Area Codes -- Within the past 30 years, L.A. has gone from having a single area code (213) to a whopping seven. Even residents can't keep up. As of press time, here's the basic layout: Those areas west of La Cienega Boulevard, including Beverly Hills and the city's beach communities, use either the 310 or 424 area codes. Portions of Los Angeles County east and south of the city, including Long Beach, are in the 562 area. The San Fernando Valley has the 818 area code, while points east -- including parts of Burbank, Glendale, and Pasadena -- use the 626 code. What happened to 213, you ask? The Downtown business area still uses 213. All other numbers, including Griffith Park, Hollywood, and parts of West Hollywood (east of La Cienega Blvd.) now use the area code 323. If it's all too much to remember, just call directory assistance at tel. 411.
Automobile Organizations -- Motor clubs will supply maps, suggested routes, guidebooks, accident and bail-bond insurance, and emergency road service. The American Automobile Association (AAA) is the major auto club in the United States. If you belong to a motor club in your home country, inquire about AAA reciprocity before you leave. You may be able to join AAA even if you're not a member of a reciprocal club; to inquire, call AAA (tel. 877/428-2277; www.aaa.com). AAA has a nationwide emergency road service telephone number (tel. 800/AAA-HELP [222-4357]).
Business Hours -- Offices are usually open weekdays from 9am to 5pm. Banks are open weekdays from 9am to 5pm or later and sometimes Saturday mornings. Stores typically open between 9 and 10am and close between 5 and 6pm from Monday through Saturday. Stores in shopping complexes or malls tend to stay open late: until about 9pm on weekdays and weekends, and many malls and larger department stores are open on Sundays.
Drinking Laws -- The legal age for purchase and consumption of alcoholic beverages is 21; proof of age is required and often requested at bars, nightclubs, and restaurants, so it's always a good idea to bring ID when you go out.
Do not carry open containers of alcohol in your car or any public area that isn't zoned for alcohol consumption. The police can fine you on the spot. Don't even think about driving while intoxicated.
Electricity -- Like Canada, the United States uses 110-120 volts AC (60 cycles), compared to 220-240 volts AC (50 cycles) in most of Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Downward converters that change 220-240 volts to 110-120 volts are difficult to find in the United States, so bring one with you.
Embassies and Consulates -- All embassies are located in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C. Some consulates are located in major U.S. cities, and most nations have a mission to the United Nations in New York City. If your country isn't listed below, call for directory information in Washington, D.C. (tel. 202/555-1212) or check www.embassy.org/embassies.
The embassy of Australia is at 1601 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20036 (tel. 202/797-3000; www.usa.embassy.gov.au).
The embassy of Canada is at 501 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20001 (tel. 202/682-1740; www.canadainternational.gc.ca/washington). Other Canadian consulates are in Buffalo (New York), Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, and Seattle.
The embassy of Ireland is at 2234 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202/462-3939; www.irelandemb.org). Irish consulates are in Boston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and other cities. See website for complete listing.
The embassy of New Zealand is at 37 Observatory Circle NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202/328-4800; www.nzembassy.com). New Zealand consulates are in Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Seattle.
The embassy of the United Kingdom is at 3100 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202/588-6500; http://ukinusa.fco.gov.uk). Other British consulates are in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle.
Emergencies -- Call tel. 911 to report a fire, call the police, or get an ambulance anywhere in the United States. This is a toll-free call (no coins are required at public telephones).
If you encounter traveler's problems, call the Los Angeles chapter of the Traveler's Aid Society (tel. 310/646-2270; www.travelersaid.org), a nationwide, nonprofit, social service organization that helps travelers in difficult straits. Its services might include reuniting families separated while traveling, providing food and/or shelter to people stranded without cash, and even emotional counseling.
Gasoline (Petrol) -- At press time, in the U.S., the cost of gasoline (also known as gas, but never petrol), is at an all-time high (about $4 per gallon). Taxes are already included in the printed price. One U.S. gallon equals 3.8 liters or .85 imperial gallons.
Hospitals -- The centrally located (and world-famous) Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, 8700 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles (tel. 310/423-3277), has a 24-hour emergency room staffed by some of the country's finest doctors.
Insurance -- For information on traveler's insurance, trip cancellation insurance, and medical insurance while traveling, please visit www.frommers.com/tips.
Internet Access -- Los Angeles is totally wired. You'll find that many cafes have wireless access, as do most hotels, coffee shops, and even fast-food joints.
Legal Aid -- If you are "pulled over" for a minor infraction (such as speeding), never attempt to pay the fine directly to a police officer; this could be construed as attempted bribery, a much more serious crime. Pay fines by mail, or directly into the hands of the clerk of the court. If accused of a more serious offense, say and do nothing before consulting a lawyer. Here the burden is on the state to prove a person's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and everyone has the right to remain silent, whether he or she is suspected of a crime or actually arrested. Once arrested, a person can make one telephone call to a party of his or her choice. International visitors should call your embassy or consulate.
Mail -- At press time, domestic postage rates were 28¢ for a postcard and 44¢ for a letter. For international mail, a first-class letter of up to 1 ounce costs 98¢ (75¢ to Canada and 79¢ to Mexico); a first-class postcard costs the same as a letter. For more information go to www.usps.com.
If you aren't sure what your address will be in the United States, mail can be sent to you, in your name, c/o General Delivery at the main post office of the city or region where you expect to be. (Call tel. 800/275-8777 for information on the nearest post office.) The addressee must pick up mail in person and must produce proof of identity (driver's license, passport, and so on). Most post offices will hold your mail for up to 1 month, and are open Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm, and Saturday from 9am to 3pm.
Always include zip codes when mailing items in the U.S. If you don't know your zip code, visit http://zip4.usps.com.
Newspapers and Magazines -- The Los Angeles Times (www.latimes.com) is a high-quality daily with strong local and national coverage. Its "Find Local" section (http://findlocal.latimes.com) is an excellent guide to entertainment in and around L.A., and includes listings of what's doing and where to do it. The L.A. Weekly (www.laweekly.com), a free weekly listings magazine, is packed with information on current events around town. Los Angeles magazine (www.lamag.com) is a city-based monthly full of news, information, and previews of L.A.'s art, music, and food scenes. World Book and News Co., at 1652 N. Cahuenga Blvd. (tel. 323/465-4352), near Hollywood and Vine and Grauman's Chinese Theatre, stocks lots of out-of-town and foreign papers and magazines. No one minds if you browse through the magazines, but you'll be reprimanded for thumbing through the newspapers. It's open 24 hours.
Police -- In an emergency, dial tel. 911. For nonemergency police matters, call tel. 213/485-2121; in Beverly Hills, dial tel. 310/550-4951.
Smoking -- Heavy smokers are in for a tough time in Los Angeles. Smoking is banned in public buildings, sports arenas, elevators, theaters, banks, lobbies, restaurants, offices, stores, bed-and-breakfasts, most small hotels, and bars. That's right -- as of January 1, 1998, you can't even smoke in a bar in California. The only exception is a bar where drinks are served solely by the owner. Implemented in March 2011, there are now further restrictions on smoking in outdoor-dining areas. Bar patios are being targeted next. Entire hotel properties are increasingly 100-percent smoke-free. Once upon a time, people would turn a blind eye, but now that fines are so heavy, this is no longer true.
Taxes -- The United States has no value-added tax (VAT) or other indirect tax at the national level. Every state, county, and city may levy its own local tax on all purchases, including hotel and restaurant checks and airline tickets. These taxes will not appear on price tags. Sales tax in Los Angeles is 9.75%. Hotel tax is charged on the room tariff only (which is not subject to sales tax) and is set by the city, ranging from 12% to 17% around Southern California.
Time -- Los Angeles is in the Pacific Standard Time zone, which is 8 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time and 3 hours behind Eastern Standard Time.
The continental United States is divided into four time zones: Eastern Standard Time (EST), Central Standard Time (CST), Mountain Standard Time (MST), and Pacific Standard Time (PST). Alaska and Hawaii have their own zones. For example, when it's 9am in Los Angeles (PST), it's 7am in Honolulu (HST), 10am in Denver (MST), 11am in Chicago (CST), noon in New York City (EST), 5pm in London (GMT), and 2am the next day in Sydney.
Daylight saving time is in effect from 1am on the second Sunday in March to 1am on the first Sunday in November, except in Arizona, Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Daylight saving time moves the clock 1 hour ahead of standard time.
Tipping -- In hotels, tip bellhops at least $1 per bag ($2-$3 if you have a lot of luggage) and tip the chamber staff $1 to $2 per day (more if you've left a disaster area for him or her to clean up). Tip the doorman or concierge only if he or she has provided you with some specific service (for example, calling a cab for you or obtaining difficult-to-get theater tickets). Tip the valet-parking attendant $1 to $2 every time you get your car.
In restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, tip service staff and bartenders 15% to 20% of the check, tip checkroom attendants $1 per garment, and tip valet-parking attendants $1 to $2 per vehicle.
As for other service personnel, tip cabdrivers 15% of the fare; tip skycaps at airports at least $1 per bag ($2-$3 if you have a lot of luggage); and tip hairdressers and barbers 15% to 20%.
Toilets -- You won't find public toilets or "restrooms" on the streets in most U.S. cities, but they can be found in hotel lobbies, bars, restaurants, museums, department stores, railway and bus stations, and service stations. Large hotels and fast-food restaurants are often the best bet for clean facilities. Restaurants and bars in resorts or heavily visited areas may reserve their restrooms for patrons.