Amazing 10-Day American Southwest Road Trip Itinerary

Southwest Road Trip Oak Creek Canyon red rocks and mountains covered in pine trees

Endless open roads, martian landscapes and desert cities worth exploring. If you feel like hitting the road, the Southwest is a great destination to start. Travel the Southwest on an epic road trip. Wondering where to go and what to see? Here’s an amazing 10-Day Southwest road trip itinerary.

Southwest Road Trip – A few side notes

There are endless opportunities to plan and take your road trip through the Southwest. For us, the ultimate goal was to finally visit White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. This place had been sitting on my bucket list for a while so we simply built our trip around it. We started out in Los Angeles and returned there to spend another week in the city. This is usually the place we fly in, as we have close friends living there and simply love the area. That way we also got a great combination of a few relaxing beach days and amazing desert explorations.

To truly explore the whole beauty of the Southwest you’d need months. Traveling ten days, this road trip itinerary will lead you through some of the most iconic places in the Southwest and even offers some time to explore a few less popular places. Full disclosure: Driving this distance in such a short time definitely requires compromises. You won’t get to see it all! But I’ll assure you, you want to go back as soon as possible.

We’re vegans so most of the restaurants I list here are either entirely plant based, offer vegan options or are at least vegan friendly.

When should you take your Southwest Road Trip?

You can definitely do this Southwest road trip year round. I’ve been to the desert in spring, summer and fall. Every season is special and I’m still dreaming about spending a winter in the desert. Especially if you plan on hiking a lot, you should consider to go on this trip in spring or fall rather than during the really hot summer months. Personally, I love the desert in spring. The temperatures are very moderate, it’s warm and sunny and the desert starts to bloom. Also it’s often not as crowded as during the summer, when everyone is taking their summer breaks.

Let’s Go!

A collage with a hand drawn map of the Southwest

Day 1: Los Angeles

Take a day to explore Los Angeles or simply enjoy a few hours at the beach, soaking up some sunshine.

Griffith Park view on downtown LA

Of course, one day is not nearly enough to explore the whole city. Make sure you won’t spend too much time stuck in traffic and pick one part of LA you want to see most. If you feel like combining a few hours at the beach with some laid back city vibes, drive south and explore Santa Monica and Venice Beach. To check out Hollywood and dive into the vibrant city life, downtown is where you should be heading instead.

One of my favorite areas is East LA, especially Los Feliz, Silverlake and Echo Park. This part of town is perfect to catch some vibrant LA vibes. Echo Park is an easygoing, diverse neighborhood that’s still more or less a hidden gem, as it is not touristy at all. It is a pretty walkable area with many parks and a cute lake right in the center. It is a different kind of LA from what you’re usually seeing on screen and that’s exactly why you shouldn’t miss out on it.

Stay:

East LA offers quite a lot stylish and cozy Airbnb apartments or single rooms you can rent out for a night.

Eat/Drink:

Breakfast/Lunch/Coffee – Honey Hi, Echo Park

All Vegan lunch/dinner – Sage Vegan Bistro, Echo Park and 3+ locations

For more tipps on food and drinks check out my vegan food guide to Los Angeles

Explore:

Echo Park Lake

Griffith Observatory & Griffith Park (amazing skyline views day and night)

Day 2+3: San Diego and La Jolla

You’ll be driving down to San Diego, with a stop in La Jolla

Distance: 120 miles ~ 2 hours

La Jolla Cove Beach

Driving down Interstate 5 you should make a stop in La Jolla just a few miles north of San Diego. Grab a coffee and observe the cute sea lions bathing in the sun by the beach.

In San Diego you can take your time to explore. The city is way smaller and a lot less overwhelming compared to LA. There’s a special charm about San Diego. It’s laid back, artsy, creative and of course sunny. One of my favorite areas is North Park. It is a super vibrant walkable neighborhood with cute vintage shops, great vegan food and coffee places and lots of arts and culture.

If you need some time to recharge and love botanics, don’t miss out on Balboa Park. The area is huge and you could easily spend an entire day here. If you can find the time you should also take the drive over the Bay Bridge to Coronado. It’s a beautiful Island just a few miles from downtown San Diego. Perfect for a beach day and to enjoy some skyline views (especially by night).

Communal Coffee San Diego pictured is the outside f the building with tables and mural that says Coffee and Flowers

Stay:

North Park Casita AirBnB

Eat/Drink:

Breakfast/Coffee – Communal Coffee, North Park

Dinner/Bar – Tribute Pizza (highly recommended)

Explore:

North Park

Balboa Park

Coronado Island

Old Town San Diego

Day 4: Tucson and Desert View Tower

Get up early and hit the I-8 east to Tucson, with a quick stop at the Desert View Tower Jacumba

Distance: 407 miles ~ 6 hours

Picture shows the California Flag and the view across the desert from the Desert View Tower in Jacumba which is a stop on this Southwest Road Trip

The drive from San Diego to Tucson is pretty long but scenic. As soon as you’re past the California borders the southwest road trip begins and you’ll be driving down endless stretches of desert. To enjoy magnificent views over California, Arizona and even Mexico. The tower is located on a hill, so don’t be surprised by strong, cold winds once you leave the car.

Photo of the Downtown Clifton in Tucson. Image shows the outside of the Office and Reception Building.

Our stay in Tucson was short, so it didn’t leave us much time to see all of the city. We stayed in a cute motel downtown. From there we were able to walk and explore downtown and the historic fourth avenue, I highly recommend visiting.

Stay:

The Downtown Clifton, Motel in Downtown Tucson

Eat/Drink:

Breakfast – 5 Points Market and Restaurant

Dinner/Bar – O’Malleys Bar and Grill

Explore:

Mission San Xavier Del Bac

Mercado San Augustin

Day 5: Saguaro National Park

Take at least a day to visit and enjoy Saguaro National Park

Distance: 14 miles ~ 20 minutes

Saguaro National Park in Tucson San Diego which is part of the Southwest Desert Road Trip. Image shows mountains covered in Saguaro cacti

The landscapes of the American Southwest are breathtaking and unique. Deciding which National Parks to visit and which ones to leave on your bucket list is tough. As the Saguaro Cactus is the icon of the Southwest, a stop by the Saguaro National Park is a must on every Southwest road trip in my opinion. Looking at one of these giant Cacti is impressive, imagine seeing thousands.

We decided to check out the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum which is located inside the National Park. For all the desert plant lovers out there, I’d recommend to do the same. It’s a natural history museum, as well as a botanical garden and zoo. If you’re into desert plants and wildlife as much as I am, you will probably have lots of fun here.

Tucson Mineral and Gem World

Tip: Do you love crystals and gems? Stop by the Tucson Mineral and Gem World, a quirky shop run by the friendliest, most helpful people.

Day 6: Las Cruces and White Sands National Monument

You’ll be leaving Arizona (for now) and drive further east to Las Cruces, New Mexico to visit White Sands National Monument. Make sure to drive this stretch as long as the sun’s up, the landscape is stunning and you wouldn’t wanna miss this

Distance: 276 miles ~ 4 hours (to Las Cruces) + 50 miles ~ 1 hour (to White Sands)

White Sands National Monument. Pictured are Sand dunes and a man walking in the distance, leaving footsteps in the sand

White Sands National Monument is one of the most magical places I’ve ever seen. These sand dunes are mesmerizing – Pure, fine white Sand (that’s actually gipsum) as far as the eye can see. Take in the magnificent views and enjoy the complete silence around. White Sands National Monument is way more than just a beautiful landscape, it is a magical experience.

Stay:

Hilton Garden Inn, Las Cruces (we initially planned on driving to Alamogordo but didn’t make it that far as it was getting dark and late, so we found a room here, which was super comfortable and nice)

Eat/Drink:

We simply went to a Sprouts (organic grocery store) and bought some vegan sandwiches and snacks for the road. Organic grocery stores are my number one address to look for vegan food while on the road in the US. Check out my blog post on how to find vegan food while traveling the US.

Day 7: Albuquerque

Leaving White Sands National Monument you’ll be heading north to Albuquerque

Distance: 224 miles ~ 3 1/2 hours

Giant Pistachio in Alamogordo we passed on our Southwest Road Trip

Tip: Once you leave White Sands National Monument make sure to stop by the PistachioLand in Alamogordo and grab a few bags of fresh pistachios. The giant Pistachio is a fun and not to miss roadside attraction.

We took Highway 54 up north and then switched on the 380 west. This way we passed the Valley of Fires, a recreation area adjacent to the Malpais Lava Flow. The stunning black rocks appear out of nowhere on the roadside. We just drove through that beautiful passage but if you find the time, take a while to explore one of the many hiking trails. I’m sure it’s worth it.

Famous Kimo building in Albuquerque Southwest Road Trip

Our stay in Albuquerque was really just a quick pitstop and to spend the night. We took some time to explore downtown and visited a few of the many Trading Posts selling beautiful Native American pottery, art and jewelry.

If you wanna add a day to your road trip: Remember the compromises I talked about earlier? I still kinda regret we didn’t make it out to Santa Fe and Taos. We initially planned on going there too, but time was just too short. So we had to ditch driving up there and enjoyed a few more hours in Albuquerque. We’ll surely be going there next time.

Stay:

Baymont by Windham, Albuquerque

Eat/Drink:

Breakfast/Lunch – The Grove Cafe & Market (if you watched Breaking Bad, this place might look familiar 😉 It’s pretty crowded on sundays though)

Explore:

Spur Line Supply Co.

New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science

Old Town

Day 8: Flagstaff and Sedona

Today you’ll be driving to Flagstaff, the next morning your trip continues to Sedona

Distance: 323 miles ~ 4 1/2 hours (to Flagstaff) + 30 miles ~ 1 hour to Sedona

Southwest Road Trip image shows a road aligned by pine trees in Flagstaff, Arizona

Leaving New Mexico and reentering Arizona you’ll notice the landscape turning increasingly red and rocky again. I truly enjoyed this part of the road trip as it’s always fascinating to observe this gradient change of scenery.

Flagstaff is a cute town surrounded by pine forests and snow covered mountains. It is considered the gateway to the Grand Canyon. If you’ve never been to the National Park, you should definitely consider to include this in your road trip and add a day or two to this itinerary. Flagstaff is charming, and presents an entirely different world to all the desert cities we explored before. From here we went on the Highway 89A to Sedona. To tell it short: These 30 miles where the most stunning on this entire trip and amazed me even more than Sedona itself.

Road along Arizonas Red Rocks on the side of the Road is a sign that says Sedona

You can easily spend an entire day on this road through Oak Creek Canyon, stopping every few miles and exploring the many different sights along the road. Panoramic views of mountains, towering pine trees, natural springs and Sedona’s famous red rocks. Switch on your favorite playlist and simply enjoy this scenic route.

Stay:

Comfort Inn, Flagstaff

Eat/Drink:

Breakfast/Lunch – Local Juicery, Flagstaff

Explore:

Cathedral Rock Trail, Sedona

Day 9+10: Joshua Tree and Joshua Tree National Park

The last stop on this road trip is Joshua Tree with a visit to the National Park

Distance: 360 miles ~ 6 hours

Roy's Motel and Cafe in Amboy Photo picturing the famous road sign and tiny houses as part of the motel

Tip: We chose to drive along I-40. That way we passed Amboy, a tiny town in the mojave desert, on our way to Joshua Tree. Stop by the iconic Roy’s Motel and Cafe to take some pictures or simply enjoy the famous landmark.

Before returning back to LA we took some time to explore Joshua Tree. We’ve been there before for just a very short stay and loved it so much, that we had to return.

Joshua Tree National Park with desert landscape and a little Joshua Tree part of the Southwest Road Trip

Joshua Tree is a quirky desert town and I am so drawn to its spirit and charm. So don’t just focus your attention to the magical Joshua Tree National Park, although it’s totally worth it, but spend some time around the artsy desert community as well. You’ll find an entire travel guide here.

Image shows a quirky house in Joshua Tree Southwest Road Trip

Stay:

Cactus Mountain, 29 Palms AirBnB

Saguaro Hideaway Guesthouse, Joshua Tree AirBnB

Eat/Drink:

Breakfast/Lunch – The Natural Sisters Cafe

Coffee – Joshua Tree Coffee Co.

Explore:

Noah Purifoy Desert Outdoor Museum

Cholla Cacuts Garden, Joshua Tree National Park

Pioneer Town

World Famous Crochet Museum

Safe Travels and enjoy your Southwest Road Trip!

I hope this itinerary inspires you to hit the road and explore the beautiful Southwest. Let me know if my tips are helpful or tell me about your recent road trip. What’s your favorite route through the Southwest?

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