Maps, Atlases, and Guides

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Tupman Road

Tupman Road, Near Taft

I’m a big fan of, and was a (very) early adopter of, GPS, but when you’re actually out on the road and the iPad’s dead or your iPhone can’t get a signal, or there’s no WiFi within a hundred miles, or your GPS isn’t working, a good paper backup can be really useful.

There are hundreds of different maps of California for all different purposes; the ones mentioned below are those that I’ve found useful for driving:

  • The AAA Road Atlas of the US, Canada and Mexico — much more than just California, of course, but indispensable for long-distance driving in the US and for short forays into Nevada, Arizona, and Oregon. You can usually find this in any good bookstore in California.
  • The Thomas Bros Maps “California Road Atlas & Driver’s Guide”, a book-sized mixture of street maps and larger area maps. I find this (and its close siblings from Thomas Bros) indispensable for general driving (it’s always in my car), especially when driving through places like Fresno, etc.
  • The Thomas Bros guides to Los Angeles and Orange County. Absolutely essential if you’re driving to or through the Southlands — the L.A. area is far too large to be usefully covered by any single map….
  • Similarly, the Thomas Bros Metropolitan Bay Area Guide covers pretty much every place you’ll want to drive to in the San Francisco Bay Area.
  • The CSAA (California AAA) city maps for the larger cities and towns — the CSAA has a good selection of maps for cities and towns. These contain complete street maps for the relevant cities and towns, and fold down to a convenient size.
  • The CSAA area and recreation maps — these contain larger-scale information for entire areas (e.g. The Bay and River Area), or the state as a whole; only the main routes are marked. The recreation maps contain good information on where to do what.
  • The DeLorme Northern and Southern California Atlas and Gazetteers — these two volumes are indispensable for detailed topographical information, covering the state with a series of small-scale (1:150,000) maps in a handy book format. All maps have complete contour, road, track, river / creek, etc. information, and can be used for off-road exploration. Almost as good as having the complete set of US topographicals (but cheaper and more convenient for driving).

All the AAA and CSAA maps and guides are available from CSAA and ACSC offices throughout the state, as well as several of the better bookstores. Particularly recommended map and guide bookstores in the Bay Area areREI (Berkeley, Concord, San Carlos, and San Jose), the CSAA offices on University Avenue in Berkeley, and the US Government Geological Survey (USGS) map store in Menlo Park.


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