California is in the Pacific Time Zone (GMT minus 8 hours). The state observes daylight saving time.
- In 2011, daylight time begins on March 14 and ends on November 7.
The state sales tax is 8.25%. Local taxes may be as much as an additional 1.5%.
For local numbers, dial 411; long-distance, 1 plus area code plus 555-1212; toll-free, (800) 555-1212
Many area codes have recently changed. Call directory assistance if the number you have doesn't work.
Not all 800, 877, and 888 numbers work outside the U.S. Try a direct toll number or a fax.
You can call 911 toll free from any public telephone to obtain police, fire, or medical assistance.
Alcohol is sold throughout California. Legal drinking age is 21.
You must be 18 to purchase tobacco products. Smoking is prohibited in all public buildings (including restaurants, bars and casinos) and enclosed spaces throughout California. It is illegal to smoke within 20 feet 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 (including half the cities in San Diego County) have passed ordinances prohibiting smoking in all public places. It is even illegal to smoke on certain beaches
in Southern California – watch for signs!
Considering the fact that some of California's finest attractions are inaccessible by public transportation, most visitors find driving the best way to see the state. That said, there's plenty to see by public transportation and plenty of public transportation to get you between metropolitan areas.
See the Getting Around
section of our website for more information.
By law, everyone in a vehicle must wear a seatbelt, and motorcyclists must wear a helmet.
Speed limits are posted in miles-per-hour (mph). Generally, the speed limit on multi-lane freeways is 65mph. On two-lane highways it is usually 55mph. The speed limit on city streets is usually 35mph. In residential areas, near schools and in areas with heavy foot traffic, the speed limit is almost always 25mph.
Along freeways with heavy traffic, car pool lanes (or "diamond lanes") are identified by small black-and-white signs and by diamonds painted on the roadway. To drive in a car pool lane, you must usually have two people (including the driver) in the car. Some car pool lanes in the San Francisco Bay Area
require three people (including the driver).
The new Wireless Communications Device Law (effective January 1, 2009) makes it an infraction to write, send, or read text-based communication on an electronic wireless communications device, such as a cell phone, while driving a motor vehicle. Drivers must also use a hands-free device when speaking on a cell phone.
Roundabouts are uncommon in California. Most intersections are either signed by traffic lights or by stop signs. Unless signed otherwise, it is legal to make a right turn on a red light after you come to a complete stop.
The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) publishes an online version of its California Driver Handbook
which thoroughly explains California road rules.
California is a year-round travel destination, with weather that will please everyone from snowbirds to sun worshippers. The best time to visit really comes down to what you want to do and what you want to see.
Most people visit California between mid-June and August. It's summertime! Summer
in California is undeniably delicious, but there are some things to consider: The state's top attractions and parks can be very crowded with visitors paying top dollar for lodging and waiting in long lines for popular sites. That said, it's never hard to hop off the beaten path and have forests, fields and even beaches
all to yourself. If you're planning on visiting the Sierra Nevada high country, you have no choice but to wait until summer: roads above 8000ft (2450m) are often closed until late June or early July.
Spring (March through early May) is a marvelous time to visit California. Although it can still be cold at higher elevations, temperatures are comfortable throughout much of the state. The hillsides are green, the air is fresh, and wildflowers are blooming. During these months, you'll also encounter shorter lines and better deals: Many of the state's top tourist attractions are still operating at a slower pace, and hotels often charge low-season rates until June. California's desert areas are much more pleasant during spring than they are during the scorching heat of summer.
Fall (September through November) is another good time to beat the crowds, and it can be an especially beautiful time to see Northern California and the state's wine regions. San Francisco
, often shrouded in fog all summer long, sees some of its sunniest days during its "Indian Summer," which generally lasts from September through October.
If you plan to ski, visit between December and February, when the Sierra Nevada almost always has snow. It's not uncommon for ski resorts
to open by late October, but the snow is rarely as good as it will be later in the season. Lift lines are mobbed between mid December and the first week of January, when everyone hits the slopes during their holiday break.