The 4 Best Ohio To California Road Trip Itineraries

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Best Ohio To California Road Trip Itineraries

There are several routes you can take on an Ohio to California road trip and we’ve taken quite a few.

In this post we’ll share the best routes to take.

For the sake of simplicity, we’ll be starting each itinerary in Columbus, Ohio.

We’ll also share a variety of ending points since a road trip to California could lead anywhere from San Diego to Los Angeles to San Francisco, or somewhere else.

To tailor the exact itinerary to your needs just input your starting and ending points into Google Maps and they’ll take care of the rest!

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1. Historic Route 66

The most ideal and direct route is to follow the historic Route 66, which is now mostly just Interstates 40 and 44, with a few segments preserved throughout the way.

Route 66 actually starts up in Chicago, so on this itinerary you’ll meet up with Route 66 once you reach St. Louis, Missouri.

Route 66 from Columbus to Santa Monica - Ohio to California Road Trip

✅ Ohio To St. Louis

But before we get ahead of ourselves, the first segment of this road trip itinerary requires that you drive I-70 West until you reach St. Louis.

You’ll pass cities like Dayton and Indianapolis along the way.

If you’re driving from Columbus, this portion of the road trip is just over 400 miles and takes about 7 hours on average.

Once you’re in St. Louis, I recommend checking out Gateway Arch National Park by taking a pod all the way to the top.

Then have America’s #1 ribs at Pappy’s Smokehouse with a side of corn on the cob or green beans.

✅ St. Louis To Oklahoma City

From St. Louis, you’ll take I-44 West all the way to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Along the way you’ll pass Springfield, Joplin, and Tulsa.

This portion of the road trip is just about 500 miles and takes about 8 hours on average.

If you’re up for a detour, Branson, Missouri is a great vacation destination from theme parks to dinner shows to enjoying some natural wonders.

✅ Oklahoma City To Barstow

From Oklahoma City, you’ll take I-40 West all the way to Barstow, California.

Along the way you’ll pass Amarillo, Albuquerque, Gallup, Flagstaff, and Kingman.

This portion of the road trip is about 1,200 miles and takes about 18 hours on average.

I highly recommend splitting up this part of the drive and enjoying some extra time especially in New Mexico and Arizona.

If you’re stopping in Albuquerque, you can enjoy places like Petroglyph National Monument and Old Town.

For food, you’ll want to try the Indian Tacos and Sopapillas from Garcia’s Kitchen or if you’re looking for fast food, try the Indian Tacos from Twisters.

Once you reach Arizona, you’ll want to stop through Petrified Forest National Park and Winslow before moving on to Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon area.

✅ Barstow To Santa Monica

To reach the end of Route 66, you’ll want to take I-15 South from Barstow to San Bernardino.

You’ll want to avoid this portion of your drive on Sunday afternoons because traffic becomes hours long with locals coming home from their Vegas weekend.

From there, the historic Route 66 route takes you on surface streets like Foothill Blvd from San Bernardino to Azusa.

Historic Route 66 becomes Huntington Drive from Azusa to Arcadia.

From Arcadia, you’ll follow Colorado Avenue through Pasadena.

Once in Pasadena, Route 66 becomes South Arroyo Parkway and I-110.

Eventually, this becomes The Santa Monica Freeway or I-10 West which leads you all the way to the Santa Monica Pier, the end of Route 66.

The entirety of Route 66 from Barstow to Santa Monica Pier is about 150 miles, but because of LA traffic, this can take anywhere from 3 to 4 hours or possibly more.

Santa Monica Pier end of the trail Route 66

2. The Kansas Route

Another option that is slightly different is taking the highway through more of Kansas as opposed to Oklahoma and Texas.

You’ll still pass through those two states but only very briefly.

We decided to take this route one time just to change it up a little because we have driven the Route 66 route to visit family many times over the years.

Ohio to California Road Trip - route through Kansas

✅ Ohio To Kansas City

The beginning of this road trip is the same as the above trip.

You’ll begin by driving I-70 West, but when you reach St. Louis this time, you’ll continue on I-70 West until you reach Kansas City.

If you’re driving from Columbus, this portion of the road trip is just over 650 miles and takes about 10 hours on average.

When stopping in Kansas City, you can visit some popular tourist spots like The National WWI Museum, Harry S Truman House and Museum, and parts of The Oregon Trail in Independence, Missouri.

✅ Kansas City To Wichita

The next segment of this drive is taking I-35 South from Kansas City To Wichita.

This section is very short, only about 200 miles or 3 hours worth of driving.

✅ Wichita To Tucumcari

Once you reach Wichita, Kansas, you’ll begin to take US-400 West until it becomes US-54 West.

Eventually, this will meet back up with I-40 in Tucumcari, New Mexico.

During this segment, you’ll briefly pass through Oklahoma and Texas.

The drive from Wichita to Tucumcari is about 420 miles and takes about 7 hours on average.

✅ Tucumcari To Los Angeles (or your final destination)

The last part of this drive is essentially the same as the Route 66 drive, so be sure to re-visit that section for road side stop recommendations.

You’ll take I-40 West from Tucumcari to Barstow, California.

Since there is a lot of desert driving during this portion of your road trip, it is strongly suggested to stop in Barstow for food, water, gas, and restrooms.

The original Del Taco is located in Barstow and even has a special “Barstow Del Taco”.

Here they stuff their tacos much fuller than other locations and you definitely get your money’s worth here.

Barstow Del Taco

Then you’ll take I-15 South to San Bernardino.

From there, I recommend following whatever your GPS says to get to where you’re going in Los Angeles because traffic varies widely in the area and is unpredictable.

There are dozens of potential routes to take between San Bernardino and Los Angeles, so whichever is fastest is usually best.

This portion of the drive is just under 1,000 miles and will likely take about 15 hours or so.

view of Downtown Los Angeles from Griffith Observatory

3. The Mountain Route

Here is another unique route to take from Ohio to California.

We did this one once in the Summer because it’s one of the only times of year that it’s safest.

I don’t recommend this route in the Winter since you’ll pass through mountainous regions.

Ohio to California mountain road trip route

✅ I-70 From Ohio To Utah

This route also begins the same as the other two routes.

You’ll begin by taking I-70 West towards St. Louis and Kansas City.

Where this route differs is that once you reach Kansas City, you’ll continue driving I-70 West all the way through Colorado and Utah until it meets with I-15 South.

You’ll definitely want to make time for stopping in Denver and the ski towns like Aspen, Breckenridge, Vail, and more.

My personal favorite is Vail.

It looks like you’ve been completely transported into the storybook towns of Germany and Switzerland.

Vail, Colorado - Ohio to California Road Trip

Additionally, a cool smaller town is Glenwood Springs.

This is where the infamous Doc Holliday is buried and it’s a short hike to the cemetery to see his grave stone.

Doc Holliday grave site in Glenwood Springs, Colorado - Ohio to California Road Trip

Once you’re in Utah, you’ll drive pretty close to Moab, which is where Arches and Canyonlands National Parks are located.

They are definitely worth the short detour.

This portion of the drive covers the vast majority of the drive from Ohio to California.

It’s about 1,800 miles and takes about 26 hours if you’re driving straight through.

✅ Utah To Las Vegas

Once I-40 ends around Sulphurdale, Utah, you’ll take I-15 South all the way to Las Vegas and beyond.

Just off the highway along the way are some popular national parks including Bryce Canyon and Zion.

From Zion, just a couple hours away is Las Vegas, Nevada.

It’s the perfect place to stop after spending days driving across the country.

There’s plenty to do here even if you don’t gamble and even if you’re traveling with kids.

This portion of the drive is about 250 miles or about 4 hours of driving.

Bellagio Fountains in Las Vegas - Ohio to California Road Trip

✅ Las Vegas To Los Angeles

The final part of this road trip itinerary is a short 4 to 5 hour drive from Las Vegas to Los Angeles.

In mileage it’s about 300 miles.

Depending on your final destination, your route might look a couple of different ways.

You can continue taking I-15 South all the way to San Bernardino and just follow the best route the GPS says based off of your traffic conditions or as you’re taking I-15 South, when you reach Victorville, you’ll cut across the top of the mountains all the way to the 5 and take the 5 South the rest of the way to LA.

view of Downtown Los Angeles - Ohio to California Road Trip

4. The Northernmost Route

Now we’re going to change it up a little bit and take a road trip from Ohio to San Francisco.

Since San Francisco is about 6+ hours North of Los Angeles, it’s a vastly different route across the country to get here.

Ohio to California road trip from Columbus to San Francisco

✅ Ohio To Indianapolis

Driving I-70 from Columbus to Indianapolis is the only portion of the drive that is the same as the other itineraries.

This portion of the drive is only about 180 miles or a little less than 3 hours.

Indiana state line - Ohio to California Road Trip

✅ Indianapolis To Champaign

Once you reach Indianapolis, you’ll change your route a bit by taking I-74 West.

This is another short portion of the drive.

It’s about 120 miles or a little over 2 hours.

✅ Champaign To St. Joseph

From Champaign, Illinois, you’ll take I-72 West and continue on the same road as it becomes US-36 West.

This will take you clear across to the other end of Missouri.

This portion of the drive is about 380 miles or about 6 hours.

✅ St. Joseph To Lincoln

From St. Joseph to Nebraska City, you’ll take I-29 North.

Once you reach Nebraska City, you’ll start heading West on Nebraska State Road 2 and eventually North on US-77 until you reach Lincoln, Nebraska.

The entirety of this drive is about 140 miles or a little over 2 hours.

✅ Lincoln To San Francisco

Now is the fun part!

Once you reach Lincoln, Nebraska, all you have to do is take I-80 West the entire way there.

Along the way you’ll pass places like Cheyenne, Salt Lake City, Reno, Lake Tahoe, and Sacramento.

Salt Lake City is a great place to stop along the way to explore places like Promontory Point or the high school from High School Musical.

Reno is also a great stopping point after driving so far across the desert.

They have some phenomenal restaurants and fun casinos.

Lastly, once you reach California, Lake Tahoe and Sacramento are great destinations to visit along your road trip.

Once you pass Sacramento, it’s just a short couple of hours to San Francisco.

This portion of the drive is the vast majority of the drive, taking about 1,600 miles or 24 hours if you’re driving straight through.

Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco - Ohio to California Road Trip

Conclusion: The Best Ohio To California Road Trip Itineraries

As you can see, there are many Ohio to California road trip itineraries that can take you to a variety of destinations throughout California.

Along the way you’ll visit tons of National Parks, historic sites, and major cities.

Which route are you most excited to take?