A Texas-to-California drive is one epic road trip with a ton of unique sites to see. I’ve done this drive twice but on two different routes, one sticking south along the southern border and one through Northern Texas, going through Amarillo to visit the famed Route 66 attraction, Cadillac Ranch.
I love an epic road trip cruising along the wide open road, with fun outdoor activities, great things to experience, quirky sites to see, and vast scenic landscapes in every direction. Driving from Texas to California allows you to see some of the most stunning and popular attractions in the Southwestern United States, from hot springs and ghost towns to the Golden Gate Bridge and National Parks. No matter your final destination in California, a Texas to California road trip through America’s southwest should be high on your bucket list!
Road Trip at a Glance:
How many days does a drive from Texas to California take? It takes at least two days to drive from Texas to California. However, this entirely depends on where you start and stop. One of the most direct routes from Central Texas (Dallas) to Southern California (Palm Springs) takes about 20 hours and is just over 1,300 miles following I-10.
What states do you pass through to get to California from Texas? The most direct route passes through New Mexico and Arizona to get to California from Texas.
What is the best route to drive from Texas to California? The most popular routes to drive from Texas to California are the northern route, along Route 66 (I-40), or the southern route, along I-10. The southern route is more scenic and takes you through an array of National Parks, while the northern route is perfect for those who want to experience the country’s most famous highway, quirky attractions and historic towns.
When is the best time to drive from Texas to California? The best time for a Texas to California road trip, for optimal temperatures and road conditions, is March to May. Fall is another good time to drive from Texas to California.
Where Should I Start and End my Texas to California Road Trip?
Your Texas to California road trip will likely start from one of Texas’s four major cities: Austin, Dallas, Houston, or San Antonio. Dallas and Houston have the two major airports and are well connected to the rest of the state, making them great starting points.
There are two main routes that most people take when driving from Texas to California, the northern route along I-40 (Route 66) and the southern route along I-10.
I-20 runs across the center of Texas and is a great option if starting from Dallas. I-20 runs into I-10, heading west near Fort Davis.
However, if you are looking to skip out on driving across Texas altogether, start in a western city in Texas, such as Amarillo in the north or El Paso in the south.
Where to start in Texas
- Dallas: Dallas has the largest airport in the state (DFW) and is the perfect place to start your road trip and a fun city to explore on its own. It’s easily accessible to the northern route along Route 66 and features city highlights such as Deep Ellum, Bishops Arts districts, and dozens of fascinating museums. If you start your drive in March, make sure to stop at Texas-Tulips, a dutch tulip farm just north of the city.
- Amarillo: Amarillo, in northern Texas’ panhandle, is one of the most popular cities along Historic Route 66, with quirky diners, housing murals, and nostalgic gift shops. It’s a great place to begin a Texas to California road trip when wanting to go through Northern New Mexico to visit Tucumcari or Santa Fe. Make sure to stop at the Welcome to signs for Arizona and New Mexico at the border along I-40.
- Austin: Known as the Live Music Capitol of the World, Austin is one of the most exciting destinations in Texas. It’s full of nightlife, delicious cuisines, and a friendly and inviting atmosphere. It is a perfect place to explore and begin a road trip from Texas to California when wanting a bit of community, delicious grub and some outdoor adventures.
- El Paso: The border town of El Paso is the best place to start your Texas to California road trip if you want to bypass Texas altogether. It sits in the western panhandle and features a vast blend of American and Mexican cultures.
- Houston: I-10 runs through Houston and allows you to drive the furthest along your road trip in Texas, offering the most to see and do. Houston, the largest city in Texas, is known for its NASA Space Center, and has a fun Theater district and historic center showing off 19th-century architecture. It is an epic starting point for a Texas to California drive.
Where to End in California
Palm Springs or San Diego are two convenient final destinations when taking I-10 through southern Texas but there is a slew of other great options in southern California with easy access to some of the best destinations in northern California. It all depends on how much time you have and what kind of experiences you are looking forward to.
- San Diego: California’s southernmost city of San Diego, is a melting pot of cultures and one of the most beloved cities in California. Ending here will allow you to enjoy the small seaside towns of La Jolla, Encinitas, and Oceanside and makes a great stopping point for those who want to relax on the beautiful California beaches, enjoy sunset cliffs Natural Park and indulge in delicious local cuisine. From Tuscon, you can take I-8 directly into San Diego.
- Palm Springs: Palm Springs sits close to Joshua Tree National Park, right off of I-10. It is a great end point to your Texas to California road trip for desert vibes, boutique shopping, relaxing spas and golf. Its relaxing atmosphere is the perfect way to end a long drive, and Palm Springs makes a great jumping off point for many other day trips in the area.
- Los Angeles: Los Angeles, or the City of Angels, is the second largest city in the United States and a great destination for your Texas to California road trip if you love Hollywood, beautiful beaches, fun piers, and a mix of culture. It is also the most convenient ending point when taking Interstate 40 from Texas. There is a ton to see and do in Los Angeles and it surrounding areas, including Santa Monica, the official end of Historic Route 66.
- Santa Monica: If you want to end up on the California coast, there is no better end point to a Texas to California road trip than Santa Monica, the official “end of the road” of Historic Route 66 commemorated with a historical sign and booth along the pier. It is a great way to end your long adventure and take in one of California’s most iconic areas. Walk along the famous pier, hit Muscle Beach for a workout, enjoy the world famous Looff Hippodrome Carousel, or relax with a Pacific Ocean sunset.
Northern California/Central Coast
These options are not along the direct routes from Texas to California but are hugely popular and worth the effort if you can add more days to your road trip to see more of California.
- Carmel: Heading inland to the famous Route 1 along California’s coast is the rugged coastlines of Big Sur stretching from San Simeon to Carmel. It is one of the most sought-after areas for scenic drives that make for phenomenal road trips. Featuring many state parks, sea lions, rocky cliffs, and gorgeous beaches, the Big Sur drive to Carmel is one of the most impressive coastal drives in the world and the perfect way to see more of California after a road trip from Texas.
- San Francisco: North of Monterey is San Francisco, home to Silicon Valley, the Golden Gate Bridge, the world’s windiest Street (Lombard Street), and Alcatraz (to name a few). San Francisco is another wonderful city to visit in northern California. The city is full of color, culture, and unique experiences, close to the beautiful Point Reys National Seashore, Muir Woods State Park, Sonoma, and Napa wine regions, and the unique streets of Normandy Village in Berkeley, CA.
- Yosemite National Park: Yosemite is located in the central east of California and makes for a wonderful ending point if you want to explore some of California’s most dazzling National Parks, including Death Valley, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park. While this route may be the longest, it’s full of some of the best things to see and do for nature lovers and allows you to explore a bit more of inland California.
How much does a drive from Texas to California cost?
Many people ask, is it cheaper to fly or drive from Texas to California?
The cost depends on multiple factors, and flights fluctuate frequently, but generally speaking, it is cheaper to fly to California from Texas rather than drive. But this would only be an option if you were not looking for the best sites to see from Texas to California and wanted to get out on the open road for an adventure of a lifetime!
A direct drive from east Texas to southern California is around 20 hours and 1,300 miles, which could be done in two days if going direct.
To know how much a Texas to California drive will cost, calculate your car’s gas mileage based on 1,300-1,500 miles. Keep in mind you may not take the most direct route if you want to see the best things from Texas to California.
Also, calculate the cost of accommodations and food based on how long of a drive you want to take.
I recommend at least 5 days for a Texas to California drive to allow plenty of time for stops and overnights. I typically do this road trip in 10 days minimum but could go for much longer, depending on what I want to see (I also hate feeling rushed, and I always have to plan for some remote work days).
For accommodation, if you want to camp along the way, expect to spend $10-$35 a night for a drive-up site for one vehicle. Most motels and 3-star hotels charge around $80-$150 a night.
To save money on accommodation, consider car camping. You can sleep for free in many open lots across the US, including Cracker Barrel, Walmart, Lowes, and Home Depot. Also, at rest stops, visitor centers, and travel centers such as Flying J, Pilot, and Love’s (restrictions on overnight parking vary by cites- always ask first to avoid being towed or ticketed).
If you fly to California to Texas, you may only need an airline ticket, which is cheaper than gas, food, accommodation, and activities along the way, BUT you’ll be missing out on quite a lot.
I encourage you to hit the road and discover the best sites from Texas to California!
The Best sites to See from Texas to California.
From scenic deserts and mountain landscapes to bustling cities, ghost towns, vintage roadside attractions, delicious diners and some quirky random sites, it’s amazing how much variety there is on a Texas to California drive.
I’ve separated this post into two sections, the Northern Route and the Southern Route, and included a variety of sites to see, from hiking trails and major cites to small towns and national parks with some quick pit stops that are sure to impress!
No matter which route you take, you will enjoy all the adventures and cool experiences waiting for you along a Texas to California road trip!
Northern Route Sites to See
The Northern route takes you through the iconic “Mother Road” and is the more historical option best for anyone dying to experience what is left of the classic Route 66. Much of this route is on I-40, with many optional fun and quirky Route 66 stops along with a few National and State Parks.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Texas
Palo Duro Canyon dubbed the Texas Grand Canyon is the second largest canyon in the country based on length (120 miles long). This unique geological attraction is not too far from Amarillo, Texas. Start at the visitors center for panoramic canyon views, then take the 16 miles scenic drive to the canyon base to discover more of the canyon floor. Hikers can enjoy miles of scenic trails, including the popular Lighthouse trail to the most famous landmark in the park, or get great panoramic views of the canyon along the Triassic Trail. Fees start at $8 for day use and $16 for campsites. Reservations for camping and day use are recommended to ensure availability.
Cadillac Ranch, Texas
Sitting in the panhandle of Texas is the unique Cadillac Ranch art installation, one of the most famous attractions along Route 66. in Texas This attraction was thought up by three artists apart of the San Francisco art group “Ant Farm” and Stanley Marsh as an ode to the American Dream with hopes to baffle the locals. It’s the perfect place for a fabulous Instagram photo op and one of the unique stops along a Texas to California road trip.
Adrian, Texas (Route 66 Midpoint)
The small town of Adrian is home to the famous midway to Chicago Route 66 sign along with the famous Midpoint Cafe. Have fun checking out all the Route 66 memorabilia and snap a photo at the ‘Welcome to Adrian’ sign, a perfect shot to document your Texas to California road trip.
Tucumcari, New Mexico
Another iconic Route 66 town, Tucumcari, is known for its vintage neon signs that come alive at night. It is also home to museums, gift shops, and murals dedicated to the Mother Road. Visit the Tucumcari Historical Museum to learn about the History of Route 66 and the town of Tucumcari. Head down Tucumcari Blvd (old Route 66) to see the vintage Blue Swallow Motel with a classic car parked out front. Make sure to stop in at TeePee Curious, a unique gift shop, and look out for the abandoned garages and gas stations with a ton of funky fun murals and Route 66 plaques adorned to the walls. Tucumcari is a great stop along I-40 for any one looking to get their kicks on Route 66! If you are looking to take a longer pit stop, enjoy the nearby Mesalands Community College Dinosaur Museum, or enjoy some outdoor activities or picnic lunch at nearby Ute Lake or Conchas Lake State Parks.
Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico
Although this stop requires a slight detour from i-40, it is totally worth the effort for anyone who enjoys historical cultures and Native American history. The area is home to over 33,000 acres of preserved lands with petroglyphs, canyons and valleys that were once apart of a thriving community dating back over 11,000 years ago. It only takes a few hours to walk around the preserved homes of the Ancestral Puebloans but there are longer hiking trails and a system of ladders that you can climb to view different levels of the historic city.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Just north of Albuquerque sits the unique and quirky town of Santa Fe, New Mexico’s capital city and the oldest capital city in the USA. This town oozes with creativity, as seen in over 100 art galleries sprinkled around the city. It is known for its striking Pueblo-style architecture and is the location of America’s oldest public building, The Palace of the Governors, and the oldest church in the US, the San Miguel Chapel. Enjoy the art scene along Canyon road, one of the many art and history museums in the downtown square, and make sure to try some of the delicious southwest fare-The Shed comes highly recommended. If you visit in August, head to the annual Santa Fe Indian Market, the largest and most prestigious intertribal art market in the world, hosted by the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Albuquerque, New Mexico, is the largest city in the state and is full of culture, historical sites, and delicious cuisine. Boasting multiple museums, loads of shopping, and the Rio Grande Zoo, nature lovers and city buffs will enjoy the magic of Albuquerque. Be sure to stroll around the Old Town’s narrow streets for the best locally made souvenirs and authentic Mexican eateries. If you are driving through Albuquerque in early October, you are in for a treat! The town explodes with color flying high in the sky during the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, a hot air balloon festival known for its quirky balloon shapes, including chickens, pigs, bulls, and even Dracula.
Be aware that Central Ave (Historic Route 66) in southeast Albuquerque runs through the International District (locals refer to it as the War Zone), which has very high crime rates, including car theft and violent crime. If you want to stay overnight, stick to a hotel with secure parking. The airport hotels are known to have fewer car thefts.
Santa Rosa Blue Hole, New Mexico
The Santa Rosa Blue Hole in New Mexico is a natural phenomenon- a sink hole filled with spring water creating a swimming hole with a system of underground secret caves. It’s one of the most popular stops along Route 66 and is also a dedicated location to scuba diving training. It’s most famous for its electric blue color and constant water temperate of 61℉. Visitors can enjoy swimming, hiking, or relaxing around the Santa Rosa Blue Hole. If you are traveling in the summer, this place is a must-stop for cooling off and beating the heat, winter is their high season, so you may have it all to your self. Just be aware temperatures in the Santa Rosa area can surpass 100 ℉ in the summer.
Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
Located in northeastern Arizona is the infamous Petrified Forest National Park. It’s one of the most jaw-dropping places in the United States and one of the best sites along a Texas to California road trip for nature lovers. What was once an ancient forest turned to stone over time and now contains the most significant amount of petrified wood in the world. Hike along the miles of trails and discover fossilized logs and trees with diverse textures and colors.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
No road trip through Arizona would be complete without a stop at Arizona’s most famous natural wonder, the Grand Canyon. One hour from Williams along I-40, its a bit of a detour but one many would agree is a must see. The Grand Canyon is the country’s #1 most visited national park, with over 4.5 million annual visitors. It can easily be reached from Route 66 and is a must-stop along any Texas to California road trip for its expansive vista and dramatic canyon, where there are plenty of opportunities for hiking and relaxing. Formed millions of years ago from erosion of the Colorado River, it spans 277 miles and is 6,000 feet deep at its lowest point. Begin at the visitor’s center to learn the canyon’s history, hike or ride around the rim, or descend into the canyon to discover it firsthand.
Lake Havasu City, Arizona
Another stop, about 30 mins south of I-40, is Lake Havasu City. This area is fantastic for enjoying the Colorado River with water sports or nature in some nearby parks. It is also home to the original 1830s London Bridge. The bridge was purchased, deconstructed, and moved to the US, where it was rebuilt in Lake Havasu City in the 1970s. It connects the mainland to an island in the Colorado River. The downtown area is known for pubs, eateries and unique local boutiques. You can even take a boat tour to spot the many US lighthouse replicas doting the river’s shoreline.
Route 66 Historic towns and sites in Texas, Arizona and California
There are many Route 66 towns and historic sites running through Texas and Arizona all the way to Santa Monica in California. I’ve listed the most popular sites from west to east below but for a more detailed look at all there is to see along Route 66 from Texas to California, check out this post highlighting the best Route 66 stops in Arizona and the best Route 66 towns in northern Texas.
- Cadillac Ranch
- Big Texan Steak Ranch
- Route 66 Historic District
- Wigman Teepees
- Historic Route 66 Museum & Welcome Center
- Mr. D’z Route 66 diner
- Kingman Welcome Sign
- Amboy, CA
- Amboy Crater
- Roy’s Motel & Cafe
Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch, California
This unique collection of vintage bottles arranged as a maze of glass and steel trees is quite the sight. It is right off of the National Trails Highway (Historic Route 66), just under two hours from Los Angeles in Oro Grand, California. Elmer started turning his collection of vintage bottles into art over 15 years ago. There is a ton to look at however, Elmer recently passed away, and the ranch is no longer open to walk through freely, but you can still enjoy the artistic lawn from the road.
End of the Road Route 66 marker, California
The mile marker finishing Route 66 sits on the Santa Monica pier overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the one of the country’s most popular beaches, Santa Monica Beach. Your Texas to California road trip isn’t complete without a photo at this famous landmark.
Death Valley National Park, California
Death Valley National Park is one of the best natural sites to see on a Texas to California road trip if you have time to head north. This national park is about 2.5 hours north of Barstow and is the hottest place in the USA and the driest in North America. Death Valley is home to many surreal landscapes, from salt flats stretching for miles and towering yellow sand dunes to the colorful mountains of the Instagram-famous Artist’s Pallet. It is truly a land of wonders, and one not to be missed.
Southern Route Stops
The Southern route along Interstate 10 is the more scenic option when driving from Texas to California and passes through various national parks, state parks, and little towns. It’s the best option for those who love exploring the outdoors and appreciate stunning natural scenery and diverse landscapes.
Big Bend National Park, Texas
Big Bend is one of the least visited and remote National Parks in the United States, primarily due to its location, but it is undoubtedly the hidden gem of Texas. Ditch the car, set out on foot or by bike, and explore the vast National Park firsthand. Home to the rugged Chisos mountains on the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert, its a fantastic area to enjoy canyons, diverse wildlife, and the dark night sky.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
The well preserved natural wonder of Carlsbad Caverns National Park is a UNESCO Heritage Site for its diverse geological formations and one of the best sites along the southern route if you have some time for a short detour. The park features some of the largest caves worldwide that began to form over 250 million years old by a single drop of water. The best way to explore the caverns is by booking a guided tour, allowing you to learn about the area’s history. Tickets to enter the caves sell out weeks in advance, so make sure to book in advance at Recreation.gov.com.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Another national park worth a stop is the Guadalupe Mountains, located four hours north of Big Bend and two hours east of El Paso. This is a hiking park where outdoor lovers will enjoy the miles of rugged canyon trails and backpacking opportunities. It is only 30 mins south of Carlsbad caverns so it makes a great stop if you are hoping to visit as many National Parks as possible. If you are not into hiking or if the weather isn’t good, skip this one and head to el Paso from Big Bend.
El Paso, Texas
Whether you begin your road trip in El Paso or not, it still deserves a stop on any Texas to California road trip. El Paso is on the Rio Grand River and borders Juarez, Mexico. El Paso is blended with a mix of cultures, attractions, and delicious Tex-Mex cuisine. It’s one of the most underrated cities in Texas, and home to the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame, the Museum of Art, and the Franklin Mountains State Park, a perfect setting for outdoor lovers offering hiking and biking trails, camping, and rock climbing. While in el Paso, don’t forget to snap a photo in front of the Greetings from Mural located in the Substation.
Las Cruces, New Mexico
Las Cruces, New Mexico, lies just north of El Paso. Although its the 2nd largest city in New Mexico, it still has a small town charm. It makes a good overnight stop on your drive to California, where you can enjoy many attractions, including museums and art galleries, and annual festivals. It is only an hour’s drive from White Sands National Park and is home to the US’s largest military facility, the White Sands Missile Range. Explore the museum to learn more about the origins of missile testing and the space program and view over 50 rockets and missiles in the outdoor missile park. There are also plenty of outdoor activities to keep you busy, from the Soledad Canyon recreational area and the Organ Mountains to the many trails perfect for wilderness pack trips and horseback riding.
White Sands National Park, New Mexico
Sitting in Alamogordo, New Mexico, White Sands National Park is one of the best natural wonders along any Texas to California road trip. Most famous for its vast gypsum deposits and Ice-Age fossilized foot prints, it features giant white sand dunes and miles of hiking trails. Sandboard down the white dunes or walk for miles around the dunes near the Alkali Flat trail. You can even sleep overnight in the National Park with a permit.
This historic mining town dubbed the Town Too Tough to Die, is famous for the O.K Corral shootout depicted in the hit film Tombstone and is more like a western amusement park without the rollercoasters- it is a little cheeky, a lot touristy, and one of my favorite quirky towns to stop at on a drive to California from Texas. Tombstone requires a short detour from the main route along I-10 but makes a perfect 1/2 day stop if you want to be transported back to the 1880s when the Wild Wild West was thriving.
Kartchner Caverns State Park, Arizona
An hour outside of Tuscon, only 15 mins south of I-40, are the caverns of Kartchner. These live limestone caves were discovered in the 1970s and began forming over 200,000 years ago. During summer, the Big Room is home to over 1,000 female cave myotis bats and their young. You can camp at the state park and take guided tours of the cave system.
Tuscon, Arizona, is, without a doubt, one of the most underrated cities in the country. Featuring more than 200 years of history, beautiful landscapes, and an eclectic downtown area, Tuscon is a fun and exciting stop to make on your Texas to California road trip. Outdoor lovers can enjoy exploring the massive cacti of Saguaro National Park and hiking the foothills of the Catalina Mountains. In contrast, city birds will love exploring historic 4th Avenue’s unique boutiques and haveing a bite at one of the many cuisine options.
Borrego Springs, California
Surrounded by the magnificent Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Borrego Springs is a small town community bathed in natural splendor. It is located in the California desert and is home to many hiking trails, dramatic 4×4 roads, and the Borrego Palm Canyon. It is also California’s first dark sky community and has an intriguing art display of over 130 scrap metal sculptures, including horses, dragons and dinosaurs seemingly popping out of nowhere throughout the town.
Joshua Tree National Park, California
If you are ending your road trip near or around Palm Springs, Joshua Tree National Park in California will likely be one of your last stops. The unique environment, climate, and vegetation make this National park one of the most impressive in the country, bursting with Joshua trees, cholla cacti, ocotillos, and a wide range of wildlife. From the Interstate, head towards Cottonwood Visitors Center, the southern entrance to the park, and enjoy miles of hiking trails, rock climbing opportunities, scenic drives, and a chance to camp under the stars.
Dinosuars of Cabazon, California
If you are a fan of dinosaurs or traveling with children, add Cabazon to your itinerary during your Texas to California road trip. This quirky roadside attraction features two life-size dinosaur replicas (T-rex & Apatosaurus) and another 70+ dinosaurs and kid-friendly attractions within the park. Cabazon is great for a quick roadside stop and a unique Texas to California road trip excursion.
Pioneer Town is only 30 mins from Joshua Tree National Park and makes a fun pit stop if western movies spark your interest. This tourist spot is a historic town that came to be when a number of Hollywood investors turned their dreams into reality and built an 1870s western movie set. Over 50 films and tv shows including Annie Oakley, and more recently Ingrid Goes West, have been shot here since the 1940s. The town is open to visitors weekly so every can get a taste of what it was like to live in an authentic western town. Enjoy restaurants, gift shops and plenty of photo ops.
If you want to explore Joshua Tree National Park or visit the Cabazon Dinosaurs, you will be in the neighborhood of Palm Springs which makes a fantastic ending to your Texas to California Road Tip. There is plenty to see and do within the city of Palm Springs and surrounding towns, including la Quinta, Palm Desert and Cathedral City. Enjoy museums, biking and Giant Marilyn in downtown Palm Springs, the shopping and golf course in La Quinta, and the thriving art scene and outdoor festivals of Cathedral City.
With all the unique roadside attractions, lively cities, historical towns and enormous natural beauty along the route from Texas to California, you’ll want to continue this road trip long after you meet your destination. Road trips can be fantastic money savers and are a great way to see the country at your leisure, so pack up your car with these road trip essentials and have your self an amazing adventure out on the open road.