If you do one thing in the United States, make it a California to Arizona road trip. 

I’ve travelled both of these states extensively in the past few years, and they have SO much to offer. 

Whether you’re from the US or travelling there from another corner of the world, you won’t be disappointed on a road trip from Arizona to California. 

Here’s how to road trip California to Arizona, including what to see along the way, where to stop and how to extend your trip (because you’ll no doubt want to!). 

Driving in Death Valley California USA
Driving is the best way to explore both California and Arizona!

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Why you should take a road trip from California to Arizona

If I had to choose my favourite US state, I’d have a hard time choosing between California and Arizona. 

On this road trip, you get to see the best of both!

Southern California is just a short drive from some of the best sights in Arizona, so it only makes sense to see both at once if you can. 

This road trip itinerary covers the unmissable spots that nobody should miss, no matter what your usual travel style. They’ll give you a deeper insight into this corner of of the most diverse countries in the world.

If you’re interested in hiking, historical sites, camping or city exploring, there’s also plenty of ways to add more of your passions into this trip – but we’ll get to that. 


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When to plan your California to Arizona road trip

California – and Southern California in particular – is blessed with great weather all year round. 

Like Arizona, though, it can get pretty hot in the summer. If you want a comfortable road trip, avoid the scorching summer heat and visit at a different time of year. 

If you don’t mind the odd rainy day, the winter is a great time to visit this part of the USA. It’s off season so you won’t have to worry about and prices will be at their most affordable.

RELATED READ: More reasons why you should visit California in December.

Spring and autumn are also great times to visit both states. 

At this time of year, the heat is bearable enough to spend extended time outside and enjoy the states’ national parks. You’ll also be able to enjoy the California beaches, too.

Imperial Sand Dunes in California USA
Even in winter, California is sunny and warm.

An Adaptable 3-5 day California to Arizona Road Trip Itinerary

There are so many wonderful places to visit on a road trip to California or Arizona, but for this one, I’ve chosen the best and most accessible spots. 

This itinerary assumes you only have 3-5 days to explore, but can easily be extended if you have more time to road trip California to Arizona. 

If you have more time than this, I’ve added some other places to add on below. These can simply be added to the original road trip itinerary if you have longer to explore Arizona.

If you have more than 5 days to road trip from California to Arizona, I’ve also added some ideas for extending your trip to the US South West at the end of this post. 

Road trip overview 

Total drive time: 14.5-18 hours.

Distance: 816-1,063 miles.

Where to begin and end your road trip 

 To make things as simple as possible, you have a couple of options when it comes to start and end points for this road trip. 

In California, you can easily start from either Los Angeles or San Diego. If you have time, I’d recommend visiting both – but that’s a blog post for another day!

Of course, you can also enjoy this road trip in reverse, beginning in Arizona and ending in California!

Day 1: Drive to Joshua Tree

Whether you begin your road trip in LA or San Diego, the drive to Joshua Tree National Park will take around 2-3 hours.

That means you’ll have the best part of the day to explore this unique park. 

When you arrive, you won’t be able to miss the otherworldly trees that give this California park its name. While you could easily spend all day admiring them, there are plenty of other things to do here.

Spend some time hiking one of the many trails or visiting the most famous photography spots. As sunset approaches, head to Keys View – the highest point in the whole park – for the best sunset view.

There are several restaurants inside the park, but I’d recommend packing a picnic lunch instead. Choose a beautiful spot, throw down and blanket and dig in to a humble lunch with a view!

Standing against a Joshua tree at Joshua Tree National Park in California USA
Joshua Tree National Park: One of my favourite spots in California.

Where to stay in Joshua Tree

The only way to stay inside Joshua Tree is to camp – and it’s something I definitely recommend!

If you don’t want to pack a tent, there are also lots of hotel options on the periphery of the park. Check out Sacred Sands for a nature-fuelled night or, if budget is a concern, check into the High Desert Motel.

If you want the full California experience, there are also plenty of cute and quirky cabins that you can book through Airbnb. Click here to see the best options.

Day 2: Joshua Tree to Flagstaff

Today is going to be the longest driving day, so wake up early if you can. Plus, you won’t want to miss the Joshua Tree sunrise!

Stop in Oatman, AZ

Our first stop of the day is Oatman, an historical town that’s just over 2.5 hours from Joshua Tree. Cross the border and get ready to be thrown back in time.

Oatman is best known for its burros, feral donkeys that were brought to the town when it was a thriving gold mining spot.

Today, the donkeys roam the streets and are the main attraction in the town. 

Spend around an hour here meeting the four-legged residents, indulging in ice-cream at Olive and photographing the historical buildings. 

The Oatman Burros in Arizona USA

Head to Kingman for lunch

Another historical town along Route 66, Kingman is less than an hour’s drive from Oatman. The 29-mile stretch will take you through some of the most stunning scenery in Arizona.

When you arrive, head to Mr D’Z Diner for lunch. This old school diner will transport you straight back to the mid-20th century. 

If you have room, try one of the homemade milkshakes. There are dozens of flavours to choose from and you can also make your own concoction. I had orange and cacao! 

After lunch, check out the Arizona Route 66 museum. Just across the road from Mr D’Z, this museum will walk you back in time through the area’s intriguing history.  

Mr D'z Route 66 Diner Arizona USA

Explore Flagstaff

You’ll need at least an hour to explore the museum, and even longer if you’re a real history buff. 

There’s no rush to leave, though, because our next stop, will be our resting place for the night. And that place is Flagstaff.

The drive from Kingman to Flagstaff takes around 2.5 hours. Depending on how much time you have when you arrive, spend the evening exploring this vibrant town. 

Where to stay in Flagstaff 

Flagstaff is a popular town to visit in Arizona. Sitting in the heart of the state, it has no shortage of hotels to accommodate the many travellers passing through.

For a no-frills budget stay, check into the comfortable yet modest Days Inn & Suites.

If you’re a nature lover and don’t mind spending a little more, the Little America hotel is located on 500 acres of beautiful pine forest.

Day 3: Flagstaff to Grand Canyon

Today’s journey isn’t quite as long as yesterday’s, so enjoy a filling breakfast in Downtown Flagstaff before heading off. Check out La Bella Via for perfect eggs or Tourist Home for freshly baked goods.

Once you’ve fueled your body and vehicle, it’s time to drive two hours to one of the most stunning sights in the whole of the US: the Grand Canyon. 

Follow directions to the south rim and enjoy stops at several of the viewing points along the stretch of road. I guarantee you’ll still be impressed by the final one!

If you only have time to stop at a couple of points, don’t miss Moran Point and Grandview Point. If you have a little more time, the Yavapai Museum of Geology is well worth a visit, too. 

And, if you want the ultimate Grand Canyon tour, a helicopter flight is a bucket list experience.

Grand Canyon Arizona USA

Ending your California to Arizona road trip

If you only have three days for this road trip, sadly it will end here. You can head to Vegas or Phoenix to catch a flight out, or begin the drive back to your starting point. 

If you have more time, however, there’s still plenty to explore. Here’s how you can extend your road trip from California to Arizona… 

Adapting this itinerary

I’ve designed this itinerary to not only covers the best places in Arizona and California, but also to be easily adaptable. 

If you have more time to enjoy your California-Arizona road trip, here’s what I would recommend adding to it. 

If you have 4 days for this road trip

Page is a little too far out of the way for a 3-day road trip – unless you don’t mind some seriously long drives! – but it’s a must visit if you have an extra 24 hours. 

From Page, you can visit some of Arizona’s most uniquely beautiful spots, including Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon. 

While you can visit Horseshoed Bend independently – just pay the entry fee – you’ll need to book a tour at Antelope Canyon. They book up fast, so try to get your tickets as early as possible.

If you’re short on time, you can see both on this double tour.

Lower Antelope Canyon Arizona USA
Antelope Canyon, Arizona

If you have 5 days or more

If you have even more time to take a road trip from California to Arizona, you’ll want to use that time! 

There’s no shortage of things to do in both states, so you can extend your trip at either end. 

If you want to explore more of California, you can combine this road trip with a trip along the Pacific Coast Highway. 

This iconic stretch of road will show you a totally different side to the Golden State. If you want to drive the whole stretch, Portland, Oregon, is another of my favourite places in the USA.

READ NEXT: How Portland is leading ecotourism in the USA.

If you want to explore more of the US South West, there’s plenty to see in both Arizona and Nevada too. 

Monument Valley is a fascinating short trip from Page, Scottsdale has fun desert bike trails and the Phoenix Valley is one of the best spots for a hot air balloon ride.

Hiking enthusiasts won’t want to miss the Havasupai Hike, a challenging trail that ends in a beautiful reward. Here’s how to get there from the South Rim.

Or, if you’d prefer something more relaxed, there are plenty of short hikes in Arizona. Consider spending a few days in Sedona for some of the best ones – often with a wellness theme. 

Of course, there’s always Vegas, too – somewhere that might surprise you!

Death Valley California USA

Planning your California to Arizona road trip

Before you set off on your road trip from California to Arizona, there are some important things to know. 

Here are some things to check before you go.

US visas

While some countries can travel to the United States visa-free, most nationalities need a visa to visit. You can check if you need a visa to visit the United States on this page.

The exception to this is if your country is part of the ESTA visa waiver scheme. If this is the case, you will still need to apply for your ESTA before you go.


Stay connected throughout your trip with SkyRoam pocket WiFi.

This handy little device will give you unlimited data so you’ll never be without maps, emails and a way to contact home.

Driving in the USA

If you’re not from the USA or are visiting from out of state, make sure you’re aware of local driving laws in California and Arizona (and yes, they’re different!). 

Wherever you’re visiting from, you’ll need to be 25 years or older to hire a car in the United States. 

If you are renting a car, I recommend using RentalCars.com because they search and compare the most reputable companies.

Travel insurance for the USA

Nobody wants to get sick when travelling, but with some of the most expensive healthcare in the world, that’s especially true in the USA.

When choosing travel insurance, make sure it covers you for your entire trip and all scenarios. 

Not all travel insurance is created equal and many insurers won’t cover activities such as hiking, watersports or other outdoors activities, so it’s important to know what you’re buying. 

I use World Nomads for all my trips to the United States and can’t recommend them enough. 

As well as covering activities that other travel insurance companies refuse to cover, they have been super easy to deal with when I’ve needed to make a claim.

California and Arizona are two of the most naturally stunning states in the whole of the USA. 

There are endless road trips that you could take in both, but I hope this has given you some ideas and an idea of how to make the most of your own trip. 

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How to road trip California to Arizona