You and the family live in Charlotte, and you’re interested in visiting Los Angeles, as you’ve never been. Rather than fly there, you’d prefer to drive.
Is this feasible? How would you get there, and how long would it take?
Driving from Charlotte to Los Angeles requires you to cross through Tennessee, Arkansas, Kansas, upper Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before you reach California. You can drive straight across the middle of the United States and get there in about 36 hours.
If you want to know more about how to get to LA from Charlotte and how long the trip will take, this guide is for you. I’ll even recommend places of note along the way.
The best route from Charlotte to Los Angeles
As I mentioned in the intro, driving from Charlotte to Los Angeles is a straight shot west that bisects the entire central United States.
The route will take you through six states, so this is a road trip with a view! You’ll be able to take in much of the charm of the US on your route, and the kids should be delighted.
Your trek is a long one though, so I’ll recommend stopovers at various points. You don’t have to stop exactly there, but you should thereabouts so you don’t push yourself too hard.
Here’s the recommended route to LA from Charlotte.
Charlotte to Gatlinburg
You won’t make any stops throughout the rest of your home state of North Carolina as you and the kids eagerly embark on your road trip.
Instead, you’ll get right on with things and drive into Gatlinburg, the first of two Tennessee stops.
It’s going to take you some time to cross state lines, so plan for a drive of around three and a half hours barring heavy traffic.
I’d suggest waking up early so you make good time. Be sure to get going after the morning rush hour.
Gatlinburg is an eastern Tennessee mountain town that leads to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
You and the kids could spend days in that park, as it’s an immense 520,000 acres or thereabouts.
There’s still plenty more to do in the area, such as explore the quaint downtown, ride the cable car known as the SkyLift, or check out the Space Needle observation tower 407 feet up (that’s right, Gatlinburg has its own Space Needle too!).
Gatlinburg to Nashville
If you and your family didn’t get too caught up in all the fun in Gatlinburg, you can make your way to Nashville, the second and final Tennessee stop on your route.
It’s going to take you four hours of driving west across Tennessee to get to Nashville.
If you’ve never been to Tennessee’s capital city before, then why not stay here and get some rest overnight?
By now, you’ve been driving for at least seven hours, and continuing on your route on this same day would not be wise.
Get some shut-eye, wake up early the next morning, and do some sightseeing and exploring before you continue driving to Arkansas.
Nashville and its country roots will entertain the whole family between the downtown district, the Ryman Auditorium, The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, and the Grand Ole Opry House!
Nashville to Little Rock
It’s a new day, so it’s time to hit the road.
The drive from Nashville to Little Rock is admittedly going to be a long one, requiring about five and a half hours. Again, you’re crossing state lines, so it’s not a quick process.
Once you get to Little Rock, you’ll be in Arkansas’ state capital.
The city with views of the Arkansas River features the Arkansas Arts Center, MacArthur Park, the Old State House Museum, and the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum with an Oval Office replica.
I would recommend stopping once you reach Little Rock and finding a place to crash for the night.
I know you didn’t go far, but your drive was long, and you probably need a rest right about now. Take it!
Little Rock to Oklahoma City
I’m sure you and the kids are feeling a lot more refreshed this morning, so it’s time to continue your drive to Los Angeles.
You’ll leave Arkansas behind and drive to Oklahoma. To reach Oklahoma City specifically, you’ll be on the road for five hours without heavy traffic.
You’re once again in a state capital! Oklahoma City has a rich cowboy culture as well as deep historical roots.
You can see those on display at the Oklahoma City National Memorial which honors the victims of the 1995 bombing.
The oil wells throughout this city are in working condition, so they’re quite cool to check out as well!
Oklahoma City to Amarillo
When you’re ready to say goodbye to Oklahoma, you’ll leave that state and drive through northern Texas to Amarillo.
This drive takes four hours without traffic as you continue west.
Amarillo is not a capital city, but it’s part of the Texas Panhandle.
The Palo Duro Canyon State Park and all the trails within are not too far, nor is the unique Cadillac Ranch art display.
If you’re into Route 66, then you cannot miss the U.S. Route 66-Sixth Street Historic District! The American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame & Museum is another curiosity here.
You should have plenty to do here as well as plenty of time to do it. You’ve been on the road for a very long time by this point, so stay over in Amarillo for the night. You’ll continue your drive tomorrow.
Amarillo to Albuquerque
In the morning, after a refreshing break from the road, it’s time to get back into the car and drive to New Mexico.
From Amarillo, you’ll drive westward for four hours until you reach Albuquerque.
There are no larger cities in New Mexico than Albuquerque.
This desert city features a modernized downtown as well as plenty of historical sites in Old Town Albuquerque such as the San Felipe de Neri Church.
Five museums are also in the area for an afternoon of exploring with the family.
Albuquerque to Flagstaff
Renewed by the sights of Albuquerque, you’ll bid adieu to New Mexico and drive to the last state before reaching California on your route, which is Arizona.
Your destination is Flagstaff, which is four and a half hours away from Albuquerque without traffic.
The ponderosa pine forests, deserts, and mountains all around Flagstaff will fill you and the kids with wonder.
You’re not too far from the Wupatki National Monument, the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort, and Humphreys Park, the tallest mountain in this state.
Find a nice bed and breakfast to rest your tired bones, as you’ll get to LA in the morning!!
Flagstaff to Los Angeles
After filling up on breakfast (and maybe filling the gas tank as well), you and the kids will be back in the car.
It’s a seven-hour trek from Flagstaff to Los Angeles. Once you get there, rejoice!
How long does it take to drive to Los Angeles from Charlotte?
Considering the sheer number of states you have to drive across to reach Los Angeles from Charlotte, this isn’t going to be a quick trip.
You’ll log some long hours on the road, but exactly how many hours are we talking here?
It will take you 35 hours, and 19 minutes to get to LA from Charlotte.
I told you it wasn’t a short trip!
I must say that this time does not include traffic. With how many hours you’ll be on the road at once, traffic is going to be something you’ll have to contend with no matter what.
If you add time to visit museums, parks, and other attractions along the way, that too will add to your overall time.
I would recommend focusing less on the time it takes to get there and enjoy each part of your trip.
Must-see family destinations on the way to LA
If you like the sound of that and you want to take it slow, then here are some incredible family-friendly destinations and attractions to add to your itinerary.
- Ober Gatlinburg
Part ski area, part amusement park, Ober Gatlinburg is a four-season amusement park on the mountainside with so much to do!
When I say so much, I mean it. Ober Gatlinburg offers water raft rides, chair swings, O’Bears mini golf, a rock climbing wall, the Amaze’n Maze, wildlife encounters, an alpine slide, a scenic chairlift, a ski mountain coaster, ice bumper cars, and ice skating.
You and the kids won’t be bored for a second here, that is for certain.
- Gatlinburg Space Needle
Ascend to the tippy-top of Gatlinburg and see the mountain town in a brand-new light when you and the family take a trip up the Space Needle.
The observation tower, as I said before, is 407 astounding feet tall. On a clear day, you and the family will get unfettered views of not only Gatlinburg but also the breathtaking Great Smoky Mountains.
Be sure to snap lots of photos, as you won’t want to forget these picturesque views anytime soon.
- Gatlinburg SkyLift Park
Another excellent destination for seeing Gatlinburg from the skies is SkyLift Park. You and the kiddos will at one point reach an 1,800-foot overlook.
When you’re done riding the SkyLift, you and the family can pop into the SkyCenter mountain shop to do some souvenir shopping, visit the SkyDeck amphitheater for live entertainment, head to the Tulip Tower observation area, or hike the SkyTrail path.
The SkyCenter also serves food, as you’ll surely work up an appetite doing all that sightseeing. The menu includes pizza, cheesy bread, soft pretzels, wraps, brownies, cookies, hot dogs, and salads.
- Hollywood Star Cars Museum
You may be a long way from Hollywood yet, but you’ll feel like you’re in sunny, hot Los Angeles when you step into the Hollywood Star Cars Museum.
Only a minute from the Space Needle by foot, this museum houses lots of famous vehicles, including OG Batmobiles, vehicles from The Fast & the Furious film series, and the ECTO-1 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor Futura from the original Ghostbusters.
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
A trip to Gatlinburg is incomplete without spending at least some time in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
With the sheer size of this park, you can spend days here and not see everything.
I would recommend picking among these activities selectively:
- Wildlife viewing
- Wildflower viewing
- Waterfall viewing
- Cades Cove touring
- Horseback riding
- Nashville Children’s Theatre
If your children have even a passing interest in theater, then a trip to the Nashville Children’s Theatre while you’re here is a must.
This theater was founded in 1931 and is a part of the Theatre for Young Audiences.
Camps and classes are available periodically throughout the year, but even if your kids can’t join since you’re only passing through Nashville, they can at least visit.
That’s sure to be quite an inspirational experience!
- Grand Ole Opry
Even if you’re not so much into country music, you cannot drive through Nashville without making some time for the Grand Ole Opry.
Live performances still take place here all the time. Tours are offered as well so you can learn about the esteemed history of this beloved piece of Nashville culture.
- Ryman Auditorium
Why not top off the day with a stop at the Ryman Auditorium as well?
The auditorium first opened its doors in 1892. Today, it has more than 2,300 seats for live performances of all kinds!
You and the children might be lucky enough to get tickets to one of those performances as well. You can tour this auditorium too, which is worth your time.
- Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
Learn about Nashville from one of the biggest museums on the planet, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
Founded in 1967, the sizable museum is dedicated to vernacular music across America.
The collection of music kept here is huge and very extensive. Few music collections rival this one in the entire world.
The exhibits here change all the time, as does the roster of performances at the museum’s CMA Theater.
Little Rock Destinations
- Pinnacle Mountain State Park
Stretch those legs and take a reprieve at Pinnacle Mountain State Park in nearby Pulaski County.
The park is 2,356 acres and offers activities for every interest.
You and the children can go cycling, boating, fishing, hiking, or take a lake tour.
In the summer, you can swim. Rock climbing and diamond digging are sure to entertain, as well as hang gliding and horseback riding!
- Burns Park Funland
Put some pep in your kids’ steps by treating them to an afternoon at Burns Park Funland in Burns Park, a part of North Little Rock.
The kids can enjoy an assortment of fun rides, including Tubs of Fun, the Wildcat Mini Coaster, the Space Shuttle, the Car Carousel, and the Ferris Wheel.
Oklahoma City Destinations
- Science Museum Oklahoma
Learning doesn’t have to be boring, which the kids will realize for themselves at the Science Museum Oklahoma.
Spanning more than 390,000 square feet, the Science Museum Oklahoma features a Science Floor (with the Resonant Pendulum, Segway Park, and more), a Tinkering Garage with activities that update monthly, and the 20,000-square-foot CurioCity with up to eight science-based neighborhoods.
The Kirkpatrick Planetarium regularly shows movies and live performances, with access included with the price of your ticket.
- Frontier City
Known as Oklahoma’s favorite theme park, Frontier City offers rides for children and family members of all ages.
The kiddie and family rides are nice and tame while the thrill rides have enough heart-pounding excitement to satisfy your tween or teen.
They won’t want to miss the Diamondback coaster, the Silver Bullet coaster, or the Soaring Eagle zip line!
When the kids begin to complain of hunger, there is no shortage of restaurants across the park that serve up everything from corn dog bites to chicken tenders, ice cream, cotton candy, popcorn, pizza, funnel cake, soft pretzels, and nachos.
- Oklahoma City Zoo
Unleash your inner explorer when you visit the Oklahoma City Zoo.
The available habitats are as follows:
- Expedition Africa
- Cat Forest
- Lion Overlook
- Children’s Zoo
- Herpetarium and Wetlands Walkway
- Hoofed Animals
- Marine Mammals
- Oklahoma Trails
- Great EscApe
- Sanctuary Asia
There’s so much more to see and do here! The kids can learn about endangered species through statues made of toy bricks at the BRICKLIVE Animal Paradise exhibit.
Camel rides, giraffe and lorikeet feedings, sea lion presentations, and the Endangered Species Carousel will entertain the family. These attractions all cost an additional fee.
- Hurricane Harbor Oklahoma City
When summer is on the horizon, Hurricane Harbor Oklahoma City opens its doors.
The rides here are appropriate for all ages so no one feels left out. Splashwater Island, Hurricane Bay, and Castaway Creek are nice and chill for the kiddos.
Spinning, twirling tube slides are aplenty here, including the Bermuda Triangle, Big Kahuna, Blackbeard’s Revenue, Bonzai Pipeline, Calypso Cannonball, Dive Bomb, Mega Wedgie, Paradise Plunge, and Pipeline Wave.
Keep up the fuel for fun by stopping by the restaurants throughout Hurricane Harbor that serve chicken strips, pizza, burgers, nachos, corn dogs, fries, and soft pretzels.
- Cadillac Ranch
A curiosity in Amarillo, Cadillac Ranch along Route 66 features 10 Cadillacs mounted into the ground straight up and covered in graffiti.
First installed in 1974, the Caddies still stand to this day and have become a beloved part of the area.
- Wonderland Amusement Park
If you haven’t had much time to stop for fun until now, that will be all alright if you go to the Wonderland Amusement Park.
This park is the home of coasters such as the Texas Tornado, the Cyclone, the Hornet, and the Mouse Trap.
For something a little more kid-friendly, Wonderland is full of family classics like swings, bumper cars, the Himalaya, the Tilt-a-Whirl, the Scrambler, and the Ferris wheel.
Mini golf and an arcade on the grounds will keep those smiles glued on your kids’ faces all day!
- Don Harrington Discovery Center
The Don Harrington Discovery Center is a phenomenal place to spend an afternoon learning and having fun.
The permanent exhibits include an outdoor science park with two animatronic dinosaurs, a tennis ball launcher, and a gazing ball.
The kids also won’t want to miss The Space Gallery, the KinderStudio for fostering play and imagination, Critter Row with bearded dragons and tarantulas, and the Giant Ant Crawler maze.
- Tingley Beach
An idyllic spot by the Rio Grande Bosque, Tingley Beach isn’t so much a beach as it is a series of fishing ponds that are free to enter.
You and the children can go fishing, boating, hiking, or you can do some grilling for a nice afternoon of togetherness!
- Explora Science Center and Children’s Museum of Albuquerque
Not too far from Old Town Albuquerque is the Explora Science Center and Children’s Museum.
Designed to inspire curiosity in your child and get them engaged in hands-on play and exploration, the permanent exhibits are dedicated to math, water, gravity, light and shadow, electricity, bubbles, and air.
If your kids would rather get more hands-on, they can build at the Rotary Pavilion or use the makerspace called the Studio Inventivo.
- Hinkle Fun Center
The kids will adore the Hinkle Fun Center from the moment you pull up.
Choose from up to 10 fantastic attractions, including bazooka ball, an XD dark ride, go-karts, laser tag, mini golf, game rooms, bumper boats, bumper cars, a bungee jump trampoline, rock climbing, and the Lazer Frenzy.
Cody’s Café is there among all the fun for satiating appetites. The kids can chow down on pizza, boneless wings, cotton candy, ice cream, fries, funnel cakes, hot dogs, nachos, popcorn, and soft pretzels.
- Meteor Crater Natural Landmark
About 18 miles from Winslow in northern Arizona is the Meteor Crater, which is also known as Barringer Crater.
The natural landmark is 560 feet deep with a rim that’s 148 feet. Its diameter is 3,900 feet, so it’s very hard to miss if you’re driving by it!
- Walnut Canyon National Monument
Only 10 miles from Flagstaff is Walnut Canyon National Monument, a canyon with cliff dwellings from ancient times.
As you ascend up the cliff, you’ll find a visitor center and a small museum here.
- The Arboretum at Flagstaff
Another great destination for taking it slow and easy in Flagstaff is The Arboretum at Flagstaff.
The 200-acre arboretum, which first opened in 1981, features 750 unique native plant species that are all drought-tolerant.
Special events such as tours and classes take place throughout the year, so make sure you check those out!
A road trip from Charlotte to Los Angeles could be just what the whole family needs to foster more togetherness and make lasting memories. I hope you decide to embark on this journey soon!