San Diego to Arizona Road Trip

From the shores of the Pacific to the desert sun, explore national parks and bustling cities on this San Diego to Arizona road trip.
Written by R.E. Fulton
Reviewed by Carrie Adkins
A road trip from San Diego to Arizona can take you from the shores of the Pacific Ocean to the heart of the desert in just a few hours, with national parks and bustling cities to explore the way.
If you head east on I-8 from San Diego, CA, you’ll hit Tucson, AZ in just under six hours. Veer north at Gila Bend to hit up the state capital at Phoenix. Or add a few hours to your trip and drive up to Grand Canyon National Park to knock an item off your bucket list.
No matter what route you choose, make sure your
car insurance
is up to date before you set out. Car insurance comparison app
generates quotes and finds you discounts in just 45 seconds. If you find a better rate on the app, Jerry will deal with the paperwork and phone calls so you can focus on planning your trip!
Ready to hit the road? Your guide from the ocean to the desert starts here.
Let Jerry find your price in only 45 seconds
No spam · No long forms · No fees
Find insurance savings

Key trip details

San Diego to Tucson
Distance: 566 miles
Driving time: 8 hours and 54 minutes
Suggested length of trip: 2 to 3 days


  • San Diego, CA
  • Joshua Tree, CA
  • Phoenix, AZ
  • Tucson, AZ

San Diego

Before you hit the road, don’t miss out on the natural wonders and vibrant culture of San Diego. Whether you want to start your trip swimming, shopping, or just sampling the best tacos of your life, San Diego has what you’re looking for.

What to do in San Diego

Coronado, San Diego, California
  • Coronado Beach
    : You’ll have your pick of ocean views in California’s "Beach City," from the sparkling sand of Coronado to the rugged beauty of Torrey Pines.
  • San Diego Zoo and Safari Park
    : San Diego Zoo and Safari Park is home to more than 3,500 rare and endangered animals. Alternatively, plan a whale-watching tour along the coast.
  • USS Midway Museum
    : The USS Midway Museum is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to explore a historic aircraft carrier, complete with impressive skyline views from the flight deck.
  • Liberty Public Market
    : Don’t miss Liberty Public Market, where you can shop for artisan goods while sampling some of the city’s best coffee, craft beers, and prepared foods.

Where to eat in San Diego

  • Belly Up
    ($$): If you’re a rock ’n roll fan, head to the Cedros Design District for food and live music at the legendary Belly Up.
  • Lola 55
    ($): (It’s not SoCal without tacos. For a mix of classic options and innovative vegetarian choices (squash blossom rellenos, anyone?), try this Cali-Baja spot just a few blocks from Petco Park.

Where to stay in San Diego

  • Horton Grand
    : If it’s historic charm you’re looking for, book a room at San Diego’s oldest hotel in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter. With rooms starting at $129 a night, the Horton Grand has timeless Victorian charm at an accessible price. Cost per night: from $129
  • Glorietta Bay Inn
    : For old-world charm combined with modern SoCal amenities, head to the Glorietta Bay Inn on Coronado for the island experience. Cost per night: from $197
Pro Tip If you’re traveling with kids and find yourself at the Glorietta Bay Inn, dial 110 on your room phone to call their Bedtime Story Hotline!
Compare auto insurance policies
No spam or unwanted phone calls · No long forms
Find insurance savings

San Diego to Joshua Tree

164 miles, 2 hours 45 minutes
Drive just under three hours north from San Diego to Joshua Tree National Park, a vast protected wilderness known for its bizarrely beautiful yucca palms.

What to do in Joshua Tree

Cholla Cactus Garden Nature Trail, Joshua Tree National Park
  • Visit a cactus garden
    : The Cholla Cactus Garden Nature Trail is a quarter-mile walk through eye-catching blooms of teddy bear cholla.
  • Lost Horse Mine
    : If you’re up for a longer trek, hike four miles round-trip to see Lost Horse Mine, one of the most successful gold mines in the park.

Where to eat near Joshua Tree

  • Pack a picnic: Joshua Tree has no restaurants, but you could eat lunch with a view at any of its eight picnic areas. Plan ahead and pack foods that will hold up to the heat!
  • Pie for the People
    ($$): You can’t go wrong with pizza, and this spot just outside the park serves up some of the best. Try the specialty elote pie topped with roasted corn, lime aioli, and cayenne.:

Joshua Tree to Phoenix

223 miles, 3 hours 15 minutes
Arizona’s state capital is just a few hours east of Joshua Tree. Once you’ve arrived, explore the art, food, and beauty that this desert city has to offer!

What to do in Phoenix

Roosevelt Row, Phoenix, Arizona
  • Stroll through Roosevelt Row: In Phoenix’s walkable downtown arts district, you’ll find countless galleries and boutiques. Or enjoy the colorful street art for free!
  • The Crayola Experience
    : For a one-of-a-kind family attraction, check out this amusement park where hands-on creative activities will let your kids discover the magic of color!

Where to eat in Phoenix

  • El Chorro
    ($$$): This 1937 landmark in Paradise Valley offers an upscale take on local Arizona flavors. Don’t miss the prickly pear margaritas!
  • Ghost Ranch
    ($$): For larger-than-life plates that blend Wild West flavor with a modern twist, head to this chic venue in Tempe.

Where to stay in Phoenix

    : If you’re traveling with pets, look no further than this hip boutique hotel in the heart of the arts district. The industrial-chic spot won’t charge you a pesky pet fee—and with rooms starting at $169 a night, you’ll be close to downtown without breaking the bank. Cost per night: from $169
  • Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort and Spa
    : For the full luxury resort experience, go to this famed spot in Paradise Valley. As its name suggests, Sanctuary is the perfect place to relax and rejuvenate at the end of the road. Cost per night: from $679

Add a day to see the Grand Canyon

Any trip to Arizona is incomplete without a stop at the Grand Canyon! The drive from Phoenix will take about 3 hours 40 minutes.
When you get there, walk the South Rim to experience the canyon’s breathtaking beauty. If you arrive between May and October, skip the crowds and plan a hike or scenic drive on the canyon’s quieter North Rim.
MORE: 5 best road trips in Arizona for outdoor adventure
Compare auto insurance policies
No spam or unwanted phone calls · No long forms
Find insurance savings

Phoenix to Tucson

113 miles, 1 hour 45 minutes
From Phoenix, head south to Arizona’s second-largest city, located in the Sonoran Desert. Tucson is just over an hour from the Mexican border and the city is bursting with culture and adventure.

What to do in Tucson

Mission San Xavier del Bac, Tucson, Arizona

Where to eat in Tucson

  • El Güero Canelo
    ($): For a real Tucson food tradition, stop here for a bacon-wrapped, mayo-slathered Sonoran hot dog complete with fiery jalapeño sauce.
  • Le Cave’s Bakery
    ($): Try a mango bismarck at one of the country’s top vegan doughnut spots!
  • Boca Tacos y Tequila
    ($): At this dog-friendly Tucson restaurant, the chefs dream up imaginative salsas and make them fresh daily.

Where to stay in Tucson

  • Rancho de la Osa
    : If you’re willing to drive a little farther for the guest ranch experience, head an hour and a half south to Arizona’s most historic ranch. Adventure meets relaxation here, with horseback riding in the high desert and comfortable vintage guest rooms. Cost per night: from $121
  • Armory Park Inn
    : Stay closer to Tucson’s city center at this upscale historic boutique hotel, which used to be a stagecoach stop in the pre-railroad era. Cost per night: from $330

Get roadside assistance for your adventure

No matter how much you plan ahead, road trips can come with unexpected potholes (or flat tires, or tornadoes).
To make sure your San Diego to Arizona road trip goes smoothly, prepare for anything with a roadside assistance membership from
. Here’s just a taste of what you’ll get for just $6.99 per month:
  • Vehicle towing up to 10 miles
  • Battery jumpstarts
  • Lockout assistance
  • Fuel delivery
  • Uber credits
  • Car advice from certified mechanics
Whatever route you follow, Jerry’s roadside assistance will ride along with you—so you never have to worry about running out of gas or getting stranded in the desert. You’ll have the freedom to focus on the spectacular landscapes instead!


How long is a road trip from San Diego to Arizona?

The drive from San Diego to the Arizona border is about 2 hours and 45 minutes. A trip to Phoenix or Tucson will take between five and six hours, depending on how many stops you make along the way. If you’re headed all the way to the Grand Canyon, plan for at least eight hours in the car.
Haven’t shopped for insurance in the last six months? There might be hundreds $$$ in savings waiting for you.
Judith switched to Progressive
icon savingsSaved $725 annually
Alexander switched to Travelers
icon savingsSaved $834 annually
Annie switched to Nationwide
icon savingsSaved $668 annually
Are you overpaying for car insurance?
Compare quotes and find out in 45 seconds.
Try Jerry

Easiest way to compare and buy car insurance

No long forms
No spam or unwanted phone calls
Quotes from top insurance companies
Find insurance savings