California is the largest US state by population, and the third largest by area. The state truly offers something for everyone. Southern California is home to the worldwide entertainment hub of Hollywood and numerous beaches lined with surfers, sunbathers and those looking to see and be seen. The northern part of California offers the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, the hills of San Francisco, the vineyards of Napa Valley, and the tech hub of Silicon Valley. Outside California's major cities are some of North America's most spectacular national parks, incredible skiing and snowboarding opportunities, and peaceful northern forests including the highest mountain peak in the contiguous US, Mt. Whitney.
The California Gold Rush of the 1850s is still a symbol of California's modern economic style, a pioneering spirit that generates technology, entertainment and music movements that are followed all around the globe. Hardcore punk, hip-hop, country and heavy metal have all evolved in California. Furthermore, new genres of music, such as surf rock and third wave ska, have their origins in California.
During the late 1960s San Francisco and Hollywood emerged as the center for psychedelic rock and a haven for the counterculture class looking to “turn on, tune in, and drop out.” The Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco became the counterculture capital, home to bands like Jefferson Airplane, Santana and the Grateful Dead, which started the still vibrant music festival scene in California. The Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 is perhaps the most famous music event in California’s history. The show launched the international careers of performers like Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Otis Redding and Janis Joplin.
Music art and entertainment is still alive and well in California, from the West Coast rap and hip-hop pioneered by the likes of N.W.A., 2Pac and Snoop Dogg, to indie rock, hardcore, nu metal and electronica.
- How do I get to California? How do I get around once I'm there?
- What do I need to know about money?
- Do I need a Visa?
- What is the climate like?
- What are business hours?
- What are some laws that I should be aware of?
- What are some local customs that I should be aware of?
- Anything else I need to know?
How do I get to California? How do I get around once I'm there?
California has primary airports in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, and Fresno. The busiest second tier airports are Santa Barbara and Palm Springs.
Boat travel is a charming alternative to long haul flying. A little known and cheap boat travel option called freighter travel is popular with some student travelers and adventurer seekers. Freighter travel is more expensive than flying (fares range from $65 -$130 per person per day, depending on the freighter company you travel with), and it takes a while (Tokyo to Long Beach, California generally takes about 13 days).
California has one of the most expansive state highway systems in the United States. As with most large states, a car is usually the best way to get around and see all destinations. However the trip from the top of California to the bottom can take well over ten hours.
Flying may be a more reasonable option for crossing large expanses of the state. Many major (like American and United) and low fare airlines (like JetBlue and Southwest) link cities within the state of California.
The state's various rail services provide a cheap and reasonably comfortable way to see and get around. Amtrak operates a few long-distance routes through and out of California.
The bus is not the most glamorous way to get around the state, but it can be the cheapest. Greyhound serves about 100 locations statewide.
What do I need to know about money?
Most major American and international banks have a strong presence throughout California, therefore, it is unlikely that you will have a problem finding an ATM when you require cash. Many places accept major credit cards.
Tipping is standard practice across America. In city restaurants, tipping 15% of the bill is the minimum expected, and high-end restaurants expect around 20%. Bartenders expect $1 per drink. Taxi drivers and hairdressers expect 10% to 15%. Skycaps at airports and porters at nice hotels expect $1 a bag or so.
Do I need a Visa?
Entry requirements for the United States continue to evolve as the country fine-tunes its national security guidelines. Everyone should double-check current visa and passport regulations before planning a trip. In general, the US Department of State is a good place to start if you are unsure of your status. Most Canadian citizens and many citizens from Visa Waiver Program countries can come to the United States without a visa if they meet certain requirements. All Visa Waiver Program travelers must present a machine-readable passport at the U.S. port of entry to enter the US without a visa; otherwise a U.S. visa is required. CLICK HERE for more information about the Visa Waiver Program with a list of participating countries.
Please note that all travelers eligible to visit the US under the Visa Waiver Program must now obtain approval before they travel through the US' Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). ESTA is an online system run by the US government, determining the preliminary eligibility of visitors to travel under the Visa Waiver Program, prior to setting out. Take a look at the ESTA website for more information.
What is the climate like?
California?s climate varies across the state, with a temperate climate at the coast, brutal winters in the mountains, and one of the world's hottest regions in the deserts. Rainfall is more common in the northern part of the state than in the south, and snow is rare except in the mountains.
The hottest temperature ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere, 134?F (57?C) was at Death Valley in 1913, and temperatures regularly exceed 120?F (49?C) during the summer. In contrast, winter temperatures in the mountains can drop below 0?F (-18?C).
What are business hours?
Most stores and restaurants keep standard business hours that remain fairly uniform across the United States. General business hours are typically Monday through Saturday 10am to 6pm and Sunday 10am to 5pm. Malls usually stay open until around 9pm, Monday through Saturday. Bars, clubs and liquor stores in California are open until 2am, except in San Jose, where the last drinks are served at 1:30am, but patrons can remain in the bars until 3am.
What are some laws that I should be aware of?
All major road entrances to California have agricultural inspection stations to ensure that some fruits and vegetables do not cross into a region where they may come into contact with the farms in the Central Valley. Often, travelers are subject to border inspection and asked if they have been on a farm or are carrying organic matter with them.
The possession of up to one ounce of marijuana is decriminalized in California. With a fine of $100, possession is treated like a traffic ticket with no arrest record.
What are some local customs that I should be aware of?
Californian English is the main language and Spanish is the de facto second language. Knowledge of even rudimentary Spanish is useful in most cities from Sacramento south, which have some of the largest Hispanic populations north of Mexico.
Anything else I need to know?
Earthquakes that are large enough to cause extensive damage are rare, but remain a matter of reality for the state. The biggest dangers in an earthquake are falling objects and shattering windows. In the event of an earthquake, face away from windows and hide under any sturdy table or desk that may be available. If you are indoors, do not run outside.