Welcome to California! Do you need to stretch your legs, look at maps, free magazines, things to do & see, and maybe use the restroom, too? There's a place waiting for you with free help, a friendly smile, and all the amenities that you'd be glad to pay for-except the service is free. 20 California Welcome Centers span the state of California from San Diego to Arcata, providing incredible, free stuff such as maps, magazines, guides and sometimes coupons.
Owned and operated independently, California Welcome Centers work in conjunction with the California Travel & Tourism Commission, a non-profit organization in Sacramento, to provide consistent services and information in 20 facilities ranging from the desert to the mountains. Most sell souvenir gifts and localized fun stuff, but the maps are free and the help is incredible.
California Welcome Center road signs always look the same. Look for a blue sign with the shape of bear in the gold map of California on the sign. It directs you to the highway exit for the facility, often a stand-alone building or located inside something such as a shopping outlet mall.
On a recent trip we used our GPS and phone aps, both providing wrong information. Such technology isn't failproof. But locals at California Welcome Centers in Oceanside, Merced, Pismo Beach, Oxnard, Mammoth Lakes and many more locations know the score, and there's nothing like a knowledgeable human to talk to for tips, advice, instructions and directions. When you need some help, look for the blue signs on the road that direct you to the Welcome Center during your trip.