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Road Trip to California: From Phoenix to the Coast

Follow I-10 due west to discover amazing desert landscapes, fantastic food, great shopping, and much more

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Need a boost of Vitamin D? Fold down the hard-top, fasten your hat's chin strap, and chase the sun from Arizona's saguaro forests to Santa Monica's swaying palm trees. This easy-going road-trip follows Interstate 10 from Phoenix to Los Angeles, offering up golden desert landscapes and balmy sunshine along the way.

Kick off your trip in Phoenix, a city known for Major League Baseball spring training, sparkling swimming pools, and horizon-to-horizon sunsets. Sample the Sonoran Desert's majesty at the Desert Botanical Garden, a 140-acre park with five paths meandering past more than 50,000 desert plants, including majestic saguaros, green-bark palo verde trees, and chubby barrel cactus. Tour the Musical Instrument Museum, where more than 7,000 instruments from 200 countries are on display, including the upright piano John Lennon used to write "Imagine." Wander through downtown's Roosevelt Row artists' district to discover galleries, wall murals, and vintage shops. Stop into The Churchill's food hall and community space built from shipping containers for cocktails and a lively round of cornhole, or sip a craft beer at Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company. As the day nears its close, nab a patio seat at Different Pointe of View, perched 1,800 feet above the city on North Mountain. Enjoy Mediterranean-influenced cuisine served up with a side of sunset, then spend the night at the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort.

Desert Botanical Garden

The next morning, get up early and head west on I-10, making a brief detour into White Tank Mountain Regional Park. Walk the Waterfall Trail to admire stately saguaros, a shimmering cascade, and boulders etched with ancient Hohokam petroglyphs. Hop back in the car and zoom west for 100 miles through the vast Sonoran Desert to Quartzsite, the self-proclaimed "Rock Capital of the World" that made a cameo in the movie Nomadland. This small town hosts a two-month-long gem show every winter, attracting rock collectors and jewelry makers who buy, sell, and swap colorful stones. At T-Rocks, you can shop for crystals, geodes, fossils, and minerals year-round. Nearby Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, a 30-minute drive via Highway 95 and a graded dirt road, protects a cluster of 50 California fan palms at Palm Canyon, accessible via a half-mile walk. If you're lucky, you might meet up with a roadrunner or bighorn sheep.

Back on Interstate 10, you'll zip across the Colorado River and enter California. Turn off at Chiriaco Summit for a visit to the General Patton Museum or a side-trip into the southern edge of Joshua Tree National Park. Stop in at Cottonwood Spring visitors center and take a 3-mile hike among the granite boulders at Mastodon Peak. Then breeze west into the Coachella Valley's string of vibrant communities, including Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, Indian Wells, and Palm Springs. You'll have a full roster of desert attractions to tackle, so plan to stay a few days at the Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa. Take a dip in the soothing saltwater pool before drifting off to sleep.

Start the next day with a visit to the Sunnylands Center and Gardens. Tour Walter and Lenore Annenberg's 25,000-acre midcentury-modern home, which has hosted seven U.S. presidents, and stroll the retreat's hummingbird-filled gardens. Get your style fix at El Paseo, Palm Desert's open-air shopping district with boutiques like Saks Fifth Avenue, Tiffany's, and Louis Vuitton lining a sculpture- and succulent-dotted boulevard.

Head north to Palm Springs, where you can spend the afternoon in the palm-shaded natural splendor of the Indian Canyons, or stroll through the Palm Springs Art Museum’s mix of contemporary and modern paintings, sculpture, and art glass. Save an hour to visit Moorten’s Botanical Garden, a family-owned cactus Shangri-la planted with 3,000-plus specimens. At dinner time, choose from Palm Springs' array of global flavors—maybe spicy-savory Vietnamese cuisine at Rooster and The Pig, contemporary Mexican dishes at El Jefe, or traditional French-Belgian fare at Le Vallauris. For a late-night cocktail, head to the swanky Kimpton Rowan Hotel, where High Bar is perched alongside Palm Springs' only rooftop pool. Dangle your feet in the soothing water while sipping a colorful tiki cocktail or crisp Chardonnay, then retire to your room in one of the six floors below.

It's never easy to leave the sun-drenched desert, but glittering Los Angeles beckons. Heading west on I-10, pause at the Cabazon Outlets for a morning shopping spree, then make another shop-stop for A-to-Z browsing (that's Abercrombie to Zumiez) at Ontario Mills' 200-plus stores. Stroll through Claremont's tree-shaded downtown—visit the Claremont Museum of Art in the historic train depot, nab a cheese Danish from Some Crust Bakery, and admire the guitars, banjos, ukuleles, and mandolins at the Folk Music Center. For more leg-stretching, walk among the colorful flora at the California Botanic Garden, a living museum with more than 22,000 California native plants.

Beeline west on I-10 for the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica, where the elegant, 1920s-era Hotel Casa del Mar makes a luxurious base camp. From your room, you can stroll across the beach to the Santa Monica Pier and its solar-powered Ferris wheel, or just watch the sun-and-sea crowd from a private chaise lounge by the hotel pool. Join LA's style mavens at Santa Monica's buzzy Third Street Promenade, a three-block outdoor walkway dotted with retail shops, Adirondack chairs, ping-pong tables, and pianos. Visit Bergamot Station Arts Center, an old train depot that contains 30 contemporary art galleries. When happy hour rolls around, make your way back to Casa del Mar to nosh on nigiri and sip sake in the Terrazza Lounge as the sun sinks into the Pacific.

For more than 50 detailed road trip itineraries across the Golden State, please visit the California Road Trip Republic hub.

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