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