San Diego to Phoenix Road Trip

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Thanks to its proximity to the US/Mexico border, this route from San Diego, California to Arizona is peppered with Latin flavor, from the food to the culture to the landmarks. Bring your camera, your taste buds, and a few extra water bottles, to prep for this desert adventure.
Towns between San Diego and Phoenix are few and far between, so a few of the landmarks are a bit off the beaten path. Plan accordingly!
And make sure you’re prepared for any vehicular mishaps along the way with roadside assistance from Jerry! No matter who your car insurance carrier is, Jerry offers up comprehensive roadside assistance you can rely on, including towing up to 10 miles, fuel delivery, tire changes, and much, much more.
Are you ready to stare endlessly at rolling desert landscapes—start your engine!
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Key trip details

Road trip map from San Diego, CA to Phoenix, AZ.
San Diego, CA to Phoenix, AZ
Distance: 357 miles
Driving time: 5 hours and 40 minutes
Suggested length of trip: 1 to 2 days

Itinerary

  • San Diego, CA
  • Yuma, AZ
  • Phoenix, AZ

Start in—San Diego, CA

The City in Motion is, ironically, a great place to stop by. There’s lots to see and do in the town considered the birthplace of California before you head out to Arizona.
Just remember to stay hydrated —Southern California has an extremely hot climate, even with its proximity to the ocean. San Diego is also a military town, so don’t be surprised to see your fair share of servicemembers walking about.

Where to eat in San Diego

  • Ambrogio15 ($$): If you’re craving pizza, you can’t do much better than Ambrogio15, widely considered the best pizza spot in SD.
  • Bobboi Natural Gelato ($) : Keeping the Italian theme going is Bobboi, home to some legendary gelato, which, yes, is better than ice cream.
  • The Mission ($$): After a night of pizza and gelato, kick off the morning with a hearty breakfast at The Mission, San Diego’s premier breakfast joint. The Mission specializes in Mexican breakfasts, so don’t skip the Huevos Rancheros or Papas Loco.

What to do in San Diego

The white Cabrillo National Monument stands in front of the San Diego skyline on a sunny day.
Cabrillo National Monument, San Diego
  • Cabrillo National Monument: This statue in the southern tip of Point Loma commemorates the landing of the first European explorer on the west coast, and is the birthplace of California as we know it today.
  • USS Midway Museum: Step into San Diego’s long naval history by stepping onto the longest-serving aircraft carrier in the 20th century.
  • Coronado Beach: You can’t visit San Diego without checking out its beautiful beaches, and Coronado is the best of them all—it’s frequently voted the “Best Beach in the U.S.” because of its sparkling sand and crystal clear waters.
  • San Diego Zoo: Come and see why this world-famous zoo is considered one of the very best, from its diverse exhibits to its dedication to conservation.
  • Old Town San Diego: Old Town is the first European settlement in California, and today offers a firsthand look at the life and culture that emerged from it.
  • La Jolla Kayak and Snorkel Tour: Don’t forget that the best part of San Diego’s beaches lies beneath the waves. Take a dive with a guide to explore the Pacific up close and personal.
  • Gaslamp Quarter Historic True Crime Tour: For the slightly more macabre, explore decades of true crime in San Diego’s historic Gaslamp Quarter.

Travel down—I-8 East towards Yuma

This leg of the journey takes you through several very small towns with limited attractions along the way.
The stretch between San Diego and Yuma is about 172 miles, so it should be easy to do it in a day. But if you can’t, or decide to take it slow to stop at as many places as you can, Calexico has a number of available motels.

Roadside attractions between San Diego and Yuma

  • Jacumba Hot Springs: Jacumba Hot Springs features two points of interest for those who want to learn more about the area. The Old Bath House is, true to its name, a remnant of one of the region’s prominent bathhouses from when the area was famed for its natural mineral springs. The Desert View Tower, a few miles away up in the In-Ko-Pah Mountains, was built in 1922 as a landmark dedicated to the area’s pioneers and railway workers. It’s five stories high and features an observation tower.
  • Coyote’s Flying Saucer Retrievals and Repairs: Yes. Really. Run by a dude in Ocotillo aptly nicknamed “Coyote,” this patch of land is covered in bubble-topped metal saucers, fitted to mobile undercarriages—often taken to nearby festivals. Coyote, for his part, is a cool dude who’ll throw on an alien mask for pictures if you ask him nicely.
  • Dateland: If you’re a fan of dates, stop off in a town that is literally named for them. Dateland is the birthplace of the “date shake,” and earns its name for its vast date palm groves and farms.
  • Gila Bend: This small town is a great place to refuel both yourself and your car, because each is its own point of interest. Stop off at the Space Age Restaurant, a space-themed American grill and cafe, and then go back in time to the Pilot Gas Station to check out their huge metal dinosaur display.
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Stop in— Yuma, AZ

171.6 miles, 2 hours 45 minutes
Yuma is nestled in the southwestern corner of Arizona, making it the first major city on your trip.
Yuma is a great spot to stop off to rest and restock, but while it’s not really a “tourist town,” it’s a convenient waypoint near the incredible Imperial Sand Dunes—a key landmark for any major road trip through the American southwest.
To get to Yuma from San Diego, take CA-94 E to I-8 E.

Where to eat in Yuma

  • Da Boyz Pizza & Pasta ($$): Pizza. Cheesecake. Garlic bread. Need we say more? The Da Works pizza cannot be missed.
  • River City Grill ($$): Even in the middle of the desert, it’s possible to find good seafood, and River City Grill proves it. The apricot salmon with chanterelle risotto cake and the lobster ravioli in a thai curry sauce are unique dishes that will keep your palate singing.
  • Takos and Beer ($): Nothing really beats good tacos and beer (get it?), and Takos covers that in true Southwestern-Mexican style—have you ever had a chile relleno in a taco? It’s worth it.

What to do in Yuma

The big eye mine mail box at the old mine village at Castle Dome Yuma on a sunny day.
Castle Dome, Yuma
  • Imperial Sand Dunes: These beautiful dunes are more than just for looking at—coast along the sands in off-road vehicles for a once-in-a-lifetime ride.
  • Yuma State Prison Museum: The former home of train and stagecoach robbers of the Old West is now a state park, historical site, and museum.
  • Castle Dome: Just outside of Yuma stands the remnants of Castle Dome, a former mining town turned ghost town and museum.
  • Kofa National Wildlife Refuge: North of Yuma lies a stretch of preserved land, a conservation effort spearheaded by the Boy Scouts in the early 20th century to protect endangered bighorn sheep.
  • Arizona Historical Society Sanguinetti House Museum & Garden: The home of the Merchant Prince of Yuma lies in the heart of Yuma’s downtown area now features history about the merchant’s legacy and the history of Yuma.

Arrive in—Phoenix, Arizona

185.1 miles, 2 hours 51 minutes
Phoenix has a different sort of vibe from your standard capital city—it’s got tourists and travelers in mind, with its many golf courses and no shortage of excellent hotels.
Don’t expect major retailers to set up shop in downtown Phoenix, as Arizona-based small businesses are king. Surrounding towns like Scottsdale, Glendale, and Chandler offer more options for fine dining, shopping, and nightlife.
From Yuma, continue on I-8 E to AZ-85 N and follow signs for I-10E to Phoenix.

Where to eat in Phoenix

  • Cocina Madrigal ($$): Phoenix’s food scene is steeped heavily in Mexican and Southwestern flavors, and Cocina Madrigal is a prime example. The barbacoa green chili enchiladas highlight all of the flavors of the region in the perfect bite.
  • Rusconi’s ($$): Contemporary American still has its place in Phoenix’s culinary heart, and Rusconi’s offers it up with style. With dishes like cocoa rubbed duck breast and butternut squash risotto, Rusconi’s has high-quality food that caters to a variety of dietary needs.
  • Bobby-Q ($$): With a name like that, you’d expect good barbecue—and you’d be absolutely correct. The menu boasts “The Perfect Hamburger” alongside a variety of mouthwatering, smoked meats.
  • Original Breakfast House ($$): Sure, it’s not the actual birthplace of breakfast, but it’s a great place to get it nonetheless. The menu features classics and restaurant specialties (tres leches pancakes—yes, really) to keep you sated for your travels.

What to do in Phoenix

Tourists standing in the Hole in the Rock, Papago Park, with the moon against a blue sky behind it.
Hole in the Rock, Papago Park
  • Musical Instrument Museum: Musicians and music-lovers rejoice! This museum is dedicated to all things music, including instruments, artists, and cultural influences, coupled with a 300-seat theatre for performances.
  • Heard Museum: One of the few museums in the country dedicated to Native American art that collaborates with local tribes to provide a powerful, first-person perspective of Native history.
  • Hole in the Rock: Head up this back trail through Papago Park to see this awesome and unique geological formation.
  • Desert ATV tours: Deserts don’t have to be devoid of fun. Take a ride on an ATV through the vast surrounding desert landscape.
  • Hot air balloon flights: Or get a birds-eye view from above via hot air balloon rides. A number of companies operate out of the area for you to choose from.
  • Echo Canyon Trail hikes: Sometimes people just prefer walking. These two trails will take you to the summit of Camelback Mountain, the tallest peak in the area.
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Why you need roadside assistance

Driving through southern California to Phoenix or anywhere in Arizona means spending most of your trip driving through the desert, where the towns are small and miles apart.
These sorts of conditions can be hazardous to your car, and if you should overheat, or blow a tire, getting help can mean being stuck in the blazing sun waiting for assistance.
So if you break down, having Jerry’s roadside assistance will get you where you need to be without waiting hours on the side of the road, whether you need a tow, a tire change, or some gas to get you to the next town. Jerry will even offer a $1000 reward if your vehicle is stolen.
BUT Jerry hasn’t forgotten its core mission—to get you cheap car insurance no matter where you live. Jerry knows all the tricks to help drivers find the best car insurance rates in their state. All you have to do is give a few details, take your pick, and let Jerry handle the rest.
If you have around 45 seconds to lose, you could be saving hundreds of dollars on your car insurance.
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