I’ve always wanted to take a cross-country road trip, but never had the opportunity to do so until this year. Three thousand miles by car is a long way, requiring a fair amount of time to do properly. I’ve heard of people driving straight through, in shifts, and making it in as little as three days but I wanted to enjoy myself and see some of the amazing sights and cities along the way.
Below is a day-by-day rundown of my Epic Road Trip from Los Angeles, California to Miami, Florida. I will be writing in greater depth about most of these places in future posts, so stay tuned! You can click on the hyperlinks within this post to jump directly to my other stories.
Day 1: Los Angeles, California to San Diego, California
Distance: 132 miles (212 km)
Cities passed through: Anaheim, Oceanside
Okay this might not seem like a logical first leg of the trip, but we had to drive south eventually and it’s actually not much farther out of the way. Plus, I got to visit my sister and her family.
Distance: 406 miles (653 km)
Cities passed through: El Centro, California; Yuma, Arizona
The second day covered a lot of miles with not a whole lot to look at. Probably the most interesting were the Imperial sand dunes (also known as the Algodones sand dunes) along the side of Interstate 8. [Here’s a bit of trivia: this is where they filmed the scenes with Jabba the Hutt in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.]
We crossed over the Colorado River right before hitting Yuma, Arizona. By nightfall, we passed to the south of Phoenix, merged with Interstate 10 and soon after, arrived in Tucson, Arizona.
Distance: 342 miles (550 km)
Stops: Saguaro National Park, Arizona
Cities passed through: Las Cruces, New Mexico
We got up early in order to visit Saguaro National Park, which is located on the outskirts of Tucson. Saguaro cacti grow to 70 feet (20 meters) tall and can live up to 150 years. They have become symbols of the American Southwest although they only grow natively in the Sonoran Desert, which extends through this area. I’d seen some before on my way from Sedona to Phoenix on an earlier trip but it was cool to see so many this national park.
The drive into New Mexico was arid but beautiful. There were some hills but mostly the road was flat and the view, wide open for as far as the eye could see. We reached Las Cruces, New Mexico in the evening then diverted north onto US 70 to Alamogordo, where we stayed for the night. Here’s an interesting fact that I didn’t know until I got there: Alamogordo is the nearest city to the where the first atomic bomb was tested on July 16, 1945. It was code-named “Trinity” and three weeks later the same type of bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, forever changing human history.
Distance: 640 miles (1030 km)
Stops: White Sands National Monument, Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Cities passed through: Cloudcroft, New Mexico; Artesia, New Mexico; Pecos, Texas; Fort Stockton, Texas
We traveled the greatest distance on the fourth day of the road trip. We made a two stops in order to see a pair of America’s most beautiful natural wonders: White Sands National Monument and Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
White Sands was absolutely amazing and photogenic. Everything was so white, it looked more like snow than sand. Then, instead of backtracking to the Interstate, we took a mountain highway (US 82) through the Lincoln National Forest, reaching elevations of 6,500 feet (1980 meters). It was a pretty change of scenery, after so much desert landscape for the past couple days. We then turned south on US 285 to US 180/62 to visit world-famous Carlsbad Caverns.
In order to access the caverns, you need to take an elevator the equivalent of 79 stories below ground! The biggest cavern, aptly named the “Big Room,” is almost 4,000 feet (1,220 meters) long, 625 feet (191 meters) wide, and 255 feet (78 meters) tall at its highest point. It is the third largest chamber in North America and the seventh largest in the world.
After visiting Carlsbad Caverns, we cut diagonally through West Texas via Pecos to join up with I-10 again in Fort Stockton. This was the only part of the entire road trip that was a bit sketchy, since we were literally in the middle of nowhere, with no cellphone reception on a single-lane highway. We were very happy to be back on the Interstate again! After a very long day, we didn’t get to San Antonio until after 1:00 a.m.
Distance: 464 miles (747 km)
Cities passed through: Houston, Texas; Lafayette, Louisiana
As soon as we pulled in to San Antonio the previous night I knew I’d love this city. We got up early and spent most of the day exploring and sightseeing. It was Thanksgiving day, but unfortunately we didn’t have a turkey dinner. However, we did have some great Mexican food at a restaurant on the River Walk.
Our original goal was to make it as far as New Orleans that night, but we figured it would be a pretty drive to enter the city during daylight hours so we stopped for the night in Baton Rouge instead. On the way we detoured through downtown Houston, which is a really enormous city. It reminded me of Los Angeles in many ways. Being that it was Thanksgiving, it was a total ghost town though.
Day 6: Baton Rouge, Louisiana to Mobile, Alabama
Distance: 232 miles (375 km)
Stops: New Orleans, Louisiana; Pass Christian, Mississippi; Biloxi, Mississippi
Cities passed through: Gulfport, Mississippi
We got up early and drove to New Orleans, which was teeming with tourists. I’d been there once before, but this was my first time post-hurricane Katrina.
After sightseeing all day and filling up on beignets at the Cafe Du Monde, we hit the road again. We stopped for some fresh seafood at a roadside bar & grill called Shaggy’s, located along the gulf coast in Mississippi. Eating catfish, oysters, calamari and hushpuppies, I saw my first sunset over the Gulf of Mexico. In fact, I think this was the first time I’d ever seen the Gulf of Mexico before! We continued on to Gulfport and Biloxi and stopped to look at the Christmas lights at Beauvoir, the Jefferson Davis home. [For those of you who don’t remember your American history, Jefferson Davis was the President of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War, from 1861 to 1865.]
Even though it we didn’t drive many miles, it was a very full day so we stayed the night in Mobile, Alabama. I learned from the local news that they pronounce it Mo-BEEL not MO-beel like I’d always thought.
Distance: 536 miles (862 km)
Stops: Panama City, Florida; Tallahassee, Florida
Cities passed through: Pensacola, Florida; Orlando, Florida
We started the day with a delicious Southern breakfast at Cracker Barrel then hit the road to our final state. Everyone talks about how big Texas is, but Florida is seriously just as big. I learned that there are two time zones in Florida—west of Tallahassee is Central Time. Did you know that?
We stopped for dinner in Tallahassee, which was surprisingly hilly. Everyone says how flat Florida is, but I suppose the panhandle doesn’t count.
We got a room in Kissimmee, just outside Orlando.
Day 8: Kissimmee, Florida to Miami, Florida
Distance: 233 miles (375 km)
Stops: Breakfast at Waffle House
Cities passed through: Palm Beach, Florida; Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Even though we were practically on the doorstep of the biggest family destination in America (if not the world), we didn’t have time to visit any theme parks. I’ll have to make a special trip to see Orlando like it’s meant to be seen some other time.
We took the Florida Turnpike the rest of the way, all the way to Miami. I didn’t mind paying the tolls since it was much more direct than going all the way to the coast and taking the Interstate.
Finally—we made it to Miami! Unfortunately, I had only a couple hours until my flight left out of Fort Lauderdale. I’ll be returning (by plane) after Christmas so will have time to enjoy the beautiful beaches soon enough.
Total Days: 8
|A) Los Angeles, California B) San Diego, California C) Tucson, Arizona D) Alamogordo, New Mexico E) Carlsbad, New Mexico F) San Antonio, Texas G) Baton Rouge, Louisiana H) New Orleans, Louisiana I) Gulfport/Biloxi, Mississippi J) Mobile, Alabama K) Panama City, Florida L) Tallahassee, Florida M) Orlando, Florida N) Miami, Florida|
Have you ever done a cross-country road trip before? What route did you take? What were your experiences? Feel free to share in the comments section below!
Michael Figueiredo is a freelance travel writer based in Los Angeles, California. When he’s not gallivanting around the world, he’s enjoying the laid-back lifestyle and perfect weather of Southern California. So far he’s visited forty countries and territories on five continents. His goal is to see at least one new country every year! . Read more from this author