California to the Grand Canyon Road Trip

Explore the America's Southwest hot spots traveling from southern California to natural playgrounds and urban settings in Arizona, capped off at the Grand Canyon on this awe-inspiring 1,870-mile road trip.
By Staff ,

Sunset in Saguaro National Park


Trip Overview

From surf to saguaros, this spectacular adventure starts in San Diego where you can sink your feet into palm tree-lined beaches, explore the Gaslamp District’s boutiques and trendy restaurants and visit the San Diego Zoo.

Then leave the Pacific Ocean behind in your rearview mirror as you hit the open road to the gateway to the Southwest—Yuma, Ariz. Hailed the sunniest city in the world by Guinness Book of World Records, Yuma offers farm tours and incredible kayaking and tubing down the Colorado River.

Continue east to Saguaro National Park in Tucson to stroll among the Southwest’s iconic saguaros, some of which stretch 50 feet into the desert sky. Two hours north, get your city fix by exploring the incredible museums, shops and sporting events in Phoenix and Glendale, Ariz.

Farther north lie towns like Jerome and Cottonwood where neat rows of deep green grapevines race up and down dry, rolling hills. Discover Arizona wines at one of the inviting tasting rooms there. In the distance, you’ll see the red rocks of Sedona, some of which are believed to have special energy fields. Hike to one of these vortexes in Sedona en route to the breathtaking Grand Canyon.

Then stop in Flagstaff, a vibrant university town where Pluto was discovered and great food awaits. As you drive from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon, the soil turns to red, hinting at what's to come. With so much to see on this road trip, discover our top picks in the next several pages.

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Tip: Every year California goes to Daylight Savings time, but Arizona does not. Remember this one-hour difference as you travel between from state to state.

Road Trip Itinerary

Start: San Diego, California

Evening lights at Balboa Park in San Diego, California

If you have a day to spend in the city before you head out on the road, don't miss Balboa Park. Spanning 1,200 acres, the park is patched together by nine gardens, 17 museums, a miniature railroad, a carousel and the world-famous San Diego Zoo.

It's home to more than 3,700 animals, including snow leopards, elephants and giant pandas. A vocal lion left behind in a small zoo exhibit after the 1915-16 Panama California Exposition played a large role in the zoo's start. When local doctor Harry Wegeforth heard the lion roar as he drove past the park, it sparked his imagination. Within months, the zoo began to take shape and, as they say, the rest is history.

Located minutes from downtown San Diego.

Yuma, Arizona

Yuma farmers pose in the Field to Feast U-Pick Garden.

Courtesy Visit Yuma

Field to Feast
Providing the nation with fresh vegetables in winter is no easy feat. Lend a hand in Yuma while you’re there on your way from California to the Grand Canyon.
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Tucson, Arizona 

Catalina State Park bordering Tucson, Ariz.

Adobe Stock

Starry Nights in Tucson's Catalina State Park
Explore the great outdoors at Catalina State Park, a museum that is 85% outside, and Biosphere 2, an enormous glass terrarium.
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Saguaro National Park's Giant Succulents
Located in the Sonoran desert, Saguaro National Park protects some of the most impressive forests of giant saguaro cactus.
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Artfully Authentic Copper Towns of Arizona
South of Tucson are three historic towns that make up a fantastic scenic loop. Each offers a unique experience and a glimpse into Arizona’s vibrant history.
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Hacienda Del Sol Guest Ranch Resort
In the heart of the Foothills, experience the authenticity of the Desert Southwest, where historic elegance meets modern and relaxed luxury.

Phoenix and Glendale, Arizona

Colorful peacocks roam the Sahuaro Ranch in Glendale, Ariz.

Courtesy Visit Glendale

Top 7 Things to Do in Phoenix
Watch Spring Training, tour a botanical garden, climb Camelback Mountain, visit museums, and more.
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Glendale's Sporty Places and Shopper's Paradise
If Glendale was a person, she would be a fun-loving woman who effortlessly throws the most elaborate of parties but can get downright sporty hosting a Super Bowl.
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Sedona, Arizona

Biking on a trail through Sedona's red rock formations.

Photo by Lear Miller courtesy of Sedona Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau

Centered in Sedona
Sedona is just a 2-hour drive from the Grand Canyon's South Rim. Hike or bike 100 red rock trails, visit a spiritual vortex in the mountains, or browse one of 40 art galleries.
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Flagstaff, Arizona

Overlooking downtown Flagstaff from the balcony of the Weatherford Hotel

Flagstaff Convention and Visitors Bureau

6 Stops in Phenomenal Flagstaff
Two hours from six national monuments and Grand Canyon National Park, Flagstaff is a thriving university town with a charming historic downtown. Here are six things to do.
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Grand Canyon National Park - South Rim

Sunset at Desert View Point in Grand Canyon National Park

Open 365 days a year, the South Rim offers plenty of activities, restaurants and, of course, gorgeous views. View our top things to do in 48 hours.
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