California, Nevada and Arizona have always been synonymous with adventure. This part of the United States maintains an aura of unlimited possibilities and untamed wilderness. Experience it for yourself on a road trip that will lead you to beautiful beaches, vibrant cities and natural wonders like you’ve never seen before.
Starting Point: San Diego, California
Begin the journey in sunny San Diego, California. Fly into San Diego’s international airport — conveniently located near the heart of the city — where you can easily pick up a rental car. There are plenty of pristine beaches to choose from, including the scenic resort town of Coronado, about a 10-minute drive from the city. Spend a day exploring this ocean-side community, by biking, soaking in the sun on the public beaches or embarking on a sailing tour. If you’re looking for a place to hang your hat, check in at the Hotel del Coronado, which has offered luxury beachside lodging for more than 125 years.
While in San Diego, devote some time to the city’s beloved San Diego Zoo and Balboa Park. Located at the heart of the city, the zoo houses animals from all across the globe, while Balboa Park provides a lush escape from the bustling city atmosphere. A trip to San Diego isn’t complete without a visit to one of the city’s microbreweries; to get a taste for local brew, tag along on a guided brewery tour. For dinner, shopping and nightlife, head to Old Town San Diego or the Gaslamp Quarter.
Discover California Wine Country
Kick off the drive east by heading north on Interstate Highway 15 past rolling hills covered in grape vines to Temecula, California. This area is famous for its wine production and about 30 vineyards to explore. Vindemia Estate Winery is among the most lauded and offers tastings Friday through Monday.
Experience The Beauty Of California’s Desert
Drive about 170 kilometers past the rugged Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains to the arid desert landscape of Joshua Tree National Park. This beautiful park, named for the thorny and contorted Joshua tree, offers numerous ways to enjoy southern California’s otherworldly landscape. Take a hike in Hidden Valley or head to Joshua Tree Ranch to explore the park by horseback. Bring plenty of water, as temperatures in the desert regularly exceed 35 degrees Celsius in the summer months.
After a two-and-a-half-hour drive north of Joshua Tree National Park past rolling mountains and prickly cacti, the Mojave National Preserve provides a scenic and accessible pit stop. Grab a map at the Kelso Depot Visitor Center and soak in the beautiful Kelso Dunes and the Providence Mountains before hitting the road again.
Next stop? Sin City.
Viva Las Vegas!
Las Vegas, Nevada, which is less than three hours from the solitude of the Mojave National Preserve, is anything but quiet. With seemingly endless options for dining, shopping, gambling and adventure, Las Vegas lives up to its billing as the “Entertainment Capital of the World.”
Begin your trip on the iconic Las Vegas Strip by taking in the complimentary Fountains of Bellagio show, held every 15 to 30 minutes each day. Just north of the Bellagio, the Venetian offers gondola rides and plenty of high-end shopping. Other Vegas attractions include Cirque Du Soleil performances at numerous hotels around town, the Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay and the new LINQ entertainment district at Caesar’s Palace, which offers chic restaurants, a bowling alley, an observation wheel and more.
When you need a break from the bright lights of Las Vegas, head 45 minutes southeast to the iconic Hoover Dam. Built during the Great Depression, the massive dam is an engineering marvel constructed to control flooding and supply hydroelectric power to the Southwest. Surrounding the dam, Lake Mead National Recreation Area feels like a lush oasis in the blazing desert. Cool off with a swim in or a boat ride on the sprawling lake.
A Memorable Drive To The Grand Canyon
Follow the meandering Colorado River to Arizona and the Grand Canyon Skywalk, a horseshoe-shaped bridge with a glass floor suspended more than 1,200 meters above the canyon floor. Often considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon is a “must see” for any Southwest road trip. The Skywalk offers spectacular views of the Grand Canyon’s crevices. (Visit at dusk to see the dramatic landscape don a fiery red hue at sunset.) Continue on to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park for hiking, camping, tours and wildlife viewing.
End Of The Road: Flagstaff, Arizona
As you drive more than 1,500 kilometers from Grand Canyon National Park to Flagstaff, Arizona, you’ll see the landscape transform from a barren desert to a mountainous evergreen forest. Enjoy the change of scenery by hiking in the San Francisco Peaks and stargazing at the Lowell Observatory. In Flagstaff you’ll discover a busy main thoroughfare lined with boutique shops and locally owned restaurants and bars.
Though Flagstaff marks the end of your route, consider taking one last detour to soak in the red rocks vistas of Sedona, Arizona. A short hike on Cathedral Rock rewards you with stunning views of rust-hued buttes and the charming town set among them. And if you’re in need of some relaxation, there are dozens of spas and resorts to choose from. Afterwards, drive about two hours south to return your rental car and catch a flight home from Phoenix, Arizona’s Sky Harbor International Airport.
What to bring: plenty of water, sunscreen and your favorite road trip music.
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