- an essential introduction
A beginner's guide to
are to California as skates are to an ice-rink
tips and rules
- The minimum
for driving in California is 18, though young people from age 16 may
drive with a provisional licence, under conditions.
- Speed limits
: In urban
speed limit is 25 mph / 40 km/h, and on other roads it is generally 55
mph or 90 km/h. On multi-lane highways, including freeways
interstates, the general speed limit is 65 mph or 105 km/h .
: visitors from outside the USA can generally drive in California using
their foreign driver's license, as long as their US tourist visa is
valid (normally 3 months).
: Drivers and all passengers in a vehicle must wear a seatbelt at all
- Mobile phones
:The use of mobile phones for voice communication is
illegal, except for fully hands-free devices.
- Text messages
: It is illegal to write, send or read text messages while driving.
- Drinking and
: It is illegal to drive with more than 0.08% of alcohol in the blood –
which is more or less equivalent to the maximum permitted levels of
blood alcohol in Australia, Canada and most of the European
pretty well essential for anyone who wants to get around.
Visitors from other parts of the US will find the gas prices
California are high ; visitors from Europe will find them cheap, though
not as cheap as in other parts of the USA. It all depends on what you
are used to. But regardless of the price of gas in California,
California is a state where for most tourists, except those visiting
California by bus, a car is essential. Virtually the only tourist
destination in California that can be visited without a car is San
Francisco, a city with a compact central area where public transport is
available in the form of the fabled historic streetcars.
Visiting LA ?
A car (or dependency on taxis) is a must ! To drive from
Burbank, in the north of LA, to Huntington Beach in the south, takes
over an hour on the Interstate; and journey times from the coast to the
eastern suburbs of LA take quite a bit longer than that. And apart from
Hollywood stars and others who have the use of a private helicopter,
everyone uses a car – which is why LA has so many multi-lane highways
criss-crossing the urban area ; and why it has so many traffic jams,
and often so much smog. Traveling between LA's major sites and tourist
attractions - LAX airport, downtown, Hollywood, Universal Studios,
Disneyland, Venice Beach,
Long Beach, and other spots, is a process that takes time, and requires
Visiting California's fabulous natural heritage sites also requires a
car, or a guided tour.
But driving in California is not just driving on a multi-lane
interstate with cars to the left and cars to the right. California also
has two or three of the best road-trip routes in the USA, roads where
traffic moves along at a leisurely, even very leisurely, rate, and
visitors and tourists take time to admire the scenery.
seeking a trip back in time, California is the
destination end of historic Route
, the Mother
that can still
be followed for many miles through the California back country. Or up
there in the hills, there are some amazing ghost towns
discovered, like Bodie
once (for a few years) one of the wildest and most thriving
gold-mining towns in the West, in the days when the West was wild.
For those more interested in fabulous and incredible
landscapes, a trip north or south from San Francisco on the twisting
California Highway 1
which hugs the coastline all the way from San
Luis Obispo north of LA, to Leggett, 150 miles north of San Francisco,
is a must. So too are the unique landscapes of the Mojave
Desert, including Death Valley
and the intriguing Joshua Tree park, with its unique vegetation.
California Highway 1
There are few routes to drive in the USA that are more scenic
or picturesque than California's coast-hugging Highway One. Highway 1
follows the coast from Rockport in the north, via San Francisco and
Monterey, to San Luis Obispo (near LA) in the south. Part of Highway 1
between LA and San Francisco is known as the Cabrillo Highway.
The full length of
Highway 1 is over 650 miles (over 1050 km), so driving the whole length
is something that will take two to four days, depending on how much one
stops to admire the views, walk on the beaches, visit the sights like
the Monterey Aquarium, or just stop off for quality leisure time.
Highway 1 is not a road for driving fast on; it is a single
two-lane highway that twists and turns along the coastline – and
definitely not the road to take if you want to get as fast as possible
from LA to San Francisco.
Highway 101 is the historic and furthest west of the
highways in the USA, running from near Seattle in the north, to LA
in the south. Through the states of Washington and Oregon, the 101 is a
small road that twists and turns as it follows the coastline. It
continues to do so in the far north of California, from the Oregon
border as far as Eureka, and again between San Luis
Obispo and LA, offering fine views. In California
the101 varies in
nature between divided highway and single lane highway.
Between Rockport and San Luis Obispo, while Highway 1 follows the
coast, the 101 runs inland; to the north and the south of San
Francisco, it is a major highway and indeed it is the principal northen
route out of San Francisco, being the highway that crosses the Golden
US Route 66
Highway 66, the fabled "Mother road", is part of
American history. Opened in the 1930s, it was the first designated
highway linking Chicago, the hub of the midwest, with the California
coast at Los Angeles. For many years now, most of the historic Route 66
has been decommissioned; traffic entering California from the east now
mostly arrives on one of the transcontinental interstates I10, I40 or
I70; but a few heritage-minded visitors still enter the state each year
on what used to be US Route 66. Today's Interstate 40 more or
follows the old Route 66 across California from Needles, on the border
with Arizona, to Santa Monica on the coast; while it's hard, if not
impossible to imagine yourself back in time anywhere west of San
Bernadino, from San Bernadino eastwards, leave Interstate 15 at
Victorville and you can then follow the historic route, a designated
historic trail, as far as the Arizona border - and beyond. Today, the
surviving parts of old Route 66 probably have as much, or as little,
traffic on them as they did back in the 1930s, when they were no more
than a gritted track. The route takes you through places with evocative
names such as Bagdad (little more than a palm tree standing
railroad tracks) and Siberia, reminders of how this part of the
California desert can, even today, be scorchingly hot in summer and
bitterly cold in winter.
Plenty of historic motels, garages and
other memorabilia are there to remind the intrepid visitor of the
historic legacy of Route 66, and its huge place in the history of
California and the West in general.
These are just three of California's many scenic highways.
There are plenty more, notably in the mountains and deserts of eastern
California, in areas like Yosemite and Death Valley. With regard to
desert routes, visitors are reminded that it is essential to take
plenty of water with you in the car when driving in desert areas,
specially in summer.
Toll routes in California
freeways and roads in California are toll-free. However there are a few
short toll sections, notably for bridges. There are a number of toll
routes in Orange county, south of Los Angeles, and there are tolls
on bridges such as the Golden Gate bridge (toll only for
bridges crossing San Francisco Bay (only westbound). For the San
Francisco bridges, the principle is therefore simple. You pay to enter
San Francisco - between $5 and $7.25 depending on the bridge; it's free
Orange County can be crossed toll-free on the I-5.