San Diego to Las Vegas Road Trip: 7 Great Stops

Casinos and big lights are far from the only reasons to plan a San Diego to Las Vegas road trip

 

On a San Diego to Las Vegas road trip, you’ll hit a lot of unique scenery on the road that you’d miss if you hopped on a plane. The road from SoCal to Nevada includes lots of nature, wildlife and some of the quirky, cool landmarks the West Coast has to offer. Just because your main bet is on Sin City doesn’t mean you can’t have a few adventures before you get there.

Spot Sea Lions Right Outside San Diego


You’ll find La Jolla Cove is one of the best places to stop for photos between San Diego and Las Vegas.

Gear up with a full tank of gas and some snacks for the car ride to make a quick pit stop in La Jolla. Just 20 minutes northwest of San Diego, La Jolla Cove is home to sunbathing sea lions who hang out on the Pacific Coast Highway cliffs and beaches. This is the farthest west you’ll get on your San Diego to Las Vegas drive—as a mini detour of sorts, it’s only a few miles off the beaten path. Try walking from La Jolla Cove to the Seven Sea Caves Lookout to get a glimpse of the wildlife and a nice view. Enjoy taking photos of the sea lions from afar, but remember to keep a respectful distance (these are wild animals, after all).

Choice Hotels near La Jolla: 27

Fly Through Aviation History at the March Field Air Museum in Riverside


The March Field Air Museum is your chance to see a variety of aircraft up-close.

The March Field Air Museum is not your typical air museum. It was once operated by the Air Force before being transferred to a nonprofit in 1980. Today, there’s lots to see here, with guided options including narrated tram tours as well as Ghost Walks every Saturday. This is a great stop to make with kids on your San Diego to Las Vegas drive.

Choice Hotels near Riverside: 25

Try One of the Local Lunch Favorites in Riverside


Head deeper into Riverside for a better selection of food options.

No matter how far away from home you might be, you’ll find comfort off the Riverside Freeway in the food at Kountry Folks Homestyle Restaurant. Their family-friendly lunch menu includes country-cooking staples like chicken pot pie, “kornbread” and a wide variety of tasty sandwiches.

Want something different? Not far off Interstate 215, Kimchichanga serves up Asian-Mexican fusion dishes, like Korean BBQ tacos or their namesake “Kimchichanga” (a chimichanga filled with kimchi). It’s been a favorite for locals on their lunch breaks since it opened in 2011.

Explore an Empty Town at Calico Ghost Town in Barstow


Calico is a must if you’ve never experienced a Western ghost town.

If you’ve never heard of Calico Ghost Town, your mind is about to be blown. This former silver mining town in San Bernardino County was founded in 1881 and now serves the public as a county park located off Interstate 15 in Barstow. Kids under five are welcome free, while admission is $5 for children over five and just $8 for adults. Print out a map of the town before you head out and wear comfortable/safe shoes. Several of the stops on this San Diego to Las Vegas drive require a bit of walking, and Calico is no exception.

Choice Hotels near Barstow: 4

Snap a Selfie with the World’s Biggest Dinosaurs near Palm Springs


Try snapping a few selfies with the dinosaurs in Cabazon.

In Cabazon, California—really close to Palm Springs—it’d be hard not to spot these larger-than-life dinosaurs. Free to pull over and see, the giants at Cabazon Dinosaurs were built back in 1964 and made famous in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. More than 12 million visitors per year make it a point to stop here. If you’ve got enough time, there’s also a museum on-site. It’s a little pricier than Calico to enter, but it includes 50 more lifelike dinosaurs and activities, such as a dino dig, fossil panning and more.

Choice Hotels near Palm Springs: 7

Catch a Sunrise or Sunset in Joshua Tree National Park


Joshua Tree National Park is great any time of day, and there are multiple entrance points.

It’s easy to spend multiple days exploring Joshua Tree National Park (and if you want to extend your trip, you can!), but for the purposes of this San Diego to Las Vegas drive, one great thing to do in this surreal protected area is experience a sunrise or sunset. If you happen upon Joshua Tree midday, no worries—it’s still a magical place to visit and hike in broad daylight, straddling both the Colorado and Mojave Deserts. You may even spot some interesting wildlife. Note there are three different main entrances to the park.

Choice Hotels near Joshua Tree National Park: 2

Add Some Color to Your World with a Stop at Seven Magic Mountains


The Seven Magic Mountains are as much a physical feat as they are artistic.

One more must-see on your San Diego to Las Vegas road trip (and before you hit the slot machines!) is this large-scale desert art installation. Crafted by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone, Seven Magic Mountains is a group of seven colorful, stacked boulders that stand more than thirty feet high near Jean Dry Lake and off Interstate 15. Roughly 10 miles south of Vegas, Seven Magic Mountains provides an unassuming but captivating splash of color among the backdrop of a vast desert terrain. Bring a good camera for this one—it’s been stunning visitors since 2016 and will be on display through the end of 2021.

Choice Hotels near Las Vegas: 5

 

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