California Travel Tips
Whether you dream of carving a wave for the first time, relaxing at a wine country estate, taking a spin on an iconic theme park ride or walking through soaring redwoods, you will find your perfect getaway in California. What you will find here are ways to make that dream holiday happen without a hitch.
The tips and information here help you know the ins and outs of travel in the Golden State, with tips on best times to travel, transportation, accommodation and camping, even good-sense guides for bicycle fans. Details here can help plan your trip and tell you where to turn for more useful information and insider tips once you get here. Happy planning.
Learn more about California’s renowned climate
California is a year-round destination, with weather that has something for everyone—from sun worshippers to snow bunnies. The best time to visit really comes down to what you want to see and do. Here’s some general information to help you know what to expect statewide.
Weather & Seasons
Much of California has a Mediterranean-like climate with warm, dry summers and mild, wet winters. On the coast, the average daily high temperature hovers around 70°F/21°C and up), but can occasionally spike to 80°F 27° C or more on hottest summer days; freezing temperatures are rare, even in winter. The state’s legendary fog often hugs the coast from roughly Monterey north, usually during summer months; it often burns off by midday before rolling in again at dusk. Farther inland, summers are hot and dry, winters cool and wet, with occasional brilliant blue days and temperatures cold enough to freeze puddles on the ground, but not much more than that. At higher altitudes, the weather reflects more of a four-season cycle, with beautiful summers, striking fall color, and cold, snowy winters followed by snowmelt springs (waterfall season!).
Local travel experts and resources share more ideas statewide
Each of the California Welcome Centers scattered throughout the state are staffed with personal travel concierges. These knowledgeable experts are ready to provide information that will enhance and enrich your visit including suggestions on where to eat, what to see, and where to stay. Welcome Centers also offer free maps and brochures on local attractions and things to see and do.
Flying is easy in the Golden State, with international and domestic airports statewide
California is big—nearly 800 miles/1287 kilometers from the Oregon border to the north all the way to the Mexican border just south of San Diego, and an average of roughly 200 miles/321 kilometers wide. Fortunately, California also has a lot of airports, so flying is relatively easy, and a great way to get around the state, especially if your time is limited. Easy airport access also makes fly/drive vacations an attractive option.
Learn more about the fantastic lodging options in the golden state
Whether you dream of a posh suite overlooking the ocean, a boutique hotel in the heart of a city, a full-service resort, or a serene campsite under the stars, California has the perfect place to spend the night. Book a stay at a major chain almost anywhere in the state, or consider accommodations as distinctive as California itself—handsome stone-and-timber mountain lodges, restored Gold Rush hotels, snug inns, and ultra-exclusive retreats in one-of-a-kind settings. There are also millions of acres of unforgettable parkland where all you need is a tent, a sleeping bag, marshmallows, and a few good campfire stories. (And, maybe, a reservation.)
California Welcome Centers and local tourism agencies can offer good suggestions for all types of lodging, including resorts, hotels, and motels.
Hotels & Motels: Hotels and motels are the tried-and-true standard for most vacations—providing a safe, clean, and comfortable place to go to sleep at night. They’re important here. Remember, California invented the motel back in the 1920s. Top chains are well represented statewide, and are often located in larger metropolitan areas and near tourist attractions and travel routes. Boutique hotels tend to offer a more intimate and luxuriously stylish environment for travelers. In more rural areas, consider independently owned lodgings, some in historic buildings.
Bed & Breakfasts: California has hundreds of B&Bs, many in historic homes or hotels and a growing number at family-run (and family-friendly) farms, ranches, and vineyards. B&Bs can give a sense of the region’s local character, with helpful innkeepers happy to share insider travel tips. Your stay also includes breakfast—imagine, just-baked scones, fresh eggs, or strawberries from the garden. To reserve a stay at one of nearly 300 B&Bs statewide, visit the California Association of Boutique & Breakfast Inns (CABBI).
Resorts: Certain parts of the state—the Deserts region, coastal communities, mountain resort towns—are renowned for five-star retreats, with many championship golf courses and tennis complexes, spectacular swimming pools, destination restaurants, and elegant spas (often open to the public). California’s celebrated wine regions also have ultra-luxe retreats, with romantic settings, unparalleled farm-to-table cuisine, and, of course, incredible wine lists. Many resorts also offer special activities for kids, like movie-and-popcorn nights, so parents can enjoy time alone while their children have experienced childcare. Weddings and reunions can book private event spaces and exclusive catering services. For top resorts statewide, check California Welcome Centers and local tourism agencies.
Vacation Rentals: If you like extra space and a kitchen, a fully equipped vacation home can be a great way to go—and an economical choice if you have kids or a large group. Styles range from woodsy one-room cabins to palatial estates and elegant townhomes, something for every style and budget. At a few locations, you can even get a home that floats: houseboat rentals are popular at many of California’s lakes and waterways, especially at Shasta Lake and in the Sacramento Delta.
You can also rent a house on wheels. RVs are welcome at public and private campgrounds statewide. Below are some resources to try; also check the California Welcome Centers and local tourism agencies.
Take to the roads with this helpful information and safety tips
California is made for road trips. An easy-to-navigate network of more than 50,000 miles of good-quality highways and freeways link just about every corner of the state, with secondary routes leading to even more under-the-radar finds. Some of these roads are famous—Highway 1 along the Pacific Coast, legendary Route 66, and Avenue of the Giants (Highway 101 winding through towering redwoods). Some are workhorses—most notably Interstates 5 and 80—getting drivers (and truckers) up and across the state as quickly as possible. But even these heavy-lifters can lead you to surprising destinations.
No matter where you drive, remember the basic rules of the road. California law states that 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 multilane freeways is 65mph/105 kilometers per hour (kph); on two-lane highways, the limit is generally 55 mph/90 kph. The speed limit on city streets is usually 35 mph/55 kph, though in residential areas and near schools, the limit is generally 25 mph/40 kph. It is against the law in California to write, send, or read text-based messages while driving, and drivers must use a hands-free device when speaking on a mobile phone.
Along freeways with heavy traffic, carpool lanes (also called “diamond lanes” for the diamond-shape pattern painted on the lane’s surfaces) are identified by black-and-white signs that include details on times and days of enforcement (usually during peak rush hour periods on weekdays). To drive in most carpool lanes, you must at least two people (including the driver) in the car (some lanes in the San Francisco Bay Area have a three-person minimum. Tempted to use the lane when you don’t have the required number of riders? Don’t—fines are staggeringly high, close to $400 in some areas. In the Los Angeles area, carpool lanes may have specific entry and exit zones; adhere to them or you could get a hefty fine.
The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) publishes an online version of its Driver Handbook, which thoroughly explains California’s rules of the road.
Choose from quality vehicles that match your needs and style
Get ready to roll. With its mild climate, outstanding highway system, and nonstop-gorgeous scenery, California stands out as the perfect place for a road trip. And renting a car is about as easy as it gets. Whether your trip itinerary is a statewide tour of California’s greatest hits, a all-in-the-family visit to iconic theme parks, or an off-the-beaten-track adventure, there’s a vehicle to match your mood and style—snazzy convertibles, family-friendly vans, rugged models that can handle all types of conditions (even snow), even campers and RVs, all in excellent shape and with good road assistance and optional insurance policies.
Car rentals are available throughout the state; most major companies have locations at major airports and in convenient city locations. To rent a car in California, you must be at least 25 years old (in most cases) and have a valid driver’s license and credit card (used as a security deposit). Non-U.S. citizens must have passports. Rates may vary, with factors including location, car size and style, accessories (a child safety seat or GPS, for example, may be extra), and the day of the week that you rent. Picking up and dropping off a vehicle at different locations can also increase rates. For best rates, try booking a car at the same time you reserve your flights.