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Area Codes -- San Diego's main area code is 619, used primarily by downtown, uptown, Mission Valley, Point Loma, Coronado, La Mesa, El Cajon, and Chula Vista. The area code 858 is used for northern and coastal areas, including Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, La Jolla, Del Mar, Rancho Santa Fe, and Rancho Bernardo. Use 760 to reach the remainder of San Diego County, including Encinitas, Carlsbad, Oceanside, Escondido, Ramona, Julian, and Anza-Borrego.

Business Hours -- Banks are open weekdays from 9am to 4pm or later, and sometimes Saturday morning. Stores in shopping malls tend to operate from 10 or 11am until about 9pm weekdays and until 6pm weekends, and are open on secondary holidays.

Doctors -- In a life-threatening situation, dial tel. 911. For a doctor referral, contact the San Diego County Medical Society (tel. 858/565-8888; www.sdcms.org) or Scripps Health (tel. 800/727-4777; www.scripps.org). For dental referrals, contact the San Diego County Dental Society at tel. 800/201-0244 or 619/275-0244 (www.sdcds.org), or call tel. 1-800/DENTIST (336-8478; [866/993-9546]; www.1800dentist.com).

Drinking Laws -- The legal age for purchase and consumption of alcoholic beverages in California is 21. Proof of age is a necessity -- it's requested at bars, nightclubs, and restaurants, even from those well into their 30s and 40s, so always bring ID when you go out. Beer, wine, and hard liquor are sold daily from 6am to 2am and are available in grocery stores.

Do not carry open containers of alcohol in your car or at any public area not zoned for alcohol consumption -- the police can fine you on the spot. Alcohol is forbidden at all city beaches, boardwalks, and coastal parks. Pay heed or pay the price: First-time violators face a $250 fine.

Nothing will ruin your trip faster than getting a citation for DUI ("driving under the influence"), so 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 & Consulates -- All embassies are in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C. Some consulates are 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). Consulates are in New York, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

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.embassyofireland.org). Irish consulates are in Boston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and other cities. See website for a 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 for fire, police, and ambulance. The TTY/TDD emergency number is tel. 619/233-3323. The main police station is at 1401 Broadway, at 14th Street (tel. 619/531-2000; from North San Diego call tel. 858/484-3154).

If you encounter serious problems, contact the San Diego chapter of Traveler's Aid International (www.travelersaid.org), which has locations at the airport (tel. 619/295-1277) and at 110 W. C St., Ste. 1209 (tel. 619/295-8393). This nationwide, nonprofit, social-service organization geared to helping travelers in difficult straits offers services that might include reuniting families separated while traveling, providing food and/or shelter to people stranded without cash, or even emotional counseling. If you're in trouble, seek them out.

Hospitals -- Near downtown San Diego, UCSD Medical Center-Hillcrest, 200 W. Arbor Dr. (tel. 619/543-6222; http://health.ucsd.edu), has the most convenient emergency room. In La Jolla, UCSD Thornton Hospital, 9300 Campus Point Dr. (tel. 858/657-7000; http://health.ucsd.edu), has a good emergency room, and you'll find another in Coronado, at Sharp Coronado Hospital, 250 Prospect Place, opposite the Marriott Resort (tel. 619/522-3600; www.sharp.com).

Insurance -- Although it's not required of travelers, health insurance is highly recommended. Most health insurance policies cover you if you get sick away from home -- but check your coverage before you leave.

International visitors to the U.S. should note that unlike many European countries, the United States does not usually offer free or low-cost medical care to its citizens or visitors. Doctors and hospitals are expensive, and in most cases will require advance payment or proof of coverage before they render their services.

For information on traveler's insurance, trip cancellation insurance, and medical insurance while traveling, please visit www.frommers.com/planning.

Legal Aid -- While driving, 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 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 their 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 and click on "Calculate Postage." Always include zip codes when mailing items in the U.S. If you don't know your zip code, visit www.usps.com/zip4.

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 mail for up to 1 month.

San Diego's main post office is located in the boondocks, but the former main office, located just west of Old Town at 2535 Midway Dr., is a good alternative; it's open Monday from 7am to 5pm, Tuesday through Friday from 8am to 5pm, and Saturdays from 8am to 4pm. There are also downtown post offices at 815 E St. (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm) and at 51 Horton Plaza, next to the Westin Hotel (Mon-Fri 9:30am-6pm, Sat 10am-5pm). There is a post office in the Mission Valley Shopping Center, next to Macy's (Mon-Fri 9:30am-6pm, Sat 9:30am-4pm).

Newspapers & Magazines -- The San Diego Union-Tribune is published daily, and its entertainment section, "Night & Day," is in the Thursday edition; "Night & Day" is also distributed around the city for free. The free San Diego Weekly Reader is published Thursdays and is available at many shops, restaurants, theaters, and public hot spots; it's the best source for up-to-the-week club and show listings. The free alternative weekly San Diego CityBeat is distributed on Wednesdays. It also has listings and can get you up-to-speed on local issues and local music. San Diego magazine has covered all aspects of the city since 1948, and is plumped with social news and dining listings. San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles magazine highlights design and art, and also includes articles about Southern California gardening and the local restaurant scene. Both magazines are published monthly and sold at newsstands. The Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and USA Today are widely available. International publications are available at Paras Newsstand, 3911 30th St. (tel. 619/296-2859), in North Park.

Packing -- There's rarely need for a heavy coat in San Diego, but May Gray and June Gloom make things cooler and damper than many visitors anticipate. Be prepared with a light coat or sweater. San Diego is also very casual, meaning you can show up at a restaurant or theater wearing just about anything you want. The only dress codes you'll really find are at downtown clubs, where people tend to dress to impress.

For more helpful information on packing for your trip download our convenient Travel Tools app for your mobile device. Go to www.frommers.com/go/mobile and click on the Travel Tools icon.

Police -- The downtown police station is at 1401 Broadway (tel. 619/531-2000; from North San Diego call tel. 858/484-3154; www.sandiego.gov/police). Call tel. 911 in an emergency; the TTY/TDD emergency number is tel. 619/233-3323.

Smoking -- Smoking is prohibited in nearly all indoor public places, including theaters, hotel lobbies, and enclosed shopping malls. In 1998, California enacted legislation prohibiting smoking in all restaurants and bars, except those with outdoor seating. Smoking in a car in which a child under age 17 is riding is illegal, as well. San Diego has also banned smoking from all city beaches, boardwalks, piers, and parks, which includes Mission Bay Park and Balboa Park. Be forewarned: Fines start at $250.

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. In San Diego, sales tax in restaurants and shops is 8.75%. Hotel tax is 10.5%, or 12.5% for lodgings with more than 70 rooms.

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 San Diego (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.

San Diego, like the rest of the West Coast, is in the Pacific Standard Time zone, which is 8 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time.

Daylight saving time (summer 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.

For help with time translations, and more, download our convenient Travel Tools for you mobile device. Go to www.frommers.com/go/mobile and click on the Travel Tools icon.

Tipping -- Tips are a very important part of some workers' income, and gratuities are the standard way of showing appreciation for services provided. (Tipping is certainly not compulsory if the service is poor.) 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 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 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%.

For help with tip calculations, currency conversions, and more, download our convenient Travel Tools app for your mobile device. Go to www.frommers.com/go/mobile and click on the Travel Tools icon.

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.

Horton Plaza and Seaport Village downtown, Balboa Park, Old Town State Historic Park in Old Town, and the Ferry Landing Marketplace in Coronado all have well-marked public restrooms. In general, you won't have a problem finding one; they are usually clean and accessible.

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.