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5 Unmissable Scenic Drives in Southwest USA

A big part of an American road trip is to get your music blasting as you head out on the highway and soak up the sights and the scenery. Southwest USA, the location of my favorite road trip has no shortage of highways, byways and scenic drives which eat up miles of eye-popping views.

Here are top five scenic drives in the southwest which are guaranteed to get your wheels rolling. These scenic roads are all all epic and well worth adding to your road trip list.

Lone Cypress Tree, 17-Mile Drive
The lone cypress, Pebble Beach, California – one of the most photographed trees in north America

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Highways, Byways and All-American Roads

America has a collection of 150 roads designated “distinct and diverse” which are called National Scenic Byways and All-American Roads.

Each road has qualities that don’t exist anywhere else in the United States and are unique and important enough to be tourist destinations because of them. To be included each road must have at least one of the following attributes; cultural, natural, historic, recreational, archaeological or scenic. There are usually breathtaking views too.

The most scenic drives of all are called All-American Roads and must have at least two of these qualities.

The Best Scenic Drives in Southwest USA

Check out these 5 major highways in southwest America which are also some of the best drives in the USA.

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Big Sur Coast Highway, California

Bixby Creek Bridge, California
Bixby Bridge on the road from Monterey to Big Sur

What is California’s most scenic drive?

It’s the Big Sur Coast Highway which forms part of the Pacific Coast Highway – officially known as California State Route 1. It’s only natural that this comes first on my list – it’s got to be one of the best California scenic drives ever.

We started our road trip in San Francisco northern California and worked our way down the coast. We had epic whale sightings in Monterey Bay and from there we drove to Monterey ending at Big Sur.

Big Sur Coast Highway is one of the most famous drives in America treating road trippers to epic views of soaring cliffs, sparkling blue seas and rolling surf. You may even spot whales and sea lions.

Take the 17-Mile Drive through Pebble Beach ($11.25 per vehicle or $5.50 per bus passenger) for gorgeous views which include the iconic Lone Cypress. This scenic road is one of America’s best drives.

Further south is Bixby Creek Bridge, one of the tallest single-span concrete bridges in the world. Photo tip – just after you cross the bridge (going south) there’s a pull-in area which is great for shots looking back towards the bridge.

Length: 123 miles / 198 km

Route: This scenic drive begins in Monterey, California and travels the coastline on Highway 1 to San Luis Obispo. Check out this San Francisco to Los Angeles road trip.

Type: All American Road

If you enjoy lakeside views check out the June Lake Loop Drive in California.

Death Valley, California

Zabriskie Point, Death Valley
Death Valley National Park

Many scenic drives are in state parks and national parks so if outdoor recreation is your thing a scenic drive will probably pass near to one or the other.

The views as we drove through Death Valley national park were constantly changing from areas of parched cracked earth to shimmering mirrors of sparkling white salt deposits. There were pops of colour in the ochres of Mustard Canyon and striations of rust-red rock.

There are plenty of interesting and scenic places to stop in Death Valley so plan your journey with enough time to take in all the ones on your list which may be two days or more.

Zabriskie Point dazzled with views over The Badlands of pastel pinks, golds and graphite grey colouring the undulating landscape as it rippled into the distant mountains.

Death Valley in Eastern California is the lowest, driest, and hottest area in North America so avoid taking your road trip during the summer months. We were there in late September and the temperature hit 108 degrees.

Length: 81.5 miles / 131.2km

Route: Take Highway 190 from one side of the valley to the other East to West or vice versa depending on your itinerary. The byway cuts through Death Valley national park so there’s a fee of $30 per car which can be bought on line in advance or at the visitor center.

Type: National Scenic Byway

Las Vegas Boulevard, Nevada

Neon Slipper Sign in Las Vegas

Number three in my top five drives is not to be confused with ‘The Strip’ in Las Vegas this stretch of Boulevard runs between Sahara Avenue and Washington Avenue near The Stratosphere and is the shortest scenic road in my list at under 3.5 miles.

It’s one of only three urban scenic byways in the US and is worth checking out for its vintage Vegas neon signs which have been restored and installed along the roadside.

You can see the Hacienda Horse and Rider at Fremont Street, Binion’s Horseshow and the iconic Silver Slipper along this byway which takes only 15 minutes to drive. Nearby is the Neon Boneyard where you can take a tour of hundreds of old hotel and casino neon signs from the fifties and beyond.

Length: 3.4 miles / 5.5 km

Where: The byway starts at the intersection of Washington Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard. Head south along Las Vegas Boulevard for 3.41 miles until the byway ends at the intersection of Sahara Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard.

Type: Urban National Scenic Byway

If you’re in Vegas and have a car you might also want to check out the Valley of Fire State Park which has some epic scenery and make a great day out away from the city.

We also visited Hoover Dam and Lake Mead which just a short drive from the city.

Historic Route 66, Seligman, Arizona

Copper Cart Sign, Seligman
The quirky town of Seligman, Arizona

No road trip would be complete without taking in a section of the Mother Road and we got our Route 66 kicks at Seligman in Arizona after a visit to the Grand Canyon West Rim.

Seligman fully embraces its Route 66 history and it’s allegedly the town that Pixar based the film ‘Cars’ on.

The town is quirksville personified and is filled with kitsch Americana and Route 66 memorabilia. It also has it’s fair share of local characters who are more than happy to tell you their tale.

Length:1408.6 miles / 2266.9 km in total

Where: The Arizona segment of Historic Route 66 is made up of seven sections of Route 66 which don’t all join up with each other. The first section follows I-40 through Holbrook before a small section in Joseph City.

The third section goes through Winslow, and the fourth through Flagstaff. The fifth section goes through Williams and the sixth is a little place in Ash Fork. Finally, there is a long section heading west on SR 65 from Seligman to Topock.

Type: All-American Road and National Scenic Byway

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Red Rock Scenic Byway, Sedona, Arizona

Courthouse Rock, Sedona
Courthouse Butte, Sedona

Sedona has no shortage of scenic drives. There are two Sedona routes that form part of America’s Scenic Byways; The Red Rock Scenic Byway and the Red Rock Loop.

The smaller Loop is north of the town and the Scenic Byway is south on the way to Oak Creek and it’s a great drive. Both are easily accessible and well worth driving.

The town is surrounded by a stunning landscape of red rock buttes, rust coloured pinnacles and sandstone columns set against clear blue skies.

The sandstone rock glows in the sunshine and there are numerous hiking trails. It’s worth taking your hiking boots and getting out onto a trail and exploring the landscape. You may even encounter a Sedona vortex and the energy that the area is said to emit. It can be especially felt at Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte in the picture above on the Red Rock Scenic Byway.

Length: 14 miles / 22km in total (Red Rock Loop 7.5 miles / 12.1 km)

Where: The Red Rock Scenic Byway begins in the town of Sedona (US 89A from Flagstaff and I-40/I-17). Follow the AZ 179 from Sedona south to Oak Creek where the drive finishes. Some parking areas in the Red Rock Loop need a $5 parking permit.

Read more about our vortex experience in Sedona.

Type: All-American Road and National Scenic Byway

Those are my top five scenic drives in the Southwest USA and I think they were all memorable for different reasons. Have you been on an American Road Trip? Which part of the US did you road trip in and what was your favourite scenic drive?

If you love a road trip you might like these…

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Pin it for later…

Five epic road trip stops on your south west USA road trip #roadtrip #USA

April Yap

Thursday 28th of July 2016

Hi Suzanne I am so glad that you've shared your experiences, you are now my inspiration in my trip.

Suzanne Jones

Thursday 28th of July 2016

Thanks April, how lovely!


Thursday 26th of May 2016

Hey! Did you do these all on one trip? If so, is that the order you did them?

Suzanne Jones

Friday 27th of May 2016

Yes they were all in the same trip and in that order, although I hadn't realised that! You can check out our itinerary here


Thursday 19th of May 2016

Happy days, Suze! I'd be happy to go on any of these. :)

Suzanne Jones

Sunday 22nd of May 2016

There were all amazing - wouldn't be able to choose between them :)


Tuesday 26th of April 2016

This part of the US is so spoilt when it comes to amazing road trips! Loved Sedona and Big Sur but next time Death Valley is top of the list.

Suzanne Jones

Wednesday 27th of April 2016

That road trip could have lasted months and we'd still not have seen all there was - you need to do Death Valley to add to your collection of fabulous Scenic Highways :)

Suze - Luxury Columnist

Monday 18th of April 2016

What a spectacular landscape in Death Valley and I love your shot of the shoe in Vegas!

Suzanne Jones

Monday 18th of April 2016

There were so many spectacular landscapes on our trip, it was tough choosing just five. I love that shoe!

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