The New York to Los Angeles road trip has something for everyone, whether you are traveling with family, friends, or in a group. Driving from the East Coast to the West Coast or from the West Coast to the East Coast takes approximately 42 hours if you drive non-stop, covering a distance of 2,790 miles. The trip can span anywhere from 4 to 7 days.
Special thanks to the Dataneb team for publishing this article on my behalf.
It's one of the best cross-country road trips in the United States, driving from New York to Los Angeles, and passing through some of the country's most famous tourist attractions, national parks, and scenic routes in the country. This road trip is all about fun and enjoyment, not rushing through the drive.
Table of Contents: New York to LA Drive
New York to Los Angeles Drive (Routes)
There are a couple of routes for the New York to Los Angeles drive, both of which cover approximately distance of 2800 miles and take around 42 hours.
One route for the New York to LA drive is via I-80 W (the blue line on the map above), and the second route is via I-70 W and I-40 W (the bottom grey line on the map above). Both routes pass through different states, which can help you decide which route to take.
Route 1 (via I-80 W)
Over 7 days, you will drive through 12 different states: New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Arizona (optional), and California.
Arizona is optional if you wish to pass through. I extended my trip to include Arizona because I love its vivid landscape, which includes Antelope Canyon, the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, and Horseshoe Bend.
Below is a picture of Horseshoe Bend in Arizona; I truly admire this natural wonder.
Route 2 (via I-70 W and I-40 W)
The second route is to drive via I-70 W and I-40 W, driving through New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.
A road trip is always enjoyable, especially for those who love driving, and it becomes even more memorable when you're traveling in a group. Unfortunately, I was the sole driver for the entire trip, but I wasn't alone; my wife kept me awake with her jokes, albeit not very good ones ;)
You will cross four different time zones (EST, CST, MST, PST) during what is perhaps one of the longest road trips you can imagine in the United States, and I assure you, you'll love it. I've covered the hotels, locations, routes, and driving hours I followed. Feel free to make adjustments if you have other plans.
New York to California Drive
My initial plan for the New York to California drive was as follows. You can add or subtract extra days in between if you prefer or dislike a place. Avoid booking hotels in advance; instead, book them on the same day so that you have the flexibility to change your plan.
Who cares about the hotel; just find one on Google with good ratings, and you'll be fine. After such a long, tiring drive, all you really need is a comfy bed.
Day 1: New York to Chicago, IL
Day 2: Explore Chicago, IL
Day 3: Chicago, IL to Omaha, NE
Day 4: Omaha, NE to the Rocky Mountains, CO
Day 5: Explore the Rocky Mountains, CO
Day 6: Rocky Mountains, CO to Page, AZ
Day 7: Explore Page, AZ
Day 8: Page, AZ to Las Vegas, NE
Day 9: Explore Las Vegas, NV
Day 10: Las Vegas, NE to Los Angeles, CA
Days 10-11: Explore Los Angeles and San Diego, CA
Day 1. New York to Chicago, IL (11 hours, 745 miles via I-80)
An eleven-hour New York to Chicago drive is quite long, isn't it? Yes, but I planned to drive the maximum distance on the first day because I had plenty of energy. Additionally, stopping in Chicago was a good idea.
However, if an eleven-hour drive is too much for you, you can split it into two days, with a 7-hour drive followed by a 5-hour drive, making a stop in Cleveland, OH.
If you have some time in the evening, you can visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It's located on the shore of Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland, and it's a beautiful place.
I had visited Cleveland a couple of times before, so there wasn't much left for me to explore there.
Anyway, I stayed at Cool Springs Inn, Michigan City approximately an hour's drive from Chicago, for a couple of reasons.
The first reason was the cost; hotels in Chicago were too expensive, approximately 3-4 times the cost of what I paid in Michigan City ($45). Secondly, Chicago is only about an hour's drive from this place, so you can wake up early in the morning and explore Chicago if you want.
You can visit the Navy Pier, Willis Tower, Cloud Gate, John Hancock Center, Shedd Aquarium, Art Institute of Chicago, and more.
There is a lot to do in Chicago; in fact, a day is not enough for Chicago. Consider getting a city pass and try to explore as much as you can.
At the end of the day, you can either drive back to Cool Springs or book another hotel nearby.
The Palmer House is a good option if you want to spend more time in Chicago downtown, I have been there a couple of times. It's a bit pricier at around $150 per night, and you have to pay extra for parking, approximately $50, but the place is awesome. I paid this price in 2018, so it would have changed since then.
Day 2: Chicago, IL to Omaha, NE (7.5 hours, 466 miles via I-80)
Well, I didn't stop at Omaha (Horizon Inn Motel) as per my initial plan. Instead, I drove an additional 8 hours to reach Rocky Mountains, CO, which was originally my Day 3 stop.
It might sound crazy, but I drove for over 15 hours to reach Colorado. I was particularly interested in hiking and exploring Colorado, so by adding an extra 8 hours of driving, I effectively saved a day for Colorado.
Omaha offers plenty to do if you stick to the initial plan. If you have an interest in zoos and America's largest indoor rainforest, visit the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, which features an incredible indoor desert and rainforest.
Day 3: Omaha to Rocky Mountain, CO (8 hours, 568 miles via I-76)
Colorado is too vast to explore in a single day. So I stayed there for a couple of days, with my first stop at Coyote Mountain Lodge. I began the day with a hike in the Rocky Mountains and then drove through the Garden of the Gods.
On the second day, I stopped at Estes Park and visited Royal Gorge Bridge (shown below). Later in the evening, we went to Great Sand Dunes National Park.
I haven't seen landscapes like those at Great Sand Dunes in my entire life. You'll find snowy mountains, deserts, lakes, and lush green forests all in the same place. It's truly mesmerizing!
Day 4: Sand Dunes, CO to Page, AZ (7 hours, 426 miles via US-160)
Arizona is also too vast to explore in one day. However, you can visit Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and drive through Zion National Park or the Grand Canyon.
The Grand Canyon itself requires a couple of days if you want to explore all its corners. If you want to save some time, you can consider a helicopter tour from Las Vegas.
Here's a random picture from Zion National Park. It's a stunning place, so don't miss the chance to drive through if you're nearby.
Antelope Canyon shines bright orange in the noon sunlight, so it's a good time to visit around that time. You'll need to book tickets for this.
Day 5: Page, AZ to Las Vegas, NE (4 hours, 272 miles via US-89 & I-15)
Las Vegas is self-explanatory, and I don't think this place needs any explanation. You can try different foods and drinks, enjoy a stroll along the streets, experience the nightlife, enjoy rides, and explore the city. Saturday night is the most popular time, so plan your trip accordingly.
Day 6: Las Vegas, NE to Los Angeles, CA (4 hours, 270 miles via I-15)
You can cover this distance on the 5th day itself if you don't like Vegas. But I believe that's not the case; no one wants to skip Vegas.
Southern California has tons of things to do, including Universal Studios, the San Diego Zoo, the Griffith Observatory, the Santa Monica Pier, and plenty of beautiful beaches.
One of my favorites is Potato Chip Rock Mountain, a short mountain hike near San Diego County. Here's a picture.
Road Trip Preparation Checklist
Ensure your vehicle is fully serviced before planning this trip, including an engine oil change, checking tire conditions, lights, brakes, etc. I wasted many hours due to an oil change in Arizona, so be cautious.
Avoid booking a hotel in advance, but try to make a reservation before 3:00 p.m. if you decide to book on the same day to avoid higher costs. I had to cancel one booking due to a change in plans.
Keep extra blankets and pillows in your car in case you need to rest.
Avoid overloading your vehicle; always leave extra space for yourself.
Take regular breaks while driving; I was taking breaks every 3-4 hours of driving.
Try not to drive more than 8 hours per day, although I didn't follow this rule myself.
Keep warm clothes (jackets) in your car, as the weather can change significantly during such a long-distance tour. For example, when I started the trip, it was 25 degrees Celsius in New York, but it dropped to 2 degrees Celsius when I reached Colorado.
Keep an ample supply of water and food in your car.
Carry a tire inflator in your car; you can find one on Amazon for $25.
Avoid driving between 6 pm and 7 pm due to the sunset. Since you'll be driving west, you'll face the sun every evening.
Most importantly, enjoy your trip and take your time; there's no need to rush!