In addition to the major carriers listed earlier in this section, several airlines provide service within the state, including Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air (tel. 800/252-7522), American Eagle (tel. 800/433-7300), JetBlue (tel. 800/538-2583), Southwest (tel. 800/435-9792), United Express (tel. 800/241-6522), US Airways Express (tel. 800/428-4322), and Virgin America (tel. 877/359-8474). The round-trip fare between Los Angeles and San Francisco ranges from $100 to $300.
Overseas visitors can take advantage of the APEX (Advance Purchase Excursion) reductions offered by all major carriers. This system is the easiest, fastest, cheapest way to see the country. Some large airlines offer transatlantic or transpacific passengers special discount tickets under the name Visit USA, which allows mostly one-way travel from one U.S. destination to another at very low prices. Unavailable in the U.S., these discount tickets must be purchased abroad in conjunction with your international fare.
Unless you plan to spend the bulk of your vacation in a city where walking is the best way to get around, the most cost-effective way to travel is by car.
Green being the thing in California, numerous carbon-conscious companies specialize in green car rentals. For example, in Southern California Simply Hybrid Rental Cars (tel. 888/359-0055; www.simplyhybrid.com) rent, well, simply hybrids. Fox Rent A Car (tel. 800/225-4369, ext. 1; www.foxrentacar.com) takes it a step further by offering discount hybrid car rentals at eight major airports in California.
In San Francisco, the epicenter of the green movement, they even reward you for going greener: Customers who rent hybrid cars -- such as the Honda Civic Hybrid, Nissan Altima Hybrid, or Toyota PRIUS -- from the major rental-car companies at SFO -- Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Thrifty, Hertz, National, Fox -- are given a $15 discount at the counter. By offering these incentives to customers and rental-car companies, SFO hopes to increase the total number of hybrid and alternative-fuel rental cars. (Note: Foreign driver's licenses are usually recognized in the U.S., but you should get an international one if your home license is not in English.)
California's freeway signs often indicate direction by naming a town rather than a point on the compass. If you've never heard of Canoga Park, you might be in trouble -- unless you have a map. The best state road guide is the comprehensive Thomas Guide California Road Atlas, a 300-plus-page book of maps with schematics of towns and cities statewide. It costs about $15, a good investment if you plan to do a lot of exploring. Smaller, accordion-style maps are handy for the entire state or for individual cities and regions.
If you're heading into the Sierra or Shasta-Cascades region for a winter ski trip, stock up on antifreeze and carry snow chains for your tires. (Chains are mandatory in certain areas.)
Driving Rules -- California law requires both drivers and passengers to wear seat belts, and specifies that a safety seat must be used for children under the age of 6 or less than 60 pounds. Motorcyclists must wear helmets at all times. Auto insurance is mandatory; the car's registration and proof of insurance must stay in the car.
You can turn right at a red light, unless otherwise indicated -- but be sure to come to a complete stop first.
Many California freeways have designated car pool lanes, also known as high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes or "diamond" lanes. Some require two passengers, others three. Most on-ramps are metered during even light congestion to regulate the flow of traffic onto the freeway; cars in HOV lanes can pass the signal without stopping. All other drivers are required to observe the stoplights -- fines begin at $381.
If you're visiting from abroad and plan to rent a car in the United States, keep in mind that foreign driver's licenses are usually recognized in the U.S., but you may want to consider obtaining an international driver's license.
Amtrak (tel. 800/USA-RAIL in the U.S. or Canada, or 001/215-856-7953 outside the U.S.; www.amtrak.com) operates up and down the California coast, connecting San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and points in between. Multiple trains depart each day, and rates fluctuate according to season and special promotions. One-way fares for the most popular segments can range from $16 (L.A.-Santa Barbara) to $29 (L.A.-San Diego), and from $50 to $78 (San Francisco-L.A.).
International visitors can buy a USA Rail Pass, good for 15, 30, or 45 days of unlimited travel on Amtrak. The pass is available online or through many overseas travel agents. Visit Amtrak's website for the cost of travel within the western, eastern, or northwestern United States. Reservations are generally required and should be made as early as possible. Regional rail passes are also available.
Bus travel is often the most economical form of public transit for short hops between U.S. cities, but it's certainly not an option for everyone (particularly when Amtrak, which is far more luxurious, offers similar rates). Greyhound (tel. 800/231-2222 in the U.S., or 001/214-849-8100 outside the U.S. with toll-free access; www.greyhound.com) is the sole nationwide bus line. International visitors can obtain information about the Greyhound North American Discovery Pass. The pass, which offers unlimited travel and stopovers in the U.S. and Canada, can be obtained outside the United States from travel agents or through www.discoverypass.com.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.