Road trips are my favorite way to travel and discover new areas, and I’ve taken many road trips in California and Arizona. Whether I’m driving down the Pacific Coast Highway or going on a road trip to the Grand Canyon, I always have a blast stopping off at small towns or random attractions around the way. However, the ultimate way to see all these places is by doing a California to Arizona road trip.
There’s plenty for everyone on this trip, from larger cities to historical landmarks to stunning national parks. You’ll get to explore some of my favorite areas, such as the quirky Pioneertown, the beautiful Joshua Tree National Park, and the bustling city of Phoenix. I’ve included all my recommended stops in each area so you won’t run out of things to do.
In this article, I’ll give you some of my personal tips on the best way to plan a road trip from California to Arizona, places to stop, and three different itineraries you can follow depending on how much time you have.
Tips for a California to Arizona Road Trip
Here are the answers to some of the frequently asked questions about taking a road trip from California to Arizona.
How Long Is the Drive to Arizona From California?
There are three main routes you can use to get from California to Arizona, and each of them varies in length. Let’s say you’re going from Los Angeles to Tucson for the sake of this itinerary.
You can choose to go via the I-8 E. This is the longest route you can take, covering a whopping 518 miles and nearly eight hours of driving. It is a scenic route, which makes up for the lengthy drive. You’ll pass by stunning beaches along the Pacific Ocean coast and in San Diego before heading to Tucson.
The second route you can take is via the I-10 E. It is the shortest distance you’ll travel, at 483 miles. This route takes about seven and a half hours of driving from L.A. to Tucson. You’ll drive past major tourist hubs like Joshua Tree National Park, Palm Springs, and Phoenix.
The last route you can take on your road trip to Arizona from California travels along both the I-8 E and I-10 E. It’s 506 miles and will take you just under eight hours to get to your destination. This route is quite underwhelming when it comes to scenic towns along the way, so I wouldn’t recommend it.
Can You Do the California to Arizona Drive in a Day?
A road trip from Los Angeles to Tucson is a seven to eight-hour drive, and that’s not including the time you’ll spend at the must-see attractions along the way. So, while it is possible to complete this journey in a day, you’d be doing yourself a great disservice.
Not only will you arrive exhausted, but you will also have missed out on some fantastic stops along the way. That’s why I suggest you drive down to Arizona from California over three to five days. This gives you enough time to see some breathtaking parts of these two states. You can always do a separate California road trip in the future, such as a San Francisco to San Diego drive.
Where To Fly Into and Out of for Your California to Arizona Road Trip
The great thing about road trips is that they can be done in either direction. If you’re closer to California, you can fly into Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), which is about 18 miles from the city center. Similarly, if you’re from the east coast, you’ll fly into Tucson International Airport (TUS), roughly 10 miles from downtown.
Need another trip idea? You’ll love going on a drive from LA to San Francisco.
California to Arizona Road Trip Map
Here are the places you’ll be stopping during this California to Arizona drive.
9 Stops on a California to Arizona Road Trip
Make your road trip from California to Arizona an unforgettable one by adding these spots and their must-see attractions to your itinerary.
1. Riverside, CA
About 55 miles (1 hour and 10 minutes) inland from Los Angeles is Riverside, known for its thriving citrus industry. Its sweet and zesty orange fruit is largely responsible for the empire that was built here and led to Riverside being one of the wealthiest areas in California that you’ll want to see on your drive from California to Arizona.
There are more than 100 landmarks all over the city of Riverside, as well as 24 national historic sites to see on your Los Angeles to Arizona road trip. Stop by the Mission Inn Hotel & Spa to admire its stunning Spanish Mission Style architecture. The historic hotel also houses the award-winning Duane’s Prime Steaks and Seafood, where you can sit for a delectable lunch.
Other things you can do in Riverside include hiking up to the Peace Tower at Mount Rubidoux Park and strolling through the UC Riverside Botanic Gardens. Visit the California Citrus State Historic Park, an open-air museum dedicated to the juicy fruit, for a quick history lesson.
2. Pioneertown, CA
From Riverside, you’ll drive about 73 miles (1 hour and 20 minutes) to Pioneertown. This is a historical town in San Bernardino’s High Desert that’s full of Western charm and has lots of interesting things to discover.
Hollywood actors who wanted to build a remarkable Old West set that served as a functioning community founded the town. Pioneertown has charming false-front buildings that look like they were built in the 1800s. These buildings are actually salons, jails, ice cream shops, motels, and bowling alleys.
Many of these establishments are not operational because they are just movie sets, but Pioneertown still has something to offer. The Pioneertown Motel provides you with much-needed reprieve in its 19 guestrooms and 24-hour canteen, The Red Dog.
3. Joshua Tree National Park, CA
After exploring the wild west in Pioneertown, drive 17 miles (25 minutes) to Joshua Tree National Park’s north entrance in Twentynine Palms for your next stop on the California to Arizona road trip. This national park in southern California is well known for its desert landscape and strange rock formations.
Spend the day on a driving tour of Joshua Tree National Park. You’ll find several hiking trails and scenic overlooks that you should explore. The Cholla Cactus Garden Trail is one of the famous hikes in the park, taking you past thousands of densely concentrated cholla cacti.
Other hikes with incredible views include the Keys View Trail. This two-mile loop trail ends with sweeping views of the Coachella Valley, the San Jacinto Mountains, and the San Andreas Fault. The park has uniquely-shaped rocks you should see, like Arch, Skull, and Split, to name a few.
Make sure to buy your America the Beautiful pass ahead of time so you can easily enter all the national parks for a low price.
4. Chiriaco Summit, CA
Head out of Joshua Tree National Park using the south entrance. After leaving the park, you’ll drive towards Chiriaco Summit, a small town about 17 miles (25 minutes) from the park’s Cottonwood Visitor Center.
At Chiriaco Summit, you’ll find a lovely family-run coffee shop and restaurant where you can grab a bite to eat and fuel up for the trip ahead. Take some time to visit the Southwest Travel Information Center, where you can pick up tourist brochures for over 220 attractions in the Southwest. You’ll also have access to the Internet and information about road conditions and closures.
I’ve been using Roadtrippers for years to help me plan out my trips and find fun stops along the way. Use my code “BTR5QTP” for $5 off when you sign up!
5. Quartzsite, AZ
The next spot on your road trip is Quartzsite, a popular RV stop for many cross-country road trippers. Oddly enough, Quartzite is a wonderful place to visit in winter, thanks to its average temperatures hovering in the 70s.
This small town goes from a furnace in summer to a mild and sun-drenched winter oasis with plenty of things to do. From January to February, thousands of sellers come to the Quartzsite Annual Mineral Shows and Swapmeets to show off their rocks, minerals, gems, jewelry, and even clothes.
Other things you can explore nearby include hiking through Palm Canyon and visiting the Castle Dome Mine Museum, both of which you’ll find inside the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge.
Make sure to reserve your rental car ahead of time! I love using Discover Cars for my trips.
6. Phoenix, AZ
Phoenix is 219 miles (about 2 hours) away from Quartzite. It’s the state capital of Arizona and a must-see on any road trip. Known as the “Valley of the Sun,” Phoenix boasts world-class resorts, high-end golf courses, and an incredible urbanscape with lots of outdoor adventure.
A great way to see this magical city is by taking a morning hot air balloon ride over Phoenix. If you’re not there early enough, you can take this tour in the evening for stunning sunset views. Outdoor activities like hiking and strolling in the Desert Botanical Garden are also worth trying.
If you’d like to explore nearby attractions, Scottsdale and Tempe are great places to visit. You can even take a three cities and nature tour showing you the best Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tempe attractions in just six hours.
7. Casa Grande, AZ
You’ll take a 47-mile (49-minute) drive from Phoenix to Casa Grande. It is situated halfway between Phoenix and Tucson and is a great place to fully immerse yourself in Arizona’s desert while on your California to Arizona road trip.
The Casa Grande Ruins National Monument in Coolidge is where you’ll find several preserved Hohokam structures that date back to the Classical Period. If you want something fun and unique, visit the Casa Grande Neon Sign Park for an out-of-the-box and impromptu photoshoot.
8. Picacho Peak State Park, AZ
Picacho Peak State Park is 31 miles (35 minutes) from Casa Grande and is a fantastic place to end the day. The state park is home to Picacho Peak, which is the most famous summit in the Sonoran Desert.
You’ll find plenty of things to do here, like hiking, having a picnic, and camping, where you can enjoy gazing at the star-studded Arizonian sky. A must-do is trekking the four-mile round-trip Hunter Trail to the top of Picacho Peak.
Another exciting drive is the Las Vegas road trip from San Francisco.
9. Saguaro National Park, AZ
Last but not least, you’ll stop at Saguaro National Park, about 31 miles (37 minutes) from Picacho Peak State Park. The park boasts a large population of saguaro cacti and hiking trails with epic views of the desert landscape.
Saguaro National Park is divided into two distinct areas, each sitting on either side of Tucson. The Signal Hill Trail, which is in the western area, will take you to prehistoric petroglyphs that the Hohokam people left behind. The east side of the park boasts the Cactus Forest Drive, a scenic loop that gives you sweeping views of the park and surrounding areas.
Want another fun road trip idea? You’ll love going on a Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe drive.
5-Day Itinerary for a California to Arizona Road Trip
Taking the I-10 E route from Los Angeles to Tucson may be the fastest way to get through this road trip, but it’s also the most scenic. So here’s a 5-day itinerary you can use to make sure you see all the top attractions along the way. You can also do this backwards and go on a Arizona to California road trip.
Day 1: Los Angeles to Joshua Tree National Park
Mileage: 131 miles
Driving time: 2 hours 15 minutes
The first day of your LA to Arizona road trip itinerary takes you from bustling L.A. to the rugged Joshua Tree National Park. You can start your day with a sunrise hike. The 1.2-mile Arch Rock Trail is easy and suitable for most hikers. If you want a bit of a challenge, you can take the Ryan Mountain Trail.
Other great things to do in Joshua Tree National Park include taking an off-road tour, rock climbing, and going on a scavenger hunt in the desert. You’ll also find great ranger programs, horseback riding, and bridging excursions available.
If you want to take a detour and extend your trip, you can go on a LA to Yosemite drive to see yet another beautiful park.
Where to Stay:
- Indian Wells Resort Hotel – Located in a lush country club in Palm Desert. (rates start at around $116 per night)
- Raintree’s Cimarron Golf Resort Palm Springs – A golfing resort located in Palm Springs. (rates start at around $157 per night)
- Camping at Joshua Tree National Park – There are five camping sites to choose from, but these are only available on reservation. You can reserve a spot on recreation.gov.
Day 2: Joshua Tree National Park to Quartzsite
Mileage: 94.7 miles
Driving time: 1 hour 29 minutes
You may wonder, “Why should I stay in Quartzsite overnight?” Let me explain. While it is a small town, Quartzsite has lots to offer. On a quick trip to Dripping Springs or the Tyson Wash, you can discover ancient Native American petroglyphs and pictographs.
Quartzsite is also a convenient place to stay if you want to explore the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. This is where you can spot numerous desert wildlife like badgers, foxes, ground squirrels, pocket mice, and even kangaroo rats.
Where to Stay:
- Hampton Inn & Suites – Great for exploring attractions between Blythe and Quartzsite. (rates start at around $149 per night)
- Super 8 by Wyndham – Get access to free parking and a full American breakfast every morning. (rates start at around $115 per night)
Day 3: Quartzsite to Phoenix
Mileage: 129 miles
Driving time: 2 hours and 10 minutes
I recommend driving from Quartzsite to Phoenix very early in the morning on your LA to Arizona drive. This will give you enough time to explore the fifth largest city in the U.S. Take this RoRo street art tour to immerse yourself in the city’s art and culture scene.
You can spend time at the Phoenix Zoo admiring its nearly 3,000 animals, from Asian elephants to Sumatran tigers and Komodo dragons. Other great things to add to your list include strolling in the Japanese Friendship Garden and visiting the Musical Instrument Museum.
Where to Stay:
- Hyatt Place Tempe, Phoenix University – Modern amenities and a rooftop pool with views of the city to top it off. (rates start at around $245 per night)
- The Azure Hotel – Only a short distance from attractions like Mesa Arts Center and the Arizona Museum of Natural History. (rates start at around $210 per night)
Day 4: Phoenix to Saguaro National Park
Mileage: 104 miles
Driving time: 1 hour 40 minutes
On top of the densely populated saguaro cacti, this national park has 1,162 species of plants and desert vegetation across its 91,445 acres. A great way to see these wildflowers is by taking a Saguaro e-bike tour in the east district.
You can also stop by the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, where you can join animal theater programs, visit the aquarium, and browse through the permanent museum exhibits.
Where to Stay:
- La Quinta by Wyndham – Great amenities like an outdoor heated pool and hot tub. It’s also less than a 20-minute drive from the Tucson Convention Center. (rates start at around $121 per night)
- Hampton Inn & Suites Tucson, Marana — Enjoy an outdoor swimming pool and American buffet breakfast each morning. (rates start at around $145 per night)
Day 5: Saguaro National Park to Tucson
Mileage: 12.7 miles
Driving time: 25 minutes
Tucson is your final destination on this road trip from California to Arizona. This vibrant desert city is part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, thanks to its centuries-old culture and incredible gastronomy.
There are a lot of things to do here, like hiking, biking, horseback riding, and driving the 27-mile Mt. Lemmon Scenic Byway to see the city from a different angle. You can also visit Reid Park Zoo and Trail Dust Town, a western-themed shopping center in Tucson.
Where to Stay:
- Hotel Congress – Located in downtown Tucson, it has an onsite bar, restaurant, and coffee shop where you can get a delicious breakfast. (rates start at around $218 per night)
- Hilton Tucson East – Full-service onsite restaurant, fitness center, and great views of the Rincon Mountains. (rates start at around $202 per night)
3 Day and 7 Day California to Arizona Road Trip Itineraries
The above road trip itinerary from California to Arizona can be compressed into three days but can also be expanded over a full week. Here are suggested itineraries for a 3-day or 7-day adventure from L.A. to Tucson.
3-Day Road Trip Itinerary
From L.A., you’ll take the I-10 E to Joshua Tree National Park. You have the option of staying in one of the park’s campsites or in nearby areas such as Palm Springs and Palm Desert.
Next, you’ll head over to Phoenix, where you can spend a full day exploring the city’s best attractions and nearby towns like Scottsdale and Tempe. After having a blast in Phoenix, you’ll drive down to Tucson for your final day.
7-Day Road Trip Itinerary
A full-week itinerary includes all the stops I covered in the 5-day itinerary, but, of course, with more great places to visit. From Los Angeles, you’ll drive to San Bernardino before heading to Riverside and Temecula, where you’ll find award-winning wineries.
From Temecula, head over to Pioneertown for a wild west experience before wrapping up the day at Joshua Tree National Park. The next day takes you to Quartzsite, where you’ll take a detour to Kofa National Wildlife Refuge.
After Quartzsite, you’ll head to Phoenix for great outdoor and indoor adventures. From here, you’ll head down to Casa Grande, where you’ll find quirky attractions to explore. You’ll continue down to Tucson, but first, make stops at Picacho Peak State Park and Saguaro National Park.
No matter how long you’re there for, you’ll love going on a California to Arizona road trip!