The Epic 8-Day USA Southwest Road Trip Itinerary – California – Nevada – Arizona – Utah
What we rented
Our Cali dream started in LA where we flew from our countries. At the airport we went with Alamo to rent our car. Having 10 days to drive we took an American icon Ford Mustang for just 512 USD with the full coverage. Looking back we have to say that we couldn’t have decided better. The car was really fast and it was a convertible so you could open sun roof any time. Pretty cool! We recommend you to rent Ford Mustang too , it is once a lifetime experience and the rental price isn’t so high in comparison with other cars. Beyond that, Ford Mustang is probably the greatest car for any kind of road trip ever. The car felt somehow connected to the road. You quickly made a bond of trust to it. Just make sure you rent it in advance as they seemed to be in high demand!
How we planned our road trip
We did the amazing southwest road trip with extending it to Utah to visit the famous Monument Valley. Our starting point was Los Angeles and from there we moved to Sequoia National Park, then to Death Valley, we also visited Las Vegas to gamble a bit and we made a short stop at the Grand Canyon. We continued to Monument Valley where we stayed overnight and the next day we departed for San Diego and back to LA. Wow, it’s a lot of sights, isn’t it? Don’t worry! Your Mustang will take you everywhere. Overall we drove 5000 kilometers in just 8 days. Road trips are meant to be like this. You drive and see beautiful things. You don’t stay much time in one place because you are constantly on the road.
For car navigation we used Google Maps or Apple Maps. Both are completely sufficient in the USA and you don’t have to be worried to get lost. Not counting that driving across the country is super easy thanks to straight roads. Sometimes you just drive hundreds of kilometers straight and you will arrive to your destination. Don’t forget to buy an unlimited data SIM card for your phone. It will work for every state. It’s really recommended because it will make your life easier. Anyway, wifi connection is ubiquitous. You won’t stay disconnected for a minute!
Expect USA to be very cheap country in comparison with South America or Europe. It even is a great country for buying some products for decent price and take them home! You will be able to eat nice food which costs nothing and the same applies for fuel prices. Ford Mustang is indeed very hungry but at the end it won’t ruin you so much. The accommodation is a bit pricier around national parks but you can always sleep outside though it will then take more time to get to main sights.
1 Day: Los Angeles – Hollywood Walk of Fame, Hollywood Sign, Griffith Observatory, Santa Monica Pier
The very first day you arrive you will be probably still recovering from jet lag. Just remember not to go asleep during the day, it will be even worse if you do it. You can enjoy the city to the fullest. Our first steps went to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. We recommend doing the same because the walk is on the way to the Hollywood sign so you can connect both and you no longer have to return to the center. For some reason, it is not a nice place to stay, it is quite dirty, some stars of the walk are destroyed and there also are a lot of strange people … Therefore, definitely park your car wisely at some secure parking.
After a short walk depart for the Hollywood sign in hills. For the best view of the sign, we recommend to stop either at the Lake Hollywood Park or for more close up photos do a small hike through the Deronda gate. Just be aware that you can’t park at the gate so you will probably have to leave your car elsewhere. Once you enter the gate, turn left and you should already see nice views of the sign. After you take enough photos, you can return back to the gate.
Take your car to the famous Griffith Observatory from where you will see the city of Los Angeles. It is a nice view but the place is a bit touristic so it tends to be overcrowded and time to time you have a problem to park your car. We had to park it along the way to the observatory because there simply wasn’t any space and the rest we had to walk. Still nice and refreshing though!
The second half of the day you can relax on the beach at the Santa Monica Pier. It is a nice place to hang out and chill, there even is a famous restaurant Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. which offers quite nice atmosphere but it can also be overcrowded so you have to wait a lot. We decided against going and we ended up at Big Dean’s Ocean Front Cafe where they have a nice selection of Belgian beers including Blue Moon (at this point we already parked our car near our Airbnb so we didn’t have to drive).
2 Day: Los Angeles – Six Flags, California Science Center
Make the second day in Cali special! Go to the Six Flags park to experience the craziest and scariest roller coasters in the world! The theme park is close to LA and it is just an hour of drive from it. There are all kind of crazy coasters – long, high and big so you will enjoy for sure. You will probably also meet a lot of roll coaster fanatics. We recommend not to drink any alcohol or eat much before. You can easily throw your lunch out after crazy rides. Still, awesome day that counts!
Don’t waste any time and after well-earned lunch go to the California Science Center where you will see the real space shuttle Endeavour! Beyond that, they have a lot of interesting space exhibits including space modules, aircrafts or robots. The place is awesome for all generations and if you have more time, spend it there. You will learn and explore!
Is it already too much for you? No, it can’t be because you will be moving to the next point! In the afternoon you should already depart for the Sequoia National Park as the way takes up to 5 hours from LA. We drove there later in the afternoon and we arrived after midnight. It will save you a lot of time and the next day you can be ready in the big trees forest.
3 Day: Sequoia National Park
This park is must-see. Mark it on your map immediately. You will see the biggest trees in the world! Their impressive size is just stunning. You will hug the oldest trees estimated to be more than 3500 years old or meet the impressive General Sherman tree which is the largest of its kind in the world. The area of the park is nicely done, if you choose to do some basic treks , they have paved walking trails. You don’t have to make any effort. There also is a special shuttle going back and forth between places so you don’t have to walk too much. Sounds crazy in the forest? Well, you wouldn’t have to be in the USA.
We enjoyed the great trees so much that we decided to stay overnight. The early next morning we woke up before sunrise to drive to the Death Valley. It really is important you save time by waking up as early as possible on the way. Otherwise, you won’t be able to complete this road trip in proposed time of 8 days. The USA is a gigantic country and distances are huge.
4 Day: Death Valley
While driving from the Sequoia National Park to the Death Valley you will see a sudden change of landscape. From attractive green valleys you will end up in the dry desert. Still, there is plenty to see in Death Valley and you could stay there many days but unfortunately you don’t have time for this. The whole area is super hot! We visited it during May / June and temperature already exceeded more than 40 degrees. As it is a desert, you definitely have to make some storage of water in advance not to end up dry. It could have bad consequences for you. On the way you will see many locations where to stop. It depends on your taste for sights so we will leave it to you. The must-see highlight is Badwater Basin – the lowest point in North America. It looks like an endless salt flat and with surrounding mountains it is a nice view point.
We expect you don’t spend much time in the Death Valley. Yet again, it is another national park where you could probably live until the end and you wouldn’t be able to see everything. That’s why it is so important to keep moving and explore unknown. Drive to Las Vegas which is just two and half hours from the Badwater Basin. You can make it in the same day! Remember that you have Mustang!
5 Day: Las Vegas
Las Vegas is the sin city. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas as one slogan says. Well, the city is just full of casinos and other activities to spend money. Maybe that’s why accommodation here is so cheap. We stayed at the Planet Hollywood hotel which was decent and it is located right in the center pretty close to everything. You won’t believe but we paid much less than for the lodge near the Sequoia National Park! The trick here is to make you spend more in casinos. We were walking everywhere by foot in Las Vegas. During this time our Mustang stayed parked at the hotel.
The city center is pretty boring. There are imitations and fakes of every world sight including Venice or Eiffel Tower. Even forever green lawns are fake. There can be some interesting activities to do though. We took the opportunity to visit the extraordinary show of Cirque du Soleil. Definitely one of must-sees in Las Vegas. If you are looking for something for free, you can watch a water show with the fountains in front of the Bellagio hotel. They go off every 30 minutes from Monday to Friday till 8 pm and then every 15 minutes till midnight.
Another famous location is the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign near the Mandalay Bay. Installed in 1959 it is the most iconic place in Las Vegas. We would just wish not to wait so much in lines. Yes, you heard it correctly. There are huge lines for photos. As crazy as it sounds, it is worth waiting for this nice picture. After all, it is pretty cool thing to do.
For proper food we always visited the Australian chain Outback. We already fell in love with it back in Brazil. This restaurant is famous for its Aussie-style dishes. You will be served with many variety of steaks for affordable prices. Don’t forget to try their world well-known Bloomin’ Onion!
6 Day: Grand Canyon
Las Vegas was a nice spoil but not so nice not to continue further to Arizona. Did you know that Grand Canyon is just two and half hours from LV? It would be a pity not to go there! You drive the route 93 from LV and then in Dolan Springs you just turn left following the highway 25. Pretty easy! Check your Google Maps or Apple Maps to exactly know how to get to the destination from your place but generally speaking it is not a rocket science.
The Grand Canyon is a huge place! There are many facilities in the Grand Canyon Village including McDonald’s! Who wouldn’t eat yummy Big Mac with the spectacular views of the Grand Canyon? It is epic natural wonder that you can’t simply describe. It will leave you emotional and mesmerized. Such breathtaking visual. There are many trails and hikes and if you have more time, definitely go down on one of the trails. In our case, we didn’t have it so we had to continue but looking back, we would rather spend less time in LA or LV and spend more time here.
There are many view points. Some very popular like Mother Point which tends to be overcrowded and for less touristic people this one would seem a bit annoying. There are others like Yavapai Point or Yaki Point. We recommend to skip these, take a shuttle and go for Hermit Road view points which in our opinion are the most beautiful ones. Especially, the Powell Point is nice.
In the late afternoon you should be already going towards the Monument Valley. It will take you more than 3 hours from the Grand Canyon Village so expect some driving.
7 Day: Monument Valley
Yet again one of locations where we would spend more time if we knew how beautiful it is! It is a must without any doubt. You will probably arrive to the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park late night. Book some lodge overnight and prepare to wake up early in the morning. Why so early? You have to catch the golden hour after sunrise when Monument Valley has the most beautiful colors.
Don’t waste your time and go for the most iconic scenic view point of the Monument Valley from the movie Forrest Gump. It’s incredible! During sunrise everything turns gold and with sandy colors of the Monument Valley , you will probably feel like you are on another planet. To get to the famous Forrest Gump Hill just follow Google Maps HERE. We are sure it will blow you away.
After you take all beautiful photos and you are ready to take on another adventure. Your Mustang will take you to San Diego. This road is the toughest and the longest one. Be ready and patient because it will take more than 10 hours. We drove it all in one day. We know that it is a bit overkill but we are very adventurous couple. We are always looking for richer experience.
8 Day: San Diego – Zoo, USS Midway, see lions
Right in the morning your next steps should go to the amazing San Diego Zoo which is rated to be the best in the world. We really recommend to go there. You will see all kind of animals in this sanctuary and be ready to spend some time here as it is quite large. It took us almost 5 hours to see everything. What is amazing about this zoo is that its landscape and set up look like you would be in animals natural habitat. Expect some of the greatest animal exhibits in the world including pandas! Yes! They have fluffy chubby and cute pandas. In this part of the zoo you have to wait long lines but definitely worth visiting!
You will pay a lot here as tickets are really costy. The 1-Day Pass costs 58 USD for adults (48 USD for children ages 3-11). Still, awesome experience for the price!
San Diego is also a naval base. You will meet a lot of sailors around and from the coast you will see a lot of aircraft carriers. You can even visit the most famous one – USS Midway which even appeared in several movies. Nowadays there is a nice interactive museum inside the carrier. It is one of the reasons why you should pick up San Diego. It is interesting to listen to many stories how such huge colossus worked. Also, the tour is organized by passionate volunteer veterans who had previous experience serving on the USS Midway. If you don’t like organized tour, you can take a self-guided one but you will miss a lot! The museum is huge and you will definitely spend here several hours.
Use the last day of your road trip to relax and chill watching seals and see lions! There are many excellent spots for photos like Boomers Point or La Jolla Cove where you can even be snorkeling with them. Just be careful because those rocks can be pretty slippery and you wouldn’t like to end up in the hospital. Also, some of sea lions can be aggressive. It’s not recommended to cuddle them.
This is the end of your road trip! You can still spend some time in San Diego and the next morning you will depart towards the airport in LA. Overall we spent 8 days on the road (+ 2 days traveling to the USA and back)