If you’re thinking about a cross-country road trip with your family, that’s fantastic! Driving across the states is an American tradition (despite one person telling us, “No one takes road trips anymore.”) Our family drove some 7,000 miles from the Atlantic Ocean (nearly) to the Pacific Ocean and back, and we explored the country in between. We saw so much, made so many memories, and spent so much time together as a family — which is really what family vacations are about.
Yes, we still love one another. And we still enjoy taking road trips.
It takes some planning, but driving across the United States with your family is totally doable. Here’s how we did it.
The idea for a coast-to-coast road trip
This road trip started out when we decided we wanted to go to Yosemite National Park. We live in Florida, and most people in our state would fly to San Francisco, rent a vehicle, and drive to Yosemite from there. We knew we could also see Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks south of Yosemite, and probably see the Bay Area while we were there too. (My husband’s mother was born there, so there is family history in northern California.) When we added up flights for the four of us, though, plus the cost of renting a vehicle, we began to rethink our plan.
We thought about how we’ve always wanted to go to Texas and see the deserts in the Southwest. We thought about all the states between Florida and California and how much we would miss by flying over it all.
So we turned our Yosemite trip into a cross-country road trip.
After we secured our reservation in Yosemite National Park — the anchor of our trip — we planned the rest of our trip around that. Then we used Google Maps to find out how long it would take to drive there. We thought about what we wanted to do and see along the way. And I made reservations at almost every city we planned to end up each night. (I should have made advance plans for every single night, but that is another post for another time.)
We made some changes to our itinerary along the way, because it’s hard to control absolutely everything about a trip, and when you’re traveling it’s important to be flexible. Here is what we ended up doing on our coast-to-coast road trip.
Atlantic to Pacific family road trip
Day 1. Leave southern Florida and drive to Mobile, Alabama. Stay the night there. (By the way, did you know that I-10, which we drove, gives you the shortest distance across the United States? We didn’t stay solely on I-10, though.)
Day 2. Drive west. Go over Lake Ponchartrain — way bigger than it appears on a map! — and stop in New Orleans, Louisiana, for lunch and walk a bit in the French Quarter. Continue on to Houston, Texas, for the night.
Day 3. Visit Space Center Houston. Drive northwest through small towns to Midland and stay the night. This is the day that we discovered that gas stations can, in fact, be a great stopping point not only for gas and restroom breaks but also for meals.
Day 4. Drive past West Texas oil fields and through the beautiful Guadalupe Mountains and get to Las Cruces, New Mexico, for our stay there. (This was our first Airbnb experience, and we loved it. Our host was so friendly and generous.)
Day 5. Marvel at the New Mexico sky and drive through an Arizona monsoon to get across to Lake Havasu City, Arizona, close to the California border.
Day 6. Leave Lake Havasu City (expected high temperature that day: 110F), drive across California’s desert and valley to El Portal, California, in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Day 7. Spend the day in Yosemite National Park. See waterfalls, hike trails, have a picnic, take a thousand pictures, pinch ourselves. (Wildfires closed some roads and made our day outdoors rather smoky.)
Day 8. Pan for gold and ride the train at Sugar Pine Railroad in Fish Camp.
Day 9. Leave Yosemite for Sequoia National Park to the south and hike to see the General Grant tree. Stay the night in the area at another Airbnb home.
Day 10. See the Pacific Ocean for the first time! Drive to San Diego. Have a nice dinner in La Jolla. Stay in another Airbnb.
Day 11. Paddleboard and snorkel in La Jolla Cove. Do some laundry at our rental apartment so we have clean clothes for the next part of our trip, stock up on supplies, act like we live in Pacific Beach.
Day 13. Walk along the beach, then start making our way back east. Drive through the canyons on I-8 to Tucson, Arizona. Have dinner with a relative who lives there.
Day 14. Get an early start and drive to Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico. Meet up with friends who live in the area and have dinner, then stay the night.
Day 15. Continue east to Odessa, Texas, and see the Odessa Meteor Crater. Then head on to Waco for the night.
Day 16. Visit Magnolia Market at the Silos, then head back toward Houston for the night. (We had plans to stop instead in San Antonio and see the River Walk, but we were so tired that we needed an early night to get some sleep.)
Day 17. Keep driving east to Mobile, Alabama. Walk around the downtown area, have dinner, and stay the night.
Day 18. Tour the USS Alabama in Mobile. Visit with family in the Pensacola, Florida, area, then go on to Gainesville for the night.
Day 19. Drive the rest of the way home.
This was the longest trip any of us had ever taken. It was a lot of driving. Some days were trying, but all in all it was the time of our lives and a trip we’ll never forget. We drove through eight states and went to places we had never been before. We got a taste of places we would love to visit again and spend more time exploring.
Even before we were home, we started talking about our next road trip. That’s when you know you really enjoyed something: when you’re already thinking about your next one.