Sure, there’s an expansive desert encompassing the Las Vegas area, but deserts aren’t desolate wastelands. They are some of the most vibrant and visually stunning landscapes to explore. While there are a few different routes you can cruise along, the drive from Las Vegas to San Diego offers plenty to do and see. The journey is around 330 to 400 miles and will take you approximately five to six hours to complete, contingent on the route you decide and activities planned. If you're starting out in The Entertainment Capital of the World and heading to San Diego, consider exploring a few of these interesting stops along the way. Be prepared for the open road by visiting our checklist of road trip essentials.
Drive time from Las Vegas to San Diego: approximately 5 hours
Distance from Las Vegas to San Diego: approximately 330 miles
Best car for this road trip: Convertible
Gambling is generally the first image that comes to mind, but Las Vegas offers an abundance of other attractions worth seeing before you venture out on your road trip. If you're on the Strip, meander on over to the fountains at the Bellagio to watch the synchronized water and light show that performs every 15 to 30 minutes. For a dazzling view of the city and surrounding area, hop aboard the High Roller, a 550-foot tall observation wheel with 28 pods that can hold up to 40 people.
A bit of advice to remember when driving through the desert – never hit the road on an empty stomach. Vegas is the perfect place to fill up your tank and we’re not talking about your car. For quick eats, stopping at In-N-Out Burger or Shake Shack are no-brainers, but if you want a renowned experience, head to Lotus of Siam. This hot spot is considered the best Thai food in the whole country.
Once you leave Las Vegas, travel 58 miles south on Interstate 15 to the Mojave National Preserve. This stretch of protected area in the Mojave Desert includes canyons, mountains, sand dunes and Joshua tree forests.
If you like kitschy roadside attractions, head to the town of Baker, California, to see the World's Tallest Thermometer. This gigantic electric sign stands 134 feet tall and can display a maximum temperature of 134 degrees, which is the record temperature recorded in nearby Death Valley on July 10, 1913.
For impressive natural beauty, drive 40 miles into the park from Baker to check out the Kelso Dunes. Covering 45 square miles, the dunes are the largest area of eolian sand deposits in the desert. You'll find several trails in the area to hike around the dunes. While you're here, slowly slide down some of the dunes and listen for the phenomenon known as singing sand – a low-frequency rumble that you can feel as well.
From Kelso, you can also proceed wind 45 miles around the providence mountains to Mitchell Caverns, which is a trio of limestone caves in the Mojave Desert. During a tour of these caverns, you'll see stunning limestone formations that include stalactites, stalagmites, helictites, cave coral and more. To maintain the natural integrity of the caverns, only two tours occur each day. The tour includes a 1.5-mile roundtrip hike to and from the caves and an hour-long, guided trek inside. Should you opt to spend the entire day exploring the preserve, overnight stays at Baker or a little further down the road in Barstow will recharge you for the second half of your trip.
Once you're finished exploring everything you want to see in Mojave National Preserve, continue driving 160 miles and approximately two-and-a-half hours along Interstate 15 and Interstate 215 to reach San Bernardino National Forest. Here you can explore 30 miles of the famous Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. There are also numerous areas throughout the forest for photography, wildlife viewing and horseback riding. Additionally, you'll find mini-road trips to drive with portions of the Rim of the World Scenic Byway to the northeast and Palms to Pines Scenic Byway toward the south.
To finish your drive from Las Vegas to San Diego, continue south on Interstate 215 to get back to Interstate 15 and head south. This drive is about 130 miles and should take you around two hours to complete. Once you get to San Diego, you'll find plenty of exciting things to explore.
Enjoy your day at the renowned San Diego Zoo. The zoo houses 3,700 animals. Popular exhibits include the Panda Trek, Polar Bear Plunge, Tiger River and Elephant Odyssey. Of course, being in San Diego means you should schedule a day at the beach. Silver Strand State Beach is a great place to go for swimming, fishing, picnicking and exploring for seashells. Just be sure to do the toe test to gauge the ocean temperature. Only the bravest abandon all reason and run straight into the water.
After a full day of travel, recharge with a satisfying meal, and what better way than to nosh on San Diego’s most well-known dish, the Fish Taco. Popular destinations for the signature dish include Bahia Don Bravo and Blue Water Seafood Market & Grill
There is more than meets the eye to the desert expanse found between Las Vegas and San Diego. Plan treks off-the-beaten-path to yield memorable excursions for yourself and travel companions.
What should I pack for a trip to Vegas?
When you're traveling to Vegas, be sure to bring comfortable walking shoes. Whether you're touring the strip or hiking in the canyons, you'll be walking a lot and you'll want to prevent achy feet. Sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses are also necessary, as the Vegas heat and sun can be intense. You should also pack a light jacket, as desert temperatures can drop quite a bit during the evening.
What can you do for free in San Diego?
San Diego offers a number of free things to do, many of which allow you to enjoy the beautiful weather and landscape.
Can you drive through Mojave National Preserve?
Yes, people are allowed to drive through the Mojave National Preserve. The park requires that your vehicle be registered, insured, and have working headlights and turn signals. Keep in mind that most of the areas you can drive on are dirt roads. There are some parts that are paved, such as Kelso Depot Visitor Center, Kelso Dunes, and Teutonia Peak Trail.