American Road Trip – San Diego to Las Vegas… the long way

The drive from San Diego to Las Vegas is probably the best road trip we’ve ever done. From desert roads to mountain passes, the Colorado River to the San Andreas Fault, and Route 66 to America’s best apple pie… It’s the American dream at 70 miles an hour!

Mr and Mrs Romance - USA road trip - San Diego to Las Vegas

Everything you’ve seen in the movies – the road stops, the winding blacktop, the flying yellow line flying down the middle of the road – it’s all true.

And on our recent road trip from San Diego to Las Vegas, we saw it all. If you ever wanted proof that the best way to get a feel of the country is to drive it, this is it.

Here’s a free downloadable doc of our itinerary boiled down for you to use easier.

And here’s an interactive map of where we went to make it a bit clearer:

Our road trip from San Diego, California to Las Vegas, Nevada.

Mr and Mrs Romance - USA road trip - Palm Springs




Day 1: San Diego – Palm Springs (via Julian for apple pie)

Driving time: 3h 15m

From San Diego it’s a little over an hour to the little town of Julian – home of award winning pies and some very cute houses!

We popped in for a slice of the action (sorry) and were very impressed. If you want to try American apple pie at its best, go to the Julian Pie Company.

Mr and Mrs Romance - USA road trip - San Diego to Las Vegas

We did try the Apple Alley Bakery’s offerings too, but weren’t as impressed. The people were a bit odd (shouting and having a domestic out the back) and the pies weren’t quite as good.

Feeling a bit sick, we plopped ourselves back in the car and carried on to Palm Springs. The road’s a good one, crossing the Santa Rosa – San Jacinto Mountains, and about half an hour out of Palm Springs, there’s some good hairpin driving.

Mr and Mrs Romance - USA road trip - ACE Hotel Palm Springs

Accommodation: Ace Hotel, Palm Springs

The Ace is a very cool hotel. Everything here is crafted and styled to within an inch of its life. It used to be a Westward Ho motel with a Denny’s attached. Now it’s a slick, uber-hipster joint with matching restaurant.

Day 2: Palm Springs

Mr and Mrs Romance - USA road trip - San Diego to Las Vegas

We stayed here to explore for the day (plus it bloody well rained) and were pleased we did. There’s an outlet mall about 30 minutes out of town where you can pick up some amazing bargains.

Alternatively, when you’ve seen the town, which shouldn’t take too long, head out into the nearby mountains. There’s a cable car ride you can go on that gives you some amazing views out over the desert.

Mr and Mrs Romance - USA road trip - San Diego to Las Vegas

Accommodation: The Saguaro, Palm Springs

Another hipster hotel, but a little more approachable. Each room is very brightly coloured and has a balcony facing into the pool and resort.

It’s a cool little place and pretty good value.

If you’re looking for something more up-market, you have to stay at the Parker. What an unbelievable hotel that is.

Mr and Mrs Romance - USA road trip - San Diego to Las Vegas

Don’t forget to have a drive around the neighbourhoods before you leave – and check out where Sinatra’s old house at 1148 E. Alejo Road.

Day 3: Palm Springs – Twentynine Palms (via Joshua Tree National Park)

Mr and Mrs Romance - USA road trip - San Diego to Las Vegas

Driving time: 1h direct, longer via Joshua Tree National Park

We didn’t leave much time to explore Joshua Tree National Park so we took the 62 to Alta Olma Drive and the Joshua Tree Visitors’ Center. We chatted to a park ranger, who told us to drive in via the West Entrance Station.

It costs $15 to go into the park. Make sure you buy supplies in Twentynine Palms – the snacks and drinks in the visitor’s centre are ridiculously expensive.

We took what’s known as The North West Loop (though we did it more west north!) with a very worthy detour down to Keys View to check out the San Andreas Fault Line.

Mr and Mrs Romance - USA road trip - San Diego to Las Vegas

Joshua Tree National Park is an incredible, unique habitat, full of these bizarre eponymous trees. There are also magnificent rock features to explore like Skull Rock – and it’s a beautiful drive.

Twentynine Palms is a remote town on the northern border of Joshua Tree, but it’s got plenty going for it in spite of its size.

Accommodation: we stayed in the Best Western Gardens, which was cheap and comfortable. However, we’d recommend staying in the Twentynine Palms Inn on the eastern end of town on Inn Avenue.

Twentynine Palms Inn has the best restaurant and bar in town attached to it.

Other dinner suggestions are: Bistro Twenty-Nine, Edchada’s Mexican, The Rib Co, Rocky’s New York Pizza and Red Lotus Thai and Vietnamese Restaurant.

Day 4: Twentynine Palms, CA – Laughlin, NV (via Route 66, Amboy, Oatman and Bullhead City)

Mr and Mrs Romance - USA road trip - San Diego to Las Vegas

Driving time: 2h 30m direct. Via above locations, it’s a half-day drive.

North of Twentynine Palms, along the Amboy Road, you’ll find saltpans, which are worth stopping for a photo. The Amboy Road ends at a crossroads where it meets Route 66 – also known as the National Trails Highway.

Left is the Amboy Crater – an extinct volcano you can climb.

Route 66 heading east will take you past Amboy itself and Roy’s Motel and Café – a classic Route 66 photo op.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Take Route 66 as far east as you can – it’s not a maintained road any more, so many areas of this fantastic historic road are impassable or closed. Make your way to Needles.

We were planning on spending the night in Needles, but it’s a bit of a sad little town. We did refuel here, which was a mistake. Wait until you get across the Colorado River into Arizona to get petrol. It’s a lot cheaper.

From Needles, we head north on the 95 on the Nevada side of the Colorado River. Then go right on the 153 to Oatman.

Oatman used to be a mining town and produced a lot of gold until the mid-1930s. At its height 10,000 people lived here. Now it’s all but a ghost town, but is popular with tourists.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The donkeys miners used have become feral and roam the streets of this peculiar place. But best of all, it’s here that you can find Route 66 once again.

We headed back south then turned left following 66. It’s called the 10 now, but it’s the best part of the 66, leading you through some great mountain scenery. Going north through Oatman is apparently even better with sharp hairpins steep elevations, but 66 will take you too far east.

For more information on Route 66 from Santa Monica Pier all the way to Chicago, Illinois, check out RoadTripUSA.com

Heading back past Needles, it’s a straight drive along the tri-state border to Bullhead City. We were going to stay here, but realised across the river, in Nevada, the casino town of Laughlin had cheaper accommodation.

Accommodation: Stay in a casino for a great hotel rate. We stayed at the Aquarius Casino Resort and paid the extra $10 for a river view room.

Colorado Belle Laughlin Nevada

Laughlin itself isn’t the best, but it’s perfect to get you into the Vegas mindset – it’s a bit like Vegas was about 20 years ago! If you’re a non-smoker, you’ll find the casinos all very smoky – the ventilation here isn’t as good as Vegas.

Make sure you check out the Colorado Belle Casino – it’s in the shape of a giant paddle steamer – and the Pioneer Hotel and Gambling Hall for its sheer cheesiness. The Golden Nugget is worth looking at too.

Day 5: Laughlin – Las Vegas

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Driving time: 1h 30m

The drive from Laughlin to Vegas is straight forward enough, but its here you’ll see some classic Nevada desert views.

The 95, the 582 then the 592 lead you through the Mojave Desert straight to the famous Las Vegas Strip where your next adventure begins!

Mr & Mrs Romance Where to eat in Las Vegas Mix Restaurant and Bar Review

Accommodation: We stayed at the Delano – a fantastic hotel that’ll make your time in Vegas so much more memorable.

For more to do in Las Vegas, here’s what we’ve covered so far:

Things to do in Las Vegas – helicopter landing tour of the Grand Canyon

Things to do in Las Vegas – the Neon Museum

Where to eat in Las Vegas – miX at the Delano

One of our top 10 burgers was found here too!

Do you have a favourite road trip? Where would you go if you could take a drive anywhere? What’s the longest road trip you’ve been on? Tell us in the comments!

Images by Mrs Romance.



29 Comments

  • Reply March 3, 2015

    Daisy

    Just got back over the weekend and we did the drive from LA to Vegas (direct). It took around 5-6 hours as it was a Friday and Valentine’s weekend so extra busy on the highway *cringe*. The scenery was OK, mostly desert, but still interesting.
    We also drove the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to Los Angeles over 2 days…and, wow. Just wow. Incredible scenery along the Californian coast. We stopped in Santa Cruz, Monterey, Carmel, various stops through Big Sur for photo opps, McWay falls, San Simeon and San Luis Obispo on Day 1; and then cruised into LA on Day 2 via Pismo Beach, Santa Barbara and Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch, followed by one last in-n-out stop before heading to the airport.
    Next time I’d like to explore the coast south of LA a bit more. I love the idea of driving from San Diego and through Palm Springs to Vegas, and breaking it up over several days. Can’t wait for the next one!!

    Daisy xo

    • Reply March 4, 2015

      Mr Romance

      How good is driving in the States, Daisy? I love it. And that Pacific Coast Highway is just a winner. We did the same as you after we left Las Vegas – though we took three days – somehow missing out on things like the waterfall at Big Sur. We did bump into/have dinner with/spot Clint Eastwood in Carmel though, which was pretty cool. And stayed in the most awesome place in Santa Barbara. Can’t wait to get back to America to drive around a bit more now!
      Think we’ll avoid that one from LA to Vegas though. It always looks so cool in the movies, but I had a feeling it was prone to traffic issues… a bit like the rest of LA I suppose.
      Jxx

  • Aaaaah! This post has me so excited for my upcoming San Diego to Palm Springs adventure. CANNOT WAIT.
    P.S. How gorgeous is that photo of you two!?! Love! x
    Steph @ Lipstick & Cake recently posted..Lipstick Gallery – New AdditionsMy Profile

    • Reply March 4, 2015

      Mr Romance

      Awesome stuff, Steph. You’re going to have an absolute blast! It’s so much fun – a really great drive.
      That photo of us looks cute, but in truth that’s my signature wrestling move. Mrs R had just tried to steal my roadtrip Kit Kat. You know how protective I am over my food! 😉
      Jxx

  • Reply March 4, 2015

    Lydia C. Lee

    That looks so great – I’d really love to do that one day (what a magnificent sunset!)

    • Reply March 4, 2015

      Mr Romance

      The desert sky is pretty much made for sunsets, Lydia. This is one of those great drives that anyone who loves a road trip should do. Definitely keep it high on your bucket list. 🙂
      Jxx

  • The US is a fantastic place for road trips – we’ve done so many I’ve lost count. Looks like you had a great time.
    Lyn@The Travelling Lindfields recently posted..The Hauraki Rail Trail (Part 1), Cycling in New ZealandMy Profile

    • Reply March 4, 2015

      Mr Romance

      It really is, Lyn. Gas is cheap (or cheaper than Aus anyway!), the roads are superb, and there’s so much to see and do along the way. Very jealous of your road trip tally. Will have to work on ours a bit more! We had such a good time on this one, we can’t wait to get back there.
      Jxx

  • Wow, this looks like such a great trip. I never really thought America was on my radar, until now. You make it look like fun. I don’t mind a road trip and have done a fair bit of driving in plenty of different countries. I loved driving through Italy and getting lost in the Tuscan countryside. Then there was the time we almost slid off a mountain during a rain storm in Malaysia. Or getting the massive rental car stuck in a narrow cobblestone laneway in France. Ahh, roadtrips!
    Malinda @mybrownpaperpackages recently posted..Wanderlust New Zealand & Link PartyMy Profile

    • Reply March 4, 2015

      Mr Romance

      Ha ha! We’ve had our fair share of rental car nightmares too as it happens, Malinda – including ripping a hole in the side of our car in the south of France! We should compare notes! America is so good for road trips. The distances really lend themselves to a driving holiday. And there are so many places to stop at along the way.
      Glad we’ve put the States on your radar though. You won’t regret it. 🙂
      Jxx

  • Wow it’s like you’ve stepped into the past – very cool.
    Sally@Toddlers on Tour recently posted..Penang Family Holiday 2014My Profile

    • Reply March 5, 2015

      Mr Romance

      It’s such an amazing drive, Sally. Like you say, apart from the modern road, I don’t think many things have changed in this desert for a very long time. And as for Laughlin, you’re even righter! Step back in time central.
      Jxx

  • Reply March 7, 2015

    Leah ~ KidBucketList

    We did San Diego to Vegas the short way back in January. We saw a lot but it was largely a blur. You’ve almost convinced me that we need to go back and do it the long way. I LOVE driving in the USA. Puts Sydney’s motorways and highways to shame. #teamwanderlust
    Leah ~ KidBucketList recently posted..A Chance Encounter with Northern Elephant Seals at Piedras Blancas Beach, CaliforniaMy Profile

    • Reply March 10, 2015

      Mr Romance

      Hey Leah. Yes, the US roads really are great, aren’t they? That place is just made for road trip holidays! I bet the short way would still be fun, wouldn’t? I mean you still get to drive past a few In N Out Burger places for a start! :-P””
      Definitely worth going back to do that drive the long way round though. Such a lot of fun.
      Jxx

  • I love me a good road trip and this is a great roundup of your trip! Love the hotels that you stayed in and I have a real soft spot for donkeys. I absolutely love them! 😀
    Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella recently posted..Missy K, PaddingtonMy Profile

    • Reply March 10, 2015

      Mr Romance

      Thanks Lorraine! Yes, those hotels in Palm Springs are so cool. Lots of fun and so different.
      I know what you mean about donkeys. They’re usually quite cute. But these ones were totally feral – a bit like the locals! We saw one donkey try and climb into one group’s car then chase it down the road when they drove off. Another one ran after a couple of people and tried really hard to bite them. Entertaining for us… not so much for the other tourists!
      Jxx

  • We are heading to the US in July and you’ve inspired us to do this road trip! YAY YAY!
    Emma + Carla aka the merrymaker sisters recently posted..SBS Food Feature | Kitchen Farmacy | Choc Chip Pancakes.My Profile

    • Reply March 11, 2015

      Mrs Romance

      Yay! That’s awesome. You will have the best time. Try and get a mustang too! xx

  • Reply April 4, 2015

    Brennan

    Amazing trip! And your photos look awesome. Looking forward to doing this someday.

    • Reply April 5, 2015

      Mr Romance

      Thanks, Sandra. Yes, it was an amazing trip. Definitely keep it high on your bucket list.
      Jx

  • […] you’re interested in our roadtrips in the States, here’s what we did on our drive from So Cal to Vegas – the long way – and also our amazing drive south from San Fran to […]

  • Reply July 28, 2016

    Christi

    So excited I found this post! Do you have driving directions as a list of route/suggested roads besides what I can decipher from your stops?

    Thanks so much!
    Christi

    • Reply August 2, 2016

      Mr Romance

      That’s a great idea, Christi. I’ll put a downloadable page on the post with a clearer itinerary and will email you when it’s ready!
      Jxx

      • Reply August 22, 2016

        Sue

        We are doing the same road trip in September, (in a couple of weeks) as part of a larger road trip. I have been following your blog and love it. Would you mind sending me a copy of that itinerary as well? We would really appreciate it.

        Thanks, Sue

      • Reply August 23, 2016

        Sue Weber

        I would love a clear itinerary as well please. We are doing this trip in early September and we would love to take the same route you did.
        Would appreciate it.
        Thank you
        Sue Weber

        • Reply August 23, 2016

          Mr Romance

          Hi Sue. Apologies for not replying sooner. We’re currently away on assignment in Borneo! I absolutely love your idea and will get cracking on making a downloadable itinerary asap. I’ll email you with it as soon as it’s done. Hope preparations for your road trip are going well. What we did is definitely worth fitting in. Such a fascinating part of the country. Speak to you again soon
          Jim

        • Reply August 24, 2016

          Mr Romance

          Hi Sue. Post’s all updated with the itinerary, and I’ll email you your own special copy too! 😉
          Jxx

  • Reply March 4, 2017

    Kym Perry

    Hi Mr Romance my husband myself our daughter and soninlaw with a 11 and 4 year old are driving from San Diego to Las Vegas in early June we just need some guidance where we should stay as we don’t want to have a 4 hr drive to Vegas the next day, only having this short time we are wondering where we should head that would be fun for the kids and ourselves also interesting ! We are booked into Vegas for 5 nites and thought the short road trip would be a fun thing to do. Appreciate your feed back

    • Reply March 5, 2017

      Mr Romance

      Hi Kym. Sounds like you guys have quite the trip ahead of you! We really enjoyed our drive through California to get to Vegas, NV. It’s a very cool road trip. If you wanted to break the drive up into 2 days with a bit of a detour, there’s plenty to do along the way – mind you, it’s a good idea to take snacks onboard because there aren’t a whole lot of places to stop in for a proper meal in some areas.
      My recommendation would be to drive Day 1 to Twentynine Palms on the northern side of Joshua Tree National Park. Going straight there is about a 2-hour drive but on the way you can stop in at Palm Springs. There are some great little cafes and diners there for the kids and the grownups can check out the old stomping grounds of Hollywood royalty.
      Either on Day 1 or Day 2 you could explore a little bit of Joshua Tree too. It’s a really interesting national park with some great easy walks around the rocks and down to the spot you can see the San Andreas Fault. If you go into the park via the West Entrance Station and drive the loop to the Utah Trail, you come out in Twentynine Pines.
      There are few places to spend the night here, but I’d definitely recommend the Twentynine Palms Inn on the eastern side of town. It’s lovely and has the best food.
      On Day 2, it’s a pretty easy drive north to Vegas – though you get to go through the Mojave Desert and drive a little bit of Route 66! There’s also an extinct volcano near the ghost town of Amboy that’s fun to check out, and the famous Roy’s Motel and fuel stop on the road too. After that it’s all the way on Route 15 to the Strip.
      I hope this is helpful to you – and thank you for asking for our help with your holiday. It means a lot that you’re willing to trust our recommendations.
      Have a lovely trip and please drop me a line if you need any other advice.
      Cheers – Jim

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge