Vegas, baby! What could make for a better weekend getaway than bolting out of town for the shimmering lights and sounds of Las Vegas? Only a little more than five hours apart, it's entirely possible to complete the drive from San Diego to Las Vegas in one day. However, drivers who keep their foot on the gas the whole time risk missing several of the top notch parks, towns and sites found along the way. Here's how you can turn your drive to Las Vegas into a memorable family trip with a few key pitstops along the way. Be prepared for the open road by visiting our checklist of road trip essentials.
Drive Time from San Diego to Las Vegas: approximately 5 hours
Distance from San Diego to Las Vegas: approximately 330 miles
Best car for this road trip: Intermediate SUV
The journey begins in beautiful San Diego, one of the top family-friendly cities in California. Guests can connect with animals in the San Diego Zoo or learn about marine biology at SeaWorld. Even the beaches in San Diego are family-friendly, with popular options such as Mission Bay, Cardiff State Beach and Moonlight beach.
While in San Diego, visit the historic heart of the city – the Gaslamp Quarter. More than 200 restaurants, bars, shops and art galleries fill this area of downtown. Whether you’re looking for great nightlife or relaxed fun throughout the day, San Diego’s Gaslamp has something for everyone.
Before your road trip begins, make sure you start the day with a full stomach and some coffee. Detour to café 222 for peanut butter and banana stuffed French toast. Portions are gigantic, so sharing is certainly an option. Get there early enough to enjoy breakfast without eating up too much time from your drive ahead.
While it's hard to leave this beautiful paradise, the road trip must begin, and there’s plenty to see and do along the way. Make a beeline to I-15 north, veering onto I-215 toward San Bernardino.
Your first destination is two hours or roughly 100 miles north of San Diego. San Bernardino is a thriving city with access to a variety of parks, hiking trails and lakes in the California mountains. You can enjoy a picnic in Angeles National Forest or spend an entire day hiking around the peaks in this area.
If you're spending the night in San Bernardino, consider taking a detour along with Rim of the World Scenic Byway, a 110-mile stretch of road running from San Bernardino to Big Bear Lake. Be prepared to stop every few miles to take in some of the best mountain views of California and breathe in the fresh air.
Big Bear Lake is a beautiful destination for outdoor activities in the summer or winter. Cool off in the clear blue water during the summer months, or hit the slopes on skis during the winter. People of all accessibility levels will enjoy communing with nature in this park.
As you take I-15 toward Nevada, the interstate runs through the Mojave Desert and hugs the outer rim of the Mojave National Preserve. A 1.6 million acre park teeming with life, the Mojave National Preserve is definitely worth a stop. You could spot bighorn sheep fight for territory while desert tortoises climb slowly across the sand. From the Kelso Sand Dunes and the Joshua Tree Forest to the World’s Largest Thermometer and the Mitchell Caverns, there are many places within the preserve to explore.
Fun fact- three out of the four major North American deserts converge in the Mojave National Preserve – the Mojave, Great Basin and Sonoran deserts.
Temperatures in the Mojave can exceed 100 degrees in the summer and plummet below freezing in the winter. Snow isn't uncommon in some regions. The National Parks Service encourages visitors to plan for the appropriate weather and always keep up-to-date maps on hand when driving through as GPS systems are notoriously unreliable in this area.
Once you cross into Nevada, Las Vegas is only about 45 miles away. The city is known as an entertainment hot spot. Essentially, Vegas is an oasis-like playground tucked in the middle of the desert. With a reputation for gambling and partying, many new visitors are surprised to learn there's something in Vegas for everyone, from impressive musical performances and magic shows to extreme sports activities and romantic lookouts. Merely walking along the four-mile Strip is entertainment enough and will give you plenty of ideas for activities during your time there.
First-time visitors often enjoy walking through the wide range of themed hotels. The Italian-inspired Bellagio has an impressive water and light fountain show that stops spectators in their tracks. Another hotel taking notes from Italy, The Venetian, conducts gondola rides throughout portions of the hotel a la Venice. Stand atop the strip in the Paris’ Eiffel Tower replica, shop through ancient Rome in Caesar’s Palace’ Forum Shops and soar through the Empire State Building and Chrysler Building on New York-New York’s The Big Apple Coaster.
Those who need to keep the adrenaline pumping can go indoor or outdoor skydiving. Have you ever wanted to experience what it’s like to be a fighter pilot? Well now you can with a tour package from Viator. You’ll be flown by an experience pilot in an aerobatic airplane, taking in views of mountains, valleys and the Las Vegas Strip all while doing twists and turns. If keeping your feet close to the ground is more your style, checkout the grownup sandbox at Dig This Las Vegas. People over the age of 13 can operate bulldozers, excavators and track-type loaders in a series of exercises, games and objectives.
Naturally, this is just one suggestion for your drive from San Diego to Las Vegas. Alternative routes will take you through Palm Desert and Joshua Tree National Park or up the Pacific Coast Highway. Whichever route you take, make sure you leave plenty of time to stop, explore and enjoy the breathtaking desert views.