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- Key trip details
- Atlanta, GA
- Memphis, TN
- Little Rock, AR
- Oklahoma City, OK
- Amarillo, TX
- Albuquerque, NM
- Grand Canyon, AZ
- Phoenix, AZ
- San Diego, CA
- Roadside assistance
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This Atlanta to San Diego road trip is a whirlwind cross-country adventure that only hardcore road trippers should attempt. You’ll cross most of the continental United States on this voyage, visiting seven cities and towns as well as one of the world’s most famous natural landmarks.
Driving cross country on an Atlanta to San Diego road trip isn’t for the faint of heart. You’ll spend up to six hours a day driving, with nine scheduled stops in cities and towns along the way. And that’s just getting to San Diego. Getting back to Atlanta will be another adventure in and of itself.
This Atlanta to San Diego road trip, brought to you by the car insurance broker and comparison shopping app Jerry, will be difficult for some drivers, especially if you’re traveling with kids. But it’ll be even harder on your car.
That’s why investing in Jerry’s well-rounded, surprisingly cheap roadside assistance is a good idea! Jerry’s roadside assistance offers benefits like towing, lockout service, and a mechanics hotline.
Be sure to check your fluids, brakes, tires, lights, and oil before you hit the road!
Key Trip Details
Distance: 2,408 miles
Driving time: 36 hours (2 to 6 hours per day)
Suggested length of trip: 8 or 9 days
This is a lengthy journey for serious lovers of road trips. We highly recommend traveling with another licensed driver who can share in some of the behind-the-wheel work if that’s an option. You might even be able to skip some of the stops and shorten this trip by a few days.
There are faster ways to get from Atlanta to San Diego, but not by much. This route adds a few hours of drive time, but makes a few strategically-planned stops in cities with great food, entertainment options, and places to stay.
The cities you’ll visit include:
- Atlanta, Georgia
- Memphis, Tennessee
- Little Rock, Arkansas
- Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
- Amarillo, Texas
- Albuquerque, New Mexico
- Grand Canyon Village, Arizona
- Phoenix, Arizona
- San Diego, California
This road trip doesn’t account for time spent in San Diego or time heading back to Atlanta. It’ll take you more than a week to complete this trip, so if you’re taking time off from work, be sure to take that into consideration too. If that’s too much time, maybe check out our list of the best road trips in Georgia instead!
Pro Tip: Make sure your car is ready for this epic Atlanta to San Diego road trip. Have a professional mechanic give your car a thorough inspection, and consider investing in Jerry’s roadside assistance before you head out.
Start in Atlanta
If you follow any travel blogs or magazines, you probably see Atlanta coming up a lot. It’s frequently named as one of the best, most tourist-friendly cities to visit in North America. And there aren’t many other American cities in Atlanta’s weight class when it comes to kicking off a massive road trip.
Where to Stay in Atlanta
- Staybridge Suites Atlanta (from $98): Affordable and accommodating, this chain hotel is conveniently located just a block away from Atlanta’s world-renowned Fox Theater and is within walking distance of the Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca-Cola, as well as the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Illuminarium is a short drive away, too.
- The Georgian Terrace (from $132): A beautiful three-star hotel just up the street from the aforementioned Staybridge Suites, the Georgian Terrace offers upscale rooms but at a higher price point.
- The Kimpton Sylvan Hotel (from $156): This swanky hotel is a bit further from downtown, but has excellent four-star rooms at three-star rates.
Where to Eat in Atlanta
- Home Grown GA Restaurant ($): Their chicken biscuits have made national news and they’re easily the most family-friendly restaurant on our list. Their chicken and waffles are world-class!
- Antico ($$) Antico serves the most authentic Italian pizza you’ll find in Atlanta. Keep in mind this is real Italian pizza, not American-style pizza. If the menu looks confusing, just remember “rosso” means red sauce and “bianche” means white sauce. You probably want the margherita pizza with or without pepperoni. That’s an easier introduction to authentic pizza.
- Slutty Vegan ($$): The name isn’t exactly family-friendly and neither are the names of the meals you’ll find on their menus. But this famous counter-serve joint serves up the absolute best plant-based burgers you’ll find in the Atlanta area. Even the most devout carnivore will be duped by these meatless meals.
- Canoe ($$$): Canoe is an upscale New American restaurant with great seafood entrees, but it’s their ice cream desserts that they pair with the meals that really clinches their spot on our list of must-visit restaurants in Atlanta.
- Bones ($$$$): A renowned mainstay of Atlanta’s food scene, Bones is an upscale steakhouse (with a dress code) that is serving up a brilliant selection of steaks and wines. Bones is pricier than we like to recommend usually, but if you’re looking for a nice celebratory dinner to kick off your Atlanta to San Diego road trip, make it Bones.
What to do in Atlanta
- Center for Puppetry Arts: Kids will go bananas over this fun puppetry workshop, where they can see Kermit and the Muppets and countless other thrilling exhibits. Tickets are $22 per person, and worth every penny!
- The Fernbank Museum: One of the most well-rounded museums you’ll find in the country, the Fernbank Museum features everything from dinosaurs to science and technology in a fun, interactive space that’s thrilling for visitors of all ages. General admission tickets for children ages 3 to 12 cost $18, while adults cost $20.
- The Michael C. Carlos Museum: Another famous museum, the Michael C. Carlos Museum features captivating historical exhibits, including ancient statues, mummies, and art. General admission tickets cost just $6 for seniors, students, and kids ages 6 to 17, and tickets for adults are $8.
- World of Coca-Cola: Pepsi fans may want to skip to the next attraction. The World of Coca-Cola showcases Atlanta’s internationally celebrated fizzy export in a way anyone and everyone can enjoy, even if you’re not a fan of soft drinks. General admission tickets cost $14 for kids (3 to 12), $16 for seniors, and $18 for adults.
- Illuminarium: One of only two Illuminariums in the world (the other being in Las Vegas), this amazing facility uses cutting-edge video and sound projection to immerse you in a fully 360-degree world like nothing else you’ll experience without requiring a special high-tech helmet. You’ll even smell—yes, smell—the show being presented. It’s something everyone needs to try! Tickets cost $30 for youths and $35 for adults.
- Centennial Park: Atlanta was home to the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, and Centennial Park still stands as a major tourist attraction. The park is free to explore, and definitely something everyone visiting Atlanta should experience!
Atlanta to Memphis
Distance: 391 miles, 5 hours 46 minutes
The first leg of this Atlanta to San Diego road trip will take you to one of the epicenters of American popular music: Memphis. If you’re an Elvis Presley fan, you’ve probably always wanted to visit here. And if you’re not into his music, have no fear—Memphis is a super cool city where you’ll have tons of fun regardless!
To reach Memphis, hop on Interstate 20 west and continue to Birmingham, Alabama. There, you’ll swap onto Interstate 65 North toward Huntsville—watch carefully for exit 124C—and then take exit 265A for Interstate 22 west.
Eventually, you’ll end up near a town called Byhalia, Mississippi. Start keeping an eye out for exit 12 B-A which will take you to Interstate 269 South. You’ll then take exit 1B and merge onto Interstate 55 North. And this will take you into Memphis.
Pro Tip: Tupelo, Mississippi is a nice town to stop off in for a pitstop. It’s also the birthplace of Elvis Presley!
MORE: Road trip essentials
Where to stay in Memphis
- The Guest House at Graceland (from $110): This extraordinary four-star hotel is just up the street from Graceland. It features suites designed under the guidance of Priscilla Presley and a 464-seat theater that puts on movies and live music performances, often from big-name stars.
- Hyatt Centric Beale Street Memphis (from $169): The only hotel directly on Beale Street, this upscale inn puts you right at the heart of the action in Memphis, with stunning views of the city and the Mississippi River.
Where to eat in Memphis
- Dyer’s Burgers ($): Dyer’s serves up one of America’s most iconic burgers and has been doing so since 1912. Try out their legendary double-doubles and shakes.
- Blues City Cafe ($$): You can’t visit Memphis without spending some time in a vintage juke joint, and Blues City Cafe is the king...no Elvis puns intended. Be sure to try a cup of Memphis Soul Stew!
- The Majestic Grille ($$): Widely regarded as one of America’s best brunch spots, the Majestic is part-restaurant, part-movie hall, with vintage silent films projected through a classic theater space. Elevated dining watching old Buster Keaton movies? Sign us up! Have the kids try the grilled cheese. Actually, adults should try the grilled cheese, too.
- Itta Bena ($$$): Upstairs from BB King’s Blues Club is Itta Bena, a dimly lit cabaret and dinner club where you’ll find this restaurant’s sophisticated takes on classic southern dishes.
What to do in Memphis
- Visit Graceland: The estate of Elvis Presley is the second-most famous residence in the United States (the first being the White House, of course). And each year, countless Elvis fans and music buffs make pilgrimages from all over the world to see this gorgeous home.
There’s lots to see and do here beyond the house itself, too. Tickets are a bit pricey—$75 for adults, and $43 for kids ages 5 to 10—but if you’re a devout Elvis fan who ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog, those prices won’t prevent you from putting on your blue suede...sorry, we’ll stop with the puns.
- Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum: An incredible museum highlighting the city’s deep musical roots, visiting this cool Smithsonian-affiliated museum is an absolute must. Tickets are just $13 per adult and $10 per youth.
- Stax Museum of American Soul Music: For serious musicians, Studio A at Stax is hallowed ground. And today, you can visit that very studio and explore some of the instruments used in this legendary studio’s famous recordings. Tickets cost $10 per child (9 to 12) and $13 per adult. Kids 8 and under are free!
- National Civil Rights Museum: An important tour through the history of civil rights in America, with important exhibits showcasing the struggles of people of color and offering invaluable insights into the long fight for equality.
The National Civil Rights Museum is built on the site where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, and the Lorraine Motel, where he was staying, is preserved and a part of this vital museum. Tickets for kids ages 5 to 17 cost $15, and tickets for adults cost $18.
Memphis to Little Rock
Distance: 137 miles, 2 hours
Little Rock, Arkansas is probably best known as the hometown of American President Bill Clinton. But this smaller city is also home to some of the most beautiful buildings in the South. And it played pivotal roles in American civil rights history.
To reach Little Rock, simply take Interstate 40 West out of Memphis. You’ll be staying on Interstate 40 West for most of the rest of this Atlanta to San Diego road trip.
Pro Tip: If you’re short on time and have two drivers, you could skip Little Rock. But this makes the drive seven hours long and might be extreme for many drivers.
Where to stay in Little Rock
- The Little Rock Marriott (from $158): A large chain hotel from a trusted brand, the Little Rock Marriott is within walking distance of the Clinton Presidential Library and a short drive to Little Rock’s other attractions.
- The Capital Hotel (from $250): Just across the street from the Marriott is what many consider to be the finest five-star hotel in Little Rock—maybe even the whole state of Arkansas. This stately hotel first opened in 1876 and has provided a luxurious stay to countless important visitors ever since.
Where to eat in Little Rock
- The Corner Diner ($$): The perfect spot for breakfast and on the way between our recommended hotels and the Clinton Library. If you didn’t try chicken and waffles for breakfast in Atlanta or Memphis yet, this is your last great chance!
- Buenos Aires Grill and Cafe ($$): Excellent, authentic Argentinian fare with great options for kids and what might very well be the best steaks in Little Rock.
- South on Main ($$): Great counter-served food with cocktails and occasional live music. An ideal dinner restaurant for adults. Try their insanely yummy brisket melt!
What to do in Little Rock
- William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum: Little Rock’s biggest tourism draw, former President Bill Clinton’s Presidential Library features a museum and history buffs will love to visit. Tickets for kids ages 6 to 17 cost $6 each, and tickets for adults cost $10.
- Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site: Little Rock Central High School was the site where, in 1957, a group of black students—the Little Rock Nine—had to be escorted by Federal soldiers past local national guardsmen ordered up by the governor. The school is still active with students, but the park has free access, and there are free guided tours as well.
- Ride a Metro Streetcar: When you think of streetcars, you probably imagine San Francisco. But Little Rock has an active streetcar collection that bustles locals and tourists from one destination to the next. A one-way ride costs $2.70, or you can buy 10 rides at once for $25.
Little Rock to Oklahoma City
Distance: 339 miles, 5 hours
Grab your cowboy hats. With one of the largest livestock markets on Earth, Oklahoma City is big on cowboy culture, making this fun and friendly city a great pitstop on your Atlanta to San Diego road trip.
When you leave Little Rock, get back on Interstate 40 West and continue until you reach Oklahoma City.
Pro Tip: The Ozark region can be easily reached on this stretch. If you’re interested in a detour, take exit 64 and follow US 64 to AR-21 north, which will take you to Ozark National Forest.
Where to stay in Oklahoma City
- Hampton Inn Oklahoma City Northeast (from $60): Cheap, clean, comfortable rooms. This is a hotel with rave reviews belonging to a trusted chain, and with its incredibly convenient location near Frontier City, you really can’t go wrong.
- Bradford House (from $100): With just 36 guest rooms, this quaint OKC hotel almost has a B&B vibe, with a great little restaurant for brunch or evening cocktails. Make sure you book your stay well in advance!
- Omni Oklahoma City Hotel (from $165): Looking for something a little more upscale and current? The stylish, sophisticated Omni Hotel is close to the heart of the city and has all the amenities you’d expect from an Omni Hotel.
Where to eat in Oklahoma City
- Belle Kitchen ($): A quick, cheap, yummy breakfast. What more do you need to start your day? Belle Kitchen has been featured on the Cooking Channel’s show “Cheap Eats” for delivering precisely that.
- Waffle Champion ($$): This trendy, busy breakfast spot has a broad menu of options, and great breakfast sausages. Kids will love their sweet waffles.
- Social Capital ($$): You probably wouldn’t think “family-friendly” and “beer garden” are two phrases that could ever mingle, but they manage to strike up a nice conversation at Social Capital. This trendy but affordable restaurant is a nice choice for lunch with or without the kids.
MORE: Foodie road trip Midwest
What to do in Oklahoma City
- Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum: A solemn remembrance of the largest domestic terror attack in US history. This museum tells the story of the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. Tickets cost $12 for kids ages 6 to 17 and college students and $15 per adult.
- National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum: This museum explores the history and culture of the west, with exhibits showcasing art and artifacts that bring the westward expansion to life. Admission for children ages 6 to 12 cost $5.75 each while tickets for adults cost $12.50 each.
- Ride a Bricktown Water Taxi: A really fun way to explore OKC, the Bricktown water taxi takes you on a guided tour down the Bricktown Canal. Kids five and under ride for $4 each, youths 6 to 12 for $10, and adults for $13.
- Frontier City: OKC’s Six Flags amusement park, with a unique western theme. It’s a bit of a drive from the other attractions, but well worth it, especially if you’re traveling with kids or young adults. Ticket prices fluctuate but typically start at $29.99 each. Parking also costs $20.
Oklahoma City to Amarillo
Distance: 260 miles, 3 hours 50 minutes
From Oklahoma City, Interstate 40 West gets interesting—you’re actually following the legendary Route 66! You can stay on Interstate 40 to save a little time, or follow the signs to stay on historic Route 66 until you reach your next stop: Amarillo, Texas.
Like Austin, Amarillo can be a little...different. Quirky. Like that one cool aunt you have who gave you dreamcatchers when you were a kid. For instance, Amarillo is home to the famous Cadillac Ranch, where ten wildly painted Cadillacs are partially buried nose-first in the ground. Or you can visit a big random pair of statue legs frequently spray painted by locals because...well, nobody really knows why.
Pro tip: It was actually Route 66 that put Amarillo on the map. The city has been a popular stop on America’s most famous road for decades.
Where to stay in Amarillo
- Big Texan Motel (from $60): When traveling any stretch of Route 66, you want a genuine motel experience...but you might not want to sleep in your typical rundown motel. Enter the Big Texan, a fun western-themed motel next door to Amarillo’s most famous steakhouse. The rooms are straight out of the 1870s—apart from running water and flat-screen televisions, that is. This is a cool, affordable place to stay.
- The Barfield, Autograph Collection (from $159): Not after that authentic motel experience? Amarillo has several chain hotels, but the nicest of them is arguably the Barfield, a sleek luxury offering that flirts with the west, but keeps things contemporary through and through.
Where to eat in Amarillo
- The Big Texan Steak Ranch and Brewery ($$): You simply can’t talk about food in Amarillo without starting with the Big Texan. This world-famous steakhouse features a gut-busting challenge: eat a baked potato, a salad, a buttered roll, a shrimp cocktail, and a massive 72-ounce steak, and your $72 dinner is free.
- FAVs ($): One of the best spots for lunch or dinner in Amarillo, FAVs has a diverse menu including vegetarian and vegan options. Their smoothies are top-notch!
- Ye Olde Pancake Station ($): The quintessential breakfast spot when passing through Amarillo, period. As their name implies, the pancakes here are stellar.
What to do in Amarillo
- Palo Duro Canyon State Park: If you’re reading all of this and wondering when you get to the Grand Canyon, Palo Duro will definitely tide you over for a while. This is the second-largest canyon in the United States, with gorgeous red rock cliffs dotted with trees. Everyone ages 13 and over must pay $8 to enter, while everyone 12 and under is free. There’s also camping here, too!
- Don Harrington Discovery Center and Space Theater: A fun, interactive children’s museum featuring a planetarium. Tickets for kids ages 3 to 17 cost $9 each. Tickets for students, seniors, and military cost $11, and tickets for adults sell for $14.
- Wonderland Amusement Park: Open only from April through September, this fun amusement park with carnival-like vibes will easily keep the whole family laughing and playing all day.
Amarillo to Albuquerque
Distance: 288 miles, 4 hours 15 minutes
It’s true that every American city is unique. Each has its own personality. This Atlanta to San Diego road trip has at this point made a pretty compelling argument in support of that fact. And now it’s time to meet another unique character: Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Albuquerque—don’t worry, we can’t spell it without double-checking, either—is a large city with a history dating all the way back to 1706, making it the oldest city on this road trip. You’ll want to breathe in the incredible history and deep cultural offerings here.
The driving directions are pretty straightforward. From Amarillo, you’ll get back on Interstate 40 West (which is also Route 66) and continue on this highway for nearly 290 miles to Albuquerque.
Pro Tip: Albuquerque has a high crime rate. Stick to the tourist areas and be sure you keep your car alarm armed just to be safe.
Where to stay in Albuquerque
- The Monterey Motel (from $90): This surprisingly sleek motel is a far cry from the outdated and sometimes grubby motels we all try to not look at while driving by. The Monterey has comfortable, clean, modern rooms and is a great choice when traveling on a budget.
- The El Vado Motel (from $120): The El Vado Motel was one of the very first motels ever built in New Mexico on Route 66, dating back to 1937, and easily its longest-lasting. With several “food pods” onsite leased to restaurant startups, the El Vado is another great Old Town motel with stylish rooms.
- Hotel Albuquerque at Old Town (from $169): Located in Old Town and just across the street from Sawmill Market, this lavish four-star hotel has a restaurant and resort-style swimming pool.
Where to eat in Albuquerque
- Flying Roadrunner Bakery ($): A great little bakery for breakfast, with sandwiches, breakfast tacos, and pastries galore. Oh, and coffee. Sweet, glorious coffee.
- Old Town Pizza Parlor ($): Finding good pizza this far west can sometimes be a challenge, but it’s a challenge Old Town Pizza Parlor scoffs at. Their pizza and calzones are excellent and will easily satiate the fussiest pizza aficionado you’re traveling with.
- Sawmill Market ($$): The cornerstone of a local neighborhood revitalization effort, Sawmill Market houses a wine bar, a brewery, and 17 local eateries and shops in a location that originally opened in 1903 as a lumber yard.
- High Noon Restaurant and Saloon ($$): With its unique menu blending American and Mexican foods with local fare, High Noon is a vegetarian-friendly new American restaurant with what very well might be the best steaks in Albuquerque.
What to do in Albuquerque
- Explore Old Town: Take a stroll through history in Albuquerque’s cultural mecca, Old Town. Explore old pueblo buildings, learn about New Mexico history on guided tours, visit shops and museums, and find great food all in this rad little neighborhood.
- Petroglyph National Monument: The petroglyphs here were created by Native Americans and Spanish settlers and date back as far as 700 years. There are no fees to enter the National Monument.
- Indian Pueblo Cultural Center: This museum introduces you to Pueblo culture through exhibits, live events, guided tours, and more. There’s a restaurant and art store here too! General admission tickets cost $7 for youths ages 5 to 17 as well as students and seniors. Tickets for adults cost $10 each.
- The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History: This fascinating science museum is centered around nuclear science, with New Mexico having played a key role in the Manhattan Project and atomic research. Tickets cost $11 per child (6 to 17) and $15 per adult, with discounts for seniors, veterans, and active military and their dependents.
- Route 66 Casino: The Route 66 Casino features slot machines, table games, restaurants and bars, and even has fun spaces for kids.
Albuquerque to Grand Canyon Village
Distance: 410 miles, 6 hours and 10 minutes
Now comes the hardest leg to drive on this Atlanta to San Diego road trip. The drive from Albuquerque to the Grand Canyon will take you over 6 hours, not counting rest stops. This may be too extreme for some drivers; you may want to consider adding a stop in Gallup, New Mexico if you can’t drive the full distance in one shot.
To reach Grand Canyon Village, you’ll get back on Interstate 40 West (Route 66) and follow it into Arizona. After passing Flagstaff, you’ll sadly part ways with Route 66 and take exit 165. Stay on Arizona route 64 North for about an hour and follow the signs to Grand Canyon Village.
Grand Canyon Village is a small tourist trap and arguably the best place to explore the Grand Canyon. With hotels, eateries, museums, and trailheads, it’s easy to spend several days exploring this nifty town.
Pro Tip: It’s recommended you take occasional breaks and get out of the car when driving long distances. Stop off somewhere well lit and preferably populated and stretch your legs for a bit!
MORE: Road trip games
Where to stay in Grand Canyon Village
- Yavapai Lodge (from $118): A travelodge keeping true to the traditions of route 66, Yavapai Lodge feels just dated enough to feel nostalgic while being contemporary in all the ways that matter. With the Yavapai Lodge’s convenient location, it’s best to book a room here well in advance.
- The Red Feather Lodge (from $125): The Red Feather Lodge is down the road a ways on route 64 in Tusayan. It’s a six-minute drive, or you can take a shuttle bus to the village. The Red Feather is nicely equipped with amenities and conveniently situated near several restaurants in town.
- El Tovar Hotel (from $278): You might mistake the overwhelmingly rustic swagger of the El Tovar hotel as kitsch, but this celebrated inn dates back to 1905 and is about as authentically western as hotels can get. This three-star hotel almost feels like a museum. The rooms are a little dated, but in a charming way. This is our top choice for staying in Grand Canyon Village.
Where to eat in Grand Canyon Village
- Foodie Club ($): “Fast and good” is the motto at this alternative to the fast-food joints you’ll find in Tusayan and the upscale sit-down restaurants in the Grand Canyon Village. Foodie Club has great diner options, including an all-day breakfast, all at a reasonable price. We highly recommend them for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
- Fred Harvey Burger ($): Operated by the Grand Canyon Lodges, Fred Harvey Burger is a casual, family-friendly lunch spot specializing in burgers, beyond burgers, fries, and options for kids like hot dogs and popcorn chicken.
- El Tovar Dining Room ($$$): A proper upscale restaurant in the El Tovar Hotel. You’ll need to reserve a table to eat in this steakhouse.
What to do in Grand Canyon Village
- Yavapai Point: Considered by many to be the most beautiful view of the Grand Canyon, Yavapai Point will take your breath away with its absolutely stunning views. Few spots on Earth can make you feel so small, yet so connected.
- Yavapai Geology Museum: This museum at Yavapai Point offers huge views of the Grand Canyon, a geology museum, and a bookshop. Admission is free of charge. Visiting this small museum is a must, especially if you’re traveling with kids.
- Take a Hike!: Grand Canyon Village has several trailheads in the area with varying degrees of difficulty. The famous Bright Angel trailhead will take you nearly eight full miles!
Grand Canyon Village to Phoenix
Distance: 3 hours 35 minutes
No one wants to leave the Grand Canyon, but alas, there’s still more adventure ahead on this Atlanta to San Diego road trip. So let’s continue on to the biggest city in Arizona: Phoenix!
To reach Phoenix, get back on Arizona Route 64 going south, and continue all the way back to Interstate 40. Only this time, you’ll take I-40 EAST (not west!) and head back to Flagstaff. Here you’ll take exit 195 for Interstate 17 South, which takes you to Phoenix.
Phoenix is the fastest-growing large American city, and it’s not hard to appreciate why. With countless outdoor activities, great food, and loads of history and culture around every corner, Phoenix is another of the cities on this Atlanta to San Diego road trip you won’t be in a big hurry to leave.
Pro tip: It can reach upwards of 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer in Phoenix. Make sure your car’s air conditioner is working well!
Where to stay in Phoenix
- Best Western Plus Scottsdale (from $100): You would never believe it without seeing it, but this inexpensive Best Western hotel has excellent rooms and a world-class pool area. It’s a little far from the attractions and too close to the Scottsdale Airport for our liking, but the rooms are cheap, nice, and unfussy. If all this driving hasn’t exhausted you, consider this cheap, nice hotel.
- FOUND:RE (from $130): A chic, upscale boutique hotel with inspiring art on nearly every wall, FOUND:RE is a hotel you could easily imagine in NYC or London. It puts out incredibly youthful vibes. A great option for young adults, art lovers, or anyone looking to be downtown near the heart of the action.
- Cambria Hotel Phoenix (from $141): Just up the street from the Musical Instrument Museum, the Cambria Hotel has sleek, modern, executive styling, great on-site dining, and easy highway access.
- Orange Tree Resort (from $150): If you’re a golfer, we don’t need to suggest what you’ll want to do while visiting Phoenix. You likely already know that Phoenix is a golfer's paradise. Orange Tree Resort doesn’t just offer stunning locally-styled rooms, but an ASGA-rated golf course!
Where to eat in Phoenix
- Nami ($): A great breakfast spot and bakery with a fully vegan-friendly menu.
- Coco’s Bakery Restaurant ($$): A west coast chain predominantly found in Los Angeles, Coco’s has all the quintessential breakfast offerings, and it’s very family-friendly too. They do lunch and dinner as well, but breakfast at Coco’s is where it’s at.
- Tru Burger ($$): They may only have two locations in Phoenix right now, but with amazing Angus and bison burgers, loads of vegetarian and vegan options, and next-level salads, don’t be surprised if you see these popping up elsewhere someday.
- Durant’s ($$$$): Fine dining in Phoenix has a name, and that name is Durant’s. This world-famous downtown steakhouse is pricey, but the perfect spot if you need a nice evening out. There’s no dress code at Durant’s, but anything less than business casual will turn heads in all the wrong ways.
What to do in Phoenix
- Musical Instrument Museum: With fascinating musical instruments spanning more than 6,000 years of human history, it’s worth visiting Phoenix just to see this incredible museum. General admission for one day costs $10 per child (4 to 12), $15 per teen (13 to 19), and $20 per adult.
- Heard Museum: The Heard Museum celebrates American Indian art and culture with moving and educational exhibits that truly captivate and inspire visitors. Tickets for children ages 6 to 17 cost $9 each, senior tickets are $17, and adult tickets are $20. American Indian visitors always get free admission.
- Ride the Dolly Steamboat: Since the 1980s, the Dolly Steamboat has been taking visitors on grand tours of Canyon Lake. This fun, charming paddling steamboat will thrill kids and adults alike. Tour prices vary but start at $25 per ticket. The twilight dinner cruise for $64 is especially enchanting.
- Visit the Goldfield Ghost Town: We love immersive history towns like Colonial Williamsburg and Deadwood South Dakota, and Goldfield is easily one of the best in the country. This was actually a real mining community once upon a time, but today it’s filled with shops and actors who have shootouts in the streets. Super fun!
- Explore the Great Outdoors: Phoenix is well known for its plethora of awesome hiking trails and outdoor activities. Go explore the desert on an ATV or UTV. Try white water rafting (don’t worry, it’s safe enough for kids). And if that’s a little too outdoorsy for you, take a tour through the desert in a Tesla!
Phoenix to San Diego
Distance: 355 miles, 5 hours 20 minutes
We’ve finally come to the end of this epic Atlanta to San Diego road trip. Along the way, your car became a time machine, transporting you from ancient native settlements to the wild west and into some of America’s most impressive modern cities. Exploring a nice swath of Route 66 was almost a bonus.
But here’s where that one famous Chaucer quote you learned in high school rears its ugly head. All good things do indeed come to an end. But there’s really no better place for this Homeric road trip to reach its conclusion than San Diego.
It’s difficult to sum up San Diego briefly. The weather is flawless, the beaches are picturesque, the food is just about perfect, and the attractions are thrilling. Everyone you meet is friendly, happy, and accommodating. San Diego is just an all-around excellent city.
When you leave Phoenix, take Interstate 10 West and get off on exit 112, which takes you on Arizona 85 South. Eventually, you’ll get on Interstate 8 West, which will take you all the way to San Diego.
Pro tip: If you’re hoping to break up this lengthy drive a little, consider making a pitstop (or even an overnight, if you have the time) in Yuma, Arizona.
Where to stay in San Diego
- The Porto Vista Hotel (from $100): In southern California, a lot of hotels have taken to incorporating 50s, 60s, and 70s nostalgia into their designs. The Porto Vista puts a modern spin on this concept with comfortable, approachable, functional 21st-century rooms accented with hints of retro essence.
- The Dana on Mission Bay (From $110): Named for Dana Point, which in turn is named after Two Years Before the Mast author Richard Henry Dana, The Dana on Mission Bay is right near Mission Beach and Seaworld. It’s easily the most family-friendly hotel on our list.
- The La Pensione Hotel (from $130): Another hotel in Little Italy, the La Pensione Hotel is a great alternative to the Porto Vista and Tower23.
- Tower23 Hotel (from $180): Looking for a nice hotel right on the beach? Tower23 is your best bet. It has a great restaurant too, called JRDN.
Where to eat in San Diego
- Breakfast Republic ($$): A popular local chain, Breakfast Republic has three convenient locations close to the San Diego Zoo. If you find a list of restaurants with the best french toast and Breakfast Republic isn’t on that list, it’s quite frankly not a very good list.
- Harbor Breakfast ($$): Some of us aren’t morning people. We don’t wanna hustle and we definitely don’t wanna bustle. Harbor Breakfast is a laid-back, relaxing place with an inventive menu. Despite the name, lunches are great here too!
- Pete’s Seafood and Sandwich ($$): This unassuming restaurant may not look like much from the outside, but inside, you’ll find some of the best lobster rolls and clam chowder you’ll ever have the pleasure of devouring.
- La Puerta: ($$) You can’t visit SoCal without sampling some authentic Mexican food, and it doesn’t get much more authentic than the menu at La Puerta. If you enjoy a blend of sweet and spicy, try their pastor quesadilla, which fuses pineapple and jalapeno to make one of the yummiest entrees you’ll find on this road trip.
- Monello Italian Restaurant ($$): We adore Monello’s slogan: Timeless, not trendy. That perfectly captures the essence of this Milanese restaurant. With authentic northern Italian meals at affordable prices, Monello is an easy contender for the best restaurant in San Diego, at least on our scorecards.
What to do in San Diego
- Visit Mission Beach: San Diego’s picture-perfect boardwalk, Mission Beach and the Belmont Park area are super fun for the whole family, with food, shops, and even a rollercoaster. The mission beach area is a neighborhood so it’s free to enter, but you’ll likely spend money while visiting.
- The San Diego Zoo: If the San Diego Zoo isn’t the most famous zoo on Earth, it’s definitely a top contender. This enormous zoo has guided bus tours, a sky tram, and a “Kangaroo bus” with regular stops at some of its biggest attractions. Tickets start at $52 per child ages 3 to 11 and $62 for everyone 12 and over.
- Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum: The USS Midway aircraft carrier was converted into a floating museum, one that will captivate kids for hours. General admission costs $18 for kids ages 6 to 12, as well as anyone with a military ID. Tickets for everyone else cost $26 each.
Coast to coast protection with Jerry’s roadside assistance
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