Don’t Panic: Driving from Los Angeles to Las Vegas

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One of the first trips I made after moving to LA was a drive to Vegas.  To me, this trip was manditory, and I’m shocked by how many Angelinos haven’t gone.  A mere 4-5 hour drive away, Vegas it the ultimate adult playground.  From slots, strippers, and shots to desert vistas, hiking, and skiing, Las Vegas is the US equivalent of Amsterdam, but I don’t need to sell you on how awesome Vegas is, if you’ve read this far, you want to go.

Whether you’re a SoCal resident looking to escape for the first time or a visitor wanting to pack your trip with as much fun as possible, the first question to inevidively pop up is “How do I get there?”.  Though there are air options, I would highly suggest a roadtrip.  The drive is an easy, straight shot through the desert, which means, with TSA screenings, you’ll pull up to your hotel about the same time as if you had taken a flight, but along the way you’ll be able to see some great vistas and maybe pack in a few Route 66-ish tourist stops.

I’m going to lay out the route, sights along the way, and things to watch out for in order to get you there and back with your Vegas spirit intact.

You will need:

  • An automobile (motorcycle if you’re feeling really wild).
  • 1 tank of gas each way
  • Cash for pit stops
  • Great music

When to Go:

I-15, the highway connecting Los Angeles and Vegas, is crowded and crazy Friday’s (going to Vegas) and Sunday’s (headed to Los Angeles).  With that in mind, try and schedule weekend departures at non-peak times (i.e in the morning), and holiday travel is best done two days before the weekend or one day afterward.

The Route:

The goal is to get to I-15 N, and depending on where you’re staying, your trip will begin with either:

  • I-10 East – Coming from South LA or West LA (Santa Monica, Venice)
  • I-134 East to the I-210 East – Coming from Hollywood or the SanFernando Valley (Sherman Oaks, Burbank, Pasadena)  This route has the added bonus of passing by a Chick-fil-A on the way
  • I-15 will take you all the way to Vegas.  Once you’ve reached it, you just cruise the rest of the way.

Note: Either way you choose, where the I-15 and I-210 meet is called the Cajone Pass.  It’s a mountain highway that backs up really bad at the end of the weekend (easily more than an hour of traffic).  On the way out to Vegas, notice the gas station, Subway, and McDonald’s half-way up the mountain.  This is a good place to stop for emergencies if you get stuck on your return trip, but if traffic is bad the lines are going to be worse.  I suggest stopping either before (in Barstow) or after exiting the Cajone Pass, this will make your overall trip a better experience.

Along the Way:

If you are in a hurry to get to Vegas, or leave Friday afternoon, you’ll probably want to race straight down the I-15 to the Strip, but, if you have a little extra time, there are some interesting stops along the way.  Though the vast majority of these are just curiosities or something to look at while driving by, a stop at any of these will definitely be unique.

  • Big BearRight about where I-210 and I-15 meet, the highway spurs off and leads up into the mountains above.  About an hour drive uphill, Big Bear is best known as a local ski resort, but also has great summer sights (although significantly less is open in the Summer).  This is a great place to stop for a few hours, and did I mention they have zip-line that lets you fly through the snow?
  • The Largest Thermometer- photo submitted by Rebecca @purplekat99

    World’s Largest Thermometer – (Baker, Ca) I’m a huge Americana fan, and really wish I could take a drive down the classic Route-66, when wigwam motels and giant dinosaurs dominated the roadside, which probably explains why I have a fond place in my heart for the World’s Largest Thermometer (and the movie “Michael”).  The world’s largest thermometer can be seen just about as well from the interstate as it can from up-close, but if you pull off you’ll be able to try some of the Greek food that’s been advertised on every billboard for your entire trip.

  • Calico Ghost TownThis tourist attraction is a renovated gold mining village, and, though it’s not located right off the freeway, Calico won’t take you too far off I-15.  It’s an interesting place to stop for a few hours, but keep in mind that it is very touristy.  Check out a first person account with CaliTravelGirl.
  • Zzyzx – By far one of the most interesting names in the American lexicon, Zzyzx is a failed mineral spa turned US geological study center.  I’ve only known people to journey down the road based on pure curiosity, but there are classes held here in association with California State University.  If you choose to drive the 4-5 miles down, you’ll find a few remnants of the original spa and some sweeping desert views.  Check out One persons trip out to Zzyzx here.
  • Barstow Station McDonald’s – If you have to stop to eat along the way, the McDonald’s in Barstow is probably a good bet.  It’s built to resemble an old train station.  That’s really all there is to say about it, but I think it’s cool.
  • Abandoned Waterpark- If you’re into social check-in apps, this is the ultimate pass-by.  Notice I didn’t say to stop, there is no reason to stop (and I don’t think you could stop if you wanted to),but you can check in at the “abandoned waterpark” on both Foursquare and Gowalla.
  • Primm -  Not only is it home to an outlet mall, but this roadside town is home to the authentic Bonnie & Clyde getaway car.  Also, there is a roller coaster at the casino here.  Please, if anyone has stopped along the way here or stayed in Primm, leave a note below.  Also, this is the last town to pass before you hit Vegas.

That’s it.  Following this route, you will come upon Vegas from the South.  Many people recommend that anyone’s first trip to Vegas should land in the city after sunset so you see the lights of the Strip as you drive in, it really is pretty cool.  Either way you do it, this trip is really simple, and has only been a hassle to me when traveling Friday nights or Sunday afternoons/nights.  If you have any notes, stories, or suggestions, leave a note and let us know.

Bob is a lifetime traveler, whose main focus is making the most out of every dollar and figuring out how to do the complicated tasks of traveling. If you see him out, he'll probably be the one with the camera in hand and a pen and notebook in his pocket. If you like what you see here, just wait till you see what I'm dishing up next.

15 Comments

  • Reply March 28, 2011

    Val

    I love Las Vegas! I’ve always flown, but that looks like a fantastic road trip! I really need to see that World’s Largest Thermometer!

    • Reply May 22, 2011

      Bob

      The drive is totally worth it, especially for me, when I’m flying it’s a 30-45 min drive to the airport, arrive a hour early, it’s an hour flight, another 30-45 to the hotel – by the end it’s taken the same amount of time as if I were to fly

  • Reply March 29, 2011

    Maureen

    Hey thanks for the link ;D nice article

    • Reply May 22, 2011

      Bob

      Thanks Maureen.

  • Reply March 29, 2011

    Kat - three six five

    this post could not have come at a better time for me! My partner and I will be heading from LA to Vegas in afew weeks and I am now MORE excited than ever

    …and, I’ll even check out Primm for you and report back :)

    • Reply May 22, 2011

      Bob

      Seriously, let us know about Primm. I’ve never been, but Jade once dated the son of the guy who built the town.

  • Reply May 18, 2011

    Stephania Andrade

    I’ve flown and driven to LV. The drive was smooth from Orange County but the flight was horrible due to very strong turbulence. , but if I had to do it all over again I would definitely drive rather than fly there! thanks for sharing!

    • Reply May 22, 2011

      Bob

      Thanks for stopping by Stephania.

  • Reply October 21, 2011

    Alejandra

    Hi – I’m driving from Las Vegas to Los Angeles (West Hollywood) and I’m concerned about refueling on I-15. How often do you come upon gas stations? How far away are they from the interstate when you do pass by one? Any tips/comments on the LV-LA drive in general? Thanks!!

  • [...] time in college when I met all my friends for Spring Break. I’m even counting all the weekend Vegas trips from LA and bachelorette parties I’ve attended over the years. While I like going to Las Vegas and [...]

  • Reply May 25, 2012

    David Marrione

    At the end of July 2012, we – myself, my wife, son 17 and daughter 11- are planning to fly into Phoenix, Az from New Orleans, rent a car and drive to Los Angeles (via I-10) spend one night in L.A, then make our way to Las Vegas (via I-15).
    I have read your rest area /gas station guide about I-15 (Angeles to Vegas), which was very informative, but do you know of any I-10 guide that actually lists Exit Numbers for the gas and rest areas? Just trying to do as much preparation as possible due to this will be the very first time traveling through desert areas and one of my biggest concerns is the shortage of gas and rest areas. Thanks, in advance, for the info.

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  • Reply May 2, 2013

    Aleisha

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  • Reply July 22, 2013

    Pat

    I can only agree with the drive from LA to Vegas – well worth it, we flew in from Australia picked up our car from LAX and hit the LA freeways…the scariest part, once on the I-15 it was all good. Stopped at Barstoe for a refuel – Car and us, took note of Primm for a day trip on the way by, then hit Vegas 40 miles further on. Great drive.

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