San Diego To Las Vegas Road Trip: 10 Must-See Stops To Make

By Elle
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If you’re heading to Las Vegas from San Diego by car, you have two choices — get to Vegas as quickly as possible, or take your sweet time doing it.

You can either do the 5ish hour drive with only a pee break here and there or linger for a lot longer to explore all the crazy attractions spread out between Southern California and Nevada.

We personally enjoy the latter option whenever we opt to get to Vegas by car. Especially because the massive stretches of California desert contain such oddities and quirky things to see!

If you’re someone that enjoys stopping for random roadside attractions and landmarks, you’re going to like this article. Below is a handful of our favorite off-the-beaten-path stops to make along the San Diego to Las Vegas road trip, and a convenient little map to go along with it.


Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Anza Borrego Art Sculptures

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is definitely worth stopping to explore during a road trip from San Diego to Las Vegas, especially for nature lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, and those of you who enjoy experiencing unique landscapes.

Anza-Borrego is home to some truly incredible desert scenery, hiking, art sculpture viewing, photography opps, stargazing, and off-roading adventures.

You can explore cool slot canyons like Borrego Palm Canyon and Slot Canyon, which offer opportunities for hiking and photography amid towering walls of rock.

For something super unique, try to see a few of the Galleta Meadows Sculptures while driving through Anza-Borrego!

If you’re doing your road trip early in the year (like from February to April), you’ll also get to enjoy displays of wildflowers during the spring bloom season.

Salton Sea

Salton Sea California

The Salton Sea area can be a fascinating and unique stop during a road trip from San Diego to Las Vegas, especially for those interested in offbeat destinations and abandoned places!

Once a popular resort destination in the 1950s and 1960s, the Salton Sea is now a surreal and eerie landscape. You can explore the shores of the saline lake, which is the largest in California, and observe the remnants of abandoned buildings and infrastructure.

Make a stop at Bombay Beach while you’re here. It’s a small community on the eastern shore of the Salton Sea known for its eclectic art installations, quirky atmosphere, and colorful abandoned structures. You can wander through the town’s streets to admire the artwork and take in the surreal surroundings.

Then, there’s Slab City. Often referred to as “The Last Free Place in America,” Slab City is an off-grid community located on the site of a former military base. Explore the unique community of RVs, trailers, and makeshift homes, as well as artistic installations like Salvation Mountain and East Jesus.

You’ve probably never seen anything like it!

Temecula

Temecula, California is a unique blend of wine country charm and outdoor adventure. If you enjoy yourself a glass of wine, you’re going to want to make a pitstop here.

Temecula Valley is home to numerous award-winning wineries and vineyards, so a quick wine-tasting or tour is definitely in order.

For those who like old-timey charm, head to Old Town Temecula. This historic district features charming boutiques, antique shops, art galleries, and restaurants housed in rustic buildings. It’s a great place to stroll, shop for unique souvenirs, and soak in the town’s charm!

If you’re celebrating something special or like unique experiences, you can embark on an epic hot air balloon ride. Temecula’s beautiful landscapes of the vineyards, mountains, and valleys below are best appreciated from above!

Before leaving, try to grab a meal here. The culinary scene is better than you’d think, with a variety of restaurants offering everything from farm-to-table cuisine to international flavors. Don’t miss the chance to pair your meal with local wines!

Palm Springs

Palm Springs California

Your drive eastbound will land you in Palm Springs, California. Palm Springs is nothing if not unique. This desert city has had a long association with the rich and famous of Hollywood and continues to prove as a great escape from the hustle and bustle of more metropolitan cities such as Los Angeles.

Its neighboring areas are equally as unique and quirky and are definitely worth paying a visit if you’re in the desert area. If you can manage to tear yourself away from sunbathing by the pool for a day or two, you’ll find a world of eccentric art, spectacular hiking trails, and unique architecture in the deserts of Southern California.

When I lived in LA, I absolutely loved taking long, weekend trips to Palm Springs. There’s simply so much to see, do, and eat! 

The number one must-do during your time here? Taking a self-guided drive through the city to see the iconic houses and landmarks that make up Palm Springs. Palm Springs is known for its iconic mid-century modern architecture, designed by famous architects such as Richard Neutra, Albert Frey, and William Krisel. Alternatively, you can take a guided architecture tour of Palm Springs.

 If you’re looking to explore this artsy hipster town further, check out 25 other cool things to do in Palm Springs.

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

Ask anyone who’s been there—there’s really no other place in the world like Joshua Tree National Park. I’m a huge fan of this national park as well as its quirky neighboring towns. My friends and I can go on for days about all the great landmarks and attractions this area has to offer!

Joshua Tree National Park is famous for its unique terrain, covered with whimsical Joshua Trees as well as its massive boulder formations.

The top three sights not to be missed include ogling at the iconic Joshua Trees themselves, towering monoliths like Skull Rock that beg exploration, and the mesmerizing Cholla Cactus Garden, where golden sunlight dances through a forest of spiny wonders.

Yucca Valley

Crochet Museum Yucca Valley Joshua Tree

After a day of exploration at Joshua Tree National Park, take a few hours to stop by the nearby town of Yucca Valley. I adore this little artsy, off-beat town!

It holds some of the area’s best and most beloved roadside oddities! Start at The World Famous Crochet Museum, an old photo-processing booth transformed into a mini-museum featuring the art of crochet. From there, peruse the nearby shops and galleries, including the Beauty Bubble Salon and Museum.

Drive a few minutes to get to Noah Purifoy’s Outdoor Desert Art Museum where you’ll find weather-aged sculptures built from recycled materials and scraps, conveying a powerful message.

And if you’re seeking a totally unique sound bath experience, head to The Integraton for 60 minutes of sound and relaxation (you may need to reserve a spot a few months in advance).

Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum
Art installation made of toilets at Noah Purifoy’s Outdoor Desert Art Museum

Pioneertown

Pioneertown, located a few minutes north of Yucca Valley, California is a darn good time and definitely worth a visit! Pioneertown is an entire old west mining town (from an old movie set) with historical buildings galore.

You’ll also find some fun independent gift shops, Pioneertown Bowl, and even a legit saloon or two. Catch a mock gunfight on Main Street (Saturdays only October thru May), then visit Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace for some finger-licking good barbecue, live music, and dancing.

Calico Ghost Town

Calico Ghost Town
Calico Ghost Town during the holidays

Not too far from Barstow, you’ll encounter your next exciting stop — Calico Ghost Town! Once filled with miners searching for silver, this town was eventually abandoned in the 1890s, rendering it a “ghost town.”

It has since been restored to look as it did in the 1880s and has been turned into a fun roadside attraction aimed at transporting visitors back in time.

Calico Ghost Town recreates the California Silver Rush life with pioneer-style restaurants, shops, and sights.

For adults who don’t care for quirky old-timey attractions, this one could be skippable. But for the young at heart, weirdos (like me) who love this type of stuff, or families traveling with kids, expect to spend 1-2 hours here, walking around and perusing the gift shops.

This is by far one of my favorite stops along Historic Route 66, because I’m a sucker for western towns, California gold rush towns, and all things reenactment! I had a short but wonderful time here on my last Las Vegas road trip.

PRO TIP: While in Yermo, stop by Peggy Sue’s 50’s Diner for a hefty bite to eat. This charming ’50s diner serves your typical diner food, including grilled cheeses, burgers, sandwiches, pizza, and good old-fashioned ice cream. The inside is as cute and 50’s-looking as the outside. After you’ve finished eating, linger and explore for a bit… don’t miss the dinosaur area out back! Then go to EddieWorld for candy, ice cream, hot sauce, nuts, jerky, and more. It’s a must!

Baker

Alien Fresh Jerky - Baker California

Baker, CA is a quirky oasis in the desert that’s sure to leave you scratching your head in wonder. That’s the California desert for ya.

First up on the agenda? Alien jerky, of course. Step inside the touristy haven of Alien Fresh Jerky, adorned with a “Galaxy Peace Patrol” vehicle out front, and load up on all the otherworldly jerky your taste buds can handle. Don’t forget to seek wisdom from the all-knowing “Ali-n” before hitting the road again. (Don’t worry, it’s not real alien meat.)

Then, behold the world’s largest thermometer, standing tall at 134 feet and boasting a history as colorful as its towering stature. Snap a selfie with this iconic roadside attraction and don’t forget to grab a keychain from the gift shop to commemorate your brush with temperature-measuring greatness.

Finally, satisfy your hunger pangs at the legendary Mad Greek Cafe, a 24-hour haven for weary travelers. Nibble on a savory gyro and leave room for the mouthwatering sweets – trust us, the strawberry milkshake, apple pie sundae, and baklava milkshake are worth the stop alone.

And with a belly full of goodness, it’s time to bid farewell to Baker and set your sights on the neon lights of Nevada. But hey, if you’re not quite ready to hit Las Vegas just yet, Primm awaits with its roller coasters, outlet malls, and more.

Primm

Primm, Nevada is home to a collection of quirky attractions and offbeat sights. perfect for travelers who need a little more mental stimulation on their journey from SD to Las Vegas.

First up on the agenda? The Desperado Roller Coaster at Buffalo Bill’s Resort. With its heart-pounding 225-foot drop, four G-force, and speeds reaching up to 90 miles per hour, this adrenaline-pumping ride will give you a good thrill despite being in the middle of nowhere. Plus, where else can you say you’ve experienced a roller coaster that zooms through a casino?

From there, head over to Whiskey Pete’s Casino and lay your eyes on a piece of history – Bonnie and Clyde’s Death Car. Steeped in notoriety and intrigue, this bullet-laden relic offers a fascinating glimpse into the notorious crime duo’s final moments. It’s a weird and wonderful addition to any road trip itinerary, perfect for those seeking a dose of vintage Americana and kitschy charm.

You can also stop at the Primm Valley Lotto Store. Located just across the California border, this quirky outpost is where savvy Nevadans go to try their luck at the lottery. And if you find yourself with a bit of spare time, don’t forget to check out the nearby Prizm Outlets for some retail therapy and the chance to look at some beautiful murals at the Mural Oasis.

Other Stops You Could Add To Your SD To Vegas Road Trip

Lake Elsinore (Seasonal)

Lake Elsinore California

Lake Elsinore is where you want to go to witness nature putting on the most colorful show during the springtime superbloom season.

During superbloom, the wildflowers burst into a kaleidoscope of colors, transforming the landscape into a breathtaking masterpiece of yellows and oranges. Ogle at the fields of poppies, lupines, and goldenfields blanketing the hillsides, creating the perfect backdrop for epic photos and unforgettable memories.

Death Valley National Park (Detour)

Death Valley National Park

If you’re a national park chaser, a detour to Death Valley National Park is an absolute must. This iconic desert landscape is a land of extremes, boasting the lowest point in North America and temperatures that can soar to blistering heights. In fact, the hottest recorded temperature taken across the whole wide world was at Death Valley!

But don’t let that deter you – Death Valley is also a land of stunning beauty, with towering sand dunes, colorful canyons, and otherworldly salt flats just waiting to be explored.

PRO TIP: Death Valley is too hot to explore during the late-spring to early fall, so we’d recommend visiting if you are traveling during the cooler months (or aren’t bothered by extreme desert heat).

Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park (Detour)

For those who live and breathe the great outdoors, a detour to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks is another detour worth taking. Home to some of the largest trees on Earth – including the legendary General Sherman Tree – these majestic parks offer a wilderness experience like no other.

Hike among towering sequoias, explore rugged mountain landscapes, and marvel at cascading waterfalls as you immerse yourself in the natural beauty of these parks.

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About The Author - Elle
About the author

My name is Elle and I'm a travel blogger based in California. I love helping people plan trips and create unique itineraries based on their interests and their budgets. I'm a huge fan of outdoor adventures and doing off-the-beaten-path things in Las Vegas (and around the world too)!