If you love a healthy mix of desert planes, forested areas, and city life, a road trip from Phoenix to San Diego might be the perfect adventure for you. Though a relatively short road trip, you"ll still see a variety of landscapes on this journey.

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You could certainly fly to San Diego from Phoenix, but you"d be missing out on an amazing drive across Southwestern United States.

The 355-mile road trip from Phoenix to San Diego will take 5 hours and 30 minutes of pure driving. Although doable in a day, consider splitting up the journey and taking the scenic route with stops in Joshua Tree, Palm Springs and Los Angeles.

If you"re interested in taking this road trip, keep reading to learn the best route to take, and some ideas for places to stop along the way.

How far is San Diego from Phoenix and how long will the road trip take?

If you need to get from Phoenix to San Diego quickly, the fastest route is 355 miles following the I-8 and will take you around five and a half hours to get there. That"s pure driving time so you"ll probably need to add at least a couple of hours for any unexpected traffic and stops for rest, fuel and food.

RouteDistanceDriving Time
Fastest Route (via I-8)355 miles5 hours 30 minutes
Scenic Route (via I-10)420 miles6 hours 30 minutes

Beware that leaving Phoenix at rush hour, on Friday evening or Saturday morning can easily land you stuck in a queue of similarly-minded weekend escapees so allow time to get through the traffic.

Even with these delays accounted for, you can still do this trip in a day - I"ve driven it in an afternoon myself and it"s a relatively easy route. But driving it all in one go will mean you"ll miss out on some of the amazing sights you"re passing by that are well worth checking out.

If you have the time to spare, you can take the longer 420-mile route following the I-10. You"ll be adding extra miles and hours to your road trip but trust me - it will be worth it.

Best road trip route from Phoenix to San Diego

The fastest route to get from Phoenix to San Diego will be by following the I-8 close to the US/Mexico border. You"ll still have the opportunity to stop at a few of the state parks, including Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.

Beware of trying to do a detour to the actual border - I did it and found a dirt track through some fields out of curiosity to discover a little too late that I managed to drive right onto the border and receive an escort back by very steely and somewhat bemused border patrol.

On the other hand, if you have the time and want to take advantage of your road trip, following the I-10 will give you the chance to visit even more national parks, plus Los Angeles if you"re interested in visiting the iconic city.

Road trip route from Phoenix to San Diego


To take the longer, scenic route, leave Phoenix via the I-10, following it the rest of the way across Arizona and California until you reach Moreno Valley.

From here, take exit 58 to get onto the I-215, merging onto the I-15 once you reach it. Follow this highway the rest of the way to San Diego.

If you need to get to San Diego via the fast route, leave Phoenix by the I-10, but once you"ve left the city take exit 112 to get onto AZ-85. When you reach Gilla Bend, merge onto the I-8, following this highway the rest of the way through Arizona and California until you reach San Diego.

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Day or night, Balboa Park is one great reason to go on a road trip from Phoenix to San Diego.
For this trek, you"ll be passing through a lot of desert land, which means sweltering hot weather if you decide to go during the summer months.

If you do drive between June and August, you"ll want to make sure your car"s AC is fully functional before you set off, and remember to pack lots of water, especially if you plan on doing any hiking.

San Diego itself is pretty warm year-round, with temperatures generally ranging from the mid 60s to the high 70s consistently throughout the year. However, if you decide to go between May and June, you"ll see a lot of overcast skies in San Diego. There"s a reason San Diego locals refer to these months as May Gray and June Gloom.

As for winter, you can expect a lot of rainfall in the Southern California area. You can certainly take this trip in winter, but don"t be surprised if you get wet! Instead of going in the summer or winter, it"s best to take this road trip during the spring or the fall when the weather is mild and there"s less tourists around.

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September to November is a particularly great time to drive the road trip from Phoenix to San Diego - the weather is still great, the overcast skies of the Californian coast are long gone and the summer tourist season is over from Labor Day.

Remember once again that no matter what time of year you decide to go, remember to pack extra water for the drive out. And don"t forget your camera - you"ll really want it on this drive to capture some of the stunning scenery along the way.