a number of picturesque hikes and take in the views of this beautiful volcano while en route to the Grand Canyon. Arizona has such a beautiful, diverse landscape and Sunset Crater only exemplifies this.
In fact, it is the perfect stop off to see just how much the terrain can change in just the short drive remaining up to the Grand Canyon itself.
Where to Stay on the San Diego to Grand Canyon Drive
While you certainly could leave San Diego in the morning and arrive at the Grand Canyon late at night, it is far preferable to stop in a place or two along the way, especially if you want to make any of the stops on this list. The town of Palm Springs near Joshua Tree National Park makes for an excellent option to rest your head, as does the town of Sedona, Arizona.
Alcazar Palm Springs – If you’re looking for a fantastic, luxury experience in Palm Springs, then look no further than this hotel. There are countless modern rooms available, a lovely swimming pool and there are even two on-site restaurants where you can get all meals if needed. Click here to see their availability
Les Cactus – This mid-range hotel is an excellent choice if you’re looking for someplace great to stay in Palm Springs or near Joshua Tree National Park. There are a number of great rooms available, there is a swimming pool, it’s centrally located and it’s also pet friendly if you happen to be travelling with a furry friend. Click here to see their availability
Private Rental – Private rentals such as this romantic cabin near Joshua Tree are incredibly popular both in Palm Springs and also near the National Park. There are countless properties to choose from that can suit all travel budgets and styles. Click here to browse more Palm Springs private rentals
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Palm Springs hotels!
A Sunset Chateau – This luxury bed and breakfast is a wonderful choice for you if you’re travelling on a bit of a higher budget and want to invest in some comfort while in Sedona. Centrally located close to everything you would want to see in Sedona, they have a number of beautiful rooms available and a great breakfast included every morning. Click here to see their availability
Sedona Village Lodge – If you’re looking for a solid, mid-range option in Sedona, then this hotel is a fantastic option. Located in the centre of Sedona close to all that the town has to offer, they have a number of clean and comfortable rooms available to suit your needs. Click here to see their availability
Private Vacation Rental – A private vacation rental is another very popular option in Sedona. There are a number of places to choose from such as this lovely private cottage near all the hiking trails that can suit all travel styles and budgets. Click here to browse the best private rentals in Sedona.
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels in Sedona
Little America Hotel Flagstaff – This plush, luxury hotel is a fantastic base for exploring the Grand Canyon. They have countless wonderful, lodge-like rooms available, and even have a swimming pool and a restaurant on site. There are also a number of other amenities to ensure you have a great stay! Click here to see their availability
Hotel Elev8 – A great option for mid-range travellers, this hotel is located just outside of Flagstaff and is the perfect base for exploring the Grand Canyon. They have a range of rooms on offer and a great swimming pool on-site! Click here to see their availability
Private Rental – If you’re after a private rental near the Grand Canyon, then there are countless options to choose from — such as this beautiful home near Williams or this cosy cabin in Flagstaff. Click here to check availability.
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels near the Grand Canyon
Planning a road trip from San Diego to the Grand Canyon is never a bad idea, especially when you consider all of the amazing places to stop off along the way!
Are you planning a San Diego to Grand Canyon road trip? Have any questions about this route? Let us know in the comments!