A brief annotated listing of state and private organizations that travelers and tourists might find useful when driving or vacationing in California.
You might find some or all of the following organizations useful while driving in California:
- The California State Automobile Association (CSAA). This is the Northern California, Nevada, and Utah affiliate of the American Automobile Association (AAA), and does all the sorts of things the AAA does — provides a cheap towing service, accommodation and campground directories, road and trail maps, car and house insurance, international driver’s licenses, etc. The AAA is worth joining if you’re here for an extended stay; it is also affiliated with, or has associations with, many of the European and Asian motoring associations (e.g. the NRMA and RACV in Australia, the AA or RAC in Britain, etc.). If you belong to any of these associations, it’s probably worthwhile seeing if they have reciprocal benefits with the AAA — you may be able to pick up free maps and use member services cheaply. The CSAA head office address and phone numbers are:
California State Automobile Association,
150 Van Ness Avenue,
San Francisco, California 94102 USA
Phone: (415) 565 2012 (General Information)
There are also branches of the CSAA or AAA or ACSC (below) in most cities and large towns throughout California.
- The Automobile Club of Southern California (ACSC). This is the Southern California affiliate of the AAA, with services as listed above for the CSAA, with whom they have reciprocal arrangements for members. The ACSC’s address and phone number:
The Automobile Club of Southern California
2601 S. Figueroa Street, Los Angeles, Phone (213) 741-3111
US Mail: PO Box 30432, Los Angeles CA 90030
- The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The DMV is the state government department that oversees road laws, car and driver licensing, etc. These are the people you need to see about getting a driver’s license, discovering the various road rules, and licensing your car. There is a branch office in virtually every significant town or city in the state, usually open from about 9 am to 5 pm; the office in San Francisco is at 1377 Fell Street, Phone: +1-415-557-1179.
- Caltrans. Caltrans (California Department of Transport) is the state department that builds and maintains the larger and more important roads, bridges, viaducts, etc. Caltrans operates a very useful road information website, and a toll-free highway condition information system on +1-800-427-7623. Both of these systems allow you to enter the number of the freeway or highway you’re interested in and get up-to-date information about things like road closures, snow chain requirements, weather alerts, delays due to road work, etc. for that particular road. This system covers all federal and state highways in California.
- National and State Parks Services. California has a lot of National and State Parks and Forests; these are run and maintained by the following government organizations (with the relevant Northern Californian addresses); all three websites have extensive information, maps, guides, etc. available, and all provide contact information on the ranger stations, etc., in their respective parks. Many parks require reservations for camping or other activities; both the National Parks and National Forests Services require permits for back-country travel.
National Park Service
Fort Mason, Building 201,
Bay and Franklin Streets,
San Francisco, CA 94123
Phone: (415) 556 0560
See in particular the NPS California state page, with a good listing of parks in the state.
United States Forest Service
1323 Club Drive
Vallejo, CA 94592
The USFS is basically in charge of the National Forests, which, while they don’t have the same protected status as National Parks, are still managed with all uses in mind, and often have spectacular and convenient hiking trails, campsites, etc.
California State Park System Dept. of Parks and Recreation
1416 9th Street
Sacramento, CA 95814