San Diego to Phoenix Road Trip Itinerary

May 17, 2024

Tags:AZroad triptraveltips

map from san diego to phoenix road trip

The key to a good road trip is finding the right balance between spontaneity and planning. The road trip from San Diego to Phoenix is pretty much a straight shot off of Interstate 8 East, about 5 hours and 30 minutes. While we’d be lying if we said it wasn’t possible to do a day trip from one to the other. But we’d also be withholding a ton of great information if we didn’t include the cool detours you can make along the way. And spoiler alert- it’s a whole not more than just sand and desert. 

You’ll find two chunks of information here for your road trip. First is a condensed list of the main attractions and stops along the most direct route from San Diego to Phoenix. Second is a detoured 5-day itinerary, because, well, there’s a lot you can see. 

How Far is San Diego to Phoenix? 

Driving or riding from San Diego to Phoenix takes around 5 and a half hours, depending on traffic via I-8 E. You’ll travel south and along the US/Mexico border, and then you’ll be just north of the Garry M. Air Force Range for about another 120 miles from Yuma, Arizona, all the way to East Gila Bend. 

Pit Stops for a San Diego to Phoenix Road Trip - Direct Route

Looking for a few unique places to stop along the way without taking too many detours? Here are the main cities you’ll drive through on the shortest route from San Diego to Phoenix, and a few different things to do in some of them. Pick a few to make your trip more memorable! 

P.S. We even linked their business profiles so you can read up on them easily. Just click the business name!

San Diego

  • Old Town San Diego: A historic district with restored buildings, museums, and shops. A great place to learn about the area's Spanish and Mexican heritage.
  • Balboa Park: A massive urban park with museums, gardens, and the San Diego Zoo.

El Cajon


Pine Valley

  • Cleveland National Forest: This national forest offers scenic views, hiking trails, and campgrounds. Pine Valley has several trailheads for exploring the forest.

Boulevard and Campo

Imperial Sand Dunes

Yuma, Arizona

Gila Bend

Casa Grande

San Diego to Phoenix Road Trip 5-Day Itinerary 

Day 1 - San Diego to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Panoramic view of badlands from Fonts Point in Anza Borrego Desert State Park San Diego to Phoenix Road Trip Itinerary

  • Morning Departure: Start early from San Diego to make the most of your day. Head northeast toward Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
  • Travel Time: 2 - 2.5 hours (85 miles)
  • Route: Take I-8 East, then head north on CA-79, transitioning to S-22 to reach Borrego Springs.
  • Activities in Anza-Borrego: Explore the park's unique desert landscapes. Hike to Font's Point for panoramic views, visit the Slot Canyon, or enjoy the giant metal sculptures scattered throughout the desert.
  • Evening and Overnight Stay: Camp in the park or find accommodation in Borrego Springs for a peaceful night under the stars.

Day 2 - Anza-Borrego to Yuma, Arizona

sunset view of the gateway sign to downtown yuma San Diego to Phoenix Road Trip Itinerary

  • Departure from Anza-Borrego: Head back to I-8 East toward Yuma, Arizona.
  • Travel Time: 2 - 2.5 hours (120 miles)
  • Route: Continue on I-8 East, passing through the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area.
  • Stops Along the Way: Take a break at the Imperial Sand Dunes, where you can walk on the dunes or watch off-road vehicles in action.
  • Arrival in Yuma: Arrive in Yuma by early afternoon. Visit the Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park, where you can learn about the history of the prison and the Old West.
  • Evening and Overnight Stay: Explore Yuma's historic downtown, with restaurants and shops. Stay in one of the local hotels or motels.

Day 3 - Yuma to Phoenix via Gila Bend

petraglyph site near gila bend San Diego to Phoenix Road Trip Itinerary

  • Departure from Yuma: Continue east on I-8 toward Phoenix, with a stop in Gila Bend.
  • Travel Time: 2.5 - 3 hours (175 miles)
  • Route: Continue on I-8 East, passing through Gila Bend.
  • Stops Along the Way: In Gila Bend, visit the Painted Rock Petroglyph Site, a location with ancient petroglyphs. Stop at the Gila Bend Visitor Center to learn more about the area's history.
  • Arrival in Phoenix: Reach Phoenix in the afternoon. Visit the Desert Botanical Garden or the Musical Instrument Museum for a unique experience.
  • Evening and Overnight Stay: Stay in downtown Phoenix for easy access to restaurants, nightlife, and other attractions.

Day 4 - Phoenix to Sedona

sedona San Diego to Phoenix Road Trip Itinerary

Take a detour to Sedona, because, well, why not? 

  • Departure from Phoenix: Head north toward Sedona for a day of exploring the red rock formations.
  • Travel Time: 2 - 2.5 hours (115 miles)
  • Route: Take I-17 North, then transition to US-89A toward Sedona.
  • Exploring Sedona: Visit popular sites like Cathedral Rock and Bell Rock. Take a jeep tour to see the rugged backcountry, or hike one of the many trails in the area.
  • Evening and Overnight Stay: Stay in Sedona to enjoy the peaceful surroundings and stunning scenery.

Day 5 - Back to Phoenix

phoenix arizona skyline San Diego to Phoenix Road Trip Itinerary

  • Return to Phoenix: After a leisurely breakfast, return to Phoenix for your final day.
  • Travel Time: 2 - 2.5 hours (115 miles)
  • Route: Take US-89A back to I-17 South toward Phoenix.
  • Activities in Phoenix: Visit the Heard Museum to learn about Native American history, or explore South Mountain Park, one of the largest municipal parks in the country.
  • Concluding the Trip: Enjoy your last evening in Phoenix, perhaps with a visit to one of the city's excellent restaurants or a walk through downtown's arts district. Stay overnight in Phoenix to wrap up your road trip.

Motorcycle Rentals for Your San Diego to Phoenix Road Trip

For your San Diego to Phoenix road trip, consider renting a motorcycle through Riders Share, the leading peer-to-peer motorcycle rental platform. Riders Share connects you with bike owners, offering a diverse selection of motorcycles, from cruisers to sport bikes and everything in between. With its intuitive platform, you can find the perfect ride for your journey, whether you prefer a classic Harley-Davidson or a sleek Yamaha. Riders Share provides insurance coverage and a user-friendly rental process, ensuring your road trip is smooth and enjoyable from start to finish. This flexible option allows you to embrace the open road on a motorcycle that suits your style and preferences.

Have a Great Trip!

Get ready for your San Diego to Phoenix road trip! This itinerary offers a balance of direct routes and detours, allowing you to experience a mix of city life, desert landscapes, and unique attractions. From the historic sites in San Diego to the stunning views in Sedona, there's much to see.

Whether you're interested in a short day trip or a longer adventure, this guide has you covered. Enjoy your drive through beautiful Southern California and Arizona, and don't forget to make some great memories along the way.