Grand Canyon, driving from Orlando to San Francisco.
roadtrip,  USA

20-Day Orlando to San Francisco Road Trip

After driving from New York to Orlando and having a blast at Disney World we took our road trip further and drove from Orlando to San Francisco. There are a lot of options to do a coast to coast road trip, we went underneath through Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. A route which we loved! The whole east coast to west coast road trip driving time non-stop would be about 1 day and 17 hours. But that would leave no time for national parks or highway 1, so we made it a 20 day route.

Orlando to San Francisco Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive at Orlando

Day 2: Drive from Orlando to Perry (192 miles, about 3 hours, via toll roads)

Day 3: Drive from Perry to Pensacola (266 miles, about 6 hours, via toll roads)

Day 4: Drive from Pensacola to Alexandria (490 miles, about 7 hours)

Day 5: Drive from Alexandria to Tolar (377 miles, about 6,5 hours, via toll roads)

Day 6 till 9: Explore Fort Worth

Day 10: Drive from Tolar to Flint (180 miles, about 3 hours, via toll roads)

Day 11 + 12: Explore Flint

Day 13: Drive from Flint to Tolar (180 miles, about 3 hours, via toll roads)

Day 14: Drive from Tolar to Roswell (431 miles, about 7 hours)

Day 15: Drive from Roswell to Deming (340 miles, about 5,5 hours)

Day 16: Drive from Deming to Flagstaff (461 miles, about 9,5 hours)

Day 17: Drive from Flagstaff to Parker (373 miles, about 6,5 hours)

Day 18: Drive from Parker to Morro Bay (456 miles, about 9,5 hours)

Day 19: Drive from Morro Bay to Monterey (123 miles, about 3 hours)

Day 20: Drive from Monterey to the airport at San Francisco (111 miles, about 2,5 hours)

Day to day itinerary

Most of our coast to coast road trip in the USA was spent in Texas with friends. They hadn’t met Yuri yet and we hadn’t seen each other in a long time.

Day 1: Orlando

The Hogwarts train at Universal Orlando
The Hogwarts train

Orlando has so much to offer. Take this day to explore Disney World or Universal. Both have several super fun parks on site, Universal has Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida. You can take the Harry Potter train from one park to the other. End the day with the fireworks show at Islands of Adventure.

Day 2 & 3: Florida Panhandle

Beach on the Mexican Golf, a wooden boardwalk/stairs leading to the beach
Beach on the Mexican Golf

We spent the first morning swimming in the waterpark at our hotel, so didn’t start driving till the afternoon. Lots of driving, these two days, but take some time to play at the beach in the panhandle. We took the road next to the coast, it took longer to cross Florida this way, but we had beautiful views on the Gulf of Mexico. During our trip we stopped at a barbershop to get a haircut for the boys. We had hot weather, so short hair was needed.

Day 4: New Orleans

Oak Alley Plantation, as seen from the street, the plantation at the end of a row of oaks, driving from Orlando to San Francisco
Oak Alley Plantation

From Pensacola we crossed Alabama through Mobile and stopped at the Lunar Landing Exhibit in Mississippi, before arriving at New Orleans. Due to traffic jams at the I-10 we arrived later at New Orleans than expected. The scenery had changed from sea views to marshes.

Explore New Orleans through a hop on hop off bus. The stops include the National WWII museum, Bourbon Street, French Market and Mardi Gras World. Sadly we couldn’t visit any of these, since we only had a few hours in New Orleans. We have to come back to get a better feeling of New Orleans, walk along Bourbon Street and the French Quarter.

After leaving New Orleans visit Oak Alley Plantation. It was already closed for the day by the time we got there. It looked really beautiful and we would have liked to learn more about it’s history.

We drove to Alexandria in the evening on our way to Texas. Another long driving day, but we wanted to arrive in Texas the next day.

Day 5 till 9: Tolar

To show the longhorn catte drive.
Longhorn cattle drive

From Alexandria we entered the state of Texas. We stayed with friends in Tolar, a small town about an hour south of Fort Worth. So I advise staying at or near Fort Worth, since that’s what you will be exploring the coming days.

We visited Fort Worth twice from Tolar. Fort Worth with kids is perfect. There’s so much fun things to see and do. We went to the Museum of Science and History. A hands on museum that has plenty to discover and learn. Fun for kids as well as for adults. There’s also a planetarium with shows throughout the day.

The Fort Worth Stockyards are also worth your time. We planned a whole day here. Browse the shops, watch a rodeo and a shootout. Don’t miss the longhorn cattle drive through the main street.

We were in Texas during a heat wave, with temps going to 42°C/108°F, so we had 2 rest days om which we went swimming at family (from our friends) with a pool. We also attended The Place to Pick band show with potluck and a church service. It was fun getting an inside to ranch life and small town USA.

Day 10 till 13: The Villages Resort

Mini golf at The Villages Resort
Mini golf

We stayed at The Villages Resort in Flint, Texas, with our friends. There was a waterpark, swimming pool, mini golf and so on, at the resort. We enjoyed all these things during our stay. We had fun, relaxing couple of days.

Day 14: Roswell

Pumpjack on a Texas field
Pumpjack

Drive through Texas to New Mexico, past fields and pumpjacks. Stop at Roswell for some aliens and mystery. We visited the McDonalds here, built as a UFO. We found the town a bit of a tourist trap, with alien lamps and so on everywhere.

McDonalds at Roswell, from the outside the building
McDonalds

Day 15: Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Carlsbad Caverns, one of the rooms
Carlsbad Caverns

From Roswell it’s a short drive to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Make a tour through the caves, among them the second largest underground chamber in the world. You can take the stairs down into the caves or take the elevator.

Your next stop is Guadalupe Mountains National Park, which is in Texas again. Go on a hike here in the mountains. There’s beautiful scenery here.

Drive to Deming in New Mexico via El Paso on the border with Mexico.

Guadalupe Mountains, driving from Orlando to San Francisco
Guadalupe Mountains

Day 16: Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

Gila Cliff Dwellings as seen from outside
Gila Cliff Dwellings as seen from outside

Unexpectedly a fantastic national monument, we loved the Gila Cliff Dwellings. In a guided hike you walk through the forest and visit the cliff dwellings. The dwellings are cool, and this welcome with the heat. Yuri wanted to stay there since it was so cool.

We had a picnic at the entrance, where we were enlightened by the many hummingbirds coming and going. Something we really loved. We stayed here for hours. But we still had to drive back and further to Arizona. We had also wanted to show Petrified Forest National Park to Yuri, but the driving took longer than expected and it was already closed when we arrived. When driving through New Mexico there was a thunderstorm, accompanied with rainbows. We drove further until we reached Flagstaff, when it was dark.

One of the many hummingsbirds, humming in the air near a feeder
One of the many hummingsbirds

Day 17: Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon, driving from Orlando to San Francisco
Grand Canyon

Today is dedicated to exploring Grand Canyon National Park. You can be here half a day (like we did), but could easily spend here a whole or several days. enter the park at the East Entrance Station. Drive the desert view drive, with its stopping points with grand views.

When you can get yourself away from the mesmerizing views of the Grand Canyon, drive further crossing Arizona and ending at Parker on the border with California. We had another heat wave in Arizona and California with 40°C/104°F.

Day 18: Joshua Tree National Park

A Joshua Tree at Joshua Tree National Park, standing next to the road. Desert behind it
A Joshua Tree

It’s a fun route through the desert. You can cross paths with burros and there’s strange art like the Rice Shoe Fence.

Joshua Tree National Park is actually better to visit outside Summer in the middle of the day. With the heat wave it was too hot to hike (a lot). So we only hiked short distances. The trees are wonderous to see, and the desert landscape is cool to see.

Drive further towards LA, leaving the desert behind. LA was (again) one traffic jam and took forever to pass.

Day 18 till 20: Highway 1

Big Sur, a view on the ocean and the rugged coast, driving from Orlando to San Francisco
Big Sur

We needed to pass LA to enter highway 1. The world famous and drive of a lifetime highway 1, following the Californian coast. We drove the part until Morro Bay. Enjoy the beautiful views you’ll have along the entire road.

The next day drive the part between Morro Bay and Monterey. Highlights along this part are Hearst Castle, Whale Watcher Café, Big Sur and Monterey. Other attractions are Bigby Creek Bridge, McWay Falls, Point Lobos, Carmel-by-the-Sea and the 17 Mile Drive. The last day of your trip play on the beach somewhere near highway 1 on your way to (the airport) at San Francisco.

Where to stay

We drove just up to a hotel when we found it long enough driving for a day. Sometimes we had to try a few hotels, since we found the prices to high. The first night we stayed at the Cabana Bay Beach Resort, expensive but it was a fantastic hotel with a water park on site.

Our room at Cabana Bay Beach Resort, colorful and with 2 Queen beads. Yuri is liying on the right one
Our room at Cabana Bay Beach Resort

After this we stayed at some simple hotels and motels, close to where our route was. Not expensive, but also simple hotels with not that many luxuries. We usually only stayed one night. We started with the Regency Inn Perry, then the Quality Inn Pensacola, which was the worst hotel during those 20 days. Lose toilet and so on. In Alexandria we stayed at the Ramada Inn, which is now a Motel 6.

After this we stayed with friends in tolar. If staying in Fort Worth for 4 nights, Hampton Inn & Suites Fort Worth Downtown, Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Fort Worth Downtown, Country Inn & Suites by Radisson or Quality Inn and Suites Cattle Baron would be good. All hotels that seem perfect for staying several nights.

Then we stayed 3 nights at The Villages Resort from Silverleaf resort in Flint. Our friends had a timeshare with Silverleaf. Then we stayed one last night in Tolar, so spend another night in Fort Worth.

Hotels after Texas

For the rest we stayed one night at each hotel, usually arriving late and leaving early. In Roswell we stayed at Best Western El Rancho Palacio, we love staying at Best Westerns in the USA. Then a night at at La Quinta Inn & Suites Deming and then one night at a motel in Flagstaff. I just can’t remember which motel we stayed at. In Parker we stayed at the Quality Inn.

On highway 1 the hotels and motels were all a lot more expensive. We stayed at Holland Inn & Suites in Morro Bay, the last night we stayed at the Best Western Park Crest Inn.

Where to eat

Mama's Italian Restaurant, from the outside
Mama’s Italian Restaurant

We ate mostly at roadside restaurants, so not that much haute cuisine. In Perry we ate at Mama’s Italian family restaurant. Family restaurants in the States are perfect to visit with kids. They don’t mind if they make a little extra noise.

We also ate again at Wendy’s (which we love, and sadly don’t have here in the Netherlands). We also ate at Granbury in Texas a few times, where to eat in Granbury, is at least at Stumpy’s. Their catfish is so delicious, we ate here twice.

For the rest we had take out from K-Bob’s Steakhouse, ate at Panda Express in Parker and at a food truck and at the Whale Watcher Café along highway 1.

When to visit

We drove this route in August and had several heat waves along the way. Which made that we could visit less things and stayed more in swimming pools to cool down. The prices were also pretty high at highway 1.

Best time to drive this route would be May/June or September/October. Better temperatures and some places less crowded. In winter time some places can have snow.

Tips

  • When driving this route in August, buy some stuff to cool down with. Make sure to have air-conditioning at your hotel/motel and I would say a swimming pool to cool down in.
  • Take a poncho with you. We had some downpours in Orlando and in Flint.
  • Buy a National Parks Pass, we’re visiting several national parks along the road trip.

Alternative itineraries

Since we stayed 10 days in Texas with friends, we had long driving days for the other 10 days. Those days were beautiful also, since you get to enjoy the beautiful American scenery. Which changes a lot when driving from East to West. When not staying with friends I would shorten your days in Texas and spread the rest more out.

Day 1 till 3 the same as above

Day 4: Drive from Pensacola to New Orleans

Day 5: Explore New Orleans

Day 6: Drive from New Orleans to Alexandria

Day 7: Drive from Alexandria to Fort Worth

Day 8 + 9: Explore Fort Worth

Day 10: Drive from Fort Worth to Roswell

Day 11: Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Day 12: Guadalupe Mountains National Park and drive to Deming

Day 13: Gila Cliff Dwellings National Park

Day 14: Drive from Deming to Flagstaff

Day 15: Grand Canyon National Park and drive to Tuyasan

Day 16: Drive from Tuyasan to Parker

Day 17: Joshua Tree National Park and drive to Palm Springs

Day 18: Drive from Palm Springs to Morro Bay Day 19 and 20 the same as above

This concludes the beautiful road trip from Orlando to San Francisco

Hope you can enjoy this best coast to coast road trip, like we did. We wanted to keep on driving at the end, we enjoyed it that much, but school and work where waiting for us back home.

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