The Ultimate San Diego to Lake Tahoe Road Trip

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Looking to take your next California road trip? We’ve got you covered with everything you need to know about the road from San Diego to Lake Tahoe.
You’ll start in San Diego, then take a short drive up to Los Angeles. From there, you’ll head to beautiful San Luis Obispo, then to San Jose—and finally to one of California’s gems, Lake Tahoe.
Make sure you’re ready for your road trip by getting emergency roadside assistance with the car insurance comparison app Jerry. With Jerry’s program, you’ll have access to services like fuel delivery, winching, fuel delivery, lockout help, and more!
We hope you’re excited about your San Diego to Lake Tahoe road trip, and no need to stress over the details—we’ve gone ahead and planned the trip for you!
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Key trip details

San Diego to Tahoe road trip map
San Diego to Tahoe
Distance: 726 miles
Driving time: 11 hours and 50 minutes
Suggested length of trip: 2 to 3 days

Itinerary

  • San Diego, CA
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • San Luis Obispo, CA
  • San Jose, CA
  • Lake Tahoe, CA

San Diego to Los Angeles

You’ll start your trip in San Diego, one of California’s most historic cities. San Diego is home to the first Spanish settlement in California, which consisted of just one mission and a fort.
San Diego is an idyllic and laid-back beach town that boasts all the conveniences of a large major city.

Where to eat from San Diego to Los Angeles

  • The Crack Shack ($$): This spot is located in downtown San Diego and specializes in fried chicken. Almost every entree has fried chicken, but there are various salad bowl options for health-conscious eaters. There’s also a great bar with a unique cocktail menu!
  • Tacos el Gordo ($): Tacos el Gordo is a hugely popular Mexican food joint, and can usually be found with a long line out the door—but it’s worth the wait! Be sure to get a few different types of tacos—we recommend carnitas (shredded pork) and asada (steak).
  • James Coffee Co. ($): For good coffee, check out James Coffee Co.

What to do in San Diego

A red and dark green trolley passes through a sunny street of Old Town San Diego.
Old Town San Diego
  • Old Town San Diego: Old Town is the perfect spot for travelers. Old Town is a state historic park that commemorates the first Spanish settlement in California. Old Town hosts various local vendors who all offer free samples from their shops—you can try some fresh-made tortillas, olive oil, or chocolate, to name a few!
  • Hit the beach: Mission Beach, Ocean Beach, or Black’s Beach will delight any traveler—lie in the sun or swim and surf in the warm southern California water.

San Diego to Los Angeles

120 miles, 2 hours 12 minutes
The drive from San Diego to Los Angeles isn’t too far, and it will only take you a couple of hours (unless, of course, you hit some of that lovely LA traffic).
To make your way from San Diego to Los Angeles, take I-5 N for a direct route with unmissable ocean views.

Where to eat in Los Angeles

  • Pampas Grill Churrascaria ($$): This churrascaria is a surprisingly affordable Brazilian steakhouse with a couple of locations in LA. Grab some sides from the hot bar buffet (trust us—they’re good) and then order your freshly seared meat to top off your plate.
  • Sugarfish ($$$): Sugarfish is one of the most popular (and trendy) sushi spots in LA, and for good reason. Sugarfish will serve you simple, classic sushi rolls, and always with the highest quality seafood.
  • Coffee Commissary ($): And when you need a caffeine kick, Coffee Commissary has a handful of locations around the LA area. (Plus, the Burbank location has a killer brunch menu!)

What to do in Los Angeles

A bright view of the dome of Griffith Observatory and tourists passing by on the green lawn.
Griffith Observatory
  • Griffith Observatory: Griffith Observatory is a go-to LA lookout spot, great for tourists and locals alike. Near the observatory is Griffith Park, a large and expansive park in the middle of LA. Unwind and throw around a frisbee in the lush greenery.
  • The Getty Villa: We recommend checking out The Getty Villa, a museum right off coastal Highway 1 in Malibu, just outside of LA. The museum hosts mostly sculptures from various areas around the world, and it’s situated on a stunning seaside hill. You’ll get breathtaking views of the Pacific from the curated gardens.
Pro Tip: Check out Airbnb for affordable accommodations—LA has lots of Airbnb hosts with super cute places to stay!

Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo

189 miles, 3 hours 23 minutes
The drive from LA to San Luis Obispo takes about three hours by Highway 101—but, if you want to take the scenic route, take Highway 1 up the coast at the start of this drive. You’ll drive through Santa Barbara (stop off for a quick dunk in the ocean!) before continuing through rolling green hills to SLO, one of California’s quintessential college towns.
But don’t worry—it’s a college town, but it’s full of charm and fun activities!
Follow US-101 N for the fastest route.

Where to eat in San Luis Obispo

  • Woodstock’s Pizza ($$): For pizza, salads, and beers, look no further than Woodstock’s Pizza. A great place to gather around for a couple of pies with friends or fam!
  • Mistura ($$$): Mistura is a contemporary Peruvian eatery in SLO, is a great spot for all foodies. The menu gives you a taste of Peru—with many of the organic ingredients coming from the restaurant’s own garden!
  • Scout Coffee ($): Coffee lovers will appreciate SLO’s main specialty coffee shop, Scout Coffee.

What to do in San Luis Obispo

A view looking down from a cliff at Pismo Beach and its pier over bright blue water.
Pismo Beach
  • Pismo Beach: Head down to Pismo Beach for a day at the water—whether you want to swim or surf or just hang out on the beach. It might get chilly, so make sure you bring some warm clothes!
  • Bishop’s Peak: Outdoors lovers will enjoy hiking Bishop’s Peak, SLO’s most popular hiking trail. It’s difficult but totally rewarding, and it gives you great views of the area!

Where to stay in San Luis Obispo

  • Apple Farm Inn: This is a lovely little inn close to access to the SLO Creek and trails. Its refined country-style rooms will be sure to relax you after a day of driving. Cost per night: from $125
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San Luis Obispo to San Jose

185 miles, 2 hours 50 minutes
Next, you’ll continue up 101 for a little less than three hours into the heart of Silicon Valley. San Jose will offer you everything you want, from diverse cuisine to proximity to countless fun activities.
For this leg of the trip, you’re headed back onto US-101 N.

Where to eat in San Jose

  • Chaat Cafe ($): If you like Indian food, Chaat Cafe is your place. It’s super affordable, and the butter chicken is to die for (and it’s halal, too!).
  • Ludwig’s Biergarten ($$): Wanting a more sophisticated (but cozy) sit-down meal? Ludwig’s Biergarten brings you some of the best German beers and food offerings—from soft pretzel starters to spaetzle to schnitzel. Make sure you get the beer cheese sauce with your pretzel!

What to do in San Jose

A view of the grassy mountain and fog below at the summit of Mission Peak.
Mission Peak
  • Tech Museum: With family? Check out the Tech Museum downtown. It has entertainment (and education!) for children and adults alike. It also puts you in the center of downtown, amidst lots of other food and entertainment options. The Comedy Club in downtown SJ is a great place for adults to grab a few drinks and have some laughs.
  • Hike Mission Peak: Want to get outside? Try hiking Mission Peak, San Jose’s prized hike that gives you stellar views of the city. The hike has zero shade, so you’re better off going early in the morning or on a cooler day.

Where to stay in San Jose

  • Hayes Mansion: This branch of the Hilton Curio Collection is a superb place to stay in San Jose. Its modern suites and upscale Spanish colonial-style architecture will remind you of the city’s history. Cost per night: from $146

San Jose to Lake Tahoe

231 miles, 3 hours 41 minutes
Finally, you’ll drive about three and a half hours to your final destination: Lake Tahoe! Tahoe will give you the truest sense of what California has to offer in the way of natural beauty. There’s a reason this destination is sought after by so many!
For this final stretch of the trip, take I-680 N and I-80 E for Lake Tahoe.

Where to eat at Lake Tahoe

Although camping is probably the best way to experience Lake Tahoe (at least in the summers), the area is set up to accommodate all sorts of travelers—and with that, there’s lots of great dining.
  • Christy Hill Lakeside Bistro ($$$): This spot in Tahoe City is a great option for fine dining and is right on the shoreline of the lake.
  • Getaway Cafe ($$): Hit up Getaway Cafe for some mainline breakfast before you hit the lake.

What to do at Lake Tahoe

Swimmers lounge and do backflips off a rock protruding from Lake Tahoe.
Bonsai Rock, Lake Tahoe
  • Take in the Lake: You can’t go to Lake Tahoe without enjoying the lake. Spend your days swimming in the chilly water in the summers—or ski and snowboard in the winters! Don’t worry, you can sled too.
  • Truckee River Winery] Traveling with wine lovers? Nearby, you can go to Truckee River Winery, California’s oldest (and coldest) winery.

Where to stay in Lake Tahoe

  • Hotel Azure: Not feeling like setting up camp after your trip? Stop by Hotel Azure for a night of rest. With an outdoor pool, landscaped gardens, and a rental bike program, you’ll be getting an authentic Tahoe experience without having to set up a tent. Cost per night: from $99
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