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General information for travellers

General information for travellers
The basics

Need to reset your watch? Call for help? Find out details for disabled access? Here’s a round-up of basic information to help you plan your trip, and to know what to expect and where to turn for help when you get here.

Time zone

California is in the Pacific Time Zone (Greenwich Mean Time minus 8 hours). The state observes daylight savings time from early March to early November.

State and local taxes

The state-wide sales tax is 7.25%. Local taxes may add up to 1.5% to your total bill.

Tipping

A general rule of thumb is to tip servers in restaurants between 15% and 20%, depending on the level of service, and bartenders a dollar for each drink (beer, glass of wine, simple cocktail, etc.), unless it’s a more complicated speciality cocktail. Include 15% to 20% for a taxi or limo driver, and a few dollars for an Uber or Lyft driver.

Directory enquiries

For local numbers, dial 411; for long distance, dial 1 plus the area code plus 555-1212; for free phone numbers, call (800) 555-1212.

Emergency assistance

You can call 911 free from any public telephone to obtain emergency police, fire or medical assistance.

Alcohol/tobacco laws

Alcohol is sold throughout California to people aged 21 and older. The legal drinking age is 21.

You must be 18 or older to purchase tobacco products in the state. Smoking and e-cigarette use is prohibited in all public buildings (including restaurants, bars and casinos) and enclosed spaces throughout California. It is illegal to smoke within 20 feet/6 metres of doorways or windows of government buildings. Most large hotels have designated smoking rooms; if you smoke, request one—most hotels will fine guests who smoke inside a non-smoking room. Many cities in California have passed ordinances prohibiting smoking in public areas such as on pavements and beaches, and smoking is prohibited in some national and state park buildings and areas.

State size & driving times

California is big, really big. If you were to drive the length of the state on Interstate 5, it would take you an estimated 15 hours, with little or no traffic, to get from Oregon to Mexico. At the end of your road trip, you’d have driven nearly 900 miles.

Central San Diego is less than 20 miles north of the Mexican border and about 130 miles south of Los Angeles. From Los Angeles, it’s 385 miles north to San Francisco and from there, another 90 miles north-east to Sacramento. You’d put about 190 miles on your car driving from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park, and about 600 miles driving from Los Angeles to Mount Shasta in Northern California. Needless to say, California is ideal for road trips

Travelling with disabilities

Visitors who have physical or other challenges can still have a fantastic time in California. Special services are widely available, and access to trails, buildings and attractions is continually being improved. Here are some helpful resources.

Wheelchair access

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that all public buildings must be wheelchair accessible and have accessible toilet facilities. Most hotels and attractions now have wide doorways and wheelchair ramps. City streets feature a growing number of pavement corners with dropped kerbs, and some public transport vehicles are equipped with lifts. Many state and national parks now have fully accessible ADA trails. If you need details, call destinations and services in advance.

Help for hearing & memory impaired

If you have limitations seeing, hearing, speaking, remembering or moving which affects your ability to make or receive phone calls, dial 711 to have a specially trained communications assistant relay telephone conversations for all your calls while you are in California.

Many cinemas and performance spaces have special headsets to help you hear. Ask when you purchase or collect your tickets.

Transportation & car hire

Major airports can provide on-site assistance to and from flights, including wheelchairs; call your airline in advance for details. Some car hire companies offer specially equipped vehicles with hand controls, wheelchair accessibility and other assistance devices. Amtrak trains provide added services for passengers with disabilities, as well as a 15% discount on standard travel fares.

 

General information for travellers Pillars_RoadTrips_OR_RD_11220565_1280x640

Time to hit the road and explore the Golden State

Road Trips

General information for travellers vca_maps_no-region
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November
Average (°C)
Sept - Nov
24°
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12°
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Dec - Feb
18°
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8°
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Mar - May
20°
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11°
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June - Aug
24°
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16°
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Endless sunshine, amazing cities, best-in-class theme parks, incredible natural treasures—no matter what you want to do and see on your next vacation, California has it. But here's the best part: California has all the iconic destinations you've dreamed of visiting, plus a countless number of incredible off-the-beaten-track experiences. With our exclusive trip itineraries, you can visit bucket-list landmarks like Yosemite, then follow a wine road or visit a craft brewery. Top theme parks, secret beaches, city finds—they’re all here in easy-to-follow road trips that visit every corner of the state. So start dreaming about your next California vacation—and dream big.

Trip 4 days 10 stops

Wild North Coast

Wine, Romance & Sunsets
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Start your trip to one of the world’s great cities. For a novel way to explore “the City by the Bay” park your car and explore by foot, bike, and unique public transportation. Pedal bikes across the Golden Gate Bridge and back, then explore the lush Presidio, a former military base that’s now a...

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The last stop on this spectacular road trip ends at the very last city in California. Only 20 miles south of Oregon, sea-faring Crescent City is home to the northernmost of California’s lighthouse stations. Overlooking the town’s harbor, the 1856 Battery Point Lighthouse, built with 22-inch/56-...

Mt. Shasta by Kodiak Greenwood

Trip 4-6 days 10 stops

Volcanoes to the Sea

Booming Waterfalls, Craft Breweries
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Begin your trip in the center of the state, home to the capital city of Sacramento. Like many cities, California’s state capitol is undergoing an energetic renaissance. Young adults looking for an urban vibe are moving into this low-key city, with microbreweries, gastropubs, and trendy boutiques...

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This lively seaport town, the largest coastal city between San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, has split-personality charm: a sense of history in the handsomely restored, Victorian-era Old Town district, a still-working seaport where crusty fishing boats chug in and out of a protected harbor,...

Trip 4 days 10 stops

California Gold

Whitewater Rafting, Tucked-Away Wineries
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Begin your trip in the center of the state, home to the capital city of Sacramento. Like many cities, California’s state capital is undergoing an energetic renaissance. Young adults looking for an urban vibe are moving into this low-...

Trip 6-7 days 10 stops

Sierra Adventure

Granite peaks, alpine valleys, towering trees-the High Sierra is nature's playground all year-round
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Blue as a topaz and circled by majestic peaks, this High Sierra gem straddling the California-Nevada border is a bucket-list staple, a place where the air is “very pure and fine...it is the same the angels breathe,” according to author Mark Twain. Lakefront towns dot the shoreline, each with...

Trip 3-5 days 10 stops

San Francisco Bay Loop

Discover this something-for-everything loop tour around an iconic bay
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End your road trip by exploring one of the world’s great cities. Famous for grand-dame Victorians, classic cable cars, dynamic diversity, a beautiful waterfront, and a soaring crimson bridge, the “City by the Bay” truly has it all. Trend-defining cuisine ranging from Michelin-starred dining to...

Trip 5-7 days 10 stops

Highway One Classic

Take the trip that captures the heart and soul of the Golden State
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Start your trip to one of the world’s great cities. For a novel way to explore “the City by the Bay” park your car and explore by foot, bike, and unique public transportation. Pedal bikes across the Golden Gate Bridge and back, then explore the lush Presidio, a former military base that’s now a...

Laura Flippen

Trip 3-5 days 10 stops

California's Heartland

Pick fresh produce, relax in cool gardens, and learn about local farming heritage
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This relaxed city has some secret gems that make a pleasing start to your trip. Start at Sundial Bridge, a functional work of art, the remarkable pedestrian bridge, designed by renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, spans the tree-lined, trout-filled Sacramento River in Redding’s Turtle...

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This rapidly growing city in the southern Central Valley is full of pleasant surprises. Once known for oil and agriculture, Bakersfield is morphing into a Central Valley hub for arts, culture, and sports, while still offering a glimpse of the region’s past. One fascinating historical site worth...

Trip 4-5 days 10 stops

Pacific Coast Highway - South

Beach Towns, Iconic Theme Parks
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Start your coastal cruise in this elegant city hugging the coastal mountains, where classic Spanish architecture gives the region a sun-washed European look straight out of the Riviera. Santa Barbara, nicknamed “the American Riviera,” may have a burnished antique look of much of the...

Trip 3-4 days 10 stops

Route 66 - The Mother Road

Legendary Highway, California Dream
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Start your trip in this idyllic oceanfront city, surrounded by a 3.5 mile long beach, and feeling more like a weekend getaway spot than a city just a few minutes west of downtown Los Angeles. Car free options, including a shuttle to Los Angeles International Airport (8 miles south) make it a...

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On your way to this park, you’ll pass through the little community of Borrego Springs. Stop in at the town’s visitor center to get driving maps to an astounding collection of enormous prehistoric animals—metal sculptures made by artist Ricardo Breceda—that dot the surrounding desert landscape....

General information for travellers VCW_D_NC_T1_RedwoodNP_Manley-sized
Harriot Manley/Sunset Publishing

Trip 8-10 days 11 stops

Ultimate Northern California

Explore the best of Northern California's Great Outdoors
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It may measure less than 50 square miles/130 square kilometers, but San Francisco justly ranks as one of the greatest cities in the world. Famous for grand-dame Victorians, classic cable cars, dynamic diversity, a beautiful waterfront, and a soaring crimson bridge, the  “City by the Bay” is the...

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Trip 8-10 days 10 stops

Ultimate Southern California

Beach Towns & Big Thrills
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Your trip begins in California’s largest city. L.A. has nonstop action and things to do, but it can be a challenge to navigate, so planning your trip in advance is a big plus. Start in the coastal city of Santa Monica, with a wide, uncrowded beach, a signature pier topped by carnival rides and...

Trip 3-4 Days 8 stops

San Luis Obispo to Ragged Point

Venture from San Luis Obispo up Highway 1 to discover pristine coastline, small beach towns, and a fabled landmark